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Gonzaga senior Katie Campbell not letting her injury get in the way of being the Bulldogs’ ultimate leader

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 12, 2020

Gonzaga senior basketball player Katie Campbell poses during a practice on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Spokane. Campbell suffered a season-ending knee injury against BYU on Feb. 1. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga senior basketball player Katie Campbell poses during a practice on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Spokane. Campbell suffered a season-ending knee injury against BYU on Feb. 1. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

As her Gonzaga teammates warmed up on the practice floor Tuesday afternoon, Katie Campbell grabbed a basketball and started shooting from 20 feet.

Because that’s what she does, even on one leg; three out of every four balls found nothing but net.

Campbell found some satisfaction in that. Then she walked slowly across the court, grabbed a stationary bike, hauled it back to the sideline and began pedaling.

“It really doesn’t hurt to walk,” Campbell said. “I just can’t play in the games.”

That’s what really hurts in this, her senior year. By the time the Zags hit the finish line sometime next month, Campbell expects to be on crutches.

“I’ve never been injured before, so it’s been sad,” Campbell said. “It’s hard to sit there and watch.”

Since crumpling to the Kennel floor with a left knee injury on Feb. 1, she couldn’t be expected to offer much more.

Yet somehow she does – yelling encouragement to her teammates while pedaling and texting thank-yous to the people who’ve sent their love and best wishes during these tough times.

“Through all of this I knew how good our fans are, but especially with this injury,” Campbell said. “Not just when we’re getting them wins and making it entertaining for them – but reaching out when they know I’m on the sidelines.”

Her teammates have been there too – “coming to my house and helping with everything,” Campbell said. “I’m extremely grateful being in Spokane and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Campbell still hopes to play professionally, though that dream has been deferred. For now, she’s finishing her nursing degree and cheering her teammates as she awaits surgery later this month.

“It’s something that we’re asking her to do, and it’s something she wants to do,” head coach Lisa Fortier said. “She’s trying hard to continue to be a great leader, which is a huge challenge for injured players.”

Another challenge awaits this weekend. It’s as bittersweet as it gets.

Saturday is Senior Day at the Kennel, where Campbell and backcourt Jessie Loera will be honored for years of hard work as student-athletes.

And for winning, which also matters. Campbell has been a major part of two West Coast Conference regular-season titles. Wins over USF and Santa Clara this week would clinch at least a share of a third.

“It’s not playing that’s going to be the hardest part,” Campbell said.

“But I think we may be cutting down the nets,” said Campbell, who plans to climb a ladder and do just that.

Despite her injured knee, that might be the easy part. Her father and brother are flying up from Los Angeles, and of course her daughter Ava will be there.

Per GU custom, Campbell and Loera will be asked to say a few words after the game.

“It’s going to be very emotional,” Campbell said. “I’m probably not going to be able to get through a sentence without crying.”

If the right words don’t come out, Campbell wants everyone to know that she made the right choice three years ago by moving with her infant daughter Ava from Los Angeles to distant Spokane.

As it turned out, only the winters have been cold. This year, Campbell didn’t even go home for Christmas.

“I’ve been blessed to be here,” Campbell said.

On the court, Campbell was blessed with a sweet shot. She also had grit, sometimes working 40 hours a week while attending junior college classes, playing basketball and raising an infant.

But she couldn’t sustain that grueling regimen. Fortunately for everyone, the father of former GU star Keani Albanez happened to be Campbell’s coach back in middle school.

By then a professional in Greece, Albanez let it be known via Twitter how well Campbell was playing at Ventura.

Meanwhile, Campbell had been sending out “random texts” to GU assistant Craig Fortier, and things moved from there.

By May 2017, she was signed to play for the Zags, which had something special to offer Campbell and her daughter.

A few years earlier, Gonzaga had welcomed another single mom, former West Valley star Shaniqua Nilles.

That eased the path for Campbell, a high school all-star who played her freshman year at Ventura JC after briefly considering Washington State.

“At Gonzaga they were already familiar with that situation, and Lisa and coach Stacy (Clinesmith) had a plan for that, helping me figure out all the things that people without a kid never even thing about,” Campbell said.

Campbell met them more than halfway while working toward her nursing degree.

On the court, Campbell will be remembered for that sweet jumper from beyond the 3-point line. She’s made 122 of them over three seasons and hit 44% of her shots the last two seasons to rank among the national leaders.

“She’s going to go down as one of the great Zags,” said Lisa Fortier, who had to reach back more than a few years to recall a better long-range shooter.

When opponents took away the perimeter, Campbell took her game to a different level, driving for a pull-up jumper. This year she also had 38 steals and averaged almost four rebounds.

“I hope people remember that I gave my all in every game,” Campbell said. “And as a person, I hope they know and seen that I was loving, open and friendly and there for people.”

“She’s just so tough, just like Shaq,” Lisa Fortier said. “They’re such an inspiration when things aren’t going great – like when we just lost a game and Katie still has to go home and take care of her daughter.

“She’s gone through a lot in her life, and yet for being so mature, she’s still so laid-back – it’s really amazing.”

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