Briann January slapped the court at Conseco Fieldhouse, writhing in agony while clutching her right knee.
Tamika Catchings knew what to do for her Indiana Fever teammate – she’d been there before. After January, a Lewis and Clark grad, went down last Tuesday with what was later diagnosed as a season-ending ACL tear, Catchings offered comforting words and shielded January’s face with a towel so spectators couldn’t watch her cry.
Two of Catchings’ friends, Lauren Jackson and Candace Parker, suffered severe injuries within the same seven-day span. Jackson, the Seattle Storm center and three-time league MVP, is out for eight to 12 weeks with a torn labrum in her left hip. Parker, the Los Angeles Sparks forward and 2008 MVP, is out for about six weeks with a torn meniscus in her right knee.
“I’ve talked to both of them, just sending my prayers,” Catchings said. “I’m going to send them scriptures, send them quotes, keep them motivated.”
Catchings injured her left foot in 2007 and missed the final 13 games of the regular season, then came back for the playoffs only to tear her right Achilles tendon and miss the start of the next season. She said offering encouragement is important to her because of her history, but just a month into the season, she’d rather not have to do so much of it.
“It’s a part of the game,” she said. “It’s a part of professional sports. But when I see friends especially, I think it’s heartbreaking.”
The injuries come less than 10 games into the season, and it’s a blow for the league since Jackson and Parker are two of the biggest names in women’s basketball. Parker and Jackson rank first and second, respectively, in the voting at center for the Western Conference All-Star team. Jackson, an Australian, brings an international following.
“It’s not good for our league,” Los Angeles coach Jennifer Gillom said. “Of course, it’s going to have a ripple effect on the league because they bring so much to the game. It’s difficult for everybody when players of their caliber go down like that.”
Jackson was injured on June 21 against Tulsa and had surgery on Thursday.
“She’s glad it’s over with,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “They have her up starting rehab already. She’s on the mend right now. The surgery was successful, and at some point, she’ll be back at 100 percent.”
Jackson missed the last eight games of the 2008 regular season after arthroscopic surgery on her right ankle following the Olympics, then missed the last six games of the 2009 regular season with a stress fracture in her back. She wants to return this season, but Agler is prepared if she can’t.
“We’ve been down this path before,” Agler said. “We want and wish and will do everything we can to get Lauren back healthy no matter what the timetable is, whether it’s a situation where she comes back this year or it’s next season.”
Parker was injured on after making contact with New York’s Quanitra Hollingsworth last Sunday. She was averaging 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
“Candace is a huge part of our offense, our defense, our rebounding,” Gillom said. “Candace is definitely a huge loss.”
January had helped the Fever to a 7-3 start. She was averaging 8.6 points and 5.0 assists per game and was emerging one of the league’s best point guards.
“That’s huge,” Gillom said. “That’s like the head of the dragon.”
At least January has one person she can count on for certain during her recovery – Catchings.
“She told me I’m not going to get rid of her,” January said. “She’s been hitting me up every day, coming by, checking on me. She’s been awesome. She’s been there, done that, so she has a lot of insight.”