Full circle: Derrieux happy to be back with Tigers after missing bulk of season
Jamie Derrieux’s season started out how she hoped, and it’s headed for a good ending, just as she expected.
It was the middle 17 games she didn’t see coming.
The Grand Junction High School junior guard missed the majority of the season with a hand injury, but returned to help push the third-seeded Tigers (17-7) into tonight’s Class 5A Sweet 16 game at No. 2 seed Palmer (22-2) in the Carol Callan Region.
Grand Junction lost 58-44 earlier in the season to Palmer.
“It’s such a great opportunity,” Derrieux said. “We’ve played Palmer once and it’s a great setup for a win.”
After scoring 21 points in the Tigers’ season opener against Ponderosa, Derrieux started out with eight points in the Tigers’ second game against Bellevue East, Neb. But she got caught between two players while driving to the basket and landed awkwardly on her right hand — her shooting hand.
“I got tripped and my hand got caught,” Derrieux said. “(The trainers) said it was just sprained, so I taped it up and went back in.
“I shot a free throw and it was like ‘Ouch, something isn’t right.’ “
Derrieux tore ligaments in her index and middle fingers, and broke the knuckles on the same fingers on her right hand.
She averaged 14 points per game as a sophomore, but from Dec. 4 to Feb. 4, she was forced to watch every game in street clothes.
“She cried a lot early,” Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said. “But I think that built a resolve where she was going to get back and be ready to play with her team.”
Her hand was initially placed in a cast, but her parents decided to get a second opinion from Dr. Randy Viola, a hand specialist at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail.
That’s when Derrieux found out about the torn ligaments. Surgery was performed Dec. 17.
“We found out it was more than just a break and there were ligaments damaged,” Derrieux said. “But in the end I was glad, because if we had just left it cast, it never would have healed right.”
Although she wasn’t able to handle a basketball, Derrieux still conditioned with the team. During games, she sat next to Provenza and assistant coach Stephanie Johnson.
“She spent a lot of time with the coaches,” Provenza said. “I think she started to understand what the expectations of the offense were, and not just out there running it, but understanding the philosophy and those type of things.”
Derrieux has been a starter on every basketball team she’s played on, from pee-wee through middle school, AAU and into high school.
The injury forced her to learn how to not be a part of the team on the floor, but still be involved in the end goal.
“It was hard and I thought it would get easier, but it was tough the whole time I was out,” Derrieux said. “When last season was over it was like, ‘Next year is our year,’ but now I didn’t get to play for a lot of it.
“But I’ve had so much fun watching their successes, and there were struggles throughout the season. I am still part of the team, but I had to learn from it and I’m glad I got to be a part of it in the end.”
Provenza said losing one of his best players early in the season helped others develop.
“The biggest thing was we didn’t lower expectations,” Provenza said. “We kept them high, and it forced some other kids up to those expectations during the 17 games we were without her.”
From the day she started rehab, Derrieux was determined to play again this season.
She returned Feb. 11 against Durango and has played in the past five games, including a 16-point performance in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs against Loveland.
“She’s taking the ball to the basket, defensively she gets out and takes charges, but more than anything, she’s got the enthusiasm of getting to be on the court again,” Provenza said. “The appreciation of what she’s doing isn’t lost on her.”
Derrieux missed the Tigers’ first game against Palmer. Grand Junction struggled for a short time against the Terrors’ pressure defense, but it was enough to make a difference.
“We had good poise against their press in the first half, but then we did some things we don’t normally do against presses,” Provenza said. “Once we readjusted we were fine, but it was a three-minute stretch that really got us.”
Provenza said the Tigers are now a much different team.
“There is a better focus and maturity right now,” Provenza said. “They are really focused on goals.”