There are 44 seconds remaining in the Tulsa Shock’s June 28 game against the visiting Seattle Shock when the face of the franchise hits the deck. The fall is an awkward one, but Skylar Diggins soon pops back up. Under her own power, the 2014 WNBA Most Improved Player walks with a minor limp to the bench. Optimistic that she’ll be fine, the Shock go on to win by four.
Days later, the injury is billed as a “sprained knee.” The All-Star is expected back in four games, media reports read.
Further tests, however, tell a different story. Diggins had torn her ACL, the weakest ligament in the human body, and she would miss the remainder of the season.
At the time of the injury, Diggins was fourth in the WNBA in both scoring (17.8 points per game) and assists (5.0), and she had established herself as an MVP candidate.
The Shock had already been playing shorthanded—albeit extremely well—since the June 9 injury of guard Odyssey Sims, 2014’s second overall pick. The injury had thrust rookie guard Brianna Kiesel, Tulsa’s first pick of the second round in this year’s WNBA Draft, into a starting role.
Kiesel, who had played just five minutes in each of her first two games, started logging 19, 20, 24 minutes a night. Kiesel was still getting accustomed to the WNBA game, but it was clear she was at least partly responsible for the seven-game win streak the Shock would go on after Sims’ injury.
But with both Diggins and Odyssey out, the rookie was forced to play even more minutes. She averaged 31 per game in the two games following Diggins’ injury. Kiesel, though, is used to being on the floor: Last year, she became Pitt’s all-time leader in minutes played.
“Because of the injuries we’ve had, I’ve had to play a little bit more of a role,” Kiesel said. “I started out playing maybe seven or eight minutes. Now, I’m up, and the fact that my coaches and teammates have confidence in me, that helps me a lot, as well. I’m just trying to learn the game and the physicality and just trying to understand that this is very, very different from college.”
Sims returned to action July 11, but the fact that Tulsa has started 10-5 despite playing only two full games with both members of arguably the best backcourt in the WNBA is remarkable, and Kiesel is one of the many that have stepped up. She raves about the contributions of her teammates and the help they’ve provided her.
“Almost everyone on our team can score the ball,” she said. “We came from college being scorers. Having [Sims] back, she brings speed, defense, scoring and just a completely different dynamic. We need that up-tempo [pace]. She’s also a leader, especially for me. Between [Sims] and [Diggins] and Plenette Pierson and Courtney Paris, all of them are just so helpful in trying to get everyone better.”
There’s no denying the impact of Diggins’ injury, though, and the possible negative consequences that could arise from losing the veteran guard down the line, but Kiesel and the Shock are keeping a positive outlook.
“It was a really tough break for us,” Kiesel said. “Nobody wants to see one of our teammates go down. It’s something that we thought was gonna be nothing, and it turned out to be a torn ACL. But everything happens for a reason. It stinks that it happened. We were doing well. But things happen. Injuries happen. That’s basketball.
“As for my role, I’m just doing whatever is expected and whatever is needed. I’m constantly asking the coaches and my teammates, ‘What can I do better? What do I need to improve on?’ During the game, I’m constantly asking questions. I’m just trying to learn. Whatever my team needs is what I’m going to get done.”