The summer before her junior year, everything was going right for Glenbrook North forward Brooke Blumenfeld.
As a sophomore in 2019-20, she led the Spartans to their best record since 1992-93, and their first regional final since 1999. Despite limitations from COVID-19, her recruiting was picking up, and she’d just received an offer from Northern Illinois. Playing for her AAU program Wolverinas, Blumenfeld scored 19 points in a game — her high with the team.
Just seconds into her next game, everything changed.
“It was the first possession,” Blumenfeld said. “I cut across the lane, my teammate threw me the ball. And it was almost like I was trying to go up for a right-handed layup, but my feet were planted. So when my body twisted, my right leg didn’t move with it.
Blumenfeld tore her left ACL in eighth grade, but initially didn’t think this injury was as severe.
She was wrong.
The ligament was torn again, an injury that typically takes nine months or more to recover from — this time in the right knee. She said she was in disbelief after receiving the diagnosis, that it was almost an “out-of-body experience” for some time afterwards.
“The first thing that popped into my head was, ‘I can’t play,’” she said. “‘I can’t play the sport I love. I went through this once, why is this happening to me?’”
Still, Blumenfeld said giving up basketball was never a consideration. Even though she knew how much work the rehab process would be and that she’d miss junior year, she had no choice but to come back once again.
“It’s just kind of who I am,” she said. “I love waking up early and going to practice. I love the feeling after a practice. … If there’s a party, I’d rather be in the gym. That’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s my escape from the world. I really don’t know who I’d be without [basketball].”
“She’s a gym rat,” Glenbrook North head coach Nick Capalbo said. “I’ll open the gym up whenever she wants to come in. She puts a lot of work into her game — she’ll stay for hours after practice, come in every day in the summer, [use] the weight room. She’s super driven, especially with this injury.”
Without Blumenfeld, the Spartans struggled, finishing 3-12 in the shortened season. But she was there with her teammates, their biggest cheerleader in the empty gyms.
“She’s a big personality, which I love,” Capalbo said. “It’s super great to have your best player be such a leader. … I remember that something happened in a game and the whole bench went crazy, and Brooke jumped up, with a [torn] ACL, so high and so excited. And she did a chest bump with one of our players, and she hit the floor.
“I was so concerned that she was going to get hurt again when she was recovering,” he added. “But she was just so excited and happy. … That’s just her personality right there.”
Despite missing her junior season — a crucial year in recruiting — Blumenfeld made her college decision on June 26, staying near home at Northern Illinois. Still, proximity wasn’t the biggest factor in the choice.
“Northern, they kept their offer [to me], and they easily could have taken it [away],” Blumenfeld said. “But they didn’t. Through the nine months, there were some schools that dropped me. … All the way through, Northern stuck with me.
“That just says a lot about the program and how they see me not only as a basketball player, but they care about me as a person,” she continued.
With their first commitment in the 2022 recruiting class, the Huskies are getting a 6-0 forward who was one of the best players in the Central Suburban League South as a sophomore, averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds per game.
As the Spartans’ biggest player, she spent most of her first two years near the basket.
“Freshman year she was just our strongest, biggest player, and she could make some layups,” Capalbo said. “Her jump shot is outstanding right now. … Her ability to go to the basket now, she’s worked on her left hand, her right hand, she’s worked on her post moves. Right now she’s getting that three down, that’s her next phase, what we’re working on this summer.”
For Blumenfeld, the work on her jump shot has been an effort to diversify her game.
“People, they figured out my game sophomore year was driving to the basket, I can finish around the rim,” Blumenfeld said. “They figured that out, so coaches now have [defenders] sag off me because they think I can’t shoot. In the summer league games, that’s my time to, when they’re sagging off, pull up and hit the three. And I think that just opens my game up a lot.”
That versatility should help Blumenfeld fit the role of the modern collegiate power forward, and fit in with Northern Illinois’ system.
“The way they play, it’s a lot like my AAU team,” Blumenfeld said. “They play fast, they like to push it up the court. I really wanted to make sure that the school I committed to would allow me to, if I got a rebound, take it and go. … That’s my thing, I’m six foot and I can handle the ball. And I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stuck down low in the five position all game. And the way they run their offense, they’ll allow me to do that.”
This summer Blumenfeld said she’s working on gaining back all of her explosiveness, but she has been healthy playing for both Glenbrook North and the Wolverinas. Capalbo expects her to compete for conference player of the year this winter, and both have their eyes set on a regional title and beyond. No matter what, she’s put in the work to have a chance at both, and then to play at the next level.
“I tore my ACL once, and then I did it again when everything was at my peak — my recruiting, how I was playing,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m back from that. People have doubted me, but I know what I want to do, and I’ve done it.”