ORONO – Rachele Burns wasn’t the only University of Maine women’s basketball player to have her career end prematurely.

Samantha Wheeler of Derry, N.H., had to stop playing after a series of concussions in her junior and senior seasons. She is now the program’s director of basketball operations.

Wheeler, 23, was one of the team’s top players in the first five games of her junior season before she suffered a concussion in practice when she hit her head on a wall. She missed the rest of the season. Then, in the seventh game of her senior year, she suffered a second concussion against UMass.

“After two weeks of not seeing any change, we came to the conclusion that I needed to stop playing basketball,” said Wheeler.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in my life. Basketball was a part of my life since I was 5.

“I would give anything to be able to play again.”

After playing 57 games her first two years with the Black Bears, Wheeler played in only 13 her final two.

But like Burns, the Gorham High grad who had to give up basketball after four knee surgeries, it was too risky for Wheeler to continue.

“There’s always a chance of hurting yourself when you go out there,” said Maine Coach Richard Barron. “But I wasn’t going to risk something as serious as Rachele having another surgery and being in a position where she couldn’t walk, or Sam having some permanent brain injury.

“It’s a shame what happened to them. A shame for Maine, the staffs that worked with them. They both love Maine, the program, and it’s no fault of their own that they had to stop.”

Wheeler actually suffered another concussion this year when she was hit in the head with a ball during a practice. She reportedly suffered another during the team’s horrific bus accident earlier this month.

She said earlier this season that she is limited physically. “The only exercise I can get through before headaches become a problem is running on the treadmill,” she said.

Her new position has helped ease the pain of no longer playing.

“The fact that I can still be around basketball, and be around this program specifically, has really helped,” she said.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH