DEL CITY — When her knee buckled during a practice early in the season last year, Del City guard Dionna Collins thought the worst.
“It was just devastating,” Collins said. “I was like, ‘Dang. Career over.'”
She knew right away what the buckling meant — a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Now, just more than a year later, Collins is set to lead Del City into the Class 5A state tournament she watched from the bench last year.
The Eagles open the tournament against Tulsa East Central at 2 p.m. Thursday.
After her injury, Collins spent most of the next two months thinking she'd never play the sport again, at least competitively.
But Del City coach Karri Sears wasn't about to let Collins dwell in negativity.
Sears had torn her own ACL in her mid-20s, when she was already helping coach at Del City.
“D, my leg that I tore is stronger, even at my age,” Sears told Collins. “The one I hurt is better than my good leg.”
Collins wasn't having it.
“Coach, I'm going to be weak,” Collins responded. “I'm going to lose my speed.”
But Sears kept pushing, both letting Collins know that she'd return as good as ever and that she still had a role on last year's team.
Finally, about two months after her surgery, Sears' words started to sink in.
She began to see a light at the end of what had been a dark journey.
“It was those texts she sent that helped me turn my attitude around,” Collins said.
Once Collins made that decision, it was over.
Her doctor wanted her to wait until late in the summer to run. Collins was sprinting in the gym three months after her surgery.
“I was just determined,” she said. “He wanted me to come back so slow but I couldn't do that.”
For much of the summer, Collins spent three of four hours a day at the gym.
“We had her ball-handling, doing strength training, she rehabbed with our trainers, she rehabbed with her doctors, she was jumping rope, running through cones and just really trying to strengthen that quad and hamstring,” Sears said. “She's so hungry. She had a mindset. She knew she was going to get back and be healthy.”
By the time the Eagles went to Arkansas for a team camp in July, Collins felt like she was back to 100 percent.
Any doubts she had about returning her gone.
She never worried about a recurrence of the injury.
“If it was going to go out, it was going to go out going hard,” Collins said. “I wasn't going to give any less.”
And that's the way she's played.
Collins is averaging 18 points and 4 assists, helping the Eagles fight through a tough schedule with plenty of 6A teams to reach the tournament with a record that's hovered around .500.
Collins will have a chance to play somewhere in college but hasn't decided where yet.
For now, she'll concentrate on being one of the players at this week's state tournament that will appreciate the opportunity the most.
“That injury was just so…,” Collins said, her voice trailing off. “I want to be in tears right now thinking about it.
“I'm just blessed to play basketball right now.”