We’re Hungry

Clara Mokri/The Players' Tribune

One thing I learned in recovery is that it’s not always about the biggest moments. 

After my Achilles injury, the littlest things would feel like the hugest victories for me. Like the first hurdle was just getting out of bed, you know?

When I started my rehab process back home in Maryland, my parents stayed with me for about a month. And for the first couple of weeks, I really didn’t leave my room at all. I don’t think I processed it as sadness or depression at the time. I can’t really explain it … but I couldn’t get myself up. I don’t think I even realized how sad I was probably until the day DeWanna came. I remember this day vividly. She walked in the house, came upstairs, and got me up after I hadn’t been up for weeks. And then we got in her car and drove.

I can remember the looks on my parents’ faces. I think they were super happy to finally see me downstairs. And that was a wake-up call for me. Like, Hey, I can’t continue to feel sorry for myself. From that day on, I tried to kick it into gear. And DeWanna just kept pushing me and not ever letting me get down. She pushed me the whole entire way, and I’ll forever be grateful.

Alyssa Thomas | Connecticut Sun | We're Hungry | The Players' Tribune
Clara Mokri/The Players' Tribune

There were other little things, too. 

Like I remember one day we were in Minnesota, and the team was going through shootaround. I had gone through my on-court workout, moving and doing slides and things like that. And after I had finished, Nicole, our head athletic trainer, and Analisse, our strength coach, came to me and said, “We think you’re ready to run today. How do you feel about that?” I wasn’t expecting them to say that at all! And well, you know me … I’m like, “O.K., yeah. I’m down for it.” And I just … took off.

It felt weird. Something as basic as running was an unfamiliar feeling to me, because I hadn’t ran in so long. Feeling my legs under me, and having everybody in the gym so excited and sharing that moment meant so much. I had tried really hard up to that point to not focus on making a comeback. I didn’t want to let myself go down the path of getting hurt and disappointed if my body didn’t line up with my own internal deadlines. But right then and there, I knew I was coming back that season. I was gonna attack it with everything I had. 

When I started playing five-on-five and practicing with the scout team, that’s when I realized, O.K., I’m actually feeling good, and my body is responding well. It became a real conversation I was having with my doctors and coaches, and I was excited. And coming so far from where I started, that was a big thing in itself that I could actually let myself be excited about this, if that makes sense. I think even the possibility of it pushed me to another gear. I began doing everything I could on the court and lifting like crazy. I started coming to the gym early before the games and working out before other teams got there, getting myself ready. 

And before I knew it, I was bridging a comeback.

It feels so good to be back. 

But I have to say this....

As fortunate and grateful as I am to be on the court again for these playoffs, there's something deeper going on. I think it’s something that’s in the back of everybody’s mind this season.

Somebody is missing. We all feel it. 

Not having BG here has been weird. We had a moment of silence at the beginning of the Phoenix game last week that felt super emotional. When you think about Phoenix, BG’s a huge, huge part of what they do. And she’s a huge part of this league. We miss her out there. To know that she’s over there while we’re here, it’s definitely scary. Being in a country where you’re not familiar, and it’s not your people, and not knowing if people really have your best interest at heart is hard. And it’s not your first language, so you don’t know if everything’s being translated properly, and things like that. It’s normal for us to go overseas, we do it every year, so for that to happen…. It’s surreal.

It’s really been a tough pill to swallow, and my heart goes out for her. Sometimes you just stop and think, what’s her mindset right now? What’s she going through? And when she does come home, how can I help? I think every one of us thinks about her constantly. You pray for her and hope she’s O.K.

So, that’s a really unfortunate reality in our community as a league right now. And I think as we head into the playoffs that’s one thing everybody wants to keep the focus on.

All I can say is this: We know the spotlight will be shining on the playoffs this week, and we’re all excited. But let’s not forget to keep shining that light on BG, too. 

We just want her home safe.

Between BG’s situation and my injury, just the ability to do what I love has taken on such a deeper meaning for me this year. 

With Achilles injuries, so many people think it’s the end. You can’t come back from this. But seeing people like Stewie and Kelsey go through it and then come back stronger and kill it on the court was reassuring for me. They came back even better, in my eyes — which made me think that I could, too.

I’m grateful to them for that. Like for instance, as I was rehabbing, transitioning from wearing this walking boot to a shoe was really hard. And I’d think I was the only person in the world who could be going through this. Then I’d talk to Stewie and realize, Oh, this is just part of it. There were a lot of similarities between us that reassured me when I’d be worried about whether I was headed in the right direction, that what I was feeling was normal.

Stepping back on the court … that was a big moment for me. A big moment. It was that feeling of being back with my teammates, but also more than that?? 

