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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Freshman trio a work in progress

    Freshmen Rheya Neabors, left, Marie McGee and Rhaya Neabors have struggled through injuries in their inaugural season at Arizona.
    Freshmen Rheya Neabors, left, Marie McGee and Rhaya Neabors have struggled through injuries in their inaugural season at Arizona.

    Wounds have healed and confidence has been replenished for the three freshmen on the Arizona women’s basketball team.

    Twin forwards Rhaya and Rheya Neabors and guard Marie McGee make up the class of 2010 for the Wildcats. Though UA head coach Joan Bonvicini said that Rhaya has had some “”minor injuries,”” Rheya and McGee have come back from significant injuries.

    Just before a Feb. 8 win over OSU, Rheya returned from a stress fracture in her foot suffered in the Dec. 3 win over Louisiana Tech. McGee was originally released to play the same week from an unspecified foot injury, but lingering pain placed her back in a protective boot until Feb. 18.

    “”It’s feeling good now,”” McGee said after practice Feb. 20 with ice taped around her foot. “”I was so excited to get out of my boot. It’s been almost five weeks. But I was able to take it off (periodically) to wash my foot so it didn’t stink.””

    With the regular season coming to an end in a 59-54 loss to ASU on Saturday, the absence of the two freshmen for the majority of the season has been trying, Bonvicini said.

    “”They have had to journey down a long, frustrating road,”” she said. “”They wanted to get out there and help their team win, but they were physically unable to. It’s hard.””

    Being sidelined was the last thing on their minds coming out of high school.

    Mayfield High won the New Mexico State championship in 2004 and was runner-up in ’05 and ’06 with McGee’s help. The Neabors’ Troy High School in California was ranked No. 4 in the nation. Still, neither school boasted the work ethics of a college program.

    “”Basketballwise, it has been a lot more physical,”” said Rhaya, who is averaging 23.6 minutes in 30 games and 12 starts.

    “”In high school it was all pretty much running. But now we lift and it’s pretty physical. Staying healthier is harder. Schoolwise, it’s a million times harder. Juggling school and basketball in high school was a joke and now it’s pretty intense.””

    The 5-foot-9 McGee got her first action since Jan. 6 on Saturday, playing only one minute.

    In addition to her foot injury, McGee had to bounce back from a devastating incident in her senior year of high school. In March, she and her mother were both stabbed by her younger sister Carissa, who was charged with two counts of attempted murder, according to a police report.

    McGee, who hasn’t talked about the incident, said playing for Arizona reminds her of the biggest stage of high school basketball.

    “”To play in front of thousands of fans gives me the same rush that I got when I played in the state finals game at UNM State in high school,”” McGee said. “”You’re also on TV some games. It’s a great atmosphere that stems lots of nerves.””

    Rheya was worked back into the rotation in the OSU victory. The lefty has scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, and has grabbed six boards in 46 minutes off the bench in five games since her return.

    “”They’ve got both Neabors healthy now and they’re doing a good job,”” ASU head coach Charlie Turner Thorne said of the Wildcats in a teleconference Feb. 20.

    As the season decrescendos to an end, the threesome will transition into next season smarter and with quality experience, Bonvicini said.

    The older players help to keep the intensity down for the freshmen and encourage them through their troubled times.

    “”We love them,”” said senior guard Joy Hollingsworth. “”We try to give them advice. Whether it is texting them on the phone or talking to them on AOL Instant Messenger about practice. We cheer them on and encourage them to stay up.””

    Despite the freshman frustration, their skills will increase drastically over the years, pending the status of their health, said senior guard Linda Pace.

    “”Outside of their injuries …; they’re quality players and they’ll learn more as time goes on,”” she said.

    Though it was a disappointing freshman year for Rheya and McGee, the potential for all three to get better is bottomless.

    “”Their futures look bright,”” Pace said. “”It’s crazy how fast their senior years will come.””

    At 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, Rhaya and Rheya, respectively, add size to the Arizona roster that it didn’t have last year. The twins, who chose Arizona over Oklahoma because of the “”family atmosphere,”” naturally play well together, and give an advantage to the team as they possess a “”sixth sense,”” Bonvicini said.

    “”It wasn’t what I expected because I expected to be playing more,”” Rheya said with a laugh. “”But it’s been a good experience. Next year is going to be much better.””

    Though she is not a Neabors, McGee feels like part of the family.

    “”The three of us are really similar,”” she said. “”Of course, they’re twins, they’re similar, but I fit into the mix really well.””

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