For the Love of the Game: Woodland's Robinson makes improbable return to basketball

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A lot changed in the year and eight days between Lexie Robinson’s last game as a junior and her first game as a senior for the Woodland High girls basketball team.

During that time, Robinson underwent two knee surgeries, a successful but brief attempt at another sport, and a reassessment of her goals for the years after high school.

One thing that never changed, however, was her love for basketball.

The last year and eight days have provided multiple tests of that love, but Robinson’s presence on the court this season is not only a major boon for the Lady Wildcats, but a testament to her unbreakable passion for the game.

All too familiar

Robinson dropped 19 points in her senior-season debut on Dec. 9 at Paulding County. It was an nice scoring output, one that was welcomed, but may not have been lauded amidst an early-season road loss. 

However, the significance of Robinson’s performance was greater than the 19 in the scorebook that day. That’s because, the last time Robinson put on a Woodland uniform, it didn’t go as well.

She was driving the baseline at home against Cass in the fourth game of her junior year when she went to the floor with a non-contact injury. Robinson knew what the injury was because she had experienced the pain before.

It was a torn ACL, the third time in four years she had torn the same ligament in her right leg.

“When the third one hit, that was the roughest of them all,” Robinson said. “I remember the game, just sitting on the bench and I couldn’t get it together. I had to leave.”

The three knee injuries have prevented Robinson from playing a full season her entire high school career—one year at Excel and three at Woodland. All four years have either started late or ended early because of a torn ACL.

Robinson first tore the ligament during a travel ball game in July before her freshman year of high school. After six months, she was medically cleared to play for Excel, but then tore the ACL in her right knee again.

“The first one, I was like, ‘Oh, I got this. It’s just a little knee surgery. Nothing’s stopping me,’” she said. “After that first one, retearing that, it was kind of like, ‘I don’t know why this is happening to me.’”

The recovery for the second knee surgery was 10 months, costing Robinson the first half of her sophomore season at Woodland.

Finally, after a rare offseason of good health and preparation for a breakout junior year, Robinson’s knee couldn’t make it four whole games before tearing once again.

“You look around, and girls who don’t care about playing the sport get to play, and I’m sitting on the sidelines,” Robinson said. “Someone who really loves the game, can’t play it.”

The sensible thing to do

Robinson didn’t just leave the court early the day of her third torn ACL, she left basketball behind prematurely as well. She tried rowing, a sport she was naturally inclined to excel at with her height, strength and athleticism.

“My mom’s best friend, she coaches at Georgia State and she was telling us about it. I wasn’t that into it, but my Mom was like, ‘Please try it,’” Robinson said of her start in rowing.

Robinson was not thrilled about taking her athletic career in a different direction, but was forced to go another route to help fill the competitive void given her injury-riddled past.

“I was heartbroken about the whole injury thing because that last summer, before I tore my ACL the last time, I went to Mississippi State’s camp and they told me, ‘If you keep working, We’ll honestly consider putting you on the team,’” Robinson said. “And that was even after two [knee surgeries]. So I was like, ‘Wow, I can actually still have a chance at this.’ But that third one just kind of put it into reality. It’s going to be tough to come back from that.”

Robinson was a quick study at rowing. According to her recruiting profile, she placed second at the Atlanta Erg Sprints in February, just two months after a bone graft procedure on her knee.

She broke a team record for the Atlanta Junior Rowing Association, and she said she received rowing scholarship offers from Clemson and Alabama.

The sensible decision would have been to continue to pursue rowing, and leave basketball and the frustration of the incessant injuries behind.

However, love is rarely sensible.

Robinson went under the knife again in July with the intent of making a third comeback.

“Most people would not be willing to put themselves out there, having the negative experiences she’s had,” Woodland coach Kyle Morgan said. “But she wants to persevere and push through it, and wants to give her a chance to be happy. One of the things that makes her the happiest is obviously playing the game of basketball.”

Bulky knee brace

The only thing holding Robinson back now is a minutes restriction imposed by Morgan and a bulky knee brace. She has worn a knee brace all throughout high school, a constant reminder of the price she has had to pay to play the game.

The brace also is the only indication of an injury-riddled past, as her play on the court is as good as ever. Even after three knee injuries, Robinson’s talent is evident. She has played in six games so far this year, leading the team in scoring and putting up a 22-point game against Coosa last week.

“That time off, people don’t realize, they think you’re just off. But you can be working on your shot. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s what I’ve done for six months, just preparing to come back,” Robinson said. “It’s just kind of different now. Before, I put so much pressure on myself to play D-I ball, be the best. I think, now, that pressure is not there as much, and I think I play better without all that pressure.”

Robinson’s versatile skillset at 5-foot-9 of being able to shoot, handle the ball and pass with a high basketball acumen once made her a promising college prospect. However, after each injury, her future in the sport became increasingly ominous.

“Each time [I got injured], it was all with the mindset of, ‘How I am going to play D-I ball, how am I going to play D-I ball,” she said.

Even more impressive than the high-scoring totals is she was medically cleared to play ahead of schedule. Still, she has seen limited minutes and has been instructed to restrict her drives to the basket, part of Morgan’s plan to keep Robinson on the court for the rest of the year.

“No, she’s pretty dang good,” Morgan said when asked if he was surprised at Robinson’s immediate impact on the team. “She’s a complete package. She can handle the ball, has a very high basketball I.Q. She’s probably our best passer, best rebounder. She can shoot the 3. She just has a full game.”

Woodland is currently 0-9, but have hopes of making a late season push as Robinson continues to round into form and the team’s young core gains experience. Morgan expects Robinson to increase her already-potent scoring capabilities as her minutes increase. He also hopes to ease her back into attacking the basket and showing offer her full arsenal of skills, something he has asked her to hold back on so far.

“We’re adding a couple more minutes here and there,” Morgan said of the restriction on Robinson. “Every minute she’s on the floor, we’re a better basketball team. That’s for sure.”

Robinson’s priority this season is staying healthy, and that would be a noteworthy accomplishment given her injury history. Despite the ever-present risk of continuing to play, Robinson has already tried and failed to give up the sport she loves, and will inevitably be faced with the same decision after her high school career.

“I’d love to play in college. That’s always been my dream,” Robinson said. “I think it really just depends on the schools that offer me and how I feel about that. But I also have to think about my future and what’s my knee going to be like if I retore it in college. I don’t want to have a knee replacement by 23. That’s just not my goal in life.”

Robinson’s goal of seeing out her high school career to its natural conclusion, much less playing in college, seemed far-fetched one year and eight days ago. The reason it remains realistic is Robinson’s interminable love for the game.

“She is a really good kid and very enjoyable to coach and a super teammate. She’s very supportive of her teammates and wants to be out there for all the right reasons,” Morgan said. “By far, loves the game more than anybody in our program and is a pleasure to be around, a pleasure to coach. I just pray that she’s able to get through the season and move forward with the rest of her life.”