Katerina Garcia needed a challenge.
She loves her family.
She loves her extended family, everyone who helped her along the way become the greatest girls basketball player in
Durango High School history.
She loves Durango.
She left all that behind for that challenge: a Division I basketball scholarship at Southern Illinois University in
She averaged more than three assists per game - more than four in conference play - and averaged 24.1 minutes per game
in 28 games, 18 starts, as a true freshman.
And just before the regular season started, she was in a wheelchair.
That was an all-time low for me," Garcia said Saturday afternoon, just days after announcing she is returning home to
play for Fort Lewis College. I was depressed. I felt bad for myself."
Garcia's rookie season started well enough: She began in June, two weeks after graduation, with 6 a.m. workouts, then
weights, summer school, then 5:30 p.m. open gym, then more summer school.
I was exhausted," she said. I've never been so tired. I've never ran so much in my life."
But she was having fun.
Then she sprained her ankle at the end of summer, the first of many strange ailments that befell the 19-year-old point
guard beneath the Midwest moon.
She recovered soon enough from her ankle sprain for individuals" - a fall workout that cordons off the 1s, the 2s and
3s and the 4s and 5s.
Garcia, a 1, took the brunt of the individuals.
In that system, everything runs through the point guard position," she said. We ran up and down the court, because in
that system, the point guard is expected to be the first person up the court on offense and the first person back on
Then her legs started hurting, but not just the typical fatigue experienced after tough workouts. This, she knew, was
I couldn't run. I couldn't walk," Garcia said. I'd cry when I walked to class because my legs hurt so bad. Something
was seriously wrong."
She tried to play through it, as she always does, but a belated trip to the doctor produced a Compartment Syndrome
diagnosis - the compression of nerves and blood vessels within an enclosed space, leading to muscle and nerve damage
and problems with blood flow.
The hallmark symptom: The pain does not go away.
I thought my legs were going to fall off," Garcia said of the pain.
Typical of her see-saw college experience to date, Garcia's bad news was preceded by good news: SIUC coach Missy Tiber
named her the Salukis' starting point guard.
I was told I was going to start. I was going to be the main person on offense. That was my job. I was doing well, and
I was excited about it," Garcia said. Thirty minutes later, I found out I had to have surgery. It was such a roller
coaster. I went from really high to really low."
To even lower: Garcia had complications from surgery on both her calves.
I woke up screaming from pain," she said.
A two-to-three day operation, Garcia spent a week in the hospital. She left in a wheelchair, spent two weeks on
crutches, had to relearn how to walk" then was thrust - way too quickly, according to most - back onto the basketball
She missed two exhibitions and one regular-season game before returning for a nonconference game Nov. 18 against
Vanderbilt. Except for some light running, Garcia had not been practicing. She played 33 minutes off the bench in a
About halfway through the season, I finally felt good," she said.
Garcia dropped a Saluki freshman record 12 assists in a rare win (one of five) Jan. 30 against Missouri Valley
Conference foe Wichita State.
That's something a point guard should get every game. That's an easy thing to do," she said. Twelve assists is not
that big of a deal."
When healthy, Garcia fit in just fine at the DI level.
I didn't prove it to anybody down here, I don't think, but I can play," she said.
I never doubted that I could play DI basketball; I just didn't play like Katerina Garcia."
Just when she started to get back to myself," her legs digressed to preseason form, again taking the Katerina Garcia
out of her game.
I lost a lot of respect for the game," she said. I love this game. But it was hard for me to remember why I loved
A stress fracture in her left leg, revealed by a postseason X-ray, had a lot to do with that.
I was playing through the pain for so long," Garcia said. It was really sad. I have never, never, never questioned my
love for the game. Ever since I was 5, I wanted to play basketball. I had to try and remember why I loved this sport,and that was depressing. I couldn't even really enjoy March Madness. That's sad. I grew up with this sport. I love
Sprained ankle, Compartment Syndrome, surgery, stress fracture ... and doctors discovered an ulcer in her cornea,too.
I couldn't see. I couldn't really see out of my right eye. That might be why my shot wasn't falling," Garcia said,who, remarkably, hasn't lost her sense of humor. I had a rough year.
My legs didn't want to work for Illinois. That's when I needed to come home."
For as long as she can remember, Garcia wanted to play college basketball. After this season, she wondered whether or
not she would ever play again.
Then one day I woke up, and I really did miss it," she said.
Garcia retraced her steps, reverting to her original top five of collegiate suitors. But when the ulcer in her eye -
Who's ever heard of an ulcer in your eye?" she asked incredulously - was discovered, all Garcia wanted was home.
She wanted her mom, Yvette.
She wanted her dad, Alfonso.
She wanted her brother,
She wanted her best friend, Morgan Gurule.
She wanted home.
So she called FLC coach Mark Kellogg for advice: He knew what was going on," said Garcia, who watched the Skyhawks'
DII national championship run on TV. He just said 'Go be happy. Do what you want to do, but be happy. Then if you want
to play, we'll have a spot waiting for you.'
Kellogg is a great coach, but he's also a great person. Being home and around a coach that understands me, knows my
game, knows who I am I can go home and be happy.
DI or DII, it doesn't matter anymore," Garcia said. I just want to play; I just want to win; I just want to have