Despite a little rust,
Waters flowing smoothly
By Joe Simon
New Castle News
Kaylynn Waters quieted most of her critics in her first performance since tearing her anterior cruciate ligament last year.
The senior guard for the New Castle High girls basketball team scored 36 points in her first game back, then flaunted a 41-point performance the very next day in a double-overtime win over Lake Ridge Academy (Ohio).
No one could be disappointed with that kind of productivity, especially from someone when enduring a season-ending injury just last year that required surgery and months of rehabilitation.
One hater still remained.
“I knew that in the first three quarters I was in a slump,” said Waters of the game against Lake Ridge Academy. “I let my team down. I wasn’t focused where I needed to be.”
Such is the mindset of Waters, one of the most talented athletes in New Castle basketball history, according to coach Jason Rankin, and one who won’t accept anything but the best from herself.
Even though she didn’t think she reached her peak last weekend, Waters’ 77 points, including 19 during a fourth-quarter comeback against Lake Ridge, earned her Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
It’s been a long road back for Waters, who tore ligaments in her knee during the fourth game of the season last year against Ellwood City Lincoln. She collided with a Lady Wolverines player when she was going for a loose ball, and found out a few days later that she would miss her junior season.
It was devastating news for a girl whose life centered on basketball.
“When I got hurt, that was the hardest time of my life,” she said. “I balled my eyes out. I thought the world was going to end. I mean, I thought my life was over with.”
Sure, she was miserable as she sat on the bench, watching while New Castle fell a game short of the Class AAA championship game. And she hated having to battle through months of painful physical therapy, but she worked vigorously to try and regain the form she had before the injury, and the time seems to have paid off.
Her first step appears even quicker than before, Rankin said. Her jump shot is just as smooth, and there’s little to no fear for her when she drives to the hoop and is fouled or goes diving for a loose ball.
Waters is back. Well, almost.
“She’s still a little rusty,” Rankin said. “And she’ll tell you that. She missed some good shots that she normally would make. And the biggest thing is just playing against competition. When you stop playing, you lose the timing for a little bit. I told her when we were watching film, I said, ‘There were times where you had someone beat, and then you stopped.’ That just comes from not playing.”
OK, so maybe there’s two critics if you include Rankin, but the third-year coach gave more praise than criticism. One of his biggest compliments was when he said she reminded him of David Young, arguably the greatest boys player in New Castle basketball history. Young, who went on to play at Xavier University and was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics, is New Castle’s all-time leading scorer. He actually was in New Castle over the weekend for the New Castle Tipoff Tournament and his jersey retirement ceremony. Young talked to Waters at the request of Rankin.
“It was a great conversation,” Waters said. “Of course I was nervous. It was my first time talking to him. But everything he said is true, to always have that attack mentality, and since I did get a year taken from me, every time I step on that court, I have to play like it’s my last.”
Averaging 38.6 points per game is a pretty good start, but Rankin and Waters said she’s just getting started. The timing will return, the shots will come easier and free throws will fall (she was 15 of 26 over the weekend). But even when that happens, don’t expect her to slow down. That’s not how Waters is wired.
“Every day is a chance to get better,” she said. “I’m not going to say I’m the best because then I’ll stop working. I have to work at something new every practice. Like the 12 for 19 free throws. That’s not me, and I shot hundreds of free throws the next day. I just set high expectations and goals for myself.”
Rankin, too, expects greatness from her every time out.
“Kaylynn’s always been a scorer,” Rankin said. “She has a very good basketball IQ, she obviously can shoot the ball from distance and now, as strong as she is, she doesn’t mind going in the lane and getting contact, and those are all the ingredients to being a great scorer.
“If she scores 50 in a game, it wouldn’t surprise me. Honestly, if the shots fall early, it could be 60. You never know.”
THE KAYLYNN WATERS FILE
TEAM: New Castle
KNOWN FOR: Waters was arguably the best female player in Lawrence County before injuring her knee last year. She came back with a vengeance this season, scoring 36 in her first game and 41 in the second, both New Castle victories.
PARENTS: Deanna Clark and Jermaine Waters.
FAVORITE PRO PLAYER AND WHY: LeBron James, Miami Heat, and Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls. “I just love their style of play — the toughness, speed and ability.”
FAVORITE TEAM AND WHY: Duke University. “I’ve always liked them. I bleed blue.”
FUTURE PLANS: Waters said she wants to play basketball and study physical therapy in college, but she is undecided on a school.