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Friday February 3rd

'Imma get back': UNC women's basketball's McPherson to miss at least nonconference slate

<p>Kayla McPherson pictured at Live Action with Carolina Basketball in the Dean E. Smith Center on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.&nbsp;</p>
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Kayla McPherson pictured at Live Action with Carolina Basketball in the Dean E. Smith Center on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. 

Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications. 

Kayla McPherson has yet to play a game for the North Carolina women’s basketball team, but the sidelines don’t stop her from putting into practice a lesson she learned from her Amateur Athletic Union coach, Chad Hubbard — be the loudest person in the gym.

“Imma be loud,” McPherson said. “Imma be that energy.”

McPherson spent all of last season recovering from a knee injury suffered in high school. On Oct. 10, the team announced that she would miss at least the nonconference portion of the upcoming season due to a different lower-body injury sustained in practice.

Despite these injuries, head coach Courtney Banghart and teammates Deja Kelly and Kennedy Todd-Williams cited the redshirt first-year as a player that will surprise some people when she returns, just a day after UNC broke the news about McPherson at the 2022 ACC Tipoff. 

Junior forward Alexandra Zelaya said the former McDonald’s All-American’s athleticism is so freakish that it can only be felt by seeing her in person. According to Zelaya, McPherson first arrived in Chapel Hill injured, but could still jump higher and run faster than everyone.

Zelaya also described McPherson as a quarterback who sees passes no one else considers as an option. She also draws inspiration from the redshirt first-year’s dedication.

“The biggest thing that she's taught me is intent,” Zelaya said. “If you're tired, just make sure you're extra intentional with everything that you do. She really focuses on the details.”

Still, major injuries can put an athlete’s motivation through the wringer of self-doubt and negativity. 

“You get to a point where you start to feel better physically and you can do things and you've got the bad cop like me saying, ‘Nope, you're not allowed to do that yet,’” Jodi Schneider, the head athletic trainer of UNC women’s basketball, said.

Schneider described McPherson as the most explosive athlete she has worked with in her 16 years as a trainer. Explosiveness, however, is tricky to build back.

Schneider applauded head strength and conditioning coach Caleb Krueger for his efforts to restore McPherson’s athleticism. She also credited McPherson’s undeterred work ethic as “very rare."

“She trusted the process even though at times I'm sure that she didn't think the process was ever going to work out,” Schneider said.

McPherson suffered her first injury during her senior season of high school, at a time when COVID-19 restrictions limited physical therapy appointments. 

While McPherson admits that the recovery period was rough, she said that watching from the sidelines allows her to expand what she’s looking for on the court — past dribbling, shooting and layups and into the Xs and Os.

“Now, it's about angles, it's about how you move — change in direction, change of pace — and when to do those things,” McPherson said.

When McPherson arrived at Chapel Hill last year, she was still behind on rehab and was isolated from the team in an effort to catch up.

McPherson said her teammates still made her feel like a member of the squad, especially due to their goofiness. 

“She's learned that the people around her are just as weird, if not weirder, but in a good way,”  Zelaya said. “So she's felt the comfort to really be who she is. She's always had that weird goofiness, too, so don't let her fool you. We just helped her unlock the door.”

The Hull, Ga., native specifically recalled a time the team went golfing at Drive Shack as part of a recruiting visit. The swings and the misses got so bad that redshirt first-year Teonni Key threw the golf ball because she couldn’t hit properly.

“We’re the most unathletic athletic team you’ll ever meet,” McPherson said.

Through difficult circumstances, McPherson has managed to maintain her work ethic and discover new things about herself. Has her recent setback changed her mindset? Not at all.

“Sadly, and lucky for me, I’ve been through it once, so I know what needs to be done during this rehab,” McPherson said. “Yeah, it’s sad. Who wants to just be injured? I came here to play basketball. But my mindsets are the same. I'm here to work. Imma get back.”

@dmtwumasi

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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