Staff Photo: Will Hammock Peachtree Ridge senior Alisha Cook has battled back from two ACL tears to her knees to play for the Lions this season. Until this season, she hadn't played in a real game since her freshman season.
The basketball season was still young and the gym at Peachtree Ridge wasn't exactly full for a non-region game against Berkmar when Alisha Cook made her first shot.
Typically, such a basket would draw mild applause and a bit of a reaction from the bench. But when Cook's shot fell on Saturday, Dec. 8, the Lions' coaches and players erupted with cheers.
Visiting Berkmar fans probably wondered what the excitement was all about. If they knew Cook's story, they probably would have given her a standing ovation, too.
The basket wasn't just the Peachtree Ridge senior's first of the season, it was her first in a real varsity game since her freshman season because of ACL tears to both knees over the previous two seasons.
"It was pretty great," Cook said. "I was excited. I was really nervous. I wasn't nervous to get hurt. I was just ready. I was really excited. Once I scored, I was really excited. First shot since freshman year.
"I always get nervous. I'm a nervous player. I was thinking, 'Just relax, it will be OK.' Once I took my first shot, I was good. It was like, 'Now I'm ready.' Everyone was excited for me because they know what I've been through."
Peachtree Ridge girls basketball coach James Clanahan still grins at the memory.
"The bench went crazy," Clanahan said. "The first one was a 22-footer. The second one was a 22 footer. No dribble. In full transition."
Just having Cook back on the court was good enough for the Lions players and coaches, who call her "Mama Cook" for how she looks out for everyone on the team. Even on a team with seven seniors, she is an important leader.
But just before preseason workouts, Cook wasn't even sure she would play her last high school season. After what she had endured, who could blame her?
The first setback came when Cook tore the ACL in her right knee during a preseason scrimmage just before her sophomore season. She made a cut on defense and the knee gave out.
She worked hard to recover for her junior high school season and everything was on track until an early morning game in Team Sports class. She caught the basketball, turned and her left knee buckled with another torn ACL.
Cook cried. Her teammates bawled. Her mother, notified via phone, literally fainted.
As she recovered, she considered shelving basketball for good.
"I was thinking I may not play my senior year," Cook said. "I didn't know if I could do it."
Her love of the game was strong, though. And it was surpassed by the relationships she formed in basketball. She knew a return to the team meant that she would spend all these months with her good friends.
During the fall, she decided to make a comeback.
"I was thinking, 'Let me just try it out my senior year and see if I can get through it,'" Cook said. "I'm a lot slower than I was. I used to be pretty fast. Now I'm pretty slow. I'm getting into the swing of things now. If I was going to get hurt, I think it would have already happened."
Cook jokes about her speed, or lack thereof, but the 5-foot-4 guard hasn't lost all of her game. In the game of her first basket, she scored eight points on a pair of 3-pointers. Her 3-point shooting is still a strength.
"The shot came back pretty fast," Cook said.
"I don't think it ever left," Clanahan said.
The recovery period after activity isn't as smooth as in the past, either. Cook's knees, now both repaired, are sore after practices and games.
But the discomfort is worth the reward.
"I love it," Cook said of playing again. "At first it was hard, but I love being with all my friends, my best friends. We're a close team. No drama. We play so hard and we're acting like a team. I love it."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.