Alaina Coates has never been used to waiting. She’s always been a star at whatever she’s tried to do, and she never had to be patient – nobody ignored the talent bursting from the 6-foot-4 dominator for as much as a day.
This has been tough. Sidelined since the SEC tournament and having to miss being in Dallas as her teammates won the national championship, Coates was able to attend the WNBA Draft (where she was picked second) but not much else. Her ankle has been cocooned for most of the past two months and while the cast was just taken off, she has to rehabilitate it and get back to playing strength before she can start her professional career.
That’s a lot of waiting. While Coates said a target date to play hasn’t been determined, Chicago Sky coach Amber Stocks said it could be September before her top draft pick debuts. If it goes that long and the Sky don’t make the playoffs, it’s likely Coates won’t play her next game until summer 2018 (barring overseas opportunities).
But there’s nothing else for her to do.
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“We’re still trying to figure out what the best scenario is for me,” said Coates, who was in Chicago on Friday meeting with her teammates. “I didn’t want to try to do too much and re-injure myself. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
Stocks made it clear the Sky were perfectly content with waiting for Coates to fully heal before they put her on the floor.
“Her best years are ahead of her. We’ve seen her capabilities that she was able to show the world,” Stocks said. “The way she performed on such a grand platform, we all know that’s a taste of what Alaina Coates can show the world.”
Coates went down in the tournament semifinal against Kentucky and had her surgery during USC’s NCAA tournament run. She couldn’t travel with the cast on and was confined to home.
“It was very frustrating. It was mainly not that I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t move my foot,” Coates said. “When they cut the cast off, I was able to get in there and scratch my leg, move my feet a little. In a couple of days, I’ll be able to walk in a boot, and I’ve been taking advantage of every chance to move around since it came off.”
Coates has stayed in Columbia because she wasn’t cleared to travel until the cast came off, outside of attending the draft. She’s meeting her teammates this weekend but will return home soon. It isn’t uncommon in the WNBA for injured players to rehab at home.
“Now that the cast is off, they’re giving her a very generous timetable and they’re anticipating probably some time in September,” Stocks said. “She’s working hard, really trying to not rush it, but also she’s a competitor.”
That was the hardest part. Coates came to USC to build a winner, and desperately wanted to end it with a national championship. She got that wish – Dawn Staley shouted out to her that her ring was coming during the first moments of the celebration – but she wasn’t there.
But that was the break. A player who had been an integral part of the Gamecocks’ rise to elite status suffered an injury at the worst time.
Yet her teammates rallied around it and brought home a title that’s just as much hers as it is theirs.
“That was always part of my plan, which is why I went to South Carolina,” Coates said. “For them to go out there and finish the season, especially without me … we just kept talking about going to get these rings. I was just so proud.”
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