After flashing her talent as a freshman on the Wauwatosa East girls basketball team, Brooklyn Blackburn was poised for a big summer on the AAU circuit.
But what was supposed to be a summer of improvement turned into extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy after she suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in April 2016. Instead of being able to play, Blackburn attended games all summer and watched from the sidelines.
Blackburn returned to the court in the fall and had a breakout season for Tosa East as a sophomore, leading the Red Raiders to a 19-win season and a trip to the sectional final by averaging 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds to earn Now Newspapers All-Suburban honors.
"It was horrible," Blackburn said of the injury. "It just made me want to play even more and to come out and play harder than I ever have before. I knew it was going to be hard for me to rehab and it wasn't going to be easy. I had to work harder than most of the girls.
"It was a barrier I knew I had to get over. But I knew it wasn't going to stop me or cost my team a win or a victory."
Blackburn did not have the torn PCL surgically repaired. She had a straight brace on her knee for three months before beginning the long physical therapy process. Her first time back on a basketball court for game action was in Tosa East's season opener against Wisconsin Lutheran on Nov. 18.
"I definitely was overthinking it for a while," Blackburn said of the early season. "But my doctor kept telling me that if I thought about not putting pressure on it, it would put pressure on the other one and I had a higher risk of getting hurt. I just had to go out there and not think about it as if I never had an injury."
After averaging 10.5 points per game over the first four games of the season, Blackburn became a consistent scorer for the Red Raiders, averaging 16.2 points over their final 22 games.
She was the second leading scorer in the Greater Metro during league games at 15.8 points and topped the conference in rebounding at 10.5 rebounds per game to earn first-team All-Greater Metro. Her 250 rebounds are the most in a single season in Tosa East history and her 399 points are the fifth-most in program history.
"It is truly an indication of the potential that Brooklyn has when you consider she missed a whole AAU season last spring and was unable to participate in any summer basketball activities due to injury," Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. "From a basketball technique point of view, Brooklyn took to the instruction and emphasis on rebounding we tried to emphasize.
"When you combine that with her natural court instinct around the hoop she was truly a force to be reckoned with. I am hoping that with a full offseason in front of her she can develop other elements of her game and improve upon the raw talent she currently has."
Only a sophomore, Blackburn has unlimited potential. The Red Raiders made a surprise run to the sectional final this season and will return all but two players and all but one member of their rotation next year.
The 6-foot Blackburn is hoping for a healthy summer so she can focus on improving her left hand, outside shooting and guard skills in order to be able to play multiple positions.
"We definitely saw we could make it (to the sectional final), and we're only losing two people and keeping the majority of our team. If we work as hard as we did this last season into next year and keep evolving, we can make it further in the coming years."
One of the two players Tosa East must replace is center Johanna Taylor, who was named honorable mention All-Suburban after averaging 10.7 points, 8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. She was second-team All-Greater Metro after posting averages of 11 points and 9.3 rebounds in league play.
Hamill, who led the Red Raiders to their first sectional final since 2000 despite having 11 of 13 players on the roster new to varsity basketball, receive high honorable mention All-Suburban.
"He's such a great coach," Blackburn said. "He's so understanding and he loves us girls as a team. He just wants to see us grow. We had a great season with him. He always understood what plays to run and how the situations worked. He works really hard."