Ali Patberg promises passion in return to Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brace yourself folks, there’s a “new monster” ready to make an impact for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.

This new version of sophomore point guard Ali Patberg is as determined as ever, but with an understanding forged through adversity.

The 5-foot-10 Patberg came to Notre Dame from Columbus, Ind., last year as a heralded recruit. A gym rat who didn’t bat an eye at shooting thousands of shots a day, along with an extended period in the weight room, she fashioned her life around basketball.

All that changed in late October.

Before the season ever began, Patberg was separated from the game by a torn ACL in her right knee. For the first time in her basketball life, limits were put on her participation.

Grudgingly, Patberg adhered to the boundaries and has gotten to a point, with less than a month before the beginning of full-scale organized workouts, that her mind is right and her knee isn’t far behind.

“I haven’t played yet, but when I do play, I’ll have more passion than I ever had before,” Patberg said. “It’s like a ‘new monster.’ I couldn’t play for 11 months. I’ve realized that you have to give everything you have every single day.

“It will be like (for fans), ‘Wow, her whole heart is out there.’”

Patberg made that promise to her teammates this summer. During a sharing exercise, she said she may not have the same shot or the ballhandling skills right away, but the “attitude, passion and work ethic” will always be better than ever.

“Mentally, she’s really smart,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “She really studies the game. What she’s doing now: ‘OK, let’s run through the offense and make sure I’ve got it.’ She watches a lot of film. She’s really engaged, and she has been.”

Patberg will be a big part of the Irish flexibility this season. Her ability to step in and run the offense will allow senior Lyndsey Allen, considered among the best point guards in the country, to either get a breather or turn into more of a shooting guard.

It’s been a long road for Patberg. The lonely hours of rehab, complicated by a bone spur (and surgery) in the summer, have gotten her to the point where sometime soon she’ll get total clearance.

“I’m cutting; I’m dropping,” Patberg said. “I’m not playing pickup yet. I’m not practicing fully. I’m slowly progressing, but I’m not pushing it too much because I want to be 100 percent in the thick of the season.

“(The rehab has been) horrible. I’m asking our trainer (Anne Marquez) all the time: ‘Can I do this? Can I do that?’ She tells me ‘no’ a lot of the time. That’s hard for me, not being able to do all the drills; every rep. I don’t like to leave things out there.

“(Marquez) tells me to slow down. I’ve never been told to take it down a notch. It’s made me a better person and helped me to understand patience.”

“(Injuries) are hard on everyone,” McGraw said. “Everyone handles them differently. You get consumed with your rehab. You feel like you’re alone. You’re not getting to work out. You’re not getting to play. You’re not getting to lift (weights). You’re not doing anything.

“She really perked up in the spring when she was in the weight room with the girls. Getting closer to where she can be shooting, she found her way back. It’s harder to understand if you never were injured.”

“I learned to think about things one day at a time,” Patberg said. “I’m the kind of person who wants to work on something – work, work, work – until I get it right. I learned to enjoy the little victories like being able to walk again; to step on one leg and balance.

“It was going to be really hard if I didn’t break it down. It’s a long road. There are a lot of bad days. (Marquez) was always there telling me it was normal.”

Those bad days in the rear-view mirror have played a role in Patberg’s approach to the future.

“Every time you step (on the floor), it could be your last,” Patberg said. “I didn’t know that day (of the injury) was going to be my last for 11 months.

“I realized it could be worse. It was just my leg. I’m still here. They’re letting me try again.

“Before my injury, I thought I was mentally tough. Now, I think I’m more mentally tough; being positive. I envision myself on the floor, getting myself through it.”

That new monster is itching to roar.

Notre Dame’s Ali Patberg shoots around during Notre Dame Women's Basketball Media Day on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN