Jordyn Cambridge was set to have her second knee surgery in a span of under six months when she was told by her doctors that there was a good chance she would never play basketball again.
Two years later, Cambridge is not only playing, but is a major part of a Vanderbilt team that has jumped out to a 12-5 start to the season.
The sophomore point guard has developed into one of the most intimidating perimeter defenders in the nation. She leads the SEC in steals with three a game and she has started every game this season for the Commodores. She also manages to grab 5.6 rebounds a game as a guard. Coach Stephanie White refers to Cambridge as “the head of the snake” for the Vanderbilt defense which only allows 61.6 points a game on average.
“It’s just about energy,” Cambridge says. “Since I was younger, I’ve always brought energy to the defensive end. I don’t know; it’s just something about defense that fires me up. “
But her success has not come easy.
In May 2017, Cambridge tore the ACL and lateral meniscus in her right knee during her Amatuer Athletic Union (AAU) season. By that December, she was forced to have a second knee surgery to clean up the scar tissue in her knee that ultimately led to arthrofibrosis—a condition characterized by a buildup of scar tissue around a joint, usually after a traumatic injury or surgical procedure. It was before this surgery when doctors told her that there was a good chance that her playing days were over. It was unclear to doctors at the time whether or not the surgery would do anything to help, and if it didn’t, Cambridge would not be able to play again.
Shortly after the second surgery, however, Cambridge realized that she had started to feel better than she had since the injury first occurred, and she slowly began her path to rehab.
When she came to Vanderbilt in the summer of 2018, her playing future was still in some doubt. The trainers started her on a new rehab program where they re-taught her how to run. By early fall, however, she was starting to get onto the court more and more. Before opening night against North Alabama, Cambridge received the news she had been waiting for—she was finally cleared to play. She scored five points in 22 minutes of action.
Just because she was able to return to the court, however, did not mean things immediately returned to normal for Cambridge.
Coming into Vanderbilt ranked as the 22nd overall prospect by ESPN HoopGurlz, expectations were high for the two-time Miss Basketball finalist. However, Cambridge missed seven games throughout the season due to lingering knee issues and never found any sort of rhythm. She averaged 15.4 minutes per game and only 3.3 points a game.
“Those were the hardest two years of my life,” Cambridge says of her time being plagued by injuries. “Every time that I thought that I was back and I was me, I wasn’t. Even when I got here and I got cleared to play, I was playing but there was just something that was wrong. I wasn’t myself.”
This season, however, Cambridge looks like an entirely new player. This was evidenced right from the opening game of the season where she scored a career-high 18 points in addition to three steals.
“After that first game, I felt so good,” Cambridge says. “I didn’t even realize I was back to being myself until then.”
Her return to full health has also brought about a fresh mindset and a renewed sense of morale.
“She just moves differently, she seems more confident,” White says of Cambridge this season. “Her ability to train over the summer like an athlete instead of train over the summer like a patient was big, and we noticed a difference immediately.”
Her intensity and athleticism are on full display every game as she spearheads the Commodore defense. Being that spark plug for the defense is something that Cambridge takes great pride in doing.
“I know it starts with me,” Cambridge says. “If I’m having a good defensive day, then the rest of the team is having a good defensive day.”
Getting stops and deflections on the defensive side of the ball has been a major emphasis for White this year as she takes advantage of the abundance of athleticism on her team. This defensive turnaround has been one of the biggest reasons for the resurgence of a team that went 7-23 last season. Cambridge has been at the center of this rebound.
“Her intensity, her ability to really set the tone for us, her energy as well as her activity level is huge for us,” White says. “The more active she is and the more hands on the ball she’s giving us, the more active everyone else is. When she puts that pressure on a point guard and forces them to get rid of it, it takes opponents out of their offensive flow.”
Vanderbilt’s upcoming schedule is daunting – three of its next four games are against ranked opponents – but for someone who almost had the game taken from her, the challenge is a welcomed one.
“It makes me so happy because I’ve worked so hard and come so far, so it’s about time that I get some goodness out of everything that has happened to me.”