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Brittney Sykes on her recovery: "I feel like I have a lot more basketball to play"

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Syracuse women's basketball guard Brittney Sykes talked to the media this week for the first time since re-tearing her ACL in January.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When her knee buckled on the Carrier Dome court, Brittney Sykes knew that the long recovery process she had finally conquered was about to start all over again.

It took eight months for Sykes to work her way back from a right ACL tear. It took only three games for her to tear that same ACL a second time.

"You think to yourself, why me? It's okay to ask, but you just can't stay there," Sykes said.

She missed the first 11 games of non-conference play until finally returning on Dec. 28 against Cornell. Just a week into her return, she took one misplaced step on a breakaway and suffered her second season-ending injury in as many years.

"It was kind of a shock to me because you don't expect that to happen," Sykes said. "When it happens, you just have to take it day to day. That's what I've done. Some days are bad. Some days are good. Some days are my worst. Some days are my best."

It's now been three months since the injury and coach Quentin Hillsman is encouraged by her recovery process. He doesn't know yet if she'll qualify for a medical redshirt, but said it's very likely given the low percentage of games she played in. Hillsman wouldn't put a timetable on Sykes' return, only saying that he expects a full comeback at some point next season.

"She’s a tough kid and it’d be easy for her to throw it in and give up," Hillsman said.  "But she’s working hard to get back and hopefully, she’ll get cleared and be ready to play again and be the same Brittney she was two years ago."

That's when she scored 16.6 points per game and shot 50.5 percent – both team highs and helped the Orange get its first NCAA Tournament win in program history. In the opening round, she first tore her ACL when she was going up for a layup against Chattanooga. When it happened, she screamed on the court in pain and stayed motionless for more than a minute.

The second time around, she didn't show much of a reaction. She couldn't bend her knee so she couldn't lie on the court again and wait for medical treatment. Even without hearing her ACL pop, she said she knee immediately what happened to her. So she just hobbled over to the stanchion and managed to get off the court on her own power.

"It was hard. I'm not going to lie," Sykes said. "It was harder this time, but it was more of an emotional and mental hardship than a physical one."

For Sykes, the hardest part of her recovery has been staying positive even though she knows exactly what she'll have to endure to get back on the court. The process has been very similar. She goes through some of the same rehab treatments and talks to the same people who helped her through the first injury. Her coaches and teammates have complimented her for keeping a positive attitude. Not once did she think about quitting basketball.

"I'm only 21 years old," Sykes said. "I feel like I have a lot more basketball to play before I even think about giving up."

Sykes has drawn inspiration from Maryland's Laurin Mincy and others around the sport who have recovered from two ACL tears. The biggest inspiration, however, came from Julie McBride, a former Syracuse guard who overcame the injury three times. McBride, now 32, plays overseas in Poland. When McBride met Sykes, she lifted up part of her pants to reveal three scars across her leg.

"I just toughened up right there," Sykes said. "Because she did it three times and is still playing oversees. She's looking great and she's looking healthy and she's happy about her life."

Added Sykes, "Then what's the point in me trying to give up?"