Sky guard Jamierra Faulkner has suffered more injury setbacks in her five WNBA seasons than most players do their entire careers.
Over the last three years, she has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in each of her knees. The first cost her the entire 2017 WNBA season; the second sidelined her for the second part of the 2018 season and the first half of this past season. She also missed two games in August with a concussion.
But she’s far from defeated. If anything, the injuries have made her stronger. And now, having started a new season with Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg, Faulkner says she feels as good as ever.
She’s playing like it, too.
“The growth she’s made, even from the WNBA this year, when she was cleared, to what she is here in Russia, being back to doing the things she was doing prior to her injuries, it’s really heartwarming to see that,” said Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot, who also plays for UMMC.
Sky coach James Wade, an assistant coach for UMMC during the WNBA offseason, also is happy to see Faulkner starting to rediscover her swagger in what could be her first full season in two years.
“It’s nice because you see her getting her speed back,” Wade said. “It’s a process for her. You talk to sports people, coaches — they always say it’s a year after the injury when you see them back at 100 percent. And so now it’s more than a year [since the second ACL], and now you’re seeing her getting her speed back and being faster than she was just days before.”
In four Euroleague games, Faulkner has put up modest numbers, averaging 16.7 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.5 assists. But what’s been most impressive, Wade said, has been her fearlessness while she plays.
“She’s taking risks that she probably wouldn’t take a week ago or two weeks ago,” he said. “It’s actually a good thing to watch her get confidence back and push her limits a little bit higher every day. . . . She’s going to the basket really aggressive and really strong, leaning her body and doing things where you’re like, ‘OK, she’s not even thinking about her knee at all, and that’s a good thing.’ ”
The Sky cautiously tried to loop Faulkner back into their rotation last season, but Wade didn’t want to push her to her limits. As a result, she averaged a career-low 5.6 minutes in 13 games as Gabby Williams assumed the role of Vandersloot’s backup.
Finally 100 percent again to start a season, Faulkner said: “It feels good. I’m just happy to still be wanted and needed on a team.
“You’re needed a lot more overseas, no matter what team you go to, so you’re going to play a lot more than you did on your WNBA [team]. So it always helps with my confidence when I come overseas and play.”
Faulkner will be a restricted free agent this offseason but said she isn’t thinking about what the future holds for her with the Sky or the WNBA — only about helping UMMC win the Euroleague title.
“I’m just trying to keep focus on this season right now,” she said, “and just keep getting stronger and being my best as far as my health over here.”