BOWLING GREEN — At every Bowling Green State University men’s basketball game, a tall young man sits at the end of the bench. He’s 6-foot-9, so Matiss Kulackovskis is hard to miss.
Since the start of the spring semester in early January, the same has held true on the end of the women’s basketball bench. Well, Alyssa Dean is just 5-8, so it is not quite as obvious.
But both are in the same situation: Dean and Kulackovskis are watching this season, waiting for their chance to take the court with the Falcons in 2018-19.
“So much has happened in the last six months,” said Kulackovskis, whose freshman season was derailed by an ACL injury. “I’ve started classes, I’ve been injured, we’ve won games, we’ve lost games.
“It has been a big roller coaster. But it has been a fun roller coaster.”
Dean is a transfer from the University of Memphis who will not be able to take the court until she takes her final exams in fall semester some time in December.
“It’s hard [to sit out], but I think it’s good for me — especially coming into a new environment,” Dean said. “I can watch how they like to do things, how they like to run stuff.
“It stinks, but I’m benefiting from it a lot.”
Unfortunately, Dean has some experience watching games from the bench. After scoring more than 1,200 points in her first three seasons at Centennial High School in Columbus, she tore her ACL in the summer before her senior year.
“It was very frustrating, especially since we had been good the previous year and had another good player transferring in,” Dean admitted. “We had big hopes for things like a state championship, so that was hard.
“But the second [ACL tear] was harder.”
The second injury happened two days before the first game of her freshman year at Memphis.
“When you go through two grueling injuries, you have to find out if this is something you really want to do,” Dean said. “I went through a 12-month rehab, only to tear it again — and that’s hard.”
Dean said she learned during her second rehab that she loved basketball too much to quit.
“I thought, ‘You have so much to prove,’” she said. “I felt the sky was the limit, and I wanted to see what I am going to be as a college player.
“That’s what makes sitting on the bench worth it: I know, one day, I’ll be able to step on the floor and show what kind of player I am.”
This fall, she started in her first game at Memphis and scored 10 points against Tennessee State. But Dean said she wanted to return to a school closer to home and transferred to Bowling Green at the start of spring semester in January.
There she talked to Kulackovskis, who had torn his ACL in his first official practice at BG.
“I was working hard all summer, trying to get into the best shape I could,” he said. “And just like that, I was out for the season. …
“I was speechless when I found out. I was so ready to play and help the team, but there was nothing I could do about it.”
It was a painful blow for Kulackovskis, a native of Latvia who had hoped to see playing time for the Falcons this season after averaging 17.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists as a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia.
But he also found a silver lining in the injury.
“This has given me so much time to see everything — and to work on my body,” Kulackovskis said. “I got a chance to get stronger, to get faster. And that should help me next year.”
Men’s coach Michael Huger said sitting out a season can sometimes help with the development of young players, citing the strong season Justin Turner is posting after injuries limited his action a year ago.
“He can get acclimated to the college life, doing things like going to class and dealing with that new environment while still being around the team,” Huger said of Kulackovskis. “The second thing he can do is get bigger and stronger, putting some muscle mass on.
“And he gets to watch. He can learn the plays, learn how to play hard, learn what he has to do to help this team.”
Practices are different for Dean, who is healthy and can work with her soon-to-be teammates, and Kulackovskis, who still is rehabbing his injured knee.
“I just try to watch as much practice as I can,” Kulackovskis said.
“Sometimes I’ll ask different players, ‘What did coach say to you?’ and ‘Why did you do what you did?’”
But come game time, their lives are the same: They sit at the end of the bench, watching teammates and coaches compete, waiting for their opportunity to join in.
“I like to watch how coach [Jennifer] Roos and the other coaches interact with the players,” Dean said. “But I also like to watch the players, especially to see how they handle themselves where things go badly or things go well.”
Kulackovskis agreed, adding, “Sometimes I’m just cheering my teammates on, and sometimes I’m pointing out things I see. And it is an opportunity to see the game from a different viewpoint: I can see how the game works, because this is a different game from high school.
“Everyone runs faster and is more physical, and everyone knows all the plays. It’s important to be prepared for everything.”
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