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Friday, April 19
The Indiana Daily Student

sports

Bad knees ended coach's career

Bennett was top prospect in high school and college until debilitated by injury

Crouched on the sidelines at Assembly Hall, new IU women's basketball coach Kathi Bennett hardly draws attention. \nBut as a player on basketball courts across Wisconsin, Bennett garnered the spotlight -- a spotlight her college teammate said could have been brighter if not for unfortunate injuries.\n"She was outstanding," said Sue Bodilly, Bennett's backcourt partner for two seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. "I mean, she was really before her time. She was an exceptional ball-handler with a really quick jump shot and exceptional court awareness. We'd only see a player or two in that caliber all season."\nBut Bennett's high school and college careers were cut short by debilitating knee injuries. With serious injuries to both knees, Bennett, who was once bound for a big-time Division I program, was finished playing competitive basketball.\n"I swear if her knees weren't done, she could walk out there and compete with D-I level athletes today," Bodilly said. "She was that good."\nIt started in high school, where many of the nation's top programs looked at Bennett. But the knee injury, which sidelined her for nearly two years, forced her to UW-Stevens Point, an NAIA school where her dad was coaching the men's team.\n"I went two years without playing," Bennett said. "And back then, when they did surgery ... well, you can tell by my scars."\nAt UW-Stevens Point, Bennett had relative success, including all-conference honors after her freshman season. With her knee feeling better, Bennett made a "selfish decision" in transferring to UW-Green Bay after one season at UW-Stevens Point. The move was prompted by the ability to compete at a higher level -- a wrong decision in hindsight, she said.\n"I wanted to take that next step and see if I could compete at the highest level," she said. "At Oshkosh (Bennett's second head coaching job, a Division II school), we got players that maybe could have played at a Division II or low Division I school, but we sold the idea that you could do something special. That you can win the national championship and you can be undefeated.\n"That's a really neat thing, and something I missed."\nStevens-Point went on to win the national championship in what would have been Bennett's senior year.\nAlthough Bennett might have erred in transferring, UWGB Carol Hammerle was happy to have her. With Bennett on the floor, the 1983-84 UWGB squad posted a 24-6 record -- this from a team that was supposed to be rebuilding, Hammerle said.\nBennett averaged 11 points and six rebounds a game in her first year with the Phoenix. But even before Bennett came to Green Bay, Hammerle knew how talented she was.\n"When she played at Stevens-Point, she was so tough to stop," said Hammerle, who coaches the women's basketball program at Northern Illinois. "They'd run this simple ball screen and she'd read it so well.\n"She would bounce open for just a second and have such a quick shot, that we couldn't stop it. That's why I wanted her on my team."\nBennett posted similar numbers in her second and last season at UWGB before succumbing to her second serious knee injury, this one to her healthy knee.\nAt the state championship game against UW-Milwaukee, Bennett was making a cut with the ball in the paint. When she cut, her knee gave out.\n"I dislocated everything. I tore everything," Bennett said. "My thigh was in one direction and my lower leg was in another.\n"I was so mad because it was my other knee. If it was the same knee I think maybe I would have been able to come back, but to have two really bad knees -- I pretty much knew right there I was cooked."\nHammerle, who has been coaching for 27 seasons and has notched nearly 500 wins, said it was a moment that she hasn't forgot.\n"She didn't let on the pain, but you know it must have killed her," said Bodilly, who works for her alma mater. "You knew what kind of competitor she was. She was in the gym hours more than any of us. \n"She was really strong and when we'd ask how is she doing. She'd always say fine or OK, but you knew it had to be tearing her up"

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