By Tom Robinson
OXON HILL, Md. – Leah Hodick found herself with a basketball schedule that would have driven Allen Iverson mad.
Practice. No games. Just practice.
A Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association ruling – one that still infuriates her AAU coach, John Bucci – meant Hodick was ineligible to play in 2018-19, her junior season of high school basketball.
Then, after anxiously waiting to play in games during the AAU season, Hodick could not even practice.
Nearly two months passed as Hodick got an education in the mysteries of concussions after catching a stray elbow in the first week of JB Hoops practice.
More time on the sideline was followed by time spent getting comfortable again on the court once she could join her teammates this summer.
Timing and conditioning were a process.
Before her AAU career ended, however, Hodick finally found some rewards for her commitment to the game.
The final tournament trip, with many of the teammates she has shared since junior high, started on the positive note with Hodick having what felt like her best game since being sent to the sidelines for two completely different reasons.
When the USJN 17U Girls Nationals drew to a close July 23 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, it was Hodick score the game-winning basket that allowed the JB Hoops National girls team to conclude a 27-2 season with the Platinum Consolation bracket title.
The winning shot made it easier for Hodick to begin looking ahead again, rather than looking back at all her lost time.
“It was a good way to end my senior (AAU) season,” Hodick said after the basket that broke a 41-41 tie in the final minute of a 45-42 victory over Team Durant, “go out on a win and get ready for the school season.”
The last time Hodick had a school season was as a sophomore when she earned Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 all-star recognition for her performance as a post player at Pittston Area.
A decision to leave the school for Riverside followed. When District 2, then the PIAA ruled that Hodick’s transfer was for “athletic intent,” she became ineligible for an entire season.
Riverside coach Jack Mekilo praised Hodick’s commitment to becoming a practice player, helping get the active starting lineup ready and providing support from the bench as a young, talented team came within one win of Mohegan Sun Arena and state tournament appearances while competing in District 2’s most competitive class.
Practice and provide support were all Hodick could do, but she made sure to do them well.
Hodick did much more when the USJN Nationals opened. The 6-foot center had 11 points and 8 rebounds in an opening, 49-45 victory over Mass Frenzy.
“It took a while to get back in the groove of things,” Hodick said of her return to action this summer. “I think I’m close to where I was or I’m getting there. Hopefully, I’ll just continue to get better.”
It was progress that Bucci was pleased to see.
“She missed so much time between not playing in high school because of the PIAA and obviously having the concussion to start our season,” Bucci said. “She’s getting better every game now.”
For Hodick, it was a sign that patience can pay off.
Knowing she faced an eligibility hearing, Hodick said she went in simply hoping for the best.
“I was upset at first,” she said. “I haven’t sat out basketball in a long time. I’ve just been playing and playing.
“To sit out a whole season was hard because I was not used to it.”
The new teammates she practiced with all week gave Hodick something to cheer about while her own game was put on hold – at least in terms of competition.
“Just sitting there, I got to live through my teammates and, as the season went on, it got easier,” she said. “I was just there picking up my teammates.”
But, she was eager for her own games.
Then, that elbow caught her right in the middle of the forehead and the chance to play was gone again.
“At first, I didn’t think anything of it,” Hodick said. “It was really weird. I didn’t think it was that bad.”
One of those concussion mysteries, however, is being unable to anticipate whether symptoms will last days or linger much longer.
“It hung around for maybe like two months,” Hodick said.
As Hodick went through concussion therapy, it became evident that as she worked out and her heart rate reached certain levels, her head would hurt again.
Even the conditioning process to keep her ready once she could be on the court had to be curtailed.
With winter limited and spring lost, Hodick made up for lost time on the court this summer.
Hodick began picking up the pace at Spooky Nook in the USA Invitational, then as part of the JB Hoops Prague Division title at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago.
At the National Harbor in her AAU finale, Hodick started every game, was the team’s most accurate shooter (18-for-28, 64.3 percent) and shared the lead in blocked shots (5) while averaging 5.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
It all adds up to more excitement as she eagerly awaits the chance to make up for lost time in high school gyms.
Along with her AAU schedule, Hodick has been getting comfortable playing with – and not just practicing against – Riverside’s other top players in summer games in Allentown, Easton and Kingston.
“If I didn’t sit out, I feel like it would just be a normal senior year of basketball,” Hodick said. “But, now that I did sit out, I feel like I have to step up my game and really have to put myself out there to make up for what I didn’t do last year.
“I’m very, very excited.”
And now that she has high school games to look forward to, Hodick can still appreciate the other part of preparing to be a better basketball player.
“Being able to play with them in the summer helps build a chemistry of some sort,” Hodick said of a promising Lady Vikes team. “It can only get better in the season at practice.”