Commentary

Goodrich leads way for Jayhawks

Originally Published: March 23, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

Way too many athletes have torn an ACL more than once. Sometimes it's in the same knee; sometimes it hits both. The second time around is worse than the first for a lot of them, because they know exactly how difficult rehab is going to be and the dread factor sets in right away.

But it was the opposite for Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich. Her first was worst. When she did it the second time, she already knew she could get through it.

And look how far past all that she has come. Now a redshirt junior, Goodrich has found her voice as a leader for a KU team that has made the most out of the NCAA selection committee's decision to give the Jayhawks a berth into the tournament.

KU was, figuratively speaking, on the outside edge of the bubble, clinging on for its life. Now the Jayhawks are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 14 years, one of two No. 11 seeds to advance to the regional semifinals. KU will face No. 2 seed Tennessee on Saturday (ESPN/ESPN3, noon ET) in Des Moines, Iowa, having disappointed the folks who wanted to see a Lady Vols-versus-Elena Delle Donne show.

[+] EnlargeAngel Goodrich
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireAngel Goodrich helped Kansas win its first NCAA tournament game since 1999.

But considering how much disappointment the Jayhawks have been through in recent years, they're feeling nothing but jubilant after upsetting No. 6 seed Nebraska and third-seeded Delaware at the early rounds in Little Rock, Ark.

For Goodrich, especially, it has been a payoff in her transition from strong, silent type to more communicative teammate and friend. Goodrich always wanted to handle all her own hardships, without help from anyone. The silver lining to her two knee injuries is that she figured out it was OK to let in people who care about you.

"That helped me open up to my teammates and the staff," Goodrich said. "I was really shy, I didn't speak much. Then when I got hurt, they were there for me. It made me trust people more, and see things and people differently. That really changed who I was, actually."

Goodrich is from Tahlequah, Okla., and played for Sequoyah High. She is of Cherokee descent and is one of the shining lights of the Native American community back home. And in the space of two games -- in which she combined for 47 points and 11 assists -- the whole country got a chance to see what the cities she has lived in already knew: Goodrich is the real deal, both as a person and an athlete.

"If she misses a box-out in practice, or misses a layup, or turns the ball over, she runs a sprint. It's like, 'My bad.' Every time," KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "And the rest of them see that and say, 'If Angel does it, I better do that.'

"Through all our tough losses. When Carolyn Davis got hurt, and it's hard to catch your breath emotionally, it's Angel who's set the tone for us."

For Goodrich, that comes from the way she was raised: to fully embrace responsibility.

"My mom always told me, 'Go big or go home,'" Goodrich said. "I always wanted things to be perfect. And if something went wrong on court, I'd rather be the one to take the fall than for someone else to. I want that on me, because I can handle it."

I was really shy, I didn't speak much. Then when I got hurt, [my teammates and coaches] were there for me. It made me trust people more, and see things and people differently. That really changed who I was, actually.

-- Kansas junior Angel Goodrich

But it also made her wary of leaning on anyone even a little when times were hard. So when she suffered a torn left ACL as practice was just getting under way her freshman year of 2008-09, at first she isolated herself. She felt depressed, as if she'd let everyone down.

Goodrich had come in with the highest of expectations, the point guard Henrickson and KU had been hoping for. Yet she was on the shelf for her first season. But that's when she started realizing that sometimes strength means letting people around you help you be strong.

Which is why when she went through another ACL tear -- this time on the right knee -- in January 2010, she wasn't as devastated as most everybody around her was.

"I knew what I was in for, and what it took to recover," Goodrich said. "What was harder, though, on the second one was the pain part. Physically, it was tougher than it was emotionally."

But she did, indeed, come back. Last season, when the Jayhawks went 21-13 and played in the WNIT, Goodrich averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 assists. This year, she's averaging 13.7 points and has a KU single-season record 244 assists (with 116 turnovers). Goodrich has been very durable, too, starting all 33 games and averaging 37.4 minutes. She's barely taken a breather all season.

And she also continues to show proficiency for something that takes intestinal fortitude, especially when you're just 5 feet, 4 inches and have two surgically repaired knees. She keeps taking charges, a part of her defensive commitment that has never waivered.

Former LSU point guard Temeka Johnson, who's now with the WNBA's Tulsa Shock, once told me that she decided at a young age that she'd turn her height -- or lack thereof -- into an asset rather than a liability. Johnson is 5-3, and thinks that has made her tougher, more feisty, and unafraid on court. No matter how large a player is coming at her, she will not back down.

Goodrich has a quieter personality, but she chuckled in agreement at the suggestion that "little players" do develop a degree of toughness.

"I feel bigger than I actually am," Goodrich said.

Those watching her -- some for the first time in this NCAA tournament -- see a big presence in a small package. With the adversity the Jayhawks have had, they've needed younger players such as freshmen Chelsea Gardner and Natalie Knight to take on bigger roles than they had probably expected. But with someone like Goodrich setting the tone, that has been easier for them to do.

"They want to be better, and they want to get it right," Goodrich said. "So they ask a lot of questions. I didn't think I would ever be able to speak to people in a leadership role. But I've grown into it."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.