Hobbled JMU Faces Virginia
Posted: November 9, 2012
HARRISONBURG — James Madison has won three of its last four games against the University of Virginia in women’s basketball, but to add to that total in their season opener tonight, the mid-major Dukes will have to do it a little banged up.
Forward/guard Nikki Newman, the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year, has an injured knee. Newman — who originally said it was a torn meniscus — sustained the injury at practice in early October but hasn’t missed any time and said she plans to play through it, putting off surgery as long as possible.
JMU coach Kenny Brooks, however, said Friday that the MRI was inconclusive. He said it could be either a tear or a sprain. Either way, Newman is trying to avoid surgery.
“I’m going to try to as long as I can and not get it done,” the Turner Ashby High School graduate said. “I’m sure it’ll eventually happen, and if so, it will be before conference play.”
Brooks said he hadn’t seen any effects of the injury during practice and that Newman — a 6-foot-2 senior who plays with an uncommon disregard for the welfare of her body — is still playing like Newman.
“It’s always a level of concern when you dealing with a kid’s knee,” said Brooks, a Waynesboro native who is entering his 11th season and has a 227-95 career record. “She tweaked it and, pretty much, they told she could go to tolerance. I’ve seen no effects of it. She still plays like Nikki.”
But, with all the roles Newman fills — in addition to playing any position on the floor, she is a superlative passer and the Dukes’ best defender and rebounder — Brooks is still worried.
“I’m holding my breath,” he said, with a laugh.
Also hurt for JMU are center Kanita Shepherd and point guard Angela Mickens.
Shepherd tore an ACL two years ago and took a medical redshirt last season. The 6-foot-3 senior has suffered several setbacks and endured multiple surgeries, and Brooks said Shepherd still isn’t full strength. It’s possible she could play today, but if she does, it’s unlikely it would be for very long.
Mickens, a freshman from R.E. Lee, has practiced sparingly during the preseason because of an injured thumb and a concussion. Brooks said she’s over the concussion but doesn’t expect her to be cleared for the thumb until today.
Her injury has forced freshman Precious Hall, a natural shooting guard, to play more point to backup senior Tarik Hislop, the Dukes’ leading returning scorer after averaging 14.8 points per game last season. JMU also returns it second-leading scorer, junior guard Kirby Burkholder, a 3-point threat who averaged 11.5 points last year and, in the offseason, worked on scoring more off the dribble.
Despite returning four starters, though, Madison has several new players and needs to develop depth in the post.
“I see the talent, but we don’t have that killer mentality,” Hislop said. “We’re getting better and we’re going to show everybody, but I don’t think we have that, yet. I think we’ll get that as the season goes on. As a senior, I want it right now, but we do have a lot of new people on the team — a lot of freshmen that can play big minutes — and I think that’ll just come as we build more chemistry on the floor.”
Hall has emerged as a potential impact freshman after a strong showing in the Dukes’ exhibition against Division II Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday.
“She’s not overly quick but just understands how to play the game,” Brooks said. “She can get separation, shoots the ball extremely well — probably the second-best shooter behind Kirby when she gets her feet set.”
James Madison, which went 29-8 last season and lost in the WNIT final at Oklahoma State (it beat U.Va. 68-59 in the quarterfinals), shouldn’t have to rely too much on freshmen. The Dukes’ four returning starters are Burkholder, Hislop, Newman and 6-foot forward Toia Giggetts, who, after minor knee surgery in the preseason, should be their go-to offensive threat in the low post. But expect some strange lineups for JMU, intended to take advantage of the team’s versatility and long-and-athletic, guard-heavy makeup.
Today, Madison will be facing a rebuilt Virginia team that likes to slow down the game with its zone defense — a style that always frustrates the Dukes, who prefer to play fast.
U.Va. lost its leading scorer, point guard Ariana Moorer, to graduation, as well its best post player, Chelsea Shine. Back is Ataira Franklin, a 5-11 junior guard who will lead a more balanced offense. She scored 22 points against JMU at John Paul Jones Arena in the teams’ first meeting last season. U.Va. won 59-53 after Madison blew a late lead.
Today’s game is the first in a home-and-home series.
Note: This story has been revised. Newman said her knee injury was a torn meniscus, but Brooks said Friday the MRI was inconclusive.