It was like, Dang, I’m really out here hooping again

And I felt like myself. That’s something I can’t take for granted. That was one of the most disappointing parts of my injury — when I got hurt, I think I was really just starting to come into my own. I was playing some of my best basketball, and I think in the back of my mind, I wondered whether I could get back to that level. And now, I’m back at a point where I think I’m playing the best basketball of my career. I’m proud of the work that I put in. 

A lot of credit goes to my teammates. I mean, none of this is possible without them. I remember saying in the locker room at one point earlier in the season, it would be a crime if I wasn’t averaging almost 10 assists a game with the talent that we have on this team. They make it easy for me to get that part.

But seriously, shout out to them because I owe this group everything. I never could have gotten back to this point without them. Being on the bench and watching them go out and play last year was the extra push I needed to keep getting stronger. And I learned a lot, too. Being next to the coaches and hearing the things that they were saying, I was able to see the game in a different light — little things that when you’re playing you don’t see on the court. And seeing how they were killing it out there made me want to be a part of it even more.

Alyssa Thomas | Connecticut Sun | We're Hungry | The Players' Tribune
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

I think we definitely were coming into this year with a chip on our shoulder. I can’t lie, to have such a great season last year, and for it to end the way it did was really disappointing. That was hard. Chicago was just playing at another level, and we couldn’t put it together. To be honest, we’re still mad that it ended that way.

But now we’re back even stronger. 

When I first came to Connecticut, we were in a rebuild. And for my first two seasons we’d go out there and play hard, but we wouldn’t go into the game thinking we were going to win, you know? We were still growing and trying to figure out the identity of the team. I watched a lot of people come and go, as we were trying to figure it all out. Then they hired Curt, and I think that’s when things really started to shift. Our 2019 Finals year, that’s when that starting five accidentally got discovered. And everything clicked into place for us. Little by little, we added pieces and got better year after year. 

Our first goal was to get to the playoffs, and then we did it. But we kept getting knocked out in single-elimination games. Finally, we make a Finals push, and get all the way to Game 5 … a few minutes away from possibly being champions … and fall short. Then, of course, COVID and the Bubble. Then I got hurt last season. And now we’re here.

Basically, I’m saying this has been a journey for me. 

I’ve been with the Sun my whole career. And I don’t wanna jinx it, but everything right now is just clicking. It feels like we finally got this to where it needs to be, which is a top-level program. And now we’re right on the cusp.

I’m just excited to bring that first championship to Connecticut.

I don’t wanna jinx it, but everything right now is just clicking. It feels like we finally got this to where it needs to be, which is a top-level program. And now we’re right on the cusp.

Alyssa Thomas

When I think about why I’m so confident in our group, I think of these last few games. Take Tuesday’s game in L.A., for example. Everybody scored that game. And I know when I’m playing, I hear our bench going crazy, and we try to do the same thing for them when they’re out there. We have so much good energy with each other.

Actually, real quick, wanna know one of my favorite things? Lol. So DiJonai does this thing before every away game. This little cheerleading type thing. I’m not even going to try to describe it, but our team is all into it and we’re screaming and yelling in the tunnel every night before we run out. It’s been a great vibe in our locker room leading up to the playoffs, and all that good energy translates onto the court. Everybody’s excited for everybody’s success, and everybody wants each other to do well. That’s why I think these last games are so crucial for us, to continue to build that confidence, and have everybody feeling good leading into the playoffs, because we need each and every one of us.

Something I think is really cool about this team is how we’re all willing to share the ball and that we’re all willing to share the spotlight. We have five All-Stars on our team, and each of us could go out there and probably score 20 a night. But we realized that in order for us to be successful this season, we had to buy in, and sacrifice, and play together, and know that it’s going to be a different person each night, but we still go out there and play as hard as we can. At the end of the day, we all want a chip, and we don’t really care who’s scoring the points out here, or who’s getting all the recognition. 

That kind of mentality as a team makes you so dangerous because you can’t lock in on one person. We have so many offensive weapons and people willing to play defense. It’s really hard to beat a team like that.

And that’s the kind of team we’ve been building all season.

Alyssa Thomas | Connecticut Sun | We're Hungry | The Players' Tribune
Clara Mokri/The Players' Tribune

I still see people sleeping on our group. I feel like we have a lot of underrated players on our team. And with us falling short in the past, people underestimate us. But honestly, it’s all fuel.

We just want to win in the worst way.

We’re right here. And it’s never going to be perfect, we understand that. JJ didn’t play in the Bubble. We lost Courtney to Atlanta for a couple of years. I was out last season. This playoff run we’re missing Jasmine. But that’s life in this league. And this team is blessed to have so much talent — so many players who can step up and go off. We’ve never made excuses. We know we’re built to win NOW.

I love playoff time. I’m trying to take it to another level. I know I still have another gear in me.

We’re hungry. 

And we’re ready.