Shock veterans on the mend as camp opens

Healing for the Long Haul

It’s a new season for the Detroit Shock. And already the same old problem.

The defending WNBA champions opened training camp Sunday with their injury list in midseason form. Deanna Nolan, Cheryl Ford, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Plenette Pierson are on the mend.

None of the injuries are expected to impact the regular season too greatly and this group of decorated veterans is plenty capable of catching up from missed practices. Still, head coach Bill Laimbeer said his top objective of training camp was to “get our health.”

Fortunately, WNBA players are catching a break with the league’s decision to push back the start of training camps by almost a month. It’s nice for the coaches to have the players arrive at once rather than trickle in as they finish their respective seasons overseas, and it’s even bigger for players like Nolan, who sustains battle wounds year-round.

“I needed it, so it came at the right time,” she said of the extra three weeks off. “It gave a lot of us that much needed break, rest to just sit and chill and go on a vacation that we hadn’t had in years. It was great.”

Nolan was jarred by a solid screen in Game 1 of the Russian Superleague Finals, wracking her right shoulder. She missed her team’s title-clinching Game 2 three days later on April 28. “I instantly felt it but I didn’t think nothing else of it,” she said. “It wasn’t until like after the game and the adrenaline is gone I was like, ‘I can’t even lift it.’”

Though encouraged by her progress, Nolan is not practicing yet, nor has McWilliams-Franklin to this point. That could change as early as Tuesday, Laimbeer said Monday while describing the cause of her injury. “Taj is not practicing, [6-foot-4, 240-pound Sparks center] Vanessa Hayden fell on her foot overseas and she’s probably going to practice, I’m hoping tomorrow, if not the next day,” he said.

Ford: ‘Just a little discomfort’ in left knee

Laimbeer sounded most enthusiastic about Ford’s status as she returns from her second knee injury in as many years. “Cheryl Ford is practicing, which is good,” he said. “We’re limiting her contact right now to work her way in slowly, but she does every drill that we do, running very well.”

Ford returned in 2008 from off-season microfracture surgery on her right knee to play in 24 games before tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament against the Sparks July 22. “I think that was the toughest injury I’ve had,” Ford said of the ACL tear, saying the obstacles were as much mental as physical. “Microfracture, it was hard, but this one was by far the worst.”

Ford spent most of her winter rehabbing in Detroit and her home in Atlanta, and is now trying to regain her overall leg strength. Laimbeer hopes to see Ford take contact in practice sometime next week.

“It’s almost there but still got a little ways to go,” said Ford, who plans to be ready by the season opener in Los Angeles. “Hopefully I’m ready for June 6 – my birthday."

Ford averaged 32 games her first four seasons before damaging cartilage in her right knee in June 2007. In her last year of full health, 2006, Ford led the WNBA in rebounding (11.3 rpg). She averaged 8.3 rebounds last season before her injury.

Pierson: ‘Chills through my body’

No doubt Ford’s predicament raced through Pierson’s mind after a collision during Polish League play in March. “I definitely did,” Pierson replied when asked if she thought she had suffered a long-term injury. “Just the way I got hit was just kind of different and just didn’t feel right.”

Pierson escaped with a severe bone bruise, and should return to practice by week’s end, Laimbeer projected. “She’s almost there right now,” he said.

The last Shock fans saw of Pierson, it was her right shoulder that was the area of concern after an ugly spill to the Palace floor in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Pierson still played in four of the last six games to help Detroit win the title.

Pierson said the shoulder is “still giving me problems but it’s one of those things that’s going to give you problems for a while until you can just buckle down and just rest.”

Pierson was quick to point out she wasn’t the only Shock player injured to close out 2008 – and that still ended pretty well. In fact, today’s injury list might pale in comparison. And that has everyone in camp feeling pretty good, figuratively speaking.

“It just sends chills through my body to know what kind of team we have,” she said. “That we ended the season last year the way we did with so many injuries and adversity and still was able to win a championship.

“To come back and have everybody healthy again? I just believe that we’re going to be unstoppable as long as we jell together well and everyone comes through their injuries fully confident.”