The good news for the Auburn’s women’s basketball sophomore and former Woodland star, who redshirted last season because of a concussion? Starting Wednesday, she’ll participate in the Tigers’ second week of practice for their four-game August trip.
“I’m better, and I’m feeling good,” Strain said gladly, after what seems an eternity since she last formally practiced for the Tigers.
Auburn departs Saturday for 10 days and four games down under. The Tigers will travel to Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney to play against the Logan Thunder and Sydney Flames of the WNBL, the Cairns Dolphins of the Queensland Basketball League and Sutherland Sharks of the Australia-State League.
The trip and related practice mark Auburn’s first formal action under first-year head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, hired after Nell Fortner retired following the 2011-12 season.
Williams-Flournoy is getting her first chance to experiment with her new team and would love to have an impression of all of her players after one week of practice. Her impression of Strain?
“Well, she looks really cute, standing on the sideline,” she joked Friday.
Williams-Flournoy was speaking by phone from Las Vegas. Auburn took this past week off from practice while the coaches recruited.
The break in practice came at a good time for Strain. She had time to recover from her latest concussion before missing any more practice.
Auburn’s one week of practice for the Australia trip “was actually the first week that I got a chance to see the kids play, outside of tape,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Of course, she wasn’t on the tape, because she didn’t play last year, so I really haven’t had an opportunity to evaluate Courtney because she hasn’t been on the floor playing.”
No one was more disappointed than Strain.
“I was like, ‘No, not again,’” she said. “It’s like de ja vu.”
The latest mishap occurred on Sunday night, just before Auburn was to start practicing for the trip. Strain and teammates were playing pickup games.
“I went to defend her on a layup, and he elbow came down and hit me in the back of the head,” Strain said.
The concussion sent Strain into yet another battery of test and monitoring from doctors. It’s a process she knows well.
“I had to wait until the headaches were gone,” she said. “I had to do all of the little mental tests, balance tests and the whole nine yards again. It was miserable.”
Strain went through it during and after this past season.
She moved to defend former teammate Morgan Jennings during a shootaround in Tuscaloosa, and the two players collided. Strain immediately developed a large, scary bump on the left side of her head, eye level, prompting Fortner to send her to a local clinic.
That launched the first battery of tests and doctor observations. Strain had to go 24 hours without a headache, take a stress test then go another 48 hours free of headaches.
Three-and-a-half months passed before doctors released her to resume full basketball activities. That came in mid-March, about two weeks after the Tigers’ final game.
“When we got back into lifting weights, I was on the stationary bike, to begin with,” Strain said. “Then I worked my way to the treadmill and then finally the court.
“It was just a long process of getting back into shape.”
A torn tendon in her right foot kept Strain out for the first eight games of last season. She appeared in seven games and was hours short of her eighth game appearance when the first concussion occurred.
Had she appeared in one more game, she would have played too much of the season to qualify for a medical redshirt under NCAA rules. She got in just under the limit.
Strain had high hopes for her would-be sophomore season, but the late start set her back. The concussion ended it at seven games, just as she was working back into game shape.
She finished with averages of 1.7 minutes and 9.1 minutes.
The disappointment of a scrapped season and long recovery from the first concussion were months behind her headed into the summer. She was so looking forward to hitting the court for Australia preparations and impressing her new coach.
Then came the second concussion, leaving Strain to hope she’s used up her allotment of bad injury luck.
“I was talking to one of my teammates, and I was like, ‘In high school, I never a game, never practice, healthy all the time,’” she said.
Strain’s recovery from the second concussion was much quicker. She missed the first six Australia practices but expects to be on the court Wednesday and participate in the final our practices.
“I definitely need her on the floor,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We only have 11 players, so we need as many strong, healthy bodies as we can get.”
Williams-Flournoy came to Auburn after eight seasons as Georgetown’s head coach and plans to install a pressing, trapping, fast-paced style of play. Fast-break basketball helped Strain set the Alabama High School Athletic Association career scoring record at Woodland.
She’s especially known for her perimeter-shooting touch.
“Everybody needs a shooter,” Williams-Flournoy said. “If she can knock down some shots, that would be wonderful.”
For the time being, Strain just can’t wait for the trip. She has been to Hawai’i, Mexico and the Bahamas but never as far as Australia.
“I am so excited,” she said. “We’ve known about this trip since my freshman year, because they take one trip every four years in the summer. We didn’t know where we were going to begin with, and, when they told us Australia, we were just ecstatic.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.