- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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The change by USA Basketball to the women's cadet program this year, which more than tripled the number of participants in the U16 national team trials through an open application process, was met with a varied reception. In hindsight, the reemergence of a talented point guard, one whose talent was enough to allow an early college commitment to a major program but whose path to stardom was detoured, was worth the detractors all by itself.
Kianna Holland, a 5-foot-9 prospect who committed to Ohio State in March, was as outwardly excited as any of the players making it to the final group of players before the 12-member U16 team was selected, "especially being the underdog from South Carolina who didn't get invited."
Holland was terrific during trials. But like all the other players who were "accepted" rather than "invited," she didn't make the team. But the days spent in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, were far from wasted. In fact, few gained more than the future Buckeye, given the last 13 months.
So with such a rave review, why wasn't Holland one of the 35 invitees?
The acronym, as close to basketball blasphemy as it gets, stands for the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Its infamy lends a prejudice to female ballers and April 24, 2010 was the day injury to that three-lettered part of her body struck Holland.
Holland suffered a tear of that ligament in her left knee. She had surgery to repair the ligament on May 12 and then rehabilitation began.
With a diligent approach to her rehab and a positive attitude, Holland was released to play basketball again in October. This is where the detour seems to go from pavement to gravel. She transferred high schools and was not able to play her sophomore season at Seneca (S.C.) High School due to state rules. So despite being cleared to play in less than six months from her surgery, Holland went a year before rejoining her peers in the spring.
Seeing Holland fly all over the court at the USA U16 trials led onlookers to question if the rosters were accurate. She showed none of the hesitancy of a recently injured player nor did she exhibit much rust from not playing, either.
While Holland did hit the hardwood trying to make the national team, which is competing this week in Merida', Mexico at the FIBA Americas U16 Championships, there was a bigger picture for her, a challenge to see where she was at after so much time off the grid.
"This is my first time playing without a brace in a year so it's been exciting for me to see how I can compete and how I fare against some of the quickest people in the country," Holland said during the USA trials. "I'm a bigger point guard so I have to get down and guard some of the smaller guards, and a few times I did get beat, but I'm definitely working on my foot speed and doing everything in my power to keep getting faster, stronger, better. But it is a little bit of a challenge adjusting back to it."
Before the injury, Holland relied on her speed and quickness and regularly was found scraping herself off of the floor. As she has gotten stronger, and some might say smarter, she has learned to initiate the contact on the drive and use the it to her advantage.
"Before I got hurt that wasn't natural," Holland said of her ability to veer defenders. "I would drive in, get hit and fall on the floor almost every time, every game bruised knees, bruised elbows, you know, hurting after every game, so I'm trying to learn how to use my body better and everything, so whenever I do drive in I won't get hurt so bad."
Holland used her time away from playing to grow her game in a new way: she now loves watching the game. Maya Moore and Skylar Diggins are her favorites to study.
"For me, whenever I was out, I watched the game a lot," Holland said. "And I see everything so much differently than I did before. I feel like just watching the game has helped me so much because it made the transition to playing so much easier."
It is this attitude and approach that allowed her to navigate the detour all the way back to the No. 24 ranking in the ESPNU HoopGurlz Terrific 25. If you are wondering what's next for Holland, just ask her about her USA trials experience.
"What I learned about myself is that I can dig deeper than I ever have before. I can play harder defense than what I've played," Holland said. "And also, getting mentally tougher because it is very draining not knowing if you're going to make the next cut and what not. So I just leave it all out there on the floor."
We can thank USA Basketball for providing this opportunity to see just how committed Holland has been in her year off without having to wait until the evaluation periods in July. She has waited long enough.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.