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Gwinnett grads: Davidson's Hamilton returns to form after knee injury

Katie Hamilton had the minor injuries every basketball player is used to - ankle sprains, jammed fingers and the like.

The Parkview grad had never missed a great deal of playing time because of an injury. Certainly not an entire season.

But that's what faced Hamilton in the 2005 preseason, when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during a practice. The surgery and ensuing rehabilitation kept her from playing a meaningful game for a year, but the wait ended Nov. 12 when the Davidson College junior made her return against UNC-Asheville.

It wasn't her best game - she shot 3 of 13 and scored nine points - but it still felt good be back on the court in a game that mattered.

"It felt great to play again, especially when you're first getting back out there," Hamilton said. "It's just so exciting to play again. You feel like your first middle school basketball game. You're just excited about it and you don't take it for granted."

Hamilton has gotten better since the opener, and so has her team. The 5-foot-11 guard averages a team-best 11.8 points for Davidson, off to the best start in school history at 11-2. One of the team's losses was a narrow 74-68 loss to SEC power Georgia.

The wins have been particularly special for Hamilton after she sat out the entire 2005-06 season on a medical redshirt. She stayed involved with the team last season, but it still was a tough process.

"You shouldn't be because you see it happen all the time, but it's shocking," Hamilton said of her knee injury.

"You hope it never happens to you. But once it happens, you have to accept it as reality and you have to adjust. You have to look at the light at the end of the tunnel and the good news was it wasn't career threatening."

After a lengthy rehab process, Hamilton was cleared to play again in May. She spent the summer back home and worked out regularly with the players and trainers at Georgia Tech. She also played pick-up games at Tech to keep her game sharp.

She played with a knee brace for a while, but has since shed it and the anxiety that comes with any knee injury.

"Each first is a little bit of a mental adjustment," Hamilton said. "The first time you run, you worry. You get through it, the next time you're fine. The first contact you worry and then the next time you're fine."

So far Hamilton's game hasn't missed a beat. She has made 23 of 51 3-pointers for a Southern Conference-best 45.1 shooting percentage from long range and also has made 81.3 percent of her free throws.

It's the kind of season that was projected for her after she made preseason All-Conference this year despite missing all of last season. She was also a leading vote-getter for preseason player of the year honors, likely because observers of the league remember her standout seasons in 2003-04 and 2004-05.

As a freshman, Hamilton average 11.9 points and was named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. She averaged 15.8 points, second in the league, as a sophomore in 2004-05.

Through slightly more than two seasons of college play, she has 945 career points, just 55 away from becoming the 10th Davidson player to top the 1,000-point plateau. She still has two more seasons to add to her point total, and the extra year of eligibility also will allow her to graduate with a double major in sociology and religion.

The additional year also means she gets to spend more enjoyable time on the basketball court, for a winning team that has the lofty goal of conference title and NCAA Tournament berth.

"The team's doing great," Hamilton said. "We've had a record-breaking beginning and that's really been exciting. But we've got a huge chunk of our conference games that matter most left, so we've got to stay focused." Higgs hits milestone in Georgia Tech win

ATLANTA - Central Gwinnett grad Stephanie Higgs scored her 1,000th collegiate point and led the Georgia Tech women past Alcorn State 76-54 on Friday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Higgs finished with a team-high 19 points and was one of four Yellow Jackets in double figures in the opener of the Atlanta Marriott NW Holiday Invitational.

Though Georgia Tech (8-3) collected its seventh 20-point win, Higgs was the big story as she earned her 1,000th career point when she drove through the paint for a layup and foul with 10 minutes to play in the first half.

Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph called a timeout immediately following Higgs' field goal to commemorate the scoring milestone.

Higgs was joined on the court by her parents, Roy and Betty Higgs, for a special ball presentation. The Tech faithful cheered the Lawrenceville native after which she went to the line to hit her free-throw shot.

Higgs, third in the ACC with an average of 17.8 points per game, is only the 20th Yellow Jacket to score 1,000 points in her career. She also paced Tech with four assists and had four rebounds and two blocks on Friday.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.