Michelle Smith Feature: ASU's Ibis' rise from injury to leading a ranked team

Kianna Ibis didn’t spend a lot of time on ‘What ifs” as injuries stunted the start of her college basketball career.

The Arizona State junior forward was a senior in high school, leading the No. 1 team in the state of Nebraska against the No. 2 team when she went down with a fourth-quarter knee injury. It was January 31, 2015 and Ibis had a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus.

Surgery and long, grueling rehab would follow. Having committed to the Sun Devils program, the Omaha, Neb., native went to Tempe in late-May after graduation to rehabilitate with ASU trainers. By mid-summer, she was regaining strength and conditioning.

In August, while doing a skills workout, she re-tore her meniscus. Two days later, she was in surgery again.

By the start of what would be her freshman season, Ibis sat on the bench and watched her new team face SEC power Kentucky in the season opener. She played for a “good” five minutes in the next game against SMU.

“What I remember about it,” Ibis said. “Was just slowly getting back into playing.”

The end of the season would bring another surgery, a clean-out of scar tissue. And a fresh start.

A little less than two years later, Ibis is finally finding the basketball stride that took so long to earn. Ibis, a starter for the first time in her career, leads at balanced ASU scoring attack at 13.5 points per game, and has scored in double figures 12 times, including a career-high 30-point game against Utah was the most points scored in a single game by an ASU player since 2004. She put up 26 points last weekend against Cal.

“It’s been really fun to see a healthy Kianna blossom this year,” said ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne. “Kianna is a tough matchup because she can score so well inside and out and even when she’s not been our top scorer, she has been impactful with her defense and rebounding.”

Ibis said, in retrospect, she appreciates the time she had to ease into her collegiate career as a freshman. It was an important opportunity to watch and learn.

“That was really helpful for me, not to get thrown into things right away,” Ibis said. “I’m one of those people who thinks everything happens for a reason.”

Ibis is leading the way as Arizona State occupies a spot at the top of the Pac-12 standings, following a pair of impressive wins last weekend against Cal and Stanford at home that vaulted them to No. 18 in the top 25 rankings after entering the poll last week. ASU, with a six-game win streak at their back, is headed to Oregon for two more matchups against ranked teams, with Oregon State on Friday and No. 9 Oregon on Sunday, a battle that could be for first-place in the conference standings.

“I’m proud of my team and how well we’ve worked together,” Ibis said. “You can feel it on the court, how connected and in sync we are. We have tough games coming up, but a lot of potential.”

The same can certainly be said for Ibis, who is setting the pace for an ASU offense that is perhaps as productive as its been in years.

For Ibis, ASU basketball has become a family affair. Her younger sister Samantha is a sophomore team manager for the Sun Devils.

“It’s really nice to have her around and my mom is happy we are both in the same place,” Ibis said.

Ibis said there isn’t anything shocking about her team’s success so far.

“Our hard work really pays off,” she said. “The way we’ve been practicing, I did kind of see this success for our team. We know we are a tough matchup for a lot of teams because of our defense, so this isn’t a surprise to me.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.