The Nebraska women's basketball team opened practice for the 2011-12 campaign on Monday, Oct. 3, and Coach Connie Yori found a way to get to the Devaney Center - if only for a few moments.
Nebraska's 2010 National Coach of the Year has experienced multiple complications with late-August knee surgery. Yori, who led the Huskers to the 2010 Big 12 Conference title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, made an appearance at the opening of practice with her team on her 48th birthday, despite spending nearly the entire month of September in a hospital bed.
"It is really unbelievable to think that I was in the hospital for the better part of September. It kind of feels like I lost a month of my life with the team," Yori said. "My family, friends and the people in our program have been so supportive. I'm working as hard as I can to get back on the court as fast as I can, but I still have a ways to go. Realistically, I hope to be back and contributing more by the second week of practice, but it all depends on my progress. It felt great just to come by the gym for a few minutes to see the players and coaches today."
Four days after the team's return from a successful 11-day summer tour to Scandinavia Aug. 5-15, Yori underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Aug. 19. She first injured the knee as a player in the early 1980's, but had not had a surgery on the knee since 1985.
Yori's recovery from her most recent surgery appeared to be going well, and she made a day-long appearance at the Fastbreakers Booster Club Husker Golf Scramble fund-raising event on Monday, Aug. 29.
Her rehabilitation appeared to continue on track until mid-day on Wednesday, Aug. 31, when she began having intense knee pain. The pain continued to intensify until Monday, Sept. 5 (Labor Day) when she had a surgical wash to treat Staph infection in her knee.
Yori spent the following week in St. Elizabeth's Regional Medical Center in Lincoln before being released to her home on Sept. 12. Although she returned home, the pain continued to plague her and became so severe on Sept. 16 that she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance back to St. Elizabeth's.
Doctors discovered a blood clot in Yori's left knee and began treatment as soon as possible. Yori remained at St. Elizabeth's until Thursday, Sept. 22, when she moved to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
She has spent the past 11 days on the road to recovery. The pain is gradually subsiding in her knee, and she is gaining strength in her leg and the rest of her body from being nearly immobile for approximately three weeks. After a week of intense rehab at Madonna, Yori checked out and returned home in the afternoon on Friday, Sept. 30.
Late Monday afternoon, Yori made her way into the Devaney Center to let the Huskers know she is working hard to join them at practice as soon as possible.
"I know a lot of people out there might hear this story and feel sorry for me, but I know there are many more people who are worse off than me," Yori said. "I'm lucky both the infection and the blood clot were focused in my knee area and didn't spread to other parts of my leg or body, or my condition would be a lot more serious."
Because of her nearly complete restriction of movement and heavy pain medications, Yori was unable to work or spend time recruiting for several weeks. In her absence, Associate Head Coach Sunny Smallwood has coordinated Nebraska's workout schedule and led the team in practice on Monday.
"Our players have done a great job of staying focused on the tasks at hand on a daily basis," Smallwood said. "We all truly miss Coach Yori and we were so excited to see her back at the gym - even if she wasn't leading practice."
Graduate assistant manager Bryce Currie has been activated to assume an on-court coaching role and the ability to recruit off-campus in place of Yori. Currie is in his second year with the Huskers after spending time at both Washington and Arizona State before coming to Nebraska. Since Currie has been activated, Yori was unable to participate in the Huskers' practice in a coaching role on Monday.
"I am fortunate to have an experienced and talented staff," Yori said. "I have been in constant contact with our staff throughout this time, and our program is in good hands with Sunny Smallwood at the helm."
Nebraska returns six letterwinners, including starters Lindsey Moore, Jordan Hooper and Kaitlyn Burke, from last year's Husker team. Moore, a 5-9 junior point guard from Covington, Wash., who earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 accolades in 2011, said the players can't wait for Yori's official return to practice.
"We have missed her being around, that's for sure," Moore said. "We all made a trip to the hospital to see her a couple weeks ago, and it was tough to see her struggling so much. You want to just reach out and do whatever you can to help her. But coach is tough, and we know she'll get back as soon as she can."
Moore and either Yori or Smallwood will attend Big Ten Conference Media Day in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, Oct. 27. The Huskers open their first season as a member of the Big Ten with a home exhibition game against Pittsburg State on Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2:05 p.m.