ESTERO, Fla. — Enna Pehadzic’s debut for No. 17 South Florida included an airball on a wide-open 3-pointer, missing a couple of layups and getting knocked to the floor.
In other words, it went great.
Pehadzic played her first game in 18 months on Friday, getting 11 minutes of action for USF in its 82-45 win over Washington State at the Gulf Coast Showcase. She sat out last season and the first four games this season while recovering from tearing the ACL in her right knee for a second time — and only got cleared on Wednesday.
“When you’ve been out for so long, you don’t know what to expect,” Pehadzic said. “So you’re just excited to get on the court with your teammates.”
They were probably more excited than she was. Up 64-30 and with the game long decided, the loudest cheer from the USF bench all day — by far — was when Pehadzic got a little shot in the lane to drop for her first collegiate basket. She was the last USF player to get off the floor postgame, because she kept getting stopped for congratulatory hugs and high-fives.
“I was just trying to stay focused,” said Pehadzic, who tried to stifle a smile when that first shot dropped. “They even do that in practice. I’m so thankful for my teammates. They’ve been standing behind my back the whole time, cheering me on. You know it’s love.”
The native of Denmark was supposed to play a big role for USF last season, then had the knee buckle as she was dribbling near midcourt in a practice. Having gone through the knee rehab once before — she blew out the same knee in 2013 back in her homeland — Pehadzic knew what to expect, and never had a doubt that she could come back.
“For me, it was always like, ‘I can sit and cry over it or I can just get over it and get better,'” said Pehadzic, whose last real game before Friday was in 2016 with her national team. “And that’s what I chose to do, get better. … It’s always hard to come back from an injury, to be patient and let it come to you.”
USF is off to a 5-0 start, but the Bulls have been waiting for some more help. The other three reserves for the Bulls right now had a combined zero games of collegiate experience entering this season. So Pehadzic, one of eight Europeans on the USF roster, should be in the rotation to stay soon enough for a team that was picked to finish second in the American Athletic Conference this season behind only No. 1 Connecticut.
“It’s great to have her back,” Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said. “It’s great to see a kid work so hard for a year and be away from the game and get rewarded like she did tonight.”
Fernandez didn’t tell Pehadzic ahead of time that Friday would be the night for the debut. He told her to check in late in the third quarter, and let her play the rest of the game.
“It’s go time,” Pehadzic said. “Now I’m back to what I’m used to do. It was just nice to get back to my home, my comfort zone.”