The preseason did not go particularly well for Washington Mystics guard Alana Beard. In two exhibition games last week, she missed all but one of her 15 shots from the field. She scored a grand total of two points. And she got elbowed in the left eye, a knock that left her with three stitches and plenty of swelling.
But even before training camp began, Beard was realistic about how her body would respond to resuming competitive activity after spending most of the past 14 months rehabbing her left ankle. She underwent surgery April 20, 2010 to repair a tear in the tendon primarily responsible for holding up the arch of the foot and missed all of last season.
Right now, Beard said, the game is sped up in her eyes. Perhaps that should be expected of someone who hadn’t played in a live game since December 2009. But it’s not ideal for a player whose talents used to allow her to see the game in slow motion.
“In my mind I need to slow it down a little and just trust my teammates and trust the process that’s happening out there,” Beard said.
Indeed, Beard may need to be much more trusting of her teammates this season than she was in any of her previous WNBA campaigns.
Beard insisted after Thursday’s preseason win over Chicago that her ankle felt fine. And Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said after the team’s practice Tuesday that Beard’s ankle had responded well after playing games on consecutive days, as the Mystics had last week.
“That’s the thing, you can’t explain this injury,” Beard said. “It’s a lot of mental; it’s a lot of physical. Pain? It’s stiffness; it’s range of motion. It’s just a matter of working and working and working and understanding that there is an end result.”
What will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks and months is the form in which Beard returns to the court. What will that end result turn out to be? In time, she may well rediscover the skills and quickness that once made her a four-time WNBA all-star.
But she might not.
And how she handles that adjustment – should it come to that – may factor significantly into how the team performs this summer. Beard has been a marquee player for nearly all of her collegiate and professional career. How might she respond to having to defer to, say, Crystal Langhorne, as the team’s go-to scorer?
Her current attitude suggests she could make that transition gracefully, though not even she can definitively provide that answer at this point. The regular season, after all, doesn’t begin until Saturday.
“Obviously, coming back from an injury, people aren’t what they left as,” Beard said in mid-May. “And I understand that. I’m not expecting to come back and be Superwoman by any means. But I’m just glad I’m back.”