Whitefish Bay's Maya Jonas rises above the rest in becoming NOW's Player of the Year
Northwestern recruit had fabulous season before being sidelined by another knee injury
Not fair, not right, not even close to being correct in the cosmic scheme of things.
"I just went up for a rebound, came down, and it buckled," said NOW Newspapers girls basketball Player of the Year Maya Jonas of Whitefish Bay of the second ACL injury on the same knee in less than two years on Feb. 25 midway through the Blue Dukes' nonconference loss to Kettle Moraine.
The first Bay Player of the Year since the great Katie Wysocky in 2006, Jonas had gone after that rebound exuberantly and energetically with a smile on her face.
She had done everything that way all season long in leading the very young Blue Dukes (she was one of only two seniors on the team) to an excellent 18-7 North Shore Conference runner-up record, earning unanimous WBCA Division 2 all-state and Wisconsin Sports Network "Wing of the Year" honors in the process.
The 6-2 senior Jonas played this season like the May 2012 surgery on the same knee for essentially the same injury was the furthest thing from her mind. She played with joy, with the realization that she was a senior and time was short, so she had to seize the day and make the most of this second chance she was given.
Currently, she is working hard and willing herself toward a third chance at Northwestern University starting next year.
"I'm just living life, trying to get back," Jonas said. "There's nothing good that can come out of dwelling on it, so I'm just trying to maintain a positive attitude."
It's a personality trait that has driven everything she has done in her life.
A jokingly self-described "rebellious child", she had grown tired of everyone pigeonholing her into the post position all the time because she was always the tallest girl on her team, so she converted herself into a hybrid center/guard, capable of taking the ball coast-to-coast with ease for a layup after snagging a rebound.
"I've always told myself that I'm really a point guard," said Jonas.
What she really is, is a marvelously talented nightmare for opponents.
"I don't know if it is possible to scheme against her," said Germantown coach Matt Stuve, whose team split with the Blue Dukes this season and won the North Shore Conference title. "She's 6-2 and she can play any position on the floor.
"You try to take 'this" from her and you find you can't. Not when she take the ball and drive 80 feet to the basket. Or when she makes the perfect pass to the teammate. Or when she makes the pass for a basket and I couldn't even see the kid who she was passing too. She's the same thing as a coach on the floor with all the physical attributes that you want."
And hopefully will again. The second surgery on the knee was conducted about a week after the injury by Dr. Michael Gordon and was done in consultation with the Northwestern University medical staff. Jonas recently signed an NCAA Division 1 tender to attend the school and play basketball for the Wildcats.
The smart, rebellious child is pragmatic and optimistic about her chances this time around.
"They took a tendon, a huge tendon out of a male cadaver," said Jonas, "and what they told me, is in the case of female athletes (like herself), if the bone (it is attached to) takes it, and the body doesn't reject it, there is a higher success rate than when they use Patellar tendons (which was the case in her first surgery)."
In the interim, she's started rehab already ("mostly range of motion stuff," she said) and is close to setting aside her crutches (she takes the school elevator up and down to avoid the stress of stairs).
She'll look to better herself just like she did after the first injury.
"After the first surgery, I really couldn't do anything for awhile (athletically)," she said. "So I sat in a chair and just worked on my dribbling. First one hand and then another."
Jonas has the support of everyone around her. Her father, the former great area player Jeff Jonas, was stunned at the second injury, and though he politely declined to fully comment, did say the following: "She is a very brave, strong and tenacious kid. She's also pretty awesome."
Blue Duke coach Dave Markson agrees.
"I can't imagine a player who meant more to her team," said Markson. "She just handles things so well, and she doesn't like a lot of attention, which is a good attribute to have.
"She's easy to work with, competitive, unselfish and works hard daily. When she got the ride (to Northwestern), she did not get complacent. She was like 'I want to get better.' She was the first one to practice (with her sophomore sister and teammate Emma) and the last one to leave.
"She did things that I just haven't seen before. She will literally get any rebound from any position on the floor. She just flies in there and is almost impossible to block out.
"Maya just played with joy."
That much was evident in the way she led the team pregame huddles with her, more often that not, doing a goofy, spur of the moment dance that would leave teammates laughing and ready to play.
"I wasn't really focused on leading right away," she said. "What I was doing was more about energy, because in past years, we just didn't have a lot of energy or passion (out there on the court). Emma and I are passionate people.
"We would have sleepovers and spaghetti dinners, and in the end, no one really cared about the age (of the players on the team)."
The team responded to her inclusive leadership.
When just a day or so after the second surgery, the Blue Dukes were going for the WIAA Division 2 regional title against Wauwatosa West in the field house, Jonas and her Dad came out to watch. She stretched her still heavily compressed and wrapped leg across a bleacher and set her crutches down.
"I'd been in bed for the better part of two days so I was just happy to get out," she said.
There was an ugly start to a game, but it had a happy ending as the team rallied to win the title. The team then carefully mobbed Jonas, gave her the title plaque and took many happy, blessedly unchoreographed pictures.
"I told them afterward that the best part of that was that we got to spend another week together," said Markson.
Jonas didn't cry that night, but had a good, long one about five days later when eventual state tournament qualifier Pius XI ended Bay's season in a sectional semifinal game.
As noted, she's looking forward. She's grateful for almost everything that happened this season especially with the opportunity to play alongside Emma. "It was very important and a lot of fun having her around," said Jonas. "She has so much energy and is so motivated."
Maya's staying optimistic, working with the same rehab team she did the last time. She will recover and work all summer, and if things go well, may not have to redshirt her freshman year at Northwestern. In any case, she'll be ready to take the hoops world by storm again in 2015-16.
No doubt with the same joy in her heart.
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