Feeling like a basketball player again, Mystics' Alysha Clark nearing return

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Mystics' Alysha Clark nears return after long recovery originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Alysha Clark has had a decorated decade-long professional career, winning two WNBA championships and while in Poland, being named a league MVP. Yet, her most recent injury momentarily took away her confidence as a basketball player.

Clark has not played competitive basketball since March 2021 when she suffered a Lisfranc injury while playing in France. It was less than two months after she made a surprising move to leave the only WNBA franchise she's ever played for - and then reigning champion - the Seattle Storm to come to D.C.

Now just over 13 months later, she is just weeks, perhaps days, from returning and making her Washington Mystics debut.

"I'm feeling good," Clark told NBC Sports Washington. "I'm feeling really good. My foot's been responding well. The rest of my body has been responding well to the jump and intensity and load which makes me happy."

Over the weekend, she surpassed a monumental hurdle for athletes when recovering from a significant injury. Saturday was her first time playing five-on-five in 416 days, less than a week before the start of the regular season.

It evoked a strong reaction from Clark - one that caused her teammates to take pause at training camp.

"The first day that she did five-on-five, she caught the ball on the wing and she just went in for a layup, like full speed. Like mind you, guys were out there and she walked back crying and I was scared," Myisha Hines-Allen told NBC Sports Washington. 'I'm like, 'wait are you okay?' And like, she was like, 'these are like tears of happy joy.'"

Months of rehab, spending all of the last season on the bench, unable to compete, not traveling all took a toll on Clark. Never in her professional or collegiate career had an injury caused her to miss significant time as the Lisfranc injury has on her right foot.

So, making a quick move to the basket as if nothing had changed was huge.

"It was super emotional. I just -- emotion overwhelmed me out of nowhere I didn't even realize but it was when I did it, that was the first time I didn't think about my foot," Clark said. "And I just played and I finally felt like a basketball player. And so I was just really overcome with emotion just to be in that space. As you go through injuries and recovery, especially something like this, you don't know if you ever get back to feeling that way, if you're feeling athletic, and in that moment I did. So I was really proud of myself."

Rehabbing her injury, Clark made sure to make the most of her time. She didn't take the season off to enjoy what would have been her first summer off since college in 2021. Clark was in the gym, not only taking the necessary steps to get back on the court for this season but showcasing one of her best skills as a basketball player.

All the returners know her and would all agree her basketball knowledge was invaluable for Washington last year. She, along with Elena Delle Donne, led the team from street clothes on the Mystics bench. They were vocal, providing support just as if they were playing.

Now, players are experiencing her leadership and communication skills on the floor.

"That's what she brings, that leadership, someone who's always talking whether she's on the sideline or in the game. When we're on the court together, I always hear her like 'My, what do you see, continue to talk to me,' like telling me like where to go," Hines-Allen said.

The recovery timeline has matched up well for the Mystics as the season opener is set for this Friday. Head coach Mike Thibault says he'll know for certain if Clark can play against the Indiana Fever (Friday at 7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) on Wednesday, but hasn't been counting on her to play for at least the first two games of the year.

"I kind of doubt it, but I think it will be next week sometime if everything goes well," Thibault added.

In the meantime, the 34-year-old will continue to build back up her confidence which made her a 2020 WNBA First-Team All-Defense selection. When she does, she'll be able to jump right in and be one of the faces of a defensive-oriented squad.

"It's just getting that confidence," Clark said. "Getting over that mental hurdle of being out there and being hit and stepping and playing and doing those things. So I build confidence every day, which is great. So, hopefully you see me out there sooner rather than later."