The scar on the back of her thigh is the only sign left of the motorcycle accident that nearly took Darieli Abreu’s life.
The Grand Street Campus girls’ basketball standout was visiting family in the Dominican Republic in November of 2013 when a truck smashed into the motorcycle she was riding. The crash mangled Abreu’s left leg, and nearly threw her off the bridge they were on, but she was saved by gates along the railings. As bad is it was, she considered herself lucky.
“If it wasn’t for the gate I would have went down on to the water,” Abreu said.
But her trouble didn’t end there.
The then-15-year-old underwent extensive surgery to stabilize her leg with metal pins in the thighbone and her knee. The star athlete spent a month in a Dominican Republic hospital unable to sit or stand up. Doctors had to monitor her constantly due to the threat of major complications from the major surgery.
“The surgery that I had, and the pain I was going through, they said I could catch a heart attack at anytime,” she said. “I could have died any minute.”
More than a year later, she still isn’t 100 percent. Abreu missed all of last season and still can’t fully bend her knee. But the limp is gone from her walk, thanks to an unconventional rehab process.
Abreu did a month of rehab in the Dominican Republic, but money, family and insurance issues kept her from continuing it upon returning to New York last January — but that didn’t stop her from doing rehab her own way.
“All I did was come back, grab the basketball, and go to a park and play in the park with boys,” she said.
The 5-foot-9 combo guard is listed as a junior on the Public School Athletic League website because the accident caused she to fall behind in school. The now-16-year-old Abreu started high school when she was 12. Her academic future will be determined by how she finishes the year and her Regents scores, according to Grant Street coach Corey McFarlane. The injury also kept her from taking the SAT, but Abreu still has interest from numerous mid-major Division I colleges, McFarlane said.
Abreu competed in local leagues last summer, but was far from her old self. She was a 17-point-per-game scorer as a sophomore, and was considered one of the best young players in the state. Her progress getting back to form is gradual, according to McFarlane. At the start of this season, she lacked explosiveness and was barely even able to stretch. Simple things became milestone events.
“I’ve seen stretching be so painful,” McFarlane said. “At the same time you, have a kid who will run down the hall screaming, ‘Look at this.’ ”
Abreu’s positivity and energy has been an inspiration for one of the best seasons in program history. Grand Street is 15–8 and 12–3 in Public School Athletic League Class AA play — and in contention for the city title.
“If something bothers her she is not going to show it,” senior guard Arelis Cora said. “She is not the person to say I am struggling.”
Grand Street is playing its best basketball after beating defending Class AA city champion Francis Lewis in the final week of the regular season to earn the No. 3 seed in the upcoming playoffs. The Wolves had not lost a league game since falling to No. 2 Murry Bergtraum on Dec. 8.
The Grand Street squad, which won just two league games in 2011–12, is surprising everyone but itself. It has a superb backcourt in Cora, Abreu, and Kaisah Lucky. Amani Graham is a versatile force, and sophomore forward Shanique Edward is one of the city’s best young players.
McFarlane believes Abreu feeling comfortable with a lesser role has allowed everyone else to shine. She is facilitating more while averaging 15 points per contest and four rebounds in league play that has helped the team get to the next level.
Abreu didn’t think she could get back on the court and be close to herself. Knowing what it was like to be on one of the worst teams in the league, and nearly having basketball taken away from her, made her appreciate this season that much more.
“It’s special, not only for me because I was able to get back on my game, but for everybody,” Abreu said.
It is still hard for her teammates to believe what she’s gone through. Abreu has made it look easy and never lost her smile. There is a photo of her prior to surgery with a cast over her knee, but a beaming grin on her face.
The only visible indication of what happened are the remains of the incision on the back of her leg.
“When she got back on the court and started practicing, it was like the injury never happened,” Cora said. “You can’t tell unless you look at her scar.”