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Three WNBA players who successfully bounced back from Achilles injuries — Breanna Stewart can be the next

Tamika Catchings, Chiney Ogwumike and Riquna Williams are three WNBA players who had Achilles injuries and bounced back from them, big time. Stewart can be the next.

Seattle Storm v Las Vegas Aces
Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart will sit out the the 2019 WNBA season due to a torn Achilles tendon. However, she’s just 24 years old and her best years are still ahead.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart received surgery on her ruptured right Achilles tendon last week.

According to a news release by the Storm on April 18, the procedure was a success. Stewart will miss the entire 2019 WNBA season but she is expected to return in the 2020 season. Stewart suffered the injury on April 14 in the EuroLeague Women championship.

After the surgery, Stewart gave her first statement by tweeting her gratitude and pledging to come back strong.

Stewart is on a long road to recovery for the next year. The injury is severe and there is no guarantee she will play exactly as she did before it. But here are three WNBA players who were able to continue their careers after Achilles injuries.

Tamika Catchings enjoyed the best years of her career after an Achilles injury

Stewart can look to retired WNBA star (and now-Indiana Fever Vice President of Basketball Operations) Tamika Catchings as someone who bounced back big after an Achilles injury. Catchings ruptured her right Achilles while playing for the Indiana Fever in the 2007 WNBA Playoffs against the Detroit Shock. She returned to the court the following season, prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

In an interview with Mechelle Voepel of ESPN, Catchings said the pain of a ruptured Achilles tendon was “the worst pain I’ve ever felt.” The mental recovery from the injury is also “harder.” Catchings worked with a sports psychologist during her playing days, including during her recovery period from the Achilles injury.

In 2007, Catchings was 28 years old and averaged 16.6 points and 9 rebounds per game. In the year following the injury, her production dropped to 13.3 points per game. However, Catchings was able to raise her production in most of her remaining nine seasons, which helped her to win the 2011 WNBA MVP award and the 2012 WNBA Finals.

Chiney Ogwumike returned to All-Star form after injuring Achilles in China

Connecticut Sun forward and ESPN basketball analyst Chiney Ogwumike shares three things in common with Stewart. First, they were the top overall picks in the WNBA Draft. Second, they suffered Achilles tendon injuries at the age of 24. And, third, they suffered their injuries overseas.

Ogwumike suffered a left Achilles injury while playing in China in 2016. Due to the injury, Ogwumike missed the 2017 WNBA season. It was also the second full season she missed after 2015, when she had microfracture surgery on her right knee.

In the 2018 season, however, Ogwumike had an All-Star season for Connecticut. She averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting a career-high 60.3 percent from the field.

During All-Star Weekend, Ogwumike said, “I didn’t have any expectations” when asked about her All-Star selection. She also mentioned that a positive mentality helped her make a successful comeback.

Riquna Williams took longer to recover but eventually returned to form

While Catchings and Ogwumike returned to All-Star form after suffering Achilles injuries, that wasn’t quite the case for Los Angeles Sparks guard Riquna Williams. While Williams was able to bounce back, it took her longer to get back to form.

Williams ruptured her left Achilles tendon while playing overseas in the United Arab Emirates before the 2016 WNBA season. She was traded to the Sparks from the then-Tulsa Shock just weeks earlier.

Williams was 25 when she suffered her injury.

When she returned to the WNBA in 2017, Williams had a career-worst season, averaging 6.4 points per game on 32.1 percent shooting from the floor. But in 2018, Williams bounced back, averaging 7.1 points per game on a career-high 40.7 percent shooting from the floor. She was also able to fully acclimate to her new role as a sixth woman, given that the Sparks were a deeper team than the Shock.

What kind of player will Stewart be when she returns?

Achilles tendon injuries are serious and often require players adjust their games. If a player is heavily dependent on her athleticism like Williams was early in her career, her first year back will be rough since her efficiency will not be there. Guards are also players who depend on their athleticism more than frontcourt players, so they are more susceptible to a down year immediately upon return to the court than post players.

Still, all players must have strong skill sets to come back successfully from an Achilles injury. Catchings and Ogwumike were both crafty scorers and defenders before their injuries and were able to continue playing at a high level after them. If Stewart continues to develop her skill set on both ends of the floor, she should still be a perennial All-Star for years to come.