ORONO — Despite dealing with another headache and continued disappointment, Samantha Wheeler was her usual cheery self Tuesday afternoon.
Rather than playing basketball, the University of Maine junior is playing a waiting game as she recovers from a concussion suffered during a Nov. 29 practice.
Wheeler, the leading scorer (12.8 points per game) and rebounder (7.6 rpg) for coach Cindy Blodgett’s Black Bears, will miss her seventh straight game Wednesday when UMaine (1-10) entertains Massachusetts in a 7 p.m. contest at Alfond Arena.
“I’m just sitting and watching the games and wanting to go out there and contribute and help out the team,” said the UMaine co-captain. “It’s very frustrating, especially with how long a process it is.”
There is no definitive timetable for Wheeler’s return as she must remain free of headaches and other symptoms in order to resume basketball activities.
Wheeler, of Derry, N.H., was hurt when she drove in for a layup, was hit by a teammate, and cracked the back of her head against a padded wall in Memorial Gym.
“I also snapped my neck, so my neck was really bothering me at that point,” Wheeler said. “It got to the point where my headache was just throbbing and I didn’t feel right.”
She had difficulty concentrating and experienced mental “fogginess.”
The treatment was complete rest. She even had to abstain from reading, studying or attending classes during the last two weeks of the semester to give her brain the chance to heal.
Wheeler had previously suffered a mild concussion, with no after-effects, while playing soccer at Timberlane Regional High School.
“This is one of those injuries where you can’t say ‘oh, it’s just going to hurt,’ and try to push through it,” she said. “It’s my brain.”
Blodgett said Wheeler has a key impact on the team, both physically and psychologically.
“Our team looks completely different when we have Sam Wheeler in that mix,” Blodgett said. “Sam does create so much havoc on both ends.”
Blodgett said the Bears feed off the tireless energy provided by the versatile Wheeler, whose hustle and aggressiveness set a positive tone for the team.
Wheeler admits having worried about whether her coaches and teammates question whether her symptoms are real and significant.
“That always crosses your mind, especially when it’s something that nobody can see,” she said. “I just have to be honest with myself.”
Wheeler said it was excruciating staying in Orono and watching games on the internet while the team played road games.
Wheeler is seeing progress with her health. The only lingering symptom is a headache that comes and goes.
“It’s getting a lot better, so I’m starting to do the light exercise and start the process of getting back into things,” Wheeler said.
She explained she must pass a series of tests — each without experiencing a headache or other symptoms before moving on to the next one — in order to return to game action.
They include: performing light exercise; doing a light shooting workout; going through an individual, noncontact workout with a coach; participating in a team practice; and, finally, being cleared to play in a game.
“It’s still going to be a long process, especially if my headache lingers,” Wheeler said. “Hopefully, I’ll be on the court soon.”
In the meantime, she is trying to contribute any way she can to help UMaine prepare for the America East Conference schedule, which begins Sunday at Boston University.
“I’m there and giving as much energy as I possibly can, being a presence there and smiling as much as I can,” Wheeler said.