The Illinois women’s basketball team has lost its second player in less than two weeks to career-ending injuries.
Sophomore Kierra Morris was medically disqualified Tuesday, just 11 days after junior Kersten Magrum was permanently sidelined by concussions.
The injury caused Morris chronic pain when she physically exerted herself. The same injury sidelined Morris for most of last season. The knee injury is unrelated to the foot injury that sidelined her for most of this season.
Although Morris was officially disqualified Tuesday, she knew the announcement was coming and decided to tell her teammates after practice Friday. The Illini gathered around Morris as she broke the news in the middle of the practice court. Morris was engulfed by all of her teammates in a group hug following the announcement.
“It’s been tough. We’re so close, all of us, and just knowing that she can’t play anymore is just sad,” junior Amber Moore said.
The team has now had to deal with losing two teammates in two weeks.
“It’s sad because they’re always here with us in everything, and we’re all so close,” sophomore Alexis Smith said. “But I know that they’re still going to be here for us and we’re still going to be there for them and that they’re going to be great helping us.
“We’re still strong, and we’re going to be strong because they’re still here.”
Morris was forced to have surgery after she broke her fifth metatarsal during the preseason; she was originally sidelined for 12 weeks. Coaches hoped she would return for the start of Big Ten play, but she was not. Morris had been actively practicing the last few weeks, but she did not dress for any games. Morris’ foot injury was separate from the knee injury that eventually ended her career.
Morris only played in one game during two seasons at Illinois. She played three minutes and recorded no statistics in a 74-51 loss to Bollant’s Green Bay team last season.
“It’s part of what you deal with as coach, you’ve got to move on,” Bollant said. “The other kids have got to step up. She is going to be here and stay at school, which is great.”
Morris continue to attend the University on scholarship for four years without taking a scholarship away from the team’s total. She will stay on the team but serve in a student-coach position similar to Magrum’s.
“We’ll sit down with her and give her responsibilities because we want her to add value to our program,” Bollant said.
The 6-foot-4 center graduated from Morgan Park Academy in 2011. She chose Illinois over Memphis, Notre Dame and Tulsa following high school graduation.
Illinois has now lost two forwards to career-ending injuries in a two-week period. While Magrum’s loss had an immediate impact on the team, Morris’ absence will have a greater effect on the future of the program. The Illini now only have six scholarship underclassmen and will have nine scholarships available next season with only six recruits.
Johnathan can be reached at email@example.com and @jhett93.