Mixed Results for Milton-Jones

It’s only a coincidence that the Los Angeles Sparks 2004 season opener fell on May 22 – three months to the day after forward DeLisha Milton-Jones suffered what was diagnosed as a tear of her right ACL while practicing with Team USA in preparation for this summer’s Olympics. In a story so unbelievable as to seem almost scripted, however, any coincidence seems to take on extra meaning.

Milton-Jones' brace is the most obvious sign of her knee injury.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty
A torn ACL, needless to say, is not a three-month injury, and when Milton-Jones first went down, it was assumed she’d miss the majority of the season, if not all of it. Slowly, rumors began spreading throughout the league that Milton-Jones would be ready much sooner, possibly in time for the start of the regular season. And there she was Saturday, playing 26 minutes as the Sparks lost to the Seattle Storm at KeyArena.

By now, you probably already know the Milton-Jones story. Instead of opting for traditional surgery to repair the ACL, Milton-Jones traveled to Austria for sessions with an Austrian physician, Dr. Mohammad Khalifa. Khalifa’s process of massaging Milton-Jones’ knee, which he calls “knee tissue manipulation”, along with much-ballyhooed cheese that Milton-Jones placed on her knee to reduce swelling, helped her recover at an extraordinary rate. She was cleared to practice early during training camp and played in two of the Sparks three preseason games.

By opening night, Milton-Jones was completely ready to play, something she had anticipated from the time the ACL tear was diagnosed.

“I think that I did, even subconsciously,” Milton-Jones said Saturday about being ready for opening night. “When the doctors told me what had happened and they showed me on the MRI that it is torn and I need surgery, deep down inside I still felt that there was another way, and God presented that way for me and he blessed me when I needed it the most.”

Even after Milton-Jones returned to the court, doubts have persisted about whether she’ll able to stay healthy and how effective she will be. Milton-Jones herself does not seem to be bothered by these concerns.

"I think that it pays huge dividends, big dividends, when I'm very confident out there,” she said. “If I'm on the court second-guessing myself, worrying about the knee or an ankle sprain that I might have had previously, I'm not going to be 100% out there. Any athlete will tell you, you have to go and block any of those things out. If you're able to walk and you're able to play and you're cleared to play, go out there and do that. Don't concentrate on the negative things that might be happening."

There were times on Saturday when it was easy to forget Milton-Jones’ injury as she blended into the flow of the game. In the early going, she hit a pair of jumpers from the perimeter, continuing to display the offensive versatility that has made her an Olympic-caliber player. The final numbers provided a mixed conclusion. With five points (on 2-for-6 shooting) and two rebounds, Milton-Jones was well below her 2003 averages (13.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Then again, so were most of Milton-Jones’ teammates on a night Los Angeles was drilled by 26 points.

“I think you can talk to my trainers and they can tell you that I've been performing up to par and everything seems as normal,” Milton-Jones said before the game.

A cynical WNBA public, however will require more evidence – witness Milton-Jones lasting until the sixth round of this site’s Fantasy League draft, the last of the Sparks starters to be picked – before conceding that Milton-Jones is back. She’ll get another opportunity to demonstrate that tonight in Washington as the Sparks tip off their second game of the season.

Diana Shines in Debut

Is it too early to call off the Rookie of the Year voting?

Taurasi was phenomenal on Saturday.
Jesse D. Garrabant/NBAE/Getty
Alana Beard flashed her versatility in the Mystics first two games – as a 5-11 wing, she blocked five shots – and Nicole Ohlde debuted with a double-double, but the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi has been simply transcendent in her first two WNBA games.

After a strong 22-point effort in her first WNBA game, Taurasi went the first 17 minutes of her nationally-televised return to Connecticut without scoring. For the next 23, however, she was virtually unstoppable. Taurasi was firing threes (5-for-7 in all), hitting improbable leaners, drawing fouls and scoring, doing it all. Taurasi finished with 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting, adding five rebounds and four assists for good measure, as the Mercury picked up its first win of the season by a 65-58 count over the Sun.

Taurasi knew she was feeling it, and had the tongue wagging in the second half a la Michael Jordan.

"I agree with Geno's comments, actually," said Storm Coach Anne Donovan, referring to Geno Auriemma, Taurasi’s coach at UConn who covered the game as a commentator on ABC’s broadcast. "She just absolutely enjoys the game. Her enjoyment and her satisfaction and pleasure in playing the game is evident in everything she does. You've got to love that. As somebody who appreciates this game, I love that. As an opposing coach, I still love that. I'll take pleasure in us trying to shut her down. It's great to see kids enjoy this game."

If Donovan’s Storm does shut down Taurasi on Friday, it will become the first team to do so. At 24.0 points per game, Taurasi ranks second in the WNBA in scoring behind Houston’s Tina Thompson, who went off for 35 points on Sunday at New York. Taurasi became only the second rookie in WNBA history to net 20 or more in her first two games, joining Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, and only Catchings and Washington’s Stacey Dales-Schuman (23 apiece) have scored more points in their WNBA debuts.

Not quite as impressive in her first WNBA game against Taurasi was Sun guard Lindsay Whalen, who came off the bench to score five points and hand out three assists, but was called for five personal fouls in 23 minutes and missed five of her six shot attempts. Still, Whalen was more effective than Connecticut starter Debbie Black, who attempted only one shot in 18 minutes, and today’s Hartford Courant reported that it appears Whalen will get the start this evening when the Sun takes on the Houston Comets.

Around the League

  • After a scoreless effort in her first WNBA game, Silver Stars forward Agnieszka Bibrzycka scored 13 off the bench Saturday, canning a trio of three-pointers. With starter Adrienne Goodson shooting 7.1% from the field (1-for-14) and San Antonio still in need of outside shooting, Bibrzycka’s ascension to the starting five may only be a matter of time. The Silver Stars also got a huge opener (17 points, nine rebounds) from Gwen Jackson, helping make up for the absence of LaToya Thomas, who is on the injured list.

  • ESPN.com columnist Nancy Lieberman picked Cheryl Ford to be the Most Improved Player this season, seemingly an odd pick since Ford was already an All-Star and All-WNBA second-teamer as a rookie. But Ford certainly looked very improved in Detroit's opener, putting up career-highs of 21 points and 22 rebounds against the Silver Stars to become just the fifth player in WNBA history to record a 20-20 game. How good was Ford? She had a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) by halftime. She also broke the WNBA record with 12 offensive rebounds.

    "Cheryl was a monster out there with her offense and defense," said Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer. "22 rebounds and 21 points, I don’t care what league you’re in, that’s a great stat line."

  • More digits: Katie Smith passed Jennifer Gillom on Saturday to move into fourth place on the WNBA's all-time scoring list. She currently has 2,906 career points.

    More WNBA Analysis from storm.wnba.com