Elena Delle Donne is back practicing with the Washington Mystics although still isn’t sure when she’ll step on the court in a game for the team.
“It’s been mentally incredible just to be back with my teammates and competing again,” Delle Donne said in a Zoom call. “It has been quite a long road. And I don’t think you realize how much you miss it until you’re actually back in it. And then it’s like, ‘My goodness!’ It’s just been so refreshing.′ “
The two-time MVP hasn’t played in the league since leading the team to the WNBA title in 2019. She’s had two back surgeries. She opted out of last season that was held in Florida at IMG Academy because of the coronavirus.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on court, and I’m not able to get as many reps as I’d love to. But I know I can’t beat myself up. But I know when I can be back, I can impact this team in a positive way.”
She suffered three bulging disks in her back in the finals two years ago and after having the two surgeries the 32-year-old admitted she had “many moments of being very concerned” that she might not be able to play again.
“I’ve had injuries before, but this has been something where there’s a lot of gray,” she said. “As many times as I want that black-and-white answer, it hasn’t been that way. There’s been a lot of confusion. But I’ve had incredible people around me to help me on those tough days. And I realize we are so lucky when we get to play this game that we love, and to enjoy every second of it.”
Delle Donne said she received support from Russell Westbrook, who was traded last month by the Wizards to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Russ was one of my biggest helps throughout all this,” she said. “There were moments like that where he would show up and would just bring me out of the funk and be like: ‘I got this. I can keep doing it. He believes in me, these people believe me, my teammates believe me. I can do this.’ So there were some days, yeah, I wasn’t believing in myself, but others helped me through it.”
Delle Donne is still limited in what she can do on the court and expects to be on a minutes restriction when she returns. Mystics coach Mike Thibault said a decision will be made later this week if his star player will travel on the team’s trip to Las Vegas this weekend to tip off the second half of the WNBA season.
“You get reminded quickly of the things that she can do,” Thibault said. “And that’s a good sign, that she can do a lot of those things. But I have learned over the last two years to not get ahead of myself.”
Delle Donne is taking it slowly, focusing on just getting through each day on the court again.
“I still don’t have a date where I can tell you, ‘Yes, I will be playing on this day.’ Am I doing more and more each day? Yes,” she said. “Some days, am I doing the same thing I did the day before to see how I can handle this type of load? Yes. But it has been amazing to play basketball again.”
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports