UGA recruit recovers from serious injury in time for state basketball playoffs

When Chattahoochee High’s Erika Ford was diagnosed with a possible season-ending leg injury, her coach tried to remain upbeat about it.

“Erika went from what I considered the best basketball player in Georgia to the best cheerleader in Georgia,” Chattahoochee’s Eric Herrick said, referring to Ford’s support of her teammates from the bench.

Chattahoochee SG Erika Ford signed with UGA (AJC photo)

Chattahoochee High SG Erika Ford signed with UGA (AJC photo)

The cheerleader has transformed back to a player, just in time for the state playoffs.

Ford, who signed with Georgia, will start when Chattahoochee plays host to Loganville at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.

“I think our goal going into the year was the state championship,” Herrick said. “With Erika back on board, that’s clearly in our sights and our goal.”

Tuesday’s game will be only the fifth of season for the All-State guard. She was cleared for limited play in the final two games of the region tournament, and had 20 points and 8 rebounds in the 70-44 first-round playoff win over Chapel Hill on Saturday.

“It feels amazing to be out there again with my teammates,” Ford said. “I didn’t really know if I was ever going to get to play another high school game. This is really great.”

Ford’s injury woes date back to last summer, when she suffered a stress fracture in her left shin area. She doesn’t remember the exact moment or game, just that she began to feel a little pain. Ford is known for her toughness and simply played through it.

The 5-foot-9 Ford was unable to join her Chattahoochee basketball teammates for the first five weeks of practices and games while recovering from a back injury suffered playing for the school’s volleyball team.

With the lengthy time of rest, Ford figured her shin splints would be gone when she finally appeared for Chattahoochee in a Dec. 3 game against Johns Creek. She scored 18 points but had a noticeable limp. Ford underwent X-rays the next day and diagnosed with a stress fracture.

The doctors said Ford would be out for at least two months, maybe more. There was the possibility of surgery if she didn’t follow strict rehabilitation orders.

“With Erika being so competitive, she was devastated,” Herrick said. ” She was in tears. She felt like she was letting her teammates and me down.”

It was a big blow for Chattahoochee, which was patiently awaiting the return of its star player. “We were shocked and disappointed; we had no idea about the extent of the injury,” point guard Kayla Upchurch said.

Even the coach needed a few days to process the news before addressing the team. Herrick told the seniors that he felt there was still enough talent to win without Ford, and to challenge the rest of the girls to prove it.

Wearing a cast ankle boot for the next 10 weeks, Ford served as one of the team’s managers. She helped organize and oversee team drills at practices. Before games, she filled water bottles and gave them out during timeouts.

“Since I couldn’t play, I cheered them on as much as I could,” Ford said. “I got them everything they needed for the game. I stayed positive about everything and they were winning, so I was happy.

Chattahoochee (26-3) had other players fill the large void, with Upchurch and Alexis Alexander both averaging 18 points per game. They won 22 games in a row, and no one was happier than Ford.

“It was awesome,” Ford said. “After how I played that one game against Johns Creek, I thought they were a better team without me. People didn’t realize how many good players we had on our team, and they showed them.”

About 10 days ago, Ford was finally given medical clearance and made an instant impact. She was limited to two minutes per quarter in her first two outings and scored a total of 23 points, breaking Chattahoochee’s all-time career scoring record.

“The season is long; with the holidays and making up the snow games, it starts to wear on you,” Herrick said. “All of our players are extremely excited to have Erika back. She has brought a new energy to our team. It’s hard to find that late spark late in the season.”

The return of Ford — even at “75-percent healthy” — has dramatically increased Chattahoochee’s championship hopes.

“We’ve been playing so well that we thought if we had to do it without Erika, we could,” Upchurch said. “But now that we have Erika back, it gives us more confidence than ever.”

12 comments Add your comment

Worm

February 28th, 2011
5:16 pm

Good luck Erika!

Kennyg

February 28th, 2011
6:44 pm

What a GREAT kid………totally supportive of her teammates. Go Dawgs!

5150 UOAD

February 28th, 2011
7:12 pm

Good for her to comeback. That say team all the way.

5150 UOAD

February 28th, 2011
7:13 pm

Why the ribs on the ball? is that to help girls with smaller hands control it better?

Brian F.

March 1st, 2011
9:29 am

Go Erika. Great to see you back on the court again.

Remarkable

March 1st, 2011
9:39 am

That’s what athletics is all about. UGA is getting a class act.

Goldernrod

March 1st, 2011
1:45 pm

I have NO respect for UGaG athletics – NONE – they are all liars & cheaters.

Kathy

March 1st, 2011
6:01 pm

Chattahoochee Lady Cougars are a class act! Good luck and best wishes!!

Gwen

March 1st, 2011
6:40 pm

Way to go Erika! Good to see you back!

Noneya

March 2nd, 2011
2:09 pm

5150 UOAD guys are playing with the “Wave” ball also. Supposed to give better grip overall.

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basketball teammates

August 11th, 2011
2:51 am

Hi,
i feel u man imma get their soon though, Thanks,