WEST HARTFORD - Katie Lou Samuelsonâ€™s near-silence spoke volumes.
As she leaned against a wall at CFE Arena in Orlando last Feb. 7 after playing all but the final 2:12 of a win over Central Florida, the pain from her left ankle showed on her face. Her limp as she made her way around the area near the UConn womenâ€™s basketball teamâ€™s locker room was noticeable.
â€śDo you need surgery?â€ť she was asked.
â€śI donâ€™t know,â€ť Samuelson whispered.
Sheâ€™s not a doctor, just a two-time All-American and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. But she knew.
â€śWe were never shy with the fact I might need surgery,â€ť Samuelson said at UConn coach Geno Auriemmaâ€™s Fore the Kids charity golf tournament at Hartford Golf Club. â€śWe knew it might be a possibility. But I tried to tune it out as much as possibly I could. On doctorâ€™s visits, I wouldnâ€™t necessarily pay attention to what was wrong with me. I felt â€¦ Not being in the dark but believing my ankle was better than it was. It was more of a shock afterwards when I talked to the doctors and what they had to do and what had to be done to fix it.â€ť
On April 12, Samuelson had surgery to repair shredded lateral ligaments in the ankle. There was also a torn tendon, but no bone or cartilage damage.
Two months later she is on the comeback trail and that journey will continue through the summer as she heads toward her final season with the Huskies.
â€śIâ€™m currently getting my range of motion and standing on my toes. Iâ€™m cleared to do that,â€ť Samuelson said. â€śThereâ€™s still no running and jumping, but soon. Once that happens the process will go much quicker.
â€śWhen you think about it like that, itâ€™s a good thing because I havenâ€™t had many summers off. But Iâ€™m bummed that Iâ€™m not out there with my teammates and Iâ€™m not able to work on things that I need to do in the offseason. But I have gotten a lot stronger and more confident mentally.â€ť
In 32 games as a junior, Samuelson averaged 17.4 points, and career highs 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists. She was the only AAC player to rank in the top 10 in field-goal percentage (53.0), 3-point percentage (a nationâ€™s best 47.5), and free-throw percentage (83.5).
The Huntington Beach, California, native missed four November contests with a left foot sprain. She hurt the ankle in her first game back against Notre Dame on Dec. 3 and aggravated the injury on Jan. 18 versus Tulsa. She missed the game at Temple three days later and played the rest of the season with a brace on the ankle.
But her production and efficiency fell the more she played. Over the final 19 games of the season, she shot 57.6 percent in her first 25 minutes on the floor but just 28.6 percent when she passed the 25-minute plateau.
In the NCAA Final Four overtime loss to Notre Dame in Columbus, Ohio, Samuelson played all 45 minutes and had 16 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. But after making a 3-pointer with 4:42 left in the third quarter, she did not score again. Over the final 19 minutes, she missed both her shots from the floor, committed three of her four turnovers, and struggled on the defensive end while getting into foul trouble.
â€śI could feel myself feeling not as good as the season went on, and at the end it was a struggle,â€ť Samuelson said. â€śMaybe I could have done more. Maybe I could have played better defense if I moved a little better. But instead of looking back at how I felt, Iâ€™m excited to look ahead and see what I can do for our team.
â€śI felt good about how I dealt with it once I knew what I was playing on. But Iâ€™ve always been one to think that if Iâ€™m OK to play then Iâ€™m going to be on the court.â€ť
Auriemma is looking forward to having her on the court again.
â€śSheâ€™s in great spirits,â€ť he said. â€śObviously she is disappointed because she has been wanting to play for a long time. But she understands what she has to do. There has been a big change in her and how she carries herself and the way she approaches everything. She is laying some groundwork for September.â€ť
When she returns, Samuelson will have a chance to put her name among some of UConnâ€™s all-time greats.
Only four - Svetlana Abrosimiova, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart - have been named WBCA All-Americans at least three times. She is 288 points shy of becoming the 10th member of UConnâ€™s 2,000-point club, and only 12 Huskies have been named to an all-tournament team in all four of their years.
Most important, she wants to make her first national championship game appearance - she missed the 2016 final with a broken left foot - and go out with a second title.
â€śI want to be reliable every game, and when things get tough I want to be there to step up,â€ť Samuelson said. â€śI want my teammates to feel like that if weâ€™re in a tough situation, Iâ€™ll get things done, and weâ€™ll get it done.â€ť
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
â€śI already knew before this year how tough she was,â€ť said her older sister, Karlie Samuelson, of the Los Angeles Sparks. â€śBut what people need to know is how resilient Lou is. Sheâ€™ll do anything for her team. Sheâ€™ll do anything for her team to win.â€ť