It was during a one-on-one drill in a summer workout that Chance Stephens felt a pop in his knee. He didn’t think his injury was serious at first, assuming it was a dislocation that Maryland’s trainers could simply alleviate. But a more thorough analysis of his knee revealed more serious structural damage.
The diagnosis was a ruptured patellar tendon, which would require surgery and force him to miss significant time — potentially the entirety of his first season with the Terps.
“It’s kind of scary because you don’t really know what’s going on,” Stephens said. “But you know, the doctors took good care of me. When I woke up everything was kind of done. I’ll say two weeks after surgery when you have to take all the pills and stuff, that’s probably the worst part of it because it’s starting to swell up and stuff and you have the brace on and you can’t really move.”
It took about two months for Stephens, a sophomore who transferred from Loyola Marymount last offseason, to get back on the court, and when he did most of his work was stationary. With his knee still healing, lateral movement wasn’t a possibility, leaving him only able to do catch-and-shoot drills.
Now approximately seven months post-surgery, Stephens estimates that his knee is back to 70% of its original strength. There are no longer any structural issues, but he is still strengthening it back to the point where he can move and accelerate like before. Stephens didn’t completely rule out a return this season, but did say that he doesn’t have an exact timeline for his recovery.
“I think the timeline is just basically how I feel, how hard I work and whether the muscle comes back fast enough,” he said. “... I’ve been working as hard as I can just in case I do [play this season] — I get stronger, something happens. And then if I don’t play this year, then I’ll just keep working hard and I’ll be right up to speed coming into next year.”
To stay prepared, Stephens has been working as if he needs to be ready before the season ends in March. Most of his rehab consists of strengthening exercises, but he has also been working on his agility with sprints and jumping and cutting drills.
Stephens arrived at Maryland with a reputation as a lethal shooter. He shot 37.4% from three as a freshman with Loyola Marymount, with all but 14 of his 145 field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc.
Even though he can’t currently participate in game action, Stephens continues to work on his craft as a 3-point specialist. At practices and workouts, he can be seen putting up shot after shot, most of which effortlessly swish through the net. He claims that his personal record for consecutive 3-pointers made from the college line is 70 — a number that explains his nickname: “Sniper.”
Maryland is in need of a sharpshooter like Stephens on the court. The Terps are shooting just 27.9% from distance as a team this season, the 14th-worst clip in the nation and the lowest among power conference teams. Stephens has had a front-row seat to those struggles, which provides an extra ounce of disappointment that he isn’t out there competing with them.
“I miss being out there, for sure. Game days have kind of been tough because I miss playing,” Stephens said. “I feel like we’re not playing up to our best ability but hopefully next year when I do come in, I can really help that piece of the team.”
Whether Stephens is back on the court this season or next, he’s focused on keeping a positive attitude and continues to look forward to his return.
“It’s just a process that I’m going through right now,” Stephens said. “I’ll most likely come back stronger than I was, so I just try and think about the end goal.”