This was not the right time for a leg to buckle or an operation or two months of basketball life to just go by without Avery Scarbrough.
At the biggest AAU exposure camp over the summer, Scarbrough was playing tight defense. She ran down the court and stuck with the ball-handler. Scarbrough bumped her, smothered her, trying to trap her in a corner. When she got there, Scarbrough planted her foot and felt her meniscus rip.
"Immediately I was like, ‘Oh no,’" Scarbrough said. "I just went straight to the bench."
This was new for Scarbrough. The worst of her basketball injuries had always been alleviated with a bag of ice at night. A few days later she was in and out of the operating room and facing two months without basketball. No more exposure camp. No more AAU ball. Just rehab and wait, rehab and wait.
But this was a new Scarbrough. This was the North Forsyth girls basketball team’s boss. That’s what Lady Raiders coach Eric Herrick calls her. The one he spent countless Saturdays and Sundays with in the North gym working on the finer points of post play. The one who didn’t tolerate locker room drama. The one who embraced Herrick’s discipline and instruction to become the senior leader of arguably Forsyth County’s most talented team.
"She’s definitely our boss," Herrick said. "She’s in charge."
The Lady Raiders enter the season with expectations piled up after going 24-6, finishing runner-up in Region 6-AAAAAA and reaching the second round of the state tournament. North returns the reigning county player of the year in junior guard Caroline Bowns and one of the top female athletes in the county in junior guard Lochlain Corliss.
But Scarbrough anchors North in the middle and in the locker room. The center averaged 11 points and 6.4 rebounds a game last season. Her physical presence under the basket – taking charges and disrupting screens – set the tone for the Lady Raiders on defense.
Four years ago, Scarbrough was the timid freshman happy to make varsity and get some playing time. North struggled, going 6-19, and so did Scarbrough. Sure, she dedicated the summer after her eighth grade year to get ready for high school ball, but the leap was significant.
"I got better, but it was a huge jump," Scarbrough said. "It was scary at first."
Herrick arrived before Scarbrough’s sophomore season. A former post player himself, Herrick saw in Scarbrough a raw player in need of direction. And she wanted to learn.
"She was that kid who every Saturday and Sunday wanted to be at the gym," Herrick said, "wanted me to come up and work out with her."
They worked on her touch around the basket. They worked on her footwork. They worked on drills that doubled as conditioning, exercises that were as demanding physically as they were mentally.
"With him every single one is a conditioning drill, but sometimes you don’t know it," Scarbrough said, "so you constantly have to be mentally tough."
It worked. North improved from six wins to 20. Scarbrough went from part-time contributor to starter.
Then she went down, a torn meniscus that stole the biggest part of her summer basketball season and required grueling rehabilitation.
No matter. Now Scarbrough knew how to get through it – the same way she turned into the top senior in Forsyth County this season, the way she turned into a force in the paint on both ends of the floor.
"[Coach] came in here, he showed us how to work hard," Scarbourgh said. "He showed us that if you work hard you can achieve goals. … I just had to go hard in physical therapy and get back on the court."
The goals are starting to run out on Scarbrough’s high school career. She’s been to the playoffs. Her leg is healthy. On Friday, she’ll sign a scholarship to play at Emmanuel College.
There’s really only one left.
"I’m just ready to go out with a bang," Scarbrough said. "I want that region championship this year. We all do really bad."