After Alyssa Thomas tore her Achilles tendon while playing overseas in the Czech Republic back in January, the Connecticut Sun weren't expecting to have their forward back at all this season. However, just nine months after suffering the injury, she took the floor with the Sun Wednesday against the New York Liberty. In 16 minutes of action, Thomas went 3 of 8 from the field to finish with six points and three rebounds.
Following the Sun's 98-69 victory over the Liberty -- their 13th straight win -- Thomas spoke about her unlikely return, and what it took to get back to the court so quickly.
"It felt amazing. I've been watching this team fight and compete all season and I've just been waiting to get out there with them," Thomas said. "A lot of hard work, a lot of bad days, a lot of good days, but I had great support. It was definitely one of the toughest things I've ever been through."
In January, Thomas left ZVVZ USK Praha, the team for which she was playing for in the Czech Republic, and returned to the United States with what was described as a serious injury. The Sun later confirmed that Thomas had suffered a torn Achilles tendon and undergone successful surgery. That press release came on Jan. 20, just under nine months ago.
Given the severity of the injury and timeline of the WNBA season, most assumed Thomas would not be available until 2022. But Thomas said that her goal was to make it back before the playoffs started, and now that she has her plan is to continue to knock off the rust before Connecticut tries to bring home a championship.
"First and foremost getting back into game flow, I haven't had much up and down like this," Thomas said. "But this team is firing on all engines and I just want to come in and make it that much easier for them. We're sitting right where we want to be. We know that it's going to come down to us doing the little things and not taking any games for granted. We gotta be on our "A" game 24/7, and I know we're ready for this."
With Thomas back, the Sun now have their big three of Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Thomas healthy for the first time since this trio of players were paired together two years ago. Jones sat out all of last season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, but Connecticut managed to get to the semifinals on the strength of Thomas and Bonner. But with all three players healthy and on the court at the same time with the postseason just around the corner, the Sun should be in a great position to win a title.
"Everybody's been looking forward to [us three playing together], it's one of the things we've all talked about," Thomas said. "To finally have us all on the court together, I'm excited and I know they're excited."
The Sun continue to sit atop the WNBA standings with a 25-6 record, and have secured not only a bye to the semifinals, but also home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, which begin next week. Right now, they look like the team to beat and could soon claim their first title in franchise history. Thomas' return only adds to the good vibes.
But while this is mostly good news, it's fair to have a little concern here, both for Thomas and the Sun. Modern medicine is getting better every year, but nine months is still extremely fast for someone to return from a torn Achilles, not just to get back on the court, but jump into the most intense basketball of the season. While Thomas will obviously want to help her team win a championship, it's fair to worry about the potential for re-injury.
In addition, the Sun have been playing such tremendous basketball -- 13 straight wins, 11 of which have been by double digits -- that messing with the chemistry in any way comes with a risk. That's not to criticize Thomas, who is a very good and unselfish player, but more to point out that everyone is comfortable and thriving with the current roles and rotations. Adding Thomas, who is going to be rusty after such a long layoff, into the mix right before the playoffs will force everyone to reset. The Sun will hope her talent outweighs those potential negatives, but it is something to think about.
Sun head coach Curt Miller knows there's going to be some rust with Thomas trying to work back into game conditioning, but right now Connecticut is just happy to have her back in the fold.
"Right now, there's still some rust," Miller said. "They came with some congestion and gave her some trouble; you could see she lost her balance a few times. But she's such a smart player and passer. Anyone who comes back off a serious injury, there's a psychological factor. She has to have confidence and believe she's healthy because physicality is so important for her. I was going to be happy for her if she just got back for her international season. But she got back to benefit all of us. It's a credit to how hard Alyssa works."