Nearly 23 months after she was helped off the Target Center floor after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee — just six games into her WNBA career — Jessica Shepard returned to action in a Lynx uniform Saturday in Atlanta.
The 24-year-old, who spent all of last season on the full-season suspended list as she continued her rehab, finished with 10 points and six rebounds in the preseason game/scrimmage combo against the host Dream.
“It was really exciting just to get out on the floor again and to be in a Lynx uniform again,” Shepard said. “I’m extremely grateful that they’ve stuck with me through this whole process and just the support that they’ve provided me has made it a lot easier the last two years.”
Simply playing in Saturday’s game was a milestone for Shepard, who went to Israel to play in January but logged just one game. So she essentially is two years removed from competitive basketball. The rust may have shown itself Saturday. Shepard said she had “too many turnovers.”
“I’ve got to keep reminding myself, ‘Cheryl, she hasn’t played since June of 2019,’ ” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She looks like she hasn’t played since June. Not conditioning-wise. Physically, she looks like she’s in good shape. None of us are in game shape.”
In general, Shepard said she “feels good.” She admitted the mental aspect is probably half the battle when recovering from a major injury.
The 6-foot-3 forward said the Lynx have been “really good” about letting her body ease back into things. But the Lyxn are starting to rev the forward up. Reeve said Shepard led the team in minutes Saturday. Reeve said the team tried to manage the length of Shepard’s stints, but it was important to get her out on the court.
“I think as the minutes started to pile up, I think fatigue was setting in,” Reeve said. “But when she was fresh, she was doing Jess Shepard-like things, getting the extra possessions for us, loose balls, her and Natalie (Achonwa) played well together — the offense moves when those guys have it — but yeah, Jess looked just fine physically.”
Now the question is how will her body respond to increased action?
“She’s talked about how her knees have felt fine,” Reeve said. “Because she hasn’t played, you worry with her, a little bit of a soreness with her hamstring and a groin, so those are more issues as opposed to the knee right now, so that’s the good news.”
Minnesota will closely monitor Shepard in the days to come. The organization has acted in her best interest throughout her recovery process. That is not lost on the 2019 second-round draft pick.
“The team has taken great care of me,” Shepard said. “They’ve made sure I’ve had no worries outside of just rehabbing and getting back on the court. So just surrounding myself with the right people and just knowing that, at the end of the day, this is a temporary thing, and we’ll get past it.”