This season, espnW will spend time with the Stanford Cardinal and their Hall of Fame head coach, getting behind-the-scenes access to the players. Come to espnW every Friday throughout the season to get to know the Cardinal and how they live their lives off and on the court, from the start of practice to the last game of the season in March and, perhaps, into April.
STANFORD, Calif. -- Alex Green sits on a folding chair in Stanford's practice gym, lacing up her ankle braces, including the one she slid on below the sizeable black brace on her right knee, when coach Tara VanDerveer comes over and puts her arm around the freshman guard.
"This is my buddy right here," the Hall of Fame coach said, smiling broadly. "She's getting it going. Having a great day, Alex?"
And Green responds, "Great day."
The coach moves on and Green's face turns red.
Green is shy, quiet. She doesn't seem comfortable with attention. But she's also "a jet," in VanDerveer's words. And that's going to get her some attention whether she seeks it or not.
"You aren't really allowed to have favorites, but she is my own special project," VanDerveer said. "She is so fast. She is going to be so good, but she doesn't know it. Today, she might be a little behind, but she's going to be great."
It's hard to blame Green for not seeing her full potential yet.
While her teammates were playing pickup in Maples Pavilion this past summer, learning how to mesh with one another, she stayed off to the side, working on her shot. She spent most of her time rehabbing the first major injury of her career, a torn ACL and resulting reconstructive surgery, which happened nearly a year ago.
While her new teammates played games in the San Francisco Pro-Am summer league, she sat behind the bench and rooted them on -- the only contribution she could make.
"For her to take it slow, to not get the full effect of the whole experience, there were times when we played pickup and she would come out and couldn't play, I could see discouragement in her eyes," said fellow freshman Jasmine Camp. "You could just see she was ready to get back out there. I'm excited to see what she's like when she's fully healthy, because I've heard she was just a beast in high school. I want to see what she can do."
Green's time to show her skills has come. She was cleared to begin practice last week, but is clearly still settling in.
At Thursday's practice, the guard from Dallas had her eyes peeled, keenly taking in the coach's instructions and paying close attention to the drills. Green began practice with a one-on-one talk with VanDerveer, then jumped into full-court and half-court drills. Physically, Green is in good shape, able to run and cut, and to accelerate toward the basket and around defenders.
But her lack of surety was apparent.
At one point, in a half-court drill, Green collided with a teammate, stumbled a bit and smiled sheepishly at VanDerveer as she ran back to her spot in line.
VanDerveer knows Green isn't going to become fully acclimated in a week.
It's been tough enough for her to spend the year becoming acclimated to the reality of being injured. The knee injury came just a couple of weeks into her senior season at Bishop Lynch High School and just days after she signed her letter of intent at Stanford.
Green, the No. 49-ranked recruit in the nation, thought injuries happened to other people.
"I thought this would never be me," Green said. "I always felt so strong."
All it took was one wrong pivot to injure her knee and cut short her senior season. Now she's playing catch-up, trying to adapt to the college game.
"It's really overwhelming. I have to learn the plays and I have to play at a faster pace," Green said. "I need to catch up with the tempo of the game, the aggressiveness ..."
Green has not been alone on the sideline. In fact she's been there with someone who has spent more than her own share of time there. The team's tallest player, 6-foot-5 junior center Sarah Boothe, is coming off major shoulder surgery.
The marks from the arthroscopic procedure that repaired and tightened the ligaments are visible on her right shoulder, tiny red bumps on the skin that signal healing.
Boothe, a native of Gurnee, Ill., was also cleared to play last week. Boothe, unlike Green, has been in this spot before. She had a foot injury that forced her to redshirt two years ago. Academically, she is a senior, but she intends to play a fifth season next year.
"I love Stanford. I'm in no rush to leave," Boothe said. "I will stay here as long as possible."
Boothe, unlike Green, is not wearing a brace. But she is compensating to protect the joint. Thursday, while strength and conditioning coach Susan Borchardt took the team through its pre-practice regimen, Boothe avoided some of the exercises, including one called the inchworm, in which players move across the floor on their hands and feet. Instead, Boothe stood upright and stretched her hamstrings, avoiding putting her body weight on her healing shoulder.
But Boothe was full-go in practice, even taking blows from the post pad being wielded by assistant coach Trina Patterson.
Boothe admits that she played hurt during most of the 2010-11 season, the one in which she was supposed to be the heir apparent to All-American post Jayne Appel.
She began to feel pain in her shoulder after Stanford's fifth game of the season, against Texas.
"It wasn't exactly dislocated, but it would [slip slightly out of the socket] and I started wearing a brace," Boothe said. "We waited for the MRI with the contrast, where they shoot the dye in, until after the season and they said I needed surgery."
Boothe is taking a glass-half-full approach to the second major injury of her college career, one significant enough to have cost her most of the past six months.
"The timing really couldn't have been better," Boothe said. "I'm back before the season starts."
But not without suffering through weeks of discomfort. Following surgery, Boothe was fitted for a "gunslinger brace." Picture her arm strapped to her body in an L shape, with the tips of her fingers facing out.
"I was over it after about an hour and I had to wear it for six weeks," Boothe said.
She was strapped in to the brace at the waist and across the opposite shoulder. Because she's right-handed, she needed help doing pretty much everything. Her mother came to stay with her for more than a week after the surgery.
"I had my roommate doing my hair," Boothe said. "I had to learn to do some things with my left hand. It was hard."
Boothe returns to the floor as one of Stanford's veteran posts, along with the Ogwumike sisters and power forward Joslyn Tinkle. She is a physical presence inside who will counter the speed of the new backcourt players.
"She's still a little limited because that shoulder gets sore, but she's doing very well," VanDerveer said. "It was major surgery. She's tough and she kept playing through it last year."
Boothe doesn't feel nearly the pressure to catch up that Green is experiencing.
"This has been my second major injury here, but one of the things I love so much about this team [is that] you're playing status doesn't change how they treat you," Boothe said. "I have always felt included, like I was a part of the team."
To that end, Boothe tried to mentor Green on the sideline, tried to talk her through the frustrations of not playing. Truth be told, Boothe enjoyed the companionship.
"It's easier when you aren't off to the side alone," Boothe said. "You can always say, 'OK, let's go shoot.'"