May 2, 2023 

‘Better days coming’: Mystics’ Myisha Hines-Allen continues to recover from knee surgery

Hines-Allen playing two-on-two; return date uncertain

WASHINGTON — When first-year Washington Mystics center Amanda Zahui B. arrived in the nation’s capital this month after a year away from the WNBA, she didn’t realize that one of her new teammates, forward Myisha Hines-Allen, had had knee surgery in September. As they got to know each other, though, Hines-Allen told her about her rehab and the challenges she’d faced in getting back on the court.

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“[Zahui B.] was like, ‘Girl, you look good,’” Hines-Allen told reporters at Monday’s preseason media day. “And then after that, she tells me every single day, ‘Girl, you’re looking like a basketball player.’”

Hines-Allen had a partial patellar tendon repair in her left knee on Sept. 9 to address an issue that had bothered her since June 2021. The patellar tendon is important for many basketball movements because it connects the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh with the shin bone. When a player runs or jumps, force travels from the quadriceps through the patellar tendon and down the leg.

General manager and then-head coach Mike Thibault estimated in September that Hines-Allen’s recovery would take three to four months, less than the six months or longer that a full tear often requires. However, Hines-Allen’s recovery has stretched throughout the offseason as she has slowly regained her strength and range of motion.

Hines-Allen stayed in Washington this offseason and worked with Mystics head athletic trainer Christina Kennedy and strength and conditioning coach Sarah Walls, among others. According to her Instagram stories, Hines-Allen’s first days of rehab included basic exercises such as flexing her foot. On her third day of rehab on Sept. 14, she could only bend her knee 25 degrees, but a week later, she was up to 52 degrees. That day, she tried walking with only a leg brace and without crutches, and in early October, she started more intensive exercises focused on range of motion and rode a stationary bike for the first time.

By late March, Hines-Allen later shared on Instagram, she was moving and cutting on the court in drills, though she still hadn’t gone against defenders. Live action is a pivotal step for any injured player, but especially for the 6’1 Hines-Allen, who is known for her strength and physicality and often plays through contact.

“We’ve been very careful with [her],” Thibault said on April 10. “… But, just talking to our medical people last night, I would say she’s made huge progress in the last three weeks as to how she feels and what she’s doing.”

Hines-Allen had what felt like a breakthrough on April 28, two days before training camp opened, when she played two-on-two for the first time with male practice players. She posted a few clips in her Instagram stories, including of her posting up and spinning to the basket, driving to the basket and finishing layups, and cutting laterally.

“Until Friday, it was rough,” she said on Monday, “but when I got to play two-on-two on Friday, I was just like — I think I shed a tear, to be honest with you.”

Hines-Allen said that her rehab process had been challenging at times because she was “coming into work every single day, doing the same thing every single day, and not necessarily seeing the results.” First-year head coach Eric Thibault told reporters on Monday that Hines-Allen hadn’t suffered any setbacks or needed additional surgery; rather, it had just taken longer than expected for Hines-Allen’s body to bounce back.

“As everybody knows with Myisha, that’s a powerful body,” he said. “That means sometimes it takes those muscles a little bit of time to fire up the way she needs them to. So we worked through those, and it’s definitely been smoother progress the last, I would say at least the last month.”

As the days ticked by and Hines-Allen dealt with the mental challenges of a slower-than-expected recovery, she leaned heavily on her support system with the Mystics. She spoke with forward/guard Elena Delle Donne and former Mystics wing Alysha Clark, who had spent the entire 2021-22 offseason recovering from back and foot injuries, respectively. She worked with the team’s longtime mental performance coach, Stu Singer. She also sought out guards Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud, two longtime teammates with whom she is especially close, for words of encouragement.

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“Just seeing everyone’s face every single day, whether that be my teammates, Christina, Sarah, coaches,” Hines-Allen said about how she stayed resilient and upbeat. “Just going home also to my dog; he definitely helps me a lot … So just having teammates who care and the support staff, too, who care and then just want to see me get better.”

“There’s some days where you can kind of see her just a little bit down,” said Delle Donne, who herself had a healthy offseason this winter for the first time in five years. “But Myisha’s one of those people that generally you’re not going to see her like that for very long. She’s so positive. She is always laughing, smiling, talking. … [So I’m] just trying to encourage her.”

Hines-Allen also launched a podcast, Offline, with Mystics practice player and former Towson guard Greg Cross on Jan. 1. Offline’s stated purpose is to elevate the voices and visibility of women in sports, but it also provided a much-needed distraction for Hines-Allen when her rehab wasn’t going how she wanted. Hines-Allen and Cross have released nine episodes, and Clark, Cloud, Atkins and Walls have all been guests so far. Hines-Allen even gets to satisfy her competitive side by playing Uno with guests.

“We got five cards,” Hines-Allen told Cross and Cloud. “One winner — which will be me, of course.”

In training camp, Hines-Allen will “do bits and pieces” of the team’s practices, Thibault said, but it’s unknown how soon she’ll be ready for game action. “She’s still in more of a return-to-play, rehab stage, but that is starting to ramp up now,” he said.

Already, Hines-Allen has impressed some teammates with her progress on the court. Zahui B., sitting next to Hines-Allen on Monday, said that Hines-Allen looked “really strong — like, healthy strong” and “controlled” on the court, “like her body knows what she’s doing.” Turning to Hines-Allen, Zahui B. said, “You have people running around like hula hoops.”

Delle Donne added that she plans to give Hines-Allen more advice as she resumes team drills, based on firsthand experience. “It can be awkward and nerve-wracking … because you’re thinking about your leg or your back or something,” Delle Donne said. “So just going to try to really talk her through those moments.”

Though Hines-Allen was jovial with reporters and bantered nearly nonstop with Zahui B. on Monday, it was clear that the past eight months had taken a toll on her. But amid the unmistakable verve and confidence that filled the Entertainment and Sports Arena on Monday as the Mystics opened training camp, Hines-Allen sounded cautiously optimistic. There was still light at the end of the tunnel.

“This process has really been tough — mentally, physically, emotionally, all of it. It just has been super tough,” she said. “So, you know, we got better days coming.”

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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