Jackson Optimistic About Return

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | June 25, 2011

Friday's news that Lauren Jackson has suffered a labral injury to her left hip produced a mix of emotions in the Seattle Storm's superstar. Jackson was evidently frustrated that the injury will sideline her at least the next three weeks, but also optimistic that she will be back on the floor not long after to rejoin her teammates in the pursuit of another WNBA championship.

Jackson suffered the injury during Tuesday's loss at Tulsa when she locked legs with a Shock player while running down the court. After stumbling, she knew something was wrong, but hoped it was a minor issue. It took Jackson a couple of possessions to realize the severity, at which point she asked out of the game and did not return.

Lauren Jackson watches from the bench.
Neil Enns/Storm Photos

Jackson watches Friday night's Storm win from the bench.

Upon the Storm's return to Seattle, doctors needed a pair of MRIs to diagnose the injury to Jackson's labrum. Their conclusion was that rest could be sufficient to heal the labrum and get Jackson back playing. She will have no physical activity for the next week, before ramping up what she does over the ensuing couple of weeks. By the end of that period, it should be clear whether Jackson is responding to rest or will need surgery, which would sideline her approximately 12 weeks.

"It's always disappointing," Jackson told reporters before Friday's win over the Minnesota Lynx. "For me, injuries have been a part of my career. I think at this point I just have to do whatever I can to get my body healed so I don't have to go through surgery again. It is a pretty serious injury, but at this stage, I think the rest, the support and the people I have working on my body, I should be back at that point.

"I feel positive, like everybody else does."

The unfortunate aspect of the timing is that the injury comes just as Jackson was working her way back from offseason surgery to repair a tendon near her Achilles. As she regained her rhythm and timing, Jackson started the season slowly, averaging 10.5 points over the Storm's first four games. Experts did not find any link between the injuries, or to a cortisone shot Jackson received last week to relieve pain for a strained muscle in her leg. The labrum injury was sustained against Tulsa, and nothing lingering.

Jackson will also likely have to miss the Storm's trip to the White House next week to be honored as 2010 WNBA champions, instead staying at home to receive the best possible treatment. That's a sacrifice Jackson is willing to make in order to return to play as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, the three-time MVP is confident in her teammates' ability to succeed without her.

"I think the girls are ready to go," she said before watching the Storm defeat the Lynx 65-55, snapping a five-game Minnesota winning streak. "I think after the last half of last game, we definitely saw signs of being ourselves. I think the girls will definitely pick up the slack. I've got no doubt in my mind. Then, when I get back, I'm going to do everything I can to be back as soon as I can and ready to go."

While the Storm struggled badly to play without Jackson from 2003 through 2007, during which the team won just once in her absence, that changed with the arrival of Brian Agler as head coach. Agler's mentality of focusing on the healthy players on the court and relying on defense has proven more effective at overcoming the loss of Jackson. Even without her, the Storm has been one of the league's best teams. Friday night's win improved the Storm to 15-9 without Jackson in the lineup during Agler's four years as head coach, a 21-win pace over a full season.

Agler has the luxury of being able to replace Jackson in the lineup with Le'coe Willingham, previously a starter for the 2009 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury. Willingham has scored 10 points in each of the last two games and three times in the last four.

"We've got seven starters on the team," said Agler. "We lost a starter and we're going to throw another one in there."

Where Jackson's absence may be more of a test is to the Storm's post depth. Agler prefers to use a four-player rotation in the frontcourt. He's got one solid option off the bench in veteran center Ashley Robinson, who had four points and six rebounds in a season-high 16 minutes against the Lynx, but the Storm's only other post is untested rookie Krystal Thomas. A move to add a more experienced player is a possibility.

"We have to figure out who's out there that can help," Agler said. "I don't like just doing it to do it, but if there's someone out there that can help us, we'll be proactive on making something happen."

For now, the Storm will rely on the talent already on the roster.

"Obviously, (I'm) sad for Lauren because she's coming off surgery, she's just starting to get back in shape and then this happens, so I feel bad for her," said Agler. "I don't feel sorry for ourselves, and I don't think anyone in the league does after the season we had last year."

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