MORGANTOWN — A small grimace hits Tynice Martin’s face, as she plants her left foot on the WVU practice facility floor during a running drill.
She keeps her back to WVU women’s basketball coach Mike Carey when it happens, likely by design.
“Anytime he sees me struggle, he tells me to get out and rest a little bit,” Martin said.
It’s the last thing the WVU women’s hoops star wants to hear during her comeback from missing all of last season with a fractured left foot. She has been resting long enough.
For almost a year, Martin was forced to sit and watch, unable to walk without either the use of crutches or a padded cast.
For the first time in her life, Martin had the game of basketball taken away, limited to nothing more than a role of support for her teammates who tried to carry on without her abilities.
“Things were looking good for a while last season, but we were hit with so many injuries that it eventually took its toll. We just didn’t have enough players last year,” she said. “For me, that was the hard part: Knowing I could have made a difference out there, but I couldn’t play. That was hard.
“And the team still went to the (W)NIT and went to the semifinals of the NIT, but that’s not what this program is about. It was a good season, but it wasn’t good enough for this program.”
The high-scoring guard from Atlanta broke her foot last July, while attending a Team USA camp in Colorado.
She had a metal plate and screws inserted into the foot, and the belief was she would be back in the Mountaineers’ lineup not long after Christmas.
Except the foot didn’t quite heal properly and became infected.
It had to be drained.
She had a second surgery in January — six months after the first one — to have the plate and screws removed.
It ended any chance of her playing last season and Martin was redshirted.
Martin’s injury meant more than simply missing out on playing in games.
“I couldn’t work out. I didn’t sleep much,” she said. “I literally lost 25 pounds last year sitting on the bench. Some of that was stress, but a lot of it was losing muscle mass, too.
Golden State star “Klay Thompson once said you never realize how much you use your body until you get injured. That’s so true. You realize how much you take for granted.”
She looks for the positives where she can. In her place, teammate Teana Muldrow became the senior leader and had her finest season in a WVU uniform. It helped Muldrow become an honorable mention all-American, and she was selected 29th overall in the WNBA draft.
“She never really had the time to shine and lead the team,” Martin said. “That was something I talked about with her. I said maybe my injury was to help her get drafted, which she did. She really stepped up last year.”
Martin, who averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore and scored 1,013 points during her first two seasons, mentions being able to see a different side to the game.
“On the sideline, you see things differently and you really begin to see what coach Carey is talking about,” Martin said. “You really begin to understand more of what he wants and what he is asking for.”
Those are small substitutes, though. Martin is a player who was on the verge of making the national under-23 team when she hurt her foot.
She was on the brink of capitalizing on a stellar sophomore season that saw her earn Big 12 tournament MVP for guiding the Mountaineers to an improbable tourney title.
The combination of a healthy Martin and Muldrow may have been enough to put the Mountaineers on the national stage.
And then an injury derailed it all.
“I would have given anything to be able to play,” Martin said. “Things happen for a reason.”
People with the WVU women’s program will tell you that clearing Martin to play will come in stages. For now, she can run and participate in summer workouts on a limited basis.
“You think you’re going to go out there and be like your old self, but your body tells you something different,” Martin said. “I was really slow and I didn’t trust my foot at first, not as much as I should have. I was hesitant.”
The next stage: Getting back to a full practice under Carey. Then it will be time to think about playing again.
“If you tell me that I can go, I’m going to go,” Martin said. “That’s what I’ve always done. Even though I may feel tired or I’m hurting, I’m going to push through. That’s how I’ve been trained. That’s how I’ve been brought up.”
Martin’s determination and focus rival that of any basketball star at any level of play. A year later, there is still potential for the Mountaineers to surpass previous program elevations.
A healthy Martin is expected to team with returning starters Katrina Pardee and Naomi Davenport, as well as Michigan transfer Kysre Gondrezick, to form a nucleus loaded with potential.
Sweet 16? Elite Eight? Final Four? It’s been since 1992 that the Mountaineers made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, back when the tournament consisted of only 48 teams.
“When I get back, I feel like I’m going to be better than I was before. I know I’m going to be a much better player,” she said. “In a couple of months, I feel like I’m going to be unstoppable. Not just me, but the whole team, because they’re going to feed off my energy.
“My first two years, we never got past the second round (of NCAAs). I don’t know what we lacked then, but I have a great feeling about this team. It would mean a lot. I want this team to get over that hump and go as far as possible. I want coach Carey to be able to look back on this team and be able to say that we were special. That would mean a lot to him and to our players and to this state.”