Emili Russ may have sat out her entire junior season, but her work ethic, perseverance and talent level was enough to prove that she deserved to play in college.
That dream was fulfilled when the former Newton basketball player signed a letter of intent with Lander University Thursday.
"It's great," Newton basketball coach Tiffani Johnson said. "She is one that has worked hard even coming back after sitting her junior year out from knee surgery. She was able to come back her senior year and work hard to the point where she could earn a scholarship to a highly respected Division II school."
Russ cracked her knee cap prior to her junior year, and due to ligament issues surrounding it was not able to participate in the 2010-11 season.
During her junior year and prior to her senior season, Russ worked hard in the weight room with her trainer and physical therapist to get back on the court.
The hard work paid off and she was able to average 10 points a game for the Rams.
"It was hard but hard work pays off," Russ said. "Thanks to my physical therapist and my trainer I was able to come back and be a great asset to the team.
"Knowing that I worked hard and that it took a lot for me to get here is what made everything good."
Johnson said because of that hard work it looks as if Russ never suffered the injury. That showed during games as her high-energy level was an asset in the Rams' 21-8 season.
"She was always working hard on both ends of the floor," Johnson said. "She was a scorer, big on rebounds, big on defensive energy and just her overall leadership.
"We're a better team when she's on the court for us."
After visiting Lander, located in Greenwood, S.C., Russ knew it was a fit for her.
"I'm very excited," Russ said. "Lander is a great program and a great school. I feel like they could use me to get t the next level as far as rebounding, scoring and making the extra pass."
Johnson also feels Russ will be a good fit in one of the state's better Division II programs.
"I think she'll be great," Johnson said. "I think it's a great fit for her. They play an up-tempo game. They're looking for her to come in and impact immediately."