Michelle Greco – UCLA
Michelle Greco remembers her first concussion. “It was a fast break and I was trying to catch up to one of my teammates. She just turned and decked me with an elbow.”
Unfortunately, Greco’s all-out style of play has too often put the 5’9 guard in wrong place at the wrong time. After averaging 23 points in the first five games last season, her history of mild concussions forced the UCLA senior to the bench for the rest of the year.
“It drove me crazy,” admits the California native. “It’s just a horrible feeling knowing you could be out there playing and there’s nothing physically wrong with you that you can see.”
Though the Pac-10 office granted her medical hardship petition for one more season of eligibility, Greco’s return was never guaranteed. “Nothing was set in stone,” she recalls. With no “rehab regime” for concussions, Greco’s recovery was taken out of her hands. “I had to get through a process of taking certain tests, then my doctors were going to get together and figure out if I was going to play again.”
Fortunately for her, and the Bruins, this September brought the news Greco was cleared to play, and she was able to take the court for the first time in October – albeit an exhibition and, much to her chagrin, a loss.
“I felt like a freshman all over again,” remembers Greco with a laugh. “I wanted to play so well. I was nervous.” Though she was welcomed with good wishes from season subscribers and several alumni, not everyone was kind. “A couple of my former teammates were on the [opposing] team, talking trash the whole game,” says Greco in mock outrage. “I was so mad. They knew all my moves!”
There is little doubt at her joy at being back, nor the change in perspective exile has given her. “Last year,” reflects Greco, “I was consumed with playing basketball and trying to be the best I could be. Whereas this year, I’m thankful I was given another opportunity to be able to play.”
Granted that opportunity, Greco now walks the tightrope between caution and reckless abandon. “I know the things the things that my doctors have told me – what they say I should and shouldn’t do,” she explains. “It’s hard to block it out and just play freely. Play how I always played – physical and aggressive. If I’m in the mix down low with all the post players, and we’re fighting for a rebound, I’m kind of thinking in the back of my head, ‘maybe I should get out.'”
But woe to anyone who might think Greco’s competitive edge has been dulled. “As far as my offensive game, I could care less whether my doctors tell me not to drive in with my head down,” Greco says bluntly. “That is how I play and that’s what has gotten me to where I am now.”
Time away has helped Greco identify a subtle shift in the UCLA women’s program. “My freshman year we went to the Elite Eight,” recalls Greco. “My sophomore year we were ranked #4 in the country. We walked on the court knowing we were going to blow people away,” she says. “We had so much respect. People feared playing UCLA. A big part of that was the players we had on our team — very confident, very cocky.”
But back to back losing seasons has changed that. “It seems we’ve lost confidence,” says Greco. “I would like our program to go back to where it used to be. Our goals are to finish in the top 3 in the PAC-10, go on to the tournament, play really well and represent our University. We have such a talented freshman class,” Greco adds. “Hopefully we’ll have another great incoming class next year, to build a base and gain that respect.”
Greco’s return should do much to help restore that confidence. In 2001 she was named to the first-team all-conference squad, finished the season as the Pac-10 scoring leader (19.9 ppg.), was rated first in the conference in free throw percentage (.865), fourth in steals (2.33) and sixth in three-point field goals. But for now, Greco’s personal goals are far simpler.
“Playing injury free the entire year,” she says, “is fine with me.”