Throughout much of the three weeks of Washington Mystics training camp, point guard Ivory Latta sat on a training table in the corner of the auxiliary gym at Verizon Center receiving treatment as teammates prepared for opening night.
The two-time all-star had been recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee, and while the pain of rehabbing often proved excruciating, so too was being relegated to spectator status. At the time of the procedure in late April, doctors forecast four to six weeks before Latta, entering her 10th season in the WNBA, would be able to play again.
After not missing a game for four straight years, including the past three seasons with Washington, Latta was learning to come to terms with sitting out. The Mystics (1-3), meanwhile, dropped their first three games — all at home — for the first time since 2007 before beating the Connecticut Sun on Saturday, 84-76 in overtime, on the road.
Two days later, Latta was practicing for the first time, albeit in non-contact drills. She wore a black brace over her right knee but was able to move and plant, she said, with relatively little discomfort. The next morning, Latta boarded a plane with every intention of being on the court for Thursday night’s game at the Seattle Storm (1-2).
“I didn’t sleep the night before [her first practice],” Latta, the Mystics’ leading scorer each year she has been with the club, said after Monday’s workout. “I was so excited I didn’t even eat. It was like I’m a kid again, and then my teammates were encouraging me. They gave me all the energy. The knee feels good. No complaints at all. I’m just happy to be back.”
Without Latta, Washington has committed turnovers at an alarming rate. It has not helped that starting point guard Natasha Cloud is out indefinitely because of kidney stones.
Cloud, the Mystics’ second-round pick last year, was doubled over in pain in the team’s training room after an 87-77 loss to the Dallas Wings on May 18. She has not been with the team since.
The Mystics have committed 41 turnovers in their past two games, including a season-high 21 in a 97-67 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday. Washington is averaging 18 turnovers overall, the second most in the WNBA behind the Storm. Last year the Mystics turned the ball over 13.2 times per game, tied for fifth fewest in the league.
“It’s going to be a big boost, energy-wise, shooting-wise, as a scorer,” all-star center Stefanie Dolson said of having Latta in the lineup again. “We’re excited to have her back, and I know she’s excited to be back.”
Latta, 31, also provides a sage voice in the locker room, particularly with veterans Kara Lawson and Armintie Herrington gone from last year. Lawson played in the WNBA for 13 seasons but has elected to sit out at least a portion of this year to focus on her duties as an ESPN analyst. Herrington announced her retirement in the offseason after nine years in the league.
“We have a couple more days of practice, so I think [Latta will] feel good by” game time, said Mystics Coach-General Manager Mike Thibault, who made acquiring Latta a priority when he took over in 2013. “If we don’t have setbacks, we’ll try to get her somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes on Thursday.”
Latta is due to come off the bench in a role in which she has thrived, though somewhat grudgingly at first. A starter during her first two years with Washington, Latta started coming off the bench last season when Thibault named Cloud the starter after a dozen games. The move provided consistent scoring punch from the reserves that Washington had been sorely lacking to that point.
With Latta and Cloud out this season, it has been point-guard-by-committee for Thibault, who has turned to Bria Hartley, Tayler Hill and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt to handle the ball. Hill has been having her best season so far, averaging 18 points, including a career-high 24 on Saturday. The No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft also had a career-high seven assists against the Sun.
Hartley’s seven assists against the Sparks were a career high as well, and Ruffin-Pratt had missed the first two games with a badly sprained right ankle but came back well ahead of schedule.
“If one person’s down, somebody else has got to stand up,” Latta said. “I’ve just got to be that person to suck it up and get out there and do what I have to do for my team.”