On March 9, Seattle forward Swin Cash underwent surgery to repair a bulging disc in her back that had hampered her for the past two seasons. When we spoke just three days later she said she was eager to recover from the surgery and work her way back in order to be completely healthy this season.
“It really just feels like a burden is lifted right now and it feels like I’ll be able to train as hard as I need to train to get back on top of my game,” she said back then.
Fast forward four-and-a-half months and Cash’s journey has reached a significant milestone as she was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. It was suiting that a former Connecticut Husky would win MVP honors in front of a UConn crowd in Uncasville.
“I was just really humbled by winning the MVP tonight,” she said after the game. “I want to thank my teammates for not only passing me the ball, but for the encouragement in the fourth quarter to go out there and keep being aggressive. That was nice.”
While she was named the star of stars tonight, Cash does not see this accomplishment as the conclusion of her recovery, although she does admit it does offer a bit of validation for all of the hard work she has put in over the past four months.
“It is, but I think it’s more of like a step in the right direction,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m done and validating something means like, 'Aha, I’m back.' I feel like I have a ways to go. I’m still working on it and still trying to get there.
“I don’t feel like I’m at the point where I’m playing my best basketball. But that’s also good because it means I have room for improvement and that’s my focus, just getting better every day.
None were better than Cash on this day, or perhaps ever in a WNBA All-Star Game, as she set a WNBA record by scoring 22 points on 10-16 shooting from the field and also threw in six rebounds and four assists.
Cash says winning the MVP was not a goal coming into the game, but that she did come out ready to play.
“I was playing a serious game,” she said. “I know it’s the All-Star Game and we chill and relax but I was coming out here to play. I only know how to play one way and I wasn’t going to shut it down.”
Cash came out on fire in the first quarter, scoring eight of the West’s first 15 points, hitting layups, jumpers and getting out on the fast break. Things did not slow down much in the second quarter, as she posted another six points to lead all scorers heading into the break with 14 points, just six points off of the All-Star Game scoring record of 20 points held by Deanna Nolan, Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie.
Sue Bird, Cash’s teammate on the West squad and the Seattle Storm and former teammate at UConn, knew that Cash was in for a great day early on.
“I don’t know if she came out with that mentality (to win MVP), but from the jumpball she came out and she hit some jumpers and was being aggressive and normally when that happens things fall into place,” said Bird, who finished with 16 points and 10 assists.
Cash scored four points in the third quarter on a layup and a pair of free throws to inch within two points of tying the record. Then in the fourth quarter, Cash got a little company in the record chase as West teammate Nicole Powell, a replacement player for the injured Leslie, scored eight points to finish with 21 on the night.
In fact, Powell was the first person to eclipse the record, but was outdone by the MVP when Cash hit a jumper with two minutes left to play to give her 22 points on the day.
Although Cash will not use this game as her "I’m Back" moment, fellow West All-Star Diana Taurasi was happy to see her former UConn teammate return to her old form.
“It’s really nice; poetic justice really,” said Taurasi. “Swin has worked so hard her whole career and to kind of go through a little down time in her career where I knew she wasn’t playing at the level she knew she can, and to go into the offseason, get surgery, get healthy, come back looking better than ever, it just shows you how hard and dedicated of a person she is.”
Seattle's Swin Cash was named All-Star MVP after scoring a record-breaking 22 points to lead the West to victory.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images