When things got tough, Carly Santoro has said the same four words to herself.
Whether it was the critical eyes from the crowd, dealing with serious injuries — or playing for her father as the head coach in high school — the same four words were always repeated:
Pressure is a privilege.
Those words have come to define the 2015 Bellevue graduate. Even now as a graduate transfer at Ohio State University, the phrase still holds true.
“There is pressure to perform your best every single night here,” Santoro said. “And it’s a privilege to put on this uniform to compete for the main home state school.
“But it’s not so much of a pressure situation as it is a privilege to play here,” she added. “I was blessed with this opportunity to be here.”
Last week, Santoro scored her 1,000th point in college in Ohio State’s 65-55 win over then No. 17-ranked Michigan State on Jan. 14 in Columbus.
Every time Santoro has reached a milestone or a big accomplishment in basketball — from her sophomore year in high school at Bellevue to last week — I always recall back to the same thing.
It’s not her abilities on the court, which are obviously exceptional, but the path Santoro endured to even be in this position.
It’s been a decade since first hearing word of a junior high sensation in Bellevue. She was scoring 40-plus points with ease at that level.
She scored on a layup at Clyde in a seventh-grade game, but took an accidental knee to her back. Santoro kept playing in the game after taking pain relief medicine at halftime.
But after the game, a follow-up trip to the emergency room revealed internal bleeding from a stage 4 laceration of the kidney.
After Santoro recovered from that ordeal, she had scored as well as ever through her first two years of high school. I was there as all the cameras and recording devices came out to capture her 1,000th point as just a sophomore in the regular season finale of the 2012-13 season.
Scoring on another layup, Santoro was fouled hard and crashed to the floor. Her knee had buckled, and it was the dreaded torn ACL injury.
She again went through a long recovery process — but still scored another 1,837 points in high school. But as she played these last three years at Bowling Green, and this season at OSU, Santoro acknowledged those devastating injuries are still on her mind.
How could they not be?
“Those two injuries defined what kind of characteristics I have towards athletics and my life,” she said. “Never give up, no matter what. That issue with my kidney, it was a very major thing. Sports was almost taken away from me, but I was not going to give up on my dream.
“The torn ACL, it was the same thing — never give up,” Santoro added. “I used it as motivation to become better. I still think about it, and sometimes I wonder what would have happened had things worked out differently. But it’s a blessing, and I use it as a motivation to get where I am today. Without it, I may or may not be here.”
Santoro, who still to this day does knee rehab from the injury six years ago, has taken on another challenge head-on this season. After three comfortable seasons at Bowling Green, she is starting for what has been a top-tier Big Ten program.
It’s a completely different environment, and a reset on how things had been for her over the past three years.
Yet through 16 games, Santoro averages 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
“The work ethic here between coaches and players is incredible,” she said. “Everyone pushes each other every single day — and that helps so much.
“Even as a grad transfer and being completely new, everyone wants the best for me no matter what,” Santoro added. “There is a great culture here, and I’m definitely happy to be a part of it.”
As her career winds down, Santoro also finds herself reflecting on her junior high days for a different reason. It was then she often heard the catcalls from the crowd — most centering around her shooting the ball too much. I can attest the comments from the crowd got a little better in high school — but not by a lot.
It has seemingly been one thing after another for Santoro.
“I just think it’s the best thing to top off my career at Ohio State, and to anyone who has ever doubted me, I just sit back and laugh,” Santoro said. “They are the reason I’m here. Them doubting me played a huge role.
“Growing up in a small town, the biggest doubters are often the people in the stands,” she added. “But I’m thankful for them, and of course to everyone who was supportive and pushing me. But with everything that’s happened, it’s the last laugh to end up at The Ohio State University.”