Jackson Back in Seattle
For the Seattle Storm, Thursday's practice was a chance to welcome several players back to The Furtado Center. Sheryl Swoopes and Swin Cash returned after injuries forced them to stay home as the Storm traveled to Sacramento on Tuesday. Kimberly Beck was re-signed more than two months after being waived in late June. The most welcome sight of all might have been forward Lauren Jackson, who rejoined the Storm for the first time since leaving the team in mid-July. After arriving in Seattle at 11:00 p.m. Wednesday night, Jackson was on the sidelines supporting her teammates during practice.
"They were all sort of giddy in the locker room," Storm Head Coach Brian Agler said. "We had a lot of people back - Sheryl got back, Swin got back, Lauren got back, Kim got in here."
Late in group play, she made the decision to undergo surgery on the ankle at the conclusion of the Olympics. After losing to the USA in the gold-medal match and finishing with her third straight silver medal, Jackson returned to Australia to have the surgery.
"The decision wasn't really that difficult," Jackson said in discussing the surgery with the Seattle media for the first time, "because there's no way I could have kept going. I couldn't even walk on it."
Jackson explained that she had been dealing with bone spurs in her right ankle for some time, her ankle last having been cleaned up during a reconstruction after the 2004 season. With the help of the Storm's training staff, she had managed any discomfort, but ultimately the only way to treat the bone spurs is to have them removed.
The timetable for doing so became immediate when one of the spurs broke off when Jackson landed awkwardly while going up for a layup during practice with the national team, lodging in scar tissue and creating a major problem.
"They ended up removing four or five (spurs) from my actual bone," explained Jackson. "They injected the bone that had broken off with cortisone, which helped it a little bit. Then about a week later it started flaring up again."
While Jackson could grit her way through paind and swelling for the remaining week of Olympic play with the help of cortisone shots, doing so for the final month of the WNBA season as well as the playoffs was never an option. She drew some criticism from the local media for the timing of her surgery, but Jackson ignored it.
"I think I read a couple of things, but until people really know what's going on, I don't care," she said. "I know what I went through. Sue (Bird) knew what happened and Brian knew, people that knew knew."
Two weeks removed from the surgery, Jackson is feeling "really good." She's been able to begin working out to strengthen her calf and leg muscles and get back where she was before the surgery.
"(The bone spurs) are gone, so I definitely feel better," Jackson said. "I'm moving better. I don't have any of the pain I had before. I'm heaps better."
The next step, with the guidance of Storm doctors and Athletic Trainer Tom Spencer, is plotting a course for Jackson's return. She said she's two weeks away from being cleared to run and get on the court. Jackson wants to be cautious, understanding the limits of her body after two ankle surgeries in the last four years and other battles with shin splints. Yet, she says, "As soon as I feel like I can really get out there, I will."
The way the Storm has played without her may work to help ease Jackson's anxiousness to return. Since Jackson left for Australia, the Storm has gone 7-4, including a 4-4 record away from KeyArena that is an improvement on how the team played on the road with the two-time MVP.
"I spoke to Sue and Brian kept me fairly well in touch," Jackson said, explaining how she followed the team while in Australia. "Obviously the Internet's a wonderful thing.
"They're amazing. Like I said right from the beginning, Brian's got everyone playing really well. I think the talent is really starting to shine, which I don't know if a lot of people have seen everyone step up the way that they have in Seattle, which is so exciting for everybody. Sue for MVP, I say. I'm cheering for her. I'm really proud of her. She's been unbelievable. I got my family to vote for her.
"Everybody, I think, has really stepped into a role and stepped up. Obviously Camille (Little), Sue, Yo (Griffith) is playing great. Everybody is. I can't really sort of say one or two people. I think everybody's stepped up. It's a credit to the coaching staff, I reckon, and to them as well. Everybody has really taken this challenge and taken it seriously and is going for it. It's awesome to watch from afar."
While she was recovering at home, Jackson had the chance to spend time with friends and move past the heartbreak of being unable to fulfill her dream of winning a gold medal.
"It hasn't really registered, to be honest," she said. "A lot's happened. Obviously it was really disappointing. America were great. They're the best - they played the best that night. To be honest, they were really, really good. I'm happy for (U.S. and former Storm Head Coach) Anne (Donovan). I'm happy for all the girls on the American team. At the end of the day, they were the best."
Olympic gold may not have been in the cards, but Jackson still can hope to add another WNBA title to the she won with the Storm in 2004. Given how the team has played without her, Jackson has no doubt that's a realistic possibility.
"The way that they've been playing, even without me I would expect them to win a championship," Jackson said. "I hope I can get back in time."
Cash Practices, Swoopes Watches
Swoopes joined her teammates at practice for the first time since she suffered a concussion and ended up in the hospital after Saturday's win over the Minnesota Lynx. Swoopes dealt with headaches earlier this week, but felt well enough to watch practice. She did not speak to the media, but Agler offered an update on her condition.
"Sheryl will be out (tomorrow)," he said. "Obviously, with a concussion you have to take some time off. I think she'll start some activity probably over the weekend, Saturday or Sunday."
Cash also stayed home during the Storm's brief road trip to Sacramento because her troublesome back flared up and became very painful after Saturday's game, but Cash participated in practice and could potentially return when the Storm hosts the Atlanta Dream on Fan Appreciation Night (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, ).
"Swin is just a day-to-day thing," said Agler. "Right now, if we had to answer your question, I'd say she probably won't play, but tomorrow's a new day."
"I'm just at a point where I need to get some rest," added Cash. "It flared up a little bit. You want to make sure you're doing the best thing and at the top of your game. So I'm just cautious right now."
With two games left in the regular season, the Storm's position relative to the WNBA salary cap offered the opportunity to add a 13th player to the roster. The Storm made use of that spot to re-sign Beck, who was waived on June 29 after playing 15 games for the team early in the season and serving at times as the backup point guard. The injuries to Cash and Swoopes have thinned the Storm's ranks on the perimeter.
"We just feel like we needed to provide a little bit more depth on the perimeter right now," Agler explained. "We've been talking about doing something for a period of time. There's other things that play into that beyond the person - timing, finances, that type of thing. We've always known that we've been short at the ballhandling positions. Kim's definitely familiar with the system, players know her and provides some backup there at the point position."
Beck herself was surprised to get another shot with the Storm.
"Being a rookie, I don't know how everything works," she said. "I got a call, flew in the next day, so apparently that's how it works. Gotta stay ready."
Signing Beck does not affect the status of fellow rookie Kristen O'Neill, whose latest seven-day contract expires tomorrow. The Storm must decide at that point whether to re-sign O'Neill for the remainder of the regular season.