Arlington (Va.) Yorktown High senior point guard Mikayla Venson is the top-ranked girls' basketball player in Virginia, and she hasn't played for the Patriots since 2011. If that strikes you as odd, it is. Kind of.
Venson suffered a severe concussion in the third game of her sophomore season and never picked up a basketball for Yorktown again. Yet, this past November, the 5-foot-7 floor general chose the University of Virginia over an array of scholarship offers, including Stanford, Tennessee and California.
How she maintained her status as an elite recruit is the subject of a wonderful Washington Post feature.
The short story? After leading Yorktown in scoring as a freshman and participating in the 2011 USA Basketball U16 National Team trials over the summer, Venson's concussion reportedly occurred against Clifton (Va.) Centreville on Dec. 6, 2011, just three games and 27 free throws into her sophomore season.
"The day after I got the concussion, I didn't know if I wanted to play high school ball anymore with the way I felt," she told The Washington Post. "After playing three games, I didn't know if my body could take shooting 30 free throws. I was just thinking, I need to be smart about this."
The blow to the head left Venson with an array of serious side effects: dizziness, headaches, fatigue, etc. As a result, she finished the school year from home and didn't pick up a basketball for five months, according to the feature. When she tried to play for her AAU team the following summer, the symptoms reportedly returned. She never considered returning to play for the Patriots as a junior.
Instead, she trains 20 hours a week with her father, Michael Venson, The Washington Post's 1989 All-Met Player of the Year who received a McDonald's All-American Game invite as an Oxon Hill (Md.) senior. As a Georgetown freshman, he suffered a knee injury that derailed a promising young basketball career.
This past summer, Mikayla Venson returned to the court competitively, capturing MVP honors in leading Team Takeover to an AAU title at the prestigious Boo Williams Invitational. She was back. That is, until she reportedly suffered another blow to the head that required 14 stitches at the national AAU Super Showcase in Orlando. Thankfully, it wasn't another concussion, but Venson sat out her senior season.
“Our work has taught her the fundamentals of the game,” Michael Venson told The Washington Post. “It kept her hungry and gave her time to have a social life and enjoy being a kid. The way we did it paid off. Now, I’m not saying that it will work for everybody else, but it worked for us.”
Actually, Virginia coach Joanne Boyle told the paper she believes Venson, who carries a reported 4.0 GPA as an upperclassman, may be better for not having played for Yorktown these past two years. "If anything, high school ball may have brought her skill-set down," she said.
In the wake of Venson's success story and a similar scenario in Texas, where UCLA-bound Recee' Caldwell left her top-ranked high school team midseason as a junior last year, it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend among budding recruits who have $100,000 in scholarship money on the line.