It was the summer of 2011. Beth O’Boyle had been hired as head coach of the Stony Brook women’s basketball team. Two-time all-conference selection and 1,000-point scorer Kirsten Jeter had graduated. The Seawolves were a team in transition and Miranda Jenkins, one of five newcomers, was looking to compete for a spot in the rotation.
And she was well on her way. Jenkins had been coming off a stellar senior season at East Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C. where she averaged 24.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.6 steals per game. Numerous accolades followed, including the Conference Player of the Year and team MVP awards, and finished her career with 1880 points, 636 rebounds and a school-record 607 assists. Throughout summer workouts and practices, Jenkins had made a great impression on the first-year coach.
“I hadn’t seen Miranda play in high school, she was signed by the previous coaching staff,” O’Boyle recalled. “But then we were really excited when we watched film on her because of her ability to get to the rim.”
Jenkins represented a lot of promise and perhaps a turn of fortune for the Seawolves heading into that season. And in an instant, it was gone.
In the first scrimmage of the year against St. Peter’s, Jenkins got bumped by an opposing player while going for a layup and landed awkwardly. She had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee and would be out for the entire season.
“For any kid, when they get hurt that early in their career, you hurt for them,” O’Boyle said. “For it to happen that early was really tough, she definitely would’ve helped us. I felt really bad for her because she had been working really hard in practice.”
“She came in ready and she worked so hard during that whole summer, so for her whole season to be taken away because of an injury in a scrimmage was tough,” said Sabre Proctor, who was also in her first year on the team after transferring from North Carolina A&T.
Jenkins could only watch from the sidelines as the 2011 team won just four games. But she wasn’t alone on the bench; Proctor also had to sit out the season because of the NCAA transfer rules.
“It was tough for the both of us because the team didn’t do that well during that season and we couldn’t help, all we could do was watch,” Proctor said.
Jenkins went through the normal six- to eight-month recovery process typically necessitated by a torn ACL. But she suffered another setback when she began having problems bending her knee, forcing her to have a second surgery and sit out another two to three months. Jenkins took her lengthy physical rehabilitation in stride, but the fear of reinjuring her knee required an equally long and perhaps even more grueling psychological rehabilitation as well.
“The mental aspect is the hardest part,” O’Boyle said. “Our trainers are great, they put her through an extensive rehab program. But it’s getting over that mental hurdle of ‘Ok, I’m not gonna get hurt,’ and I think the best healer for that is time and work ethic.”
Jenkins said she talked with her mother every day, and she told her the only way her knee would get better was if she worked hard every day, no matter how long it would take. “That became my mentality, to do something every day because that was the only way I would get stronger,” Jenkins said.
Her teammates also helped Jenkins stay positive, especially Proctor; they developed an instant connection because Proctor went to school in Jenkins’ home state of North Carolina.
“That’s my little sister, I love her,” Proctor said. “We just had fun, we didn’t think about basketball. When it was time for basketball we came in and did what we had to do, but other than that we just had fun off the court to not let her think about the injury and keep her spirits up.”
Jenkins finally made her return to the court as a redshirt freshman in 2012, seeing action in eight games. She said it helped her get her confidence back, but she knew she still wasn’t her old self.
“Going into my sophomore year I felt like I was ready, but I really wasn’t,” she said. “I was just eager to play but I knew I didn’t have a strong leg and it would be hard for me to give 100 percent. But even though I wasn’t 100 percent it just felt good to know that I took a step forward, that I was step closer to being at full strength. It was a relief, just getting on the court and knowing I could ball again.”
This year, Jenkins has developed into one of Stony Brook’s most important players, and the team is reaping the benefits: the Seawolves women are 17-7 overall and 8-3 in the America East, already surpassing last year’s win-totals of fourteen and six. Jenkins has made 20 starts and averages almost 27 minutes a game. She’s averaging eight points during conference play, but she also does all the little things on the court that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Jenkins has become a glue player for the Seawolves, playing with a high energy her teammates can feed off of.
“She’s an athletic slasher that can score in a variety of ways,” O’Boyle said. “In the second half of the season she’s really been hitting a lot more threes, which makes her an even tougher cover. And defensively she’s just active, she’s all over the court trying to get tips and help out in the post. She’s just a good all-around player for us.”
Proctor called Jenkins “the energizer bunny,” saying she doesn’t want anyone on the court to outwork her. At 5’7”, “Big ‘Ran,” as her teammates call her, makes her mark on the defensive end, staying active and vocal and fighting for rebounds.
“She’s like our floor general when it comes to defense,” Proctor said. “She helps everybody get to where they need to be and she’s always where she needs to be and she’s making sure everything on the court is right. She just gives us such a positive impact on the court all the time.”
“It might sound weird but I like watching football,” Jenkins said. “So if I could give the same energy on the court that football players play with, it’s incredible how the game could go. I always feel like defense wins games, so this year I wanted to focus on being a defensive stopper and just letting my offense come to me. I knew on this team all we needed was a defensive leader and I feel like I’ve helped with that.”
Jenkins has been at her best when Stony Brook needed her most. She tied a career-high with 13 points in the Seawolves’ home win against Hartford at the beginning of the conference season, Stony Brook’s first win over the Hawks since 2006. She scored five of her nine points, including the game-winning jumper, in the final 1:08 of the Seawolves’ comeback road win over Binghamton last month. That win over the Bearcats sparked a season-best five-game winning streak.
This past Sunday, Jenkins scored a career-high 17 points to lead Stony Brook to a 76-63 win over New Hampshire. The Seawolves are now a half-game out of second place in the conference. Now that she’s fully recovered, Jenkins looks back on the injury as a positive experience and believes she’s a better player because of it.
“I can honestly say I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, even before I tore my ACL,” she said. “I just feel stronger, more focused and more able to learn and keep working. It’s a blessing.”
Jenkins said she believes Stony Brook can make a run at the America East Championship this year, and she will do whatever she can to help her team achieve that goal. There was a point where she doubted whether she’d ever fully recover from a torn ACL. Now, she’s become an integral part to the program’s future.
“I’m so impressed with her,” O’Boyle said. “I think in every game and every practice she continues to get better. I can’t imagine what her numbers are gonna be when she’s a fifth-year senior.”
“She’s one of the strongest people I know,” Proctor said. “I’ve never met anybody like her.”