The road to recovery from a torn ACL is long for any athlete. For Tayler Hill, whose journey culminated Tuesday in her first WNBA game action in 11 months, the support around her was constant and crucial.
Hill had effusive praise for her support circle after she scored six points in nine minutes for the Washington Mystics in their 88-60 win over the Chicago Sky at Capital One Arena.
“I have so many great supporters between my teammates, my coaches, the fans, my family, my best friends, they’re so great through this whole process,” Hill said. “It’s 10 months post-surgery, almost a year since I tore it, but through this whole process they’ve been my rock and they’ve pushed me on days when I wanted to quit.”
Hill entered the day as questionable and warmed up later than the rest of her team. She might not have gotten onto the court had the game been closer, but the Mystics dominated the Sky and led by 26 when Hill checked in.
Coach Mike Thibault said the team planned to have Hill play in a game around this week.
“I was hoping we would get a game where we could play her like this,” Thibault said. “She was a little nervous, I think, but excited at the same time. It probably relaxed her a little bit to knock down a long three early on.”
Hill said she was emotional — not nervous.
“I’ve been playing basketball for so long, this is all I know,” she said. “I was more emotional than nervous, but once I got out there I was fine.”
Hill, a 3-point specialist shooting guard, made two such shots on three attempts in the fourth quarter. The crowd was cognizant of what her return to the floor meant and gave her a standing ovation after the game.
“To feel the love and support I have in this house and these fans, it’s something that you can’t explain,” Hill said.
Hill suffered her injury in a July 2017 game against the Indiana Fever. She said she and the trainers had a projected date that she could return, but once the season began, they started gauging it day by day.
“This is a long process and it wasn’t like right when I got hurt, that was the only support that I got,” she said. “Through this whole year or 10, 11 months, it’s been support every day.”
Now in her sixth WNBA season with the team that picked her fourth overall in the 2013 draft, Hill isn’t concerned about how she fits in with the Mystics. But Thibault pointed out that with his team at full health — they haven’t had all 12 players at their disposal since last summer — picking his rotations from one game to the next will be difficult.
“I think people are looking around the locker room and they know they gotta play against each other every day and earn minutes,” Thibault said. “We’ll have some interesting battles in practice probably for the next month.”
The physical evidence of Hill’s recovery is still there, in the form of a knee sleeve. But the mental aspect of her journey back was clearly a sticking point to Hill, considering how her answers kept winding back to the support of everyone around her.
“Any injury that requires surgery and sitting out and coming back is definitely more mental than physical, because you know you can get up and do the physical part,” Hill said. “But the mental thing is tough and it teaches you perseverance and it teaches you patience with yourself. It also lets you know that you can do it. You have a different level of confidence in yourself.”
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