Daneesha Provo’s knee injury hurt the Utah women’s basketball team, but she’s coming back

As her Utah women's basketball teammates practiced, Daneesha Provo dribbled on the sideline. She started and stopped and changed directions in drills designed to test her right knee, the body part that betrayed her just as the Utes' Pac-12 schedule was beginning in January.

Provo’s presence on the periphery is a reminder of how Utah’s promising 2018-19 season was derailed, with injuries eventually reducing the roster to seven players. The misfortune recently led coach Lynne Roberts to look back with a wry observation.

“We actually have depth this season,” she said. “We're not down to seven. So that will be refreshing.”

Roberts halted that season, declining a WNIT bid because her remaining players were exhausted. The program’s outlook is more favorable now. Provo received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and should be healthy enough to play by December. Provo could make her season debut in Provo, Nov. 29 vs. BYU.

The waiver request, stemming partly from Provo's shortened season as a Clemson freshman in 2014-15, was “definitely overwhelming, stressful,” she said. “It was a long process, just being in this 'unknown' for so many months and overthinking everything.”

The official news came in late August, just as Utah’s school year was starting. So instead of subtracting players this season, Roberts expects to be adding a forward who has thrived in the Pac-12.

Provo is participating in parts of Utah’s practice sessions, wearing a quarterback-style yellow vest to keep her off-limits to contact. She has a compression sleeve on her knee, as a symbol of what the team experienced in 2018-19. Ute forward Maurene Corbin was sidelined in the 2018 preseason and redshirted; forward Dre’Una Edwards (who has transferred to Kentucky) was hurt in late February.

The three knee injuries were one more than Roberts had experienced in her previous 17 years as a head coach at three schools. Provo was honored during Utah’s Senior Day in February, while hoping her career was not over. The school’s compliance department “did a tremendous job in presenting her case,” Roberts said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah senior wing Daneesha Provo practices with the team Sept. 26, 2019 at the Huntsman Basketball Center.

The NCAA granted Provo’s extra year, thanks to having two of her four seasons cut short, the school said. She had left Clemson in early January of her freshman year for personal reasons. “It was just a toxic environment for me; that’s why I got out of there,” she said.

The waiver request was designed to “allow the NCAA to see that my mental health was priority,” Provo said. “I just wasn't happy. … At that point, I wasn't myself and basketball wasn't enjoyable for me, so I needed another situation.”

The native of Nova Scotia, who attended prep school in Connecticut, landed at Utah and her impact kept increasing. She was averaging 13.5 points last season, including a career-high 29 points vs. Seattle, before being hurt in the Pac-12 opener vs. Arizona State.

The Utes, 11-0 at the time, eventually reached 18-1 with a No. 14 ranking before injuries wore them down and they finished 20-10 after once seemingly being a lock to make their first NCAA Tournament as Pac-12 members. That goal remains.

“Everything happens for a reason, so it's meant for me to be here for another year,” Provo said. “If it wasn't, I would have gone on with my life.”

So she’s back in school, pursuing a second degree after graduating in May, and intending to maximize another senior year. She’ll miss the start of the season, but being there in the end is what matters.