Ordinarily, ankle surgery isn’t the preferred remedy for an ailing jump shot.
But, at least indirectly, it’s worked out for Niya Beverley.
Following her freshman season as point guard for the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team, Beverley underwent ankle surgery to repair ligament damage and remove bone spurs.
It meant spending much of the spring and summer in a cast and severely curtailed her basketball activities.
But it might have been the best thing that could’ve happened to her, at least from a basketball sense.
“Actually, that injury helped me in a way because I was able to get back to the fundamentals and the basics,” Beverley said. “I had to sit on a chair and shoot. I had to work on form shooting a lot and I think that helped me because my form was a big issue my freshman year.”
The 5-foot-7 Beverley, from Laurel, Maryland, became an immediate starter last season for the Badgers in a two-point guard lineup along with Kendra Van Leeuwen. Beverley provided much-needed quickness and an ability to take good care of the basketball, finishing fourth in the Big Ten Conference in assist/turnover ratio with 106 assists and 49 turnovers.
But she wasn’t much of a scoring threat, averaging just 4.6 points and connecting on just 35.9 percent of her field goal attempts. Most of her points came on drives to the basket and she made just six 3-pointers in 30 games.
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She came away from the season realizing she would have to improve her perimeter shot if she was to become a high level Big Ten point guard.
“I think she was determined to put herself in position to be one of the better guards in the league,” said UW assistant coach Craig Carter, who works with the guards. “And I think she saw there were some things that if she worked on and got better at, she could put herself in that position. She worked her tail off over the summer, even with having to have surgery, working on becoming a more consistent shooter.”
It was a process that required Beverley to totally remake her shot. The key was to reposition her right elbow, which had a habit of flaring out like a chicken wing.
“There were some fundamental changes we had to make,” Carter said. “She had to just step straight through the ball and keep her elbow in tighter. She was out here and it’s hard to bring your arm up. We were working on it even when she had a cast on her foot, slamming her elbow against her waist and coming straight up so that it became second nature to her.”
Sounds easy enough, but retraining her body proved to be a challenge.
“It’s very hard but you have to see the light and the end of the tunnel and know that putting in that work is going to pay off,” Beverley said. “I just trusted in the process and trusted in coach Craig to help me with my shot and I think it’s paid off a lot.”
Beverley is coming off her best game as a Badger with career highs of 16 points and seven assists, with no turnovers, Sunday against Indiana. Her numbers for the season have shown modest improvement — 6.2 points per game and shooting 38 percent — but she’s averaging 8.4 points and shooting 43 percent in Big Ten games. She also shares the Big Ten lead in assist/turnover ratio with 53 assists and just 19 turnovers.
That improvement has come despite missing time with a series of injuries. Shortly after being cleared to begin preseason workouts, she was sidelined by a concussion. Then she suffered a second concussion on the last play of the overtime victory over IUPUI and sat out three games. And recently she’s been limited by back spasms.
“It’s been a difficult year for Niya because of the limited practice time she’s had,” coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “She’s such a vital part and a difference maker for us.”
Beverley is expected to be full speed tonight when the Badgers (10-7, 1-4 Big Ten) host No. 23 Minnesota (12-4, 1-4) at the Kohl Center. The Gophers have fallen on hard times, losing four consecutive games after beating the Badgers 74-56 in the Big Ten opener.