“Nothing but perseverance.”

“Whether we want to admit it or not, for athletes—especially in the Division I level—it’s almost like your athletic ability becomes your identity. I felt like I lost my identity because I lost the ability to play basketball, at least for those two years.”

An action shot of Ogechi during a game, jumping up to the basket with a basketball in her hand and an opposition defender behind her.
“I was hit really hard by my injury because I already lost a year for transferring, so I had to do the redshirt transfer year.”

When Ogechi Anyagaligbo tore her ACL during an exhibition game against Southern Indiana in November 2017, it felt like the end of the world. After being named the America East Conference’s Rookie of the Year and transferring to UK, she had to sit out the previous season due to transfer rules. But before her debut season with the Wildcats officially began, she was out with a season-ending injury. 

Two seasons on the basketball court, lost. 

Ogechi sits at the edge of the court, surrounded by Coach Matthew Mitchell, the team physician, and a referee. Ogechi is holding her knee and has her legs straight out in front of her.
“I just felt my knee buckle. I sat down and slid myself off the court.”

“There were times when I wanted to give up,” said Ogechi. “I didn’t cry when I tore my ACL—I cried when [Senior Athletic Trainer] Courtney Jones told me, ‘You tore your ACL.’ It hurt because of the realization that I was losing at least six months of my career.”

Ogechi walks off the court next to the team physician.
Ogechi’s ACL tear was her first ever in-game injury. It took her out of the game for months.

But Ogechi didn’t give up. A biology major and honor roll student with aspirations of becoming a doctor, she took her own injury as an opportunity to learn more about the process of surgery and rehab firsthand. She started doing pre-operative rehab work, then underwent surgery to reconstruct her ACL. That surgery was performed by Dr. Scott Mair, a Sports Medicine surgeon at UK HealthCare Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and the team physician for UK Basketball.

A portrait of Dr. Scott Mair, a middle-aged white man with brown hair and a white lab coat. He is standing next to a door labeled Sports Medicine Exam Rooms and is wearing a blue surgical mask.
“Shout out to Dr. Mair—he’s just a great man. I appreciate his team and everything they’ve done for me.”

After surgery came more rehab: the long, slow process of rebuilding strength in Ogechi’s knee and leg. It wasn’t easy, but the process—and the forced downtime it involved—helped Ogechi reevaluate her priorities and discover new aspects of her identity, outside of her jersey and off the court.

Ogechi poses for a photo in her graduation cap and gown, a yellow dress under her robes, and a silver UK Athlete stole. She is smiling broadly and her hair is loose and curled. Standing next to her is Tiffany Hayden, former Women’s Basketball academic advisor and current Assistant Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Tiffany, a young-looking Black woman, is wearing a white dress with floral print and is smiling.
Ogechi is finishing her Master’s degree and getting ready to apply to medical school.

For Ogechi, those things involved her passion for medicine. She spent the summer after her injury shadowing Dr. Mair at the sports medicine clinic, learning the ins and outs of orthopaedic medicine. She also joined a cardiology lab and an independent research lab, putting in 20 hours of research a week and eventually publishing a paper on her work. 

“The injury was a blessing in disguise, because I wouldn’t have found my cardiology lab without it. I would not have found my independent research lab without it. There are things that I’ve done that I wouldn’t have even considered while I was playing basketball.”

Ogechi, dressed in a black blazer and orange blouse, works at a desk at the UK HealthCare Sports Medicine clinic. Her hair is long, straight, and blonde.
“I don’t necessarily want to be the patient—I want to be the doctor.”

And day in and day out, Ogechi continued her own rehab, growing stronger and repairing the damage to her leg. Senior Athletic Trainer Courtney Jones and Assistant Coach Amber Smith—who’s undergone two ACL reconstructions herself—were there to push her forward and cheer her on, recording her milestones and reminding her of how much progress she was making.

“I just admire her so much, because it’s been a true uphill battle for her,” said Coach Smith. “She has finished strong, and she just never stopped. An ACL injury, if you can get through it better mentally, then the physical piece is going to come. If you can get over that mental roadblock, that you are going to be so much better than coming into it. She did a great job.”

Ogechi sits on the sidelines, wearing a knee brace and a UK jersey. She is laughing and holding a hand up to her mouth. Coach Amber Smith is sitting to one side of her and is also laughing. Another teammate is sitting on the other side of Ogechi and is grinning at both of them.
“I got closer to some of my teammates and two of my coaches who had also torn their ACLs. They helped me through this process.”

After months of work, both physical and mental, Ogechi was able to rejoin her teammates on the court, playing two more seasons for the Wildcats and finishing her basketball career strong.

Ogechi walks out onto the court, smiling and looking strong and confident. She is receiving high fives from people on either side of her.
“I was really afraid to get back into playing. And then it just went away when I got back on the court.”

Now she’s looking ahead to what’s next: finishing her Master’s degree, applying for medical school, and becoming a doctor. She’s still deciding between being a cardiovascular surgeon and an anesthesiologist—two high-powered paths that might intimidate someone with less determination. But not Ogechi.

“Ogechi is the type of patient a sports medicine doctor loves to have,” said Dr. Mair. “She is supremely motivated and took an active role in her post-op rehab, asking appropriate questions and always wanting to know what she needed to work on. Also, she promised to fix my heart when I’m old and she finishes her medical training.”

Ogechi and Dr. Mair pose for a photo together inside the Sports Medicine clinic. Both are wearing masks. Ogechi is wearing a blue Kentucky basketball jacket, a black and blue Wildcat hoodie, and a gray UK headband. Dr. Mair is wearing a white lab coat.
“Not only did Dr. Mair help me with my rehab, but he actually helped me understand why we were doing what we were doing.”

“I did enjoy the process, looking back at it,” said Ogechi. “I’m not going to lie. It was hard, but it made me who I am today. It was nothing but perseverance. It made me take school more seriously. And I found out there were things I could do outside of basketball.”

A portrait of Ogechi outside a brick building, smiling. She is wearing an orange blouse and a black blazer and has a badge on her collar.
“There are things that I've done that I wouldn’t have even considered while I was playing basketball.”

See how we care for athletes like Ogechi

at UK HealthCare Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.

Miko McFarland, an Asian-American woman with long dark hair, stands next to a white horse with brown splotches. Miko is wearing a blue top and is smiling slightly.Side profile shot of Marshall Gei, a young adult man with black hair, in his catcher’s gear, with a ball in hand ready to throw.