Few players understand the new normal of 2021 quite like Lily Adams.
When the Braintree senior stepped on the basketball court at Newton North last week, it marked the first time Adams had donned her blue-and-white jersey since the 2019 Division 1 state final, when the Wamps danced off the Hart Center floor at Holy Cross with a 71-50 victory over Springfield Central for their second title in as many years.
Just 662 days later — she returned, with a reconstructed right knee in the midst of a global pandemic.
“It’s just a different environment,” said Adams, who as a sophomore was a starter on the championship club and netted 9 points in the finale.
“It doesn’t feel the same — but once you’re playing, it feels normal.”
A 45-30 loss to North was a rough opening for Braintree and Adams, who totaled 4 points in her first organized basketball in 15 months. A few months ago, Adams didn’t know if she would even get the chance to play in high school again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now that [the season] is here, I’m just happy to have the games we have,” she said.
On Oct. 5, 2019, playing in a NEX Elite AAU tournament game, Adams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, along with the lateral and medial meniscus when she lunged for a long pass. She felt the common “pop,” tried to jog off the pain, and then nearly passed out as her leg buckled.
A grueling road to recovery ensued, starting with surgery in November 2019, followed by physical therapy three times per week. Then the coronavirus pandemic shut down gyms for an extended period in the spring. The senior had to find at-home solutions, spending 10 minutes each day lifting a backpack full of textbooks with her leg.
In the summer, when Adams was cleared to start running and cutting, she reached out to Kristen McDonnell, her former coach at Braintree now in her second season as the boys’ coach at Norwood. McDonnell knows the routine, and the long road back: she tore her ACL twice as a high school player at Boston Latin and again as a collegian at Stonehill.
Coach and pupil arranged workouts in Norwood and Braintree.
“I was trying to tell her, ‘Just break down your goals a little bit,’” McDonnell said. “Things to you are going to look a little different.”
Adams was a rising star for McDonnell and the Wamps in their title run. As an explosive 5-foot-9-inch guard, she scored 21 points in the Division 1 final of the 2019 Comcast Classic. And she netted the winning basket in a 39-38 thriller against Central Catholic in the D1 state semis at TD Garden.
At the moment, Adams estimates that 80-85 percent of her quickness has returned. She is still getting used to shortened pregame prep, socially-distanced benches and masks. None of these modifications were around when she last clocked into a game.
“We can’t play the [pregame] music; we can’t have the fans,” she said.
And she is playing for a new coach, Matt Freeman, who replaced McDonnell last season. Although Adams did not play last season, she was acquainted with Freeman as her psychology teacher.
“She supported me when I got the job and told me she was really looking forward to playing for me,” Freeman said. “That meant a lot.”
Fellow Braintree senior Kate Silvia has watched Adams evolve from rising star, to injured player-coach, to capable leader.
“When she came back, she was so ready to be on the court again,” Silvia said. “Some people have to ease into it.”
Adams has lost valuable moments of her high school career. But she also takes pride in her return from injury, believing it validated her inner strength.
“You just have to push yourself,” she said. “You don’t know how much you’re capable of until you have to go through it.”
On Friday night, Rockland coach Diana Mitchell Newcomb watched her team’s South Shore League opener at Norwell from a new vantage point: her own couch.
On Wednesday, Newcomb was rushed to the emergency room after developing two blood clots in her right leg. She had been dealing with pain throughout the week, and it came to head when her foot “blew up” after a team practice.
“I couldn’t even put it in my sneaker,” she said.
In her ninth season, Newcomb was not in attendance for the first time in her career. Instead, she watched the reigning Division 3 South champion Bulldogs drop a 47-34 decision via the school’s live stream. She was able to text her assistants notes throughout the game. But because of the delay in transmission, they could not be play-specific.
“It was still great, sitting on my couch, to be able to communicate in that sense,” she said.
Newcomb called each one of her players individually after the game to discuss the loss. But she missed the energy of on-court conversations.
“It was hard not to be able to talk to my players,” she said. “I love to be able to talk and share things with them whether they’re on the court or off the court.”
Right now, Newcomb cannot be on her feet for more than 10 minutes at a time. But she’s making every effort to return.
“It bothers me more than anything, not to be there for your team,” she said.
▪ After the departure of two starters from last year’s Division 3 North semifinal team, Bishop Fenwick has leaned on a pair of transfers, Olivia Found (Matignon) and Nasha Arnold (North Reading).
Both juniors played in their respective state semifinals last winter, and their level of experience has helped the Crusaders (2-0) right away. Found is averaging 16 points and seven steals per game, and Arnold is collecting a team-high nine rebounds per game.
“Both are great kids and have smoothly fit right into our culture,” Bishop Fenwick coach Adam DeBaggis said. “We’re all about team culture and consistently working hard and practicing well, and those two girls have embraced that.”
They’ve meshed well with four-year starter Liz Gonzalez, elite defender Veronica Tache’, and senior captain Brynn Bertucci. The Crusaders cruised past Bishop Stang, 59-41, to start the season and then beat Archbishop Williams, 49-20, last Wednesday.
▪ Former Bishop Feehan star Katie Nelson reached 1,000 career points at Boston University when the senior guard netted 20 points and added eight assists in a 79-51 win over Colgate on Saturday.
“She serves as an outstanding role model for our players to look up to with her hard work, competitiveness, and continued success,” said Bishop Feehan second-year coach Amy Dolores, an assistant on Mike Deady’s staff when Nelson rang up a school-record 1,439 points as a four-year starter.
Correspondent Trevor Hass also contributed to this story.