By Tom Robinson
Lauren Charlton learned something about her love of basketball and about the toughness of athletes who have gone through lengthy rehabilitation from injury.
“I give credit to all of the people who have gone through something like that,” Charlton said after getting back on the court and playing one game each with her JB Hoops AAU team and her Dallas High School teammates in a summer league in June. “You really don’t realize how much you have until it’s gone.”
For Charlton, basketball went away in her sophomore season at Dallas when she threw a hard cross-court pass and suffered a serious shoulder injury.
“It was definitely hard,” Charlton said of sitting out. “I’m lucky that it was only six months because I know people go through a lot worse.”
Charlton was averaging more than 15 points per game to begin her sophomore season, taking over as the team’s top offensive threat as Dallas won its first seven games.
The Mountaineers were 8-1 with just a two-point loss and were leading against eventual District 2-4 Class 6A champion Hazleton Area when Charlton’s arm was in an awkward position as she threw the pass while unguarded.
Charlton previously had an occasional issue with her shoulder, feeling or hearing a click with some movements. This, however, was different. Her shoulder dislocated as she threw the pass, bringing her father Bill, an orthopedic surgeon, out of the bleachers and onto the court to pop her shoulder back into place.
Although she immediately knew something was wrong, Charlton said that once her father popped her shoulder back in she thought it might just be a matter of a few weeks before she was back with her team.
“But he told me after we got the MRI that it was over,” said Charlton, who had never missed any high school game and had only missed an occasional game on any level with a twisted ankle. “It was so devastating for me and my team.”
Charlton lost the remainder of her sophomore season and a promising Dallas team lost its momentum. A team with three senior starters slipped to a 12-11 finish without its offensive leader.
The 6-footer, who had been adjusting to spending more offensive time farther from the basket, tried to make the most of her time on the Dallas bench.
“Watching the last half of my (Dallas) season and the beginning of the AAU season, I feel like I understand the game a lot better and I can see holes in the court where I haven’t seen them before, just from watching everyone,” she said.
When she could not shoot or run around, Charlton started working on her ballhandling, which she said needs improvement as she plays guard more often.
Her shot is almost back to where it was in the heart of the high school season.
And, after almost exactly a half year away, Charlton is beginning to play again.
“I am so happy to be back,” Charlton said. “It’s amazing. You wouldn’t think how much you’d miss it.
“Missing that whole entire six months changed so much for me.”
More aware than ever of how much she wants to be on the basketball court, Charlton knows there is work still to be done.
“I have to keep working,” she said. “My shot is getting better by the day that I work on it. It’s basically back to normal.
“My conditioning definitely has to improve. I couldn’t do lots of movement with the injury.
“I’ve been working hard the last few weeks to try to get back into shape.”
There is one last important step for Charlton to comfortably blend back in with her teams, particularly on the higher level of AAU play with some challenging tournament competition on the horizon for JB Hoops in July.
Charlton has admitted to herself and coach Lauren Carra that she is not where she needs to be in terms of mixing it up in the paint. Her height means that Charlton will still be called on for rebounding and interior defense at times and it is necessary to avoid becoming a one-dimensional offensive player.
“When I have to go in for a rebound, I’m very cautious about it,” Charlton said. “In fact, the first week I started, I was afraid to go inside the paint because I thought I’d get bumped. Now, I’ve started to get used to it.
“I had to tell my coach Lauren that I was a little hesitant at first. I’m starting to get more comfortable.”
Charlton and her coaches are aware that she has to face the challenge.
“We all kind of know that I have to stop thinking and play my game because the more I overthink, the more crazy I get,” Charlton said.
After being away, Charlton is happy to be on the court working through the final steps of her return to the game.