October 24, 2021
Indiana Fever forward Chelsey Perry reflective and eager after tearing ACL during rookie season
Perry's recovery could be important for the Indiana Fever
Indiana Fever forward Chelsey Perry grew up in Middleton, Tennessee, which means she had something to celebrate recently. One of her childhood idols, University of Tennessee legend Candace Parker, just won a WNBA championship with the Chicago Sky. And Perry enjoyed every second of it.
“It was exciting,” Perry told The Next. Perry detailed that she actually wrote an essay in fourth grade about Parker and being in the WNBA, so being in the league while Parker won a title was a surreal moment.
“Watching them win and watching her carry the team, it was so real and just a full circle moment … [Parker] and Pat Summitt have always been someone that I look up to.”
Perry has more reasons to celebrate than just Chicago’s championship run, though. After tearing her ACL in early August and having surgery soon after, Perry is walking without crutches, an important step in the recovery process.
“I’m like two and a half weeks off crutches,” Perry explained. “Since I was able to put the crutches down, I’ve been taking off, man. I really need to run.”
She laughed. Perry was kidding, of course; she can’t actually run yet. But hidden within that joke was a display of the eagerness that she has to get back on the court and grow after her first WNBA season.
The University of Tennessee at Martin product is starting to get her conditioning back. She’s working with Fever athletic trainer Ryan Newton often to regain her skills and abilities — right now, that entails ball-handling routines and some basic, fundamentals-only shooting work. The 22-year-old wants to get her skills back up to a high level ahead of her sophomore campaign.
Perry was just hitting her stride before the WNBA season was bisected by the Olympic break. She said that the Indiana coaching staff saw a lot of improvement in her game during the post-Olympic break practices, just before her injury. And before the break, her impact was starting to be felt. The third-round pick played in all four of the Fever’s final games before the break, a stretch in which the team went 3-1, and she averaged three points and 1.3 rebounds per game in that timeframe. Her defensive impact was starting to be felt, too.
That strong level of play Perry showcased just before her injury is what the 6’2 forward wants to get back to. Her first season as a pro was a roller coaster between injuries, being cut and the break. But Perry is determined to build off of that year, even with her ACL injury in mind.
“It was kind of high and low,” Perry said of her first season. “When I came back from the Olympic break, I just kept getting better.”
Perry doesn’t have a defined timetable for her return yet. It’s too early for any specific dates. But the developing forward did note that she will be able to start jogging after three months, which will be sometime in November. Finally, she will be able to run.
But Perry has to be patient. Returning from an ACL tear is a long process, and she knows that. She won’t be able to do serious on-court work until she gets cleared by the Fever medical staff. And that won’t take place until Perry can use both knees equally.
In the meantime, Perry will focus on the skills she can work on. Ditching the crutches at least gives the two-time Ohio Valley Conference Player Of The Year the opportunity to develop her fortes.
And once she can do everything? Perry knows exactly what she needs to work on. “Definitely ball-handling,” Perry said when listing skills she needs to improve. She had a few sloppy turnovers this past season. “And being quicker at my first step on defense.”
Those two skills would help Perry be able to play more positions than just power forward. And she mentioned that Indiana Fever head coach Marianne Stanley has talked to her about playing the small forward role at times going forward. Adding perimeter skills on both ends of the floor would make that more palatable.
If Perry adds some positional versatility, that would be a boon for an Indiana squad that is looking for forward depth. General manager Tamika Catchings mentioned both forward spots as a need for Indiana in her end-of-season press conference, so if Perry truly can contribute in both roles next season, she could become a free agency priority for the team from the Circle City this offseason.
“I think for us, the biggest need that we have right now [is] the position at the three and the four,” Catchings detailed. That sounds a lot like Perry if she can add to her game.
Beyond what the GM thinks about the team, Perry has her own ideas on how the Fever can improve next season. “Being consistent,” she said. She went on to discuss something that several Fever players and coaches have mentioned this year — just when it looked like the team was hitting their stride and maximizing their chemistry, half the roster got hurt, and any growth and consistency was stopped in its tracks. Perry hopes that chemistry can be combined with health next season, including her own health improvements, to help improve the squad.
“I think we’ve made a step and we just need to keep reaching and keep looking towards that championship mentality,” Perry explained.
Perry could be a critical piece for the Indiana Fever next season if brought back. Despite shooting just 2-for-9 on 3-point shots during the regular season, she canned four of six in the preseason and was a marksman from deep in the NCAA ranks. If she can recapture her outside shooting form and follow through on her goals of improving her defense and ball-handling, she may be a needed weapon for the Fever next season. Should Perry recover in time to be ready for next season, the Fever may want to bring her back for her skillset and attitude. She’s a great fit with the team. And her eagerness to return to action will serve her well once she can play, and contribute, again.