University of Toledo basketball player Naama Shafir.
Aside from the protective brace she wore on her right knee, nothing looked abnormal about Naama Shafir.
The senior point guard made swift cuts, scrambled for loose balls, and exploded to the basket with the same vigor she showed prior to the ACL tear she suffered almost one year ago.
Making her first appearance in 12 months, Shafir did not miss a beat, scoring 19 points and dishing out nine assists Sunday in the University of Toledo’s 73-47 win over Wayne State in an exhibition game at Savage Arena.
"It was fun finally to be able to play," said Shafir, who started and logged a team-most 29 minutes. "It’s been a long time since the last time."
Many wondered how Shafir would respond after she crumpled to the floor Nov. 25 at Indiana and missed the rest of what was supposed to be her senior year. Those concerns were quelled early on when she showed the same flash and creativity as a ball handler from early in her career.
A crowd that was bigger than a typical turnout for an exhibition affair applauded when Shafir scored her first point on a trip to the free-throw line 39 seconds into the game. Several minutes later she changed directions along the baseline, leaving the defender in her wake for a layup.
A chorus of "oohs" gave approval to perhaps Shafir’s finest moment. Losing her balance and slipping behind half court, she maintained the ball’s bounce, shielded a defender, and threw ahead to Lecretia Smith for a layup with 2:32 left in the half. Even watching Shafir turn the ball over, which she did four times, was a blessing given all that she has endured.
"I don’t really think about my knee," she said. "It’s been close to a year since my surgery. I trust my knee and I feel good."
Shafir turned her ankle in the contest but is fine.
Splitting scoring honors and some point guard duties with Shafir was reserve guard Janelle Reed-Lewis, whose 19 points included three 3-pointers. Andola Dortch, who filled in for Shafir a year ago, also received minutes at the position, as did freshman Michele Hayes.
Reed-Lewis, who averaged two points a season ago, said she was nervous to watch Shafir hit the deck as often as she did. A potentially scary moment came in the second half when Shafir was knocked down driving to the basket. She popped right up. Nothing to see here, folks.
"You get so excited to have her back and just the chance she might be out again takes a little bit out of you," Reed-Lewis said. "I’m so happy she’s all right."
Toledo, the preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference title, led 33-17 at halftime over a Division II Wayne State team that knocked off Western Michigan on Friday by nine points.
Despite the absence of center Yolanda Richardson, who is nursing a groin injury and will be back for the start of the regular season, the Rockets held a 52-41 rebounding edge. Kyle Baumgartner snared 11 boards, and Smith 10.
The first official game of Shafir’s rebirth will come Friday at home against Arkansas State, and her coach won’t restrict her playing time.
"She’s in good shape," Tricia Cullop said. "She’s getting up and down the floor really well in practice. She could play 40 minutes if I needed her and it’s good to see her back in this kind of condition."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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