DeKALB – Danny Pulliam thrived as a freshman.
An athletic 5-foot-6 guard out of Indiana, Pulliam came to NIU and made immediate contributions in the 2010-11 season, starting 24 games and averaging more than 27 minutes a game. It was supposed to be merely the start of a promising career for Pulliam, who was set to take over the point-guard duties from Marke Freeman the next season.
But only five games in, Pulliam tore her meniscus, ending her sophomore season just after it started. Through a long rehab process, Pulliam fought her way back and played in the first seven games last season. But the constant pain eventually forced season-ending microfracture surgery, and Pulliam again was faced with the task of working her way back.
“I was so hurt just because of all the work I had put in,” Pulliam said. “I had stayed summers; everybody else got to go home, I stayed here and rehabbed. I didn’t get to see my family. I just felt like I had put in so much work and I got knocked down again. I just had to learn to continue to be patient, and I had to learn that there was a bigger plan for me.”
Pulliam once again is healthy for the start of the season and eager to compete as part of NIU’s point guard rotation. But the road back wasn’t easy.
Pulliam’s torn meniscus during her sophomore season was the first major injury of her basketball career. She was on crutches for three months before rehab started, a process she called “horrible.”
“I never had to sit down and wait or anything and be patient,” Pulliam said. “It taught me patience and how to learn the game from not playing, but watching and sitting and listening to other people, so I think it was definitely a very humbling experience.”
Stuck on the bench, Pulliam found other ways to stay engaged. She had weekly meetings with coach Kathi Bennett and even gave the pregame speech to her teammates on one occasion. Pulliam watched a lot of film and and sometimes acted as a voice between the players and coaches.
“She’s very driven. I say this in a good way: she’s a very stubborn baller,” Bennett said. “When she puts her mind to something, she’s pretty locked in. I know she had bad days, you don’t go two years with what she had without bad days, but I think she loves the game too much.”
When the second season-ending injury happened last season, Pulliam never once thought about quitting. Instead, she put her efforts into other aspects of her life along with basketball.
“I had to refocus and pay attention to my grades,” Pulliam said. “I picked up 18 credit hours and just focused on something other than basketball. I tried to put more of my time toward my academics, and it actually really paid off for me.”
Pulliam now is in line to graduate in December and will start graduate school in January. She’s hoping to have her masters degree by the time her playing career finishes.
Pulliam is practicing every other day to relieve the stress on her knee, but Bennett said Pulliam immediately will be in the rotation at point guard with Ally Lehman and Alexis Lindstrom after NIU moved Amanda Corral back to shooting guard.
Although Pulliam said she’s eager to get back on the court and be with her teammates, she said the entire process over the past two years has given her a new perspective on basketball.
“In the back of my mind somewhere I’ll always think anything can happen and it could be my last time playing for good,” Pulliam said. “But I’ll think about it in the aspect of if this is your last time you want to go out and give it your all and you don’t want to have any regrets.”