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‘A blessing in disguise’: BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales on her return from season-ending knee injury and the lessons she’s learned

Gonzales has chronicled her rehabilitation on her YouTube channel, offering viewers an inside look at what she’s experienced during her recovery.

BYU Cougars guard Shaylee Gonzales (2) drives against Saint Mary’s Gaels guard Taycee Wedin (4) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.
BYU Cougars guard Shaylee Gonzales (2) drives against Saint Mary’s Gaels guard Taycee Wedin (4) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PROVO — It was about 11 months ago that BYU point guard Shaylee Gonzales was scrimmaging with her teammates, playing defense, when she took a charge, fell down and heard something pop.

Gonzales, the Cougars’ leading scorer as a freshman and the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2018-19, said she didn’t feel any pain at first. She got up and tried to walk it off.

“I thought maybe I tore a muscle,” she recalled.

But later on that July day, she underwent an MRI, which revealed that she had torn the ACL and meniscus in her right knee.

Gonzales’ season was over.

“It was very, very devastating. I was heartbroken,” she said. “I would have never imagined that I had torn my ACL. It was my biggest injury. I only sprained my ankles a couple of times in high school and was out for two weeks. This was the worst injury I ever had.”

Just a couple of months earlier, Gonzales had been named one of six alternates to the 2019 USA Women’s Basketball U-19 World Cup team after participating in the national trials in Colorado Springs.

“It really was frustrating to me. Why did this have to happen to me? Why did I have to tear my ACL? I wanted to come back and prove to (USA Women’s Basketball) what I can really do,” said the 5-foot-10 native of Gilbert, Arizona. “Once that happened, I was like, ‘All my goals are destroyed.’ The next season was going to be amazing with the players coming back.”

Without Gonzales, the Cougars finished with an 18-11 record overall last season. As the No. 3 seed, BYU fell to Pepperdine in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament quarterfinals. Then came the coronavirus pandemic and she returned home to Arizona, where she continued to rehab her knee and spend time with her family.

This week, Gonzales returned to BYU’s campus for voluntary workouts. She underwent a COVID-19 test Monday and is hoping to be cleared to participate Thursday.

“I’m so happy to be back,” she said. “It’s been nice to have a break but I’m ready to get back to normal life and reality and playing basketball again and getting back into working out with my team and getting prepared for this next season.”

As for her knee, Gonzales said she feels “back to normal. I do feel like I could get a lot quicker on my first step and on defense. But other than that, it feels great. It hasn’t hurt at all. I’m blessed to have had such a smooth recovery. This time, during the summer, will definitely help me get back to where I was before.”

Gonzales has a new perspective on her injury, and the aftermath, as she looks ahead to her sophomore season.

“This past year was super hard for me, mentally and physically. I learned so much through this whole process. Getting injured has humbled me and made me realize how much I actually love the game and you need to play every single game, every single practice like it’s your last,” she said. “It definitely took its toll on me mentally and physically but I just had to look at it with a positive attitude and know that everything happens for a reason and that I was going to come back even stronger. Everything happens for a reason. Looking back at it, I’m thankful that it happened. There are instances where I’m like, the whole coronavirus thing and how it canceled the NCAA Tournament — if I was playing, I would be completely upset that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the postseason. So looking back at it, it was a blessing in disguise.”

Gonzales has shared her rehab experience on her YouTube channel, offering viewers a glimpse into the long and grueling recovery process. Her video titled “My ACL Journey as a DI Athlete” has accumulated more than 340,000 views. It includes her saying, just days after her injury, with tears in her eyes, “This is just a minor setback. There will be a major comeback.”

Gonzales spent some of her time at home during the pandemic producing YouTube videos. She currently has about 110,000 YouTube subscribers.

“I probably get around 50,000 views on average,” she said. “It’s pretty insane. I was consistent with (making videos). It’s what I love to do. It’s so fun, especially with family and friends.”

Being sidelined due to the injury last season, Gonzales benefited from seeing things from a different vantage point — being on the bench rather than on the floor.

“I learned a lot of new things, just being able to sit by my coaches on the bench, or during practice, watching the girls. Being able to learn more from just watching the game,” she said. “I’ve also learned more watching my teammates and their tendencies and what they like to do. As a point guard, you’ve got to set up your teammates. I’ve learned more about what each individual player does. Hopefully, once I get back I’ll be able to help them to be the best they can be.”

During the season, her knee responded quicker than she expected but she was careful. “I was being very patient with it. I didn’t start scrimmaging until later because I knew that I wouldn’t be playing this year at all,” Gonzales said. “I knew that I didn’t need to rush it because if I rushed it, something else could happen. I wanted to make it a complete recovery and make sure that I did everything right the first time so that it wouldn’t happen again.”

As a freshman in 2018-19, Gonzales averaged a team-high 17 points and 4.1 assists per game and was second on the team in rebounding (5.6 rpg). Gonzales was named to the WCC All-Freshman Team and helped lead BYU to the WCC Tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where the No. 7 seed Cougars beat No. 10 Auburn before being eliminated by No. 2 Stanford.

What are her expectations for herself and her team going into her sophomore year?

“We have huge goals set for this next season, especially after the season the girls had this last season. Some of them were devastated and upset about how the season ended,” Gonzales said. “But I want to come in and push them to be the best they can be and to have a great season. I personally want to have a better season than I did my freshman season. We definitely want to go win the WCC Tournament. We know that’s going to be super hard with these teams coming back and being even better but I know that we can do it. We want to go to the NCAA Tournament and go … to the Sweet 16 and even further this year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to push each other, work hard and reach those goals.”

During her time in Arizona the past few months, she was able to find gyms to work out in and she scrimmaged with her dad, her brothers and others. But she’s thrilled to be back on campus as she gets ready for the upcoming season.

“We’re only allowed to have 10 people in the (Marriott Center) Annex at a time,” Gonzales said. “We’ll do smaller group workouts Monday through Friday with our strength and conditioning coach. It’s going to be so competitive during the summer playing against each other. People are going to have to step up if they want to play. It’s going to be awesome. I’m super excited to get back into it.”