Whitaker, Pandov return after ACL rehab sessions

Michael Casagrande

They spent a year sweating on treadmills and wearing out knee braces. Now they’re trying to restart their basketball careers.

The preseason expectations were quite different a year ago for Hilltopper senior Todor Pandov and Lady Topper junior Camryn Whitaker.

The 6-foot-9 Pandov seemed poised for a break-out season as Western’s inside threat last season. Whitaker, a point guard, was on the bench, out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

But it wasn’t long before Pandov’s season came crashing to an end, much like Whitaker’s. The senior from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, tore his ACL in the Toppers’ season opener at Arizona, ending Pandov’s season, which had been filled with such promise.

Pandov has a copy of the tape from the Arizona game but still has not watched it.

It’s too painful to watch.

After a year of intense rehab and conditioning, Whitaker and Pandov are back on the court again, both with vital roles on their respective teams.

Whitaker said the support of her teammates was instrumental throughout the rehab process.

“It was a long process,” she said. “But I worked through it with the help of my teammates. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Whitaker and Pandov often talked about their similar situations. As Whitaker had already began rehab when Pandov suffered his injury, he had many questions.

The two often found themselves working out side-by-side in the weight room in Diddle Arena.

“We didn’t schedule it that way,” Pandov said. “But sometimes we saw each other in the weight room and we would talk about our rehab.”

Whitaker is the Lady Toppers’ most experienced ball handler and mentor to the young team.

Coming out of Harrison County High School, Whitaker was a second-team all-state selection and a USA TODAY All-American honorable mention.

In two seasons on the Hill, Whitaker averaged 6.7 points per game and started all but four games.

Coach Mary Taylor Cowles has been impressed with Whitaker’s hard-working personality and knowledge of the game.

“Camryn’s endurance is unbelievable,” Cowles said. “Is she perfect? No, Camryn makes mistakes, but her knowledge is great. It is important for the team to have a point guard that is competitive.”

And the competitive hunger in Pandov was what pushed him. He said the recovery process was time consuming, but his goal of playing professionally kept him motivated.

Pandov said he spent an average of six hours a day, six days a week in rehab.

After a season on the sidelines, Pandov showed Topper fans he was back at Midnight Madness Oct. 18. Pandov led all scorers in the Red-White scrimmage with 12 points as his White team claimed the victory.

Senior guard Mike Wells said the team is happy to see Pandov back on the floor after assuming a coach-like role last season.

“It’s good to have Todor back,” Wells said. “He kept up with us, and when people weren’t playing well, he stepped in.”

As one of three seniors, Pandov said they will all lead the three-time defending Sun Belt Champions back to the NCAA Tournament.

“Me and Mike and Nigel will work together,” Pandov said. “I don’t think of myself as the one guy, but I will do whatever it takes to win.”

While their seasons may go in different directions, Whitaker and Pandov took similar routes to get their basketball careers back, headed in the right direction.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].