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Q&A with Glenelg basketball player Emily Russo

Glenelg guard Emily Russo scored her 1,000th career point earlier this month, and that will stand as the highlight of her basketball season because the 2011-12 All-Metro first-team selection suffered a season-ending knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus — in a game against Mount Hebron on Dec. 17. She has scheduled surgery for Friday and will miss lacrosse season, too.

A three-sport standout, Russo was also an All-Metro field hockey player who played on three state championship teams. After leading the Gladiators to two straight regional basketball finals, she had hoped to lead them to the state tournament this season. Russo averaged 15.4 points, 2.8 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 7.2 steals before the injury.

With a 4.0 GPA, Russo plans to major in biology at UMBC and work in cancer research. The senior, who played AAU basketball for the Maryland Grizzlies, signed with the Retrievers over Monmouth, the College of Charleston and Loyola.

How did you hurt your knee?

I was going up for a layup and I got fouled. I didn't land on my knee or anything. I didn't feel it twist. I just felt a pain shoot through it, but I didn't hear a pop. I came out and there were a few minutes left before halftime. The trainer wrapped my knee because it felt a little unstable, but not that bad. In the second half, I was running transition and I planted my foot — I didn't change direction really — but I felt like I hyperextended it. Most of the pain has been in the back of my leg.

Did you consider deferring surgery and continuing to play?

No. As much as I might want to, I wouldn't play on it. You just have to live in the moment and take what life gives you. You have to look at the big picture, because I have a scholarship to play at a Division I school next year and I have to keep in mind that that's going to be the next four years of my life. So, since it is torn, I have to be smart about it and make sure I recover for next season because that's the next chapter of my life. I have to make sure I don't hurt it even worse.

Why did you choose UMBC?

It came down to Monmouth and UMBC because I loved the coaching staffs and the players. Then it came down to the academic side because UMBC is such a biology-focused school and I really want to do cancer research, so it was a perfect fit.

Where did the interest in biology come from?

I've just always been a science and math person. In middle school, those were my [Gifted and Talented] classes, and it just always interested me how the whole universe runs on tiny little particles that you can't even see. I've focused more on cancer research lately, because I just know too many people who have passed away from cancer, people in my own family and people I've known. I want to put an end to it.

What do you like about the basketball program at UMBC?

Just everything about it. They really stress the family and they really are family there. The coaching staff is great. They're all really encouraging. The way they run their offense is exactly my type of basketball. The series they run is called Princeton series. We actually ran some of it during AAU. It's kind of like a four-guard, one-post offense. I just saw myself playing there.

How did playing field hockey and lacrosse help you be a better basketball player?

It helps you become more well-rounded and it helps you become a better person overall, because you learn how to work with different groups of people in different situations and for different types of teams. It also keeps you in shape. I enjoy playing sports, and I think if I didn't play three, I would kind of get lazy and fade out, but since I'm always playing something, I'm always active and wanting to get out there and play.

How did you get started playing sports?

My brothers played all sorts of sports and my parents just signed me up for soccer and basketball. Of course, I loved it. I always looked to my brothers (Jeffrey, 26; Nick, 19) because I knew they were athletes and then when I played basketball, my parents were, "Hey, she's actually kind of good at this. It seems like she's enjoying it," so then in fifth grade I played travel ... and that spring, I started playing AAU.

When did basketball become your favorite?

It's always been my favorite sport, I think. I've always enjoyed it. It was the sport I always excelled at the most, and so I just kept trying to work on my game. I was fortunate enough to have an AAU coach who builds [basketball] courts and stuff, so he was able to build us a concrete halfcourt in my backyard. That's where I practiced all the time and played one-on-one with my neighbors. I think that's why I got strong. My neighbors are all guys and I've grown up playing football in the neighborhood with them and my brothers and they all got me tough.

What is the one moment of your sporting life that you would like to live over again?

When I was in seventh grade, we won the YBOA (Youth Basketball of America) national championship in Florida. That was awesome. Also, last year and the year before we lost in the regional [basketball] finals to Calvert. I just wish we could go back and win that game because they ended up winning the state championship. I have three field hockey state championships, and I just want a basketball one, and this was my last shot at it.

What's your favorite Christmas tradition?

Usually my friends get together and we'll do a gift exchange or a white elephant type of thing. This year, we did an ornament exchange and we adopted a family, so we got presents for them. Especially around the holidays, it's tough with families that are underprivileged, so with all the tragedies that are going on in the world, we wanted to do something like that.

What is your most prized possession and why?

I have picture albums and picture collages that my friends have given me and pictures over the years and they're really important. I always think, "If there was a fire, what I would bring out?" Definitely pictures, because that's your memories and that's your childhood and everything that you've done in your life. Also, a signed ball my teammates gave me when I hit my 1,000th point. That's in my room, so it's special to look at that stuff. It puts a smile on my face every time I look at pictures.

What do you do for fun?

Believe it or not, I used to play the piano. I played for six years. I got pretty good at it and I loved it. My piano teacher ended up moving and I just started to fade from it when I got more involved in sports, but I still get on the piano. I also like to hang out with my friends, be with family.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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