By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BANGOR TOWNSHIP — Laying on the basketball court in pain, Kalle Martinez didn't need a medical opinion to know she was in trouble.
"I knew that the pain I felt I'd never felt before, so I knew something was definitely wrong," she said.
The diagnosis: A torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.
What followed was one of the toughest periods in Martinez's young life — life without basketball.
The injury happened during a team camp at Central Michigan University during the summer of 2014, putting her sophomore season at Bay City John Glenn in jeopardy.
While going through rehab was physically and emotionally challenging, she approached the grind of getting healthy with the same work ethic that made Martinez a star as a freshman on a strong varsity team.
"It just gave me motivation when I found out what happened to get better and keep playing like I know how," said Martinez, who said she first picked up a basketball at age 4.
As a result, she was back on the court by mid-January, well ahead of schedule for someone with a torn ACL. She played in 13 out of the Bobcats' 19 games, averaging 10 points a game after putting up 18.8 per game as a freshman.
"Basketball is her life," John Glenn coach Cory Snider said. "When a huge portion of your life gets taken away from you, it's pretty tough. I tell you what, the same way she plays basketball, she attacked her rehab. She came back in 7½, 8 months from an ACL, which is normally a full year's recovery time. She wasn't herself, obviously, for those first couple months, but we kept saying 60 percent of Kalle is better than no Kalle."
"I was not 100 percent at all, but I wanted to play with my friends," the 5-foot-6 point guard said. "I knew I wasn't able to do what I used to do, so I worked with what I had and built from there."
Unable to physically work on her game during her rehab, Martinez tried to improve herself in other ways.
"I watched a lot of film," said Martinez, who received all-state honorable mention as a freshman. "I really just paid attention to detail and how to correct myself."
"She's back to where she was athletically her freshman year," Snider said. "She looks the same. However, she's become a much more intelligent basketball player, which is a huge difference. She sees the floor so much better. That was part of the process of going through that injury last year. She was forced to learn how to play the game instead of just beating everybody."
Martinez was healthy enough by summer to impress the staff at Central Michigan, which offered her a scholarship before the start of her junior year. Martinez accepted, removing the pressure of the recruiting process for her final two years of high school.
"It's a good feeling," she said. "I feel I made the right decision going there. I feel I'm going to fit in really well. It's kind of a relief to know I don't have to go to this camp to get noticed. I feel at home at CMU."
She also feels more like her old self at John Glenn, leading the Bobcats to a 5-0 start that included a 53-44 victory over a Southfield-Lathrup team ranked No. 1 regardless of class in several preseason polls. Martinez had 18 points in that game, hitting five 3-pointers.
"I feel good," Martinez said. "I feel 100 percent now. I'm blessed, because not everyone can say they came back completely."
Martinez doesn't need to fill up the net every night, because she runs an offense that includes Grand Valley State University recruits Jenai LaPorte and Cassidy Boensch.
LaPorte is a three-time honorable mention all-state pick who is John Glenn's all-time leading scorer with 1,223 career points. She averages 14.2 points per game this season, and Martinez adds 12.6. The 6-foot-3 Boensch averages 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. Jamie Brisson averages 8.3 points.
"This is the best team we've had by far," LaPorte said. "Just the way we've been playing together for some people four years, for some three years. We have a lot of experience. We know what everyone likes to do."
It's an experienced lineup that has its sights set on winning John Glenn's first District championship since 1991 — and more.
The Bobcats have been a District championship-caliber team in recent years, but were eliminated by Midland Bullock Creek the past three seasons. Bullock Creek reached the MHSAA Class B Semifinals in 2013 and 2014 and was ranked No. 1 last year when it won a 40-39 overtime thriller against John Glenn in the District Semifinals. The Bobcats reached the District Final four straight years before losing in the semis last season.
In order to be better prepared for the postseason, John Glenn loaded up its nonconference schedule. The first five games included Class A contenders Southfield-Lathrup and Detroit Renaissance, 26-time District champion Frankenmuth and Class A Midland. The Bobcats face five-time MHSAA champion Saginaw Nouvel on Wednesday.
"Coming into the year, our mindset was we'd rather go 15-5 and make a deep run in the playoffs than go 20-0 and possibly not be ready for tournament time," Snider said. "We want to make sure we're battle-tested and ready to go once that tournament rolls around. This first two weeks for us has been killer."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTO: Kalle Martinez sets up Bay City John Glenn's offense during last season's game against Saginaw Nouvel. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)