Barnes' Season Ended Prematurely

The scene as the Storm gathered on the sidelines near the conclusion of the Sonics summer-league practice Wednesday morning looked like the picture of normalcy. The starting five that has started all but one game for the team this season – guards Sue Bird and Sandy Brondello, forwards Adia Barnes and Lauren Jackson and center Kamila Vodichkova – had gathered on chairs between the two courts at the practice facility the Sonics and Storm share. The five were jovial, laughing and enjoying watching the Sonics summer leaguers. Only one thing was out of place – one of the players, Barnes, was in street clothes, having two days earlier been diagnosed with a torn ACL in her right knee.

Barnes was having the best season of her six-year WNBA career.
Kent Smith/WNBAE/Getty
Saying the diagnosis caught Barnes off-guard would probably be an understatement. When she went down last Saturday on a seemingly innocent play – a jump stop after driving the right baseline – Barnes initially thought the injury was much less severe. “Initially, when it happened in L.A., it felt like I had dislocated my leg. I definitely didn’t think I tore anything,” Barnes said after watching yesterday’s practice from the sidelines. Even at the time of the injury, Barnes had very little pain – though the knee did feel ‘scary’ to her – and did not hear the pop which is commonly associated with ACL injuries.

The initial diagnosis of a sprained knee made sense to Barnes based on what she knew. But further tests once the Storm returned to Seattle revealed a torn ACL, which will end her season and keep her out up to six months. Though Barnes’ range of motion has already returned and she is able to walk and ride an exercise bike, she thinks the severity of her injury is about normal. “I think it’s a typical case,” Barnes said. “It’s not anything more serious.” Still, it’s hard for her to come to terms with how serious it actually is based on the symptoms. “I truly feel like in a week I’d be able to play. That’s how I feel, that’s how much I’m progressing. It’s kinda hard to swallow that I’ll be out six months.”

For several reasons, Barnes’ injury was more difficult for her than it might normally have been. The first is her remarkable injury-free past. “You’re talking to someone who’s never had a surgery on her knees or ankles or anything, never missed a practice or game in my career,” Barnes explains. “You’re talking to someone who doesn’t get injured.”

Another reason is that Barnes was having a terrific sixth WNBA season. Now that her season is over, Barnes’ marks in rebounds (4.1), assists (1.4) and blocks (0.41) per game and three-point percentage (.378) are all career highs. Her 5.5 ppg scoring average is the best since her rookie season. Barnes started 16 games, one off of her career best set last year with the Storm. She was also playing well recently, earning STORM.WNBA.COM Player of the Week honors last week after tying her career high with 12 points against Charlotte and setting a career high with five assists against Washington. To Barnes, the bigger disappointment in that regard was that she had worked so hard to get to the point where she is now – starter for all 16 Storm games this season – after joining the team as a free agent before training camp last year.

The final reason for Barnes’ disappointment was her obvious fondness for her teammates – and vice-versa. “Our chemistry was so great,” Barnes said. “I’m really going to miss them, I’m going to miss being with them on the court. We were part of something special. I’m still going to be here, it’s just my role has changed.”

Nonetheless, two days after hearing the bad news, Barnes was in a good mood yesterday, cheering her teammates on during practice and joking with a reporter after it. “I’m feeling good, I’m upbeat, I’m mentally strong,” she concluded. A key part of that has been the continued support of Barnes’ Storm teammates. “Lauren – my teammates – Alisa (Burras), Sue, Amanda (Lassiter), they’ve all been so supportive,” Barnes says. The same is also true of the coaching staff and the entire Storm organization, which Barnes says has made her feel ‘special’. She should get further support from Storm fans when the team plays its first game after the All-Star break at KeyArena on July 15. “I think on Tuesday, that’s going to be very emotional,” Barnes says. There is already a movement underway on the Storm fan site to sign a card for Barnes at Saturday’s All-Star Game viewing party or at Tuesday’s game.

There is not yet a timetable for Barnes’ surgery, but she expects it to take place within the next two weeks – as soon as possible, better to start down the long road to recovery. “I want to get the worst part over so I can start progressing and getting better,” she explains. Barnes will be rehabbing in Seattle, continuing to support her teammates and get their support. “I want them to focus and bring me a ring home,” she says.

For the Storm, the loss of Barnes is a tough blow. Coach Anne Donovan called her “the glue” after Tuesday’s practice, telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “It's a big loss. You've got the superstars and then you've got Adia, who does a little bit of everything. Her stats don't jump out at you in any one category, but she does everything well for us.” Lassiter and rookie Jung Sun-Min have both worked with the first team in practice since Barnes’ injury. Lassiter figures to be first in line for the starting role, having started 22 games at small forward for the Storm last season (when Barnes joined her in the starting lineup at shooting guard). Lassiter’s length and leaping ability make her, like Barnes, an effective perimeter defender, but she is less versatile on defense. Barnes is a better rebounder and has shot better from three-point range this season.

To fill Barnes’ roster spot, the Storm is looking at Nigerian forward Mactabene Amachree, who played with the New York Liberty during the 2001 season. Amachree watched today’s practice and is expected to sign a contract when the Storm returns from its All-Star layoff.