How Lauren Got Her Groove Back
After an injury-plagued 2006 WNBA season, Lauren Jackson traveled the world playing and falling in love with the game again. Now she's having the best year of her career
Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 12:28PM; Updated: Wednesday July 18, 2007 1:40PM
When Seattle Storm forward Lauren Jackson has some downtime, she likes to visit the Kangaroo & Kiwi, an Aussie pub in north Seattle. Sure, the window looks out on busy Aurora Avenue instead of a field of cows and sheep and bouncing kangaroos, but otherwise it feels just like home to the 6'5" Aussie. There's Tooheys beer in the cooler, meat pies on the menu and Aussie sporting events on the telly. The pub's owner, Bradley Howe, grew up in Harden Murrumburrah, New South Wales, about two hours from Jackson's native Albury. "We're both country kids," says Jackson, "and country kids are a different breed."
Perhaps that explains why Jackson, 26, continues to defy basketball convention. Now in her seventh year in the WNBA, the 2003 league MVP is playing the most productive and joyful basketball of her career despite stress fractures in her left shin. At the All-Star break Jackson was leading the league in scoring (22.4 points a game, the highest average of her career), blocks (2.16) and double doubles (10) and was ranked second in rebounding (9.3). She was also 12th in three-point shooting, hitting at a 40.5% clip. "Lauren Jackson is not a prototype, she's a freak," says Chicago Sky coach Bo Overton. "She's a post player with a guard's body control and skill, who can shoot the three, drive and handle the ball. There's no one like her."
Medical experts might agree after learning the details of Jackson's off-season. When prudence suggested she take time off to have surgery on stress fractures in both shins that limited her to 30 minutes a game and caused her to sit out every other practice last season, Jackson instead pounded the hardwood abroad for nearly six months, collecting some coveted international hardware and six-figure paychecks along the way. After stops in Brazil, South Korea and Russia, she rejoined the Storm in May -- 20 pounds lighter, a step quicker and feeling, she says, "10 times better physically than I have in a long time."
She still has two fractures in her left shin. "I don't know if she got used to the pain or what," says Storm trainer Kyla McDaniel, "but she hasn't complained."
"I still have days," says Jackson, "but as long as the fractures aren't getting any worse, I'm not going to let them hold me back anymore. After last season I decided I was either going to play all out in the off-season or not at all. A little practice here, a little practice there was driving me crazy. I couldn't get in a groove."
The first step in getting her groove back came shortly after the Storm was eliminated in the first round of the WNBA playoffs, when she joined the Australian national team as it prepared for the women's world championships in São Paulo. Jackson led her country to its first gold medal, defeating Russia on Sept. 23. "That was amazing, and totally unexpected," says Jackson. "We've always been the little sister to America."