PHOENIX – The Kia Nurse holds back and forth sprints on the court adjacent to the Phoenix Mercury practice at the Verizon 5G Performance Center on Thursday. After a short break, she hops onto an exercise bike, walking at a light to medium pace with her hands free clapping cheerfully as team members run in groups against players practicing.
Later, the former UConn star joined them in shooting exercises. Swirl in mid-range shots with ease, then comes with three pointers. She’s dripping in some jumpers too, and she’s starting to find her rhythm again. She’s clearly excited to be in a mix of things.
The nurse, the 6-foot-tall guard, tore her right anterior cruciate ligament in Game 4 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces last season. She’s been back on the court for a little while now, but she’s gradually starting to incorporate more movement and gradually changing direction. Last week she tried to do the pass again for the first time, and she recreated the shot that hit her knee.
“A lot of getting over the mental hump from you, you can do that or you can jump back onto a box with your leg in the ACL,” the nurse told The Courant on Thursday. “So that was probably the hardest part about it. But it was really fun being able to jump into some practice drills and so on with the team.”
Although Nurse wants to keep any specific dates private to reduce outside expectations with so many variables in play, she and the Mercury coaching staff are aiming to return sometime during the second half of the WNBA season.
“It’s such an impressive thing to have her in the trainings,” Mercury’s first-year manager Vanessa Nygaard said Friday. “I can’t wait. It’s more of a countdown than a countdown at this point. I’m really excited to get her back.”
Diana Taurasi is eager to bring the nurse back with her, too.
“I thought last year in Game 4 against Vegas we were hitting all the cylinders,” Torassi said. “[Kia] I’m really starting to find her step here – it was her first year. That injury was devastating for us as a team and obviously devastating.
“And just seeing her come back and get back on the field — you know, rehab is really hard. It’s boring, every day. And she attacks him every single day. But this is Kia.”
The nurse is grateful to say she only needs one hand to tally up the really difficult moments of the rehabilitation process. One of these came not long after her injury, as she sat in her bedroom trying to process what had just happened. It was her first injury of this magnitude; She hadn’t even had knee problems before.
“You can feel sad, and feel sorry for yourself for 24 hours,” the nurse remembers telling herself. “And then you have to start working and start the rehabilitation process.”
While she was acclimatizing all fall and winter, still unable to make it onto the court by herself, Nurse got the “basketball fix” she needed in her role as a TSN analyst. She’s been a part of the network’s professional basketball coverage since 2020, and even participated in the first all-women’s NBA broadcast in March 2021 as a color analyst.
“It was kind of fun to be there and still pick up things from the NBA players and what they do in their games and things that I can add to my own,” said a nurse. “Looking at the game from a different perspective and sort of talking about what I see, I think that definitely helps me as a player.”
The nurse noticed similarities in her game and Raptors’ guard Fred Vanfleet, both exiting rolling screens and using stabilizers to get open shots, so she paid particular attention to the ways different teams tried to protect him and how to modify him. The nurse also loved watching Celtics striker Jason Tatum, and caught how he manipulated the distances to make his own shot.
The nurse also assisted TSN with its coverage of the NCAA Championship. I’ve covered March Madness in previous years, but this was the first time they’ve offered a fully-controlled show with pre-match, half-time, post-match reviews, and women’s game analysis.
Basketball IQ and the perspective that allows a nurse to excel in those broadcast roles have come to prominence for Nygaard in the short time working together. After Friday’s shooting, Nurse helped Mercury’s training crew get to work by timing play at the end of the game. She has been active on the bench during matches as well.
“The longer you play, the better your understanding will be,” Nygaard said. “Also, I think her experience as a broadcaster for the Raptors helped her see the game a little differently. All her experience with the Canadian national team. She is just a very skilled player. She asks the right questions.”
Nygaard also said that Nurse has improved her shot, using the time she spent away to add another dimension of range to her game. The Mercury crew is eagerly awaiting her return and the impact this will have on defense, rebounds, overall communication and team harmony. It’s safe to say the nurse is looking forward to that day, too.
“Rehab has been really good. It has been a very smooth ride for the last seven and a half months.” Pretty much what I was like on the field. It’s really exciting. So coming. “
Another former UConn star at Phoenix Mercury, Tina Charles, did not play Friday night’s game against the Connecticut Sun. Charles is listed as having an injured right shoulder. The extent of the 6-4 center’s injury and the timetable for a comeback remains unclear. Through nine games with Mercury this season, Charles has averaged 15.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists.