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Wall's recovery: The story behind the Wizards' painstakingly detailed process

Wall's recovery: The story behind the Wizards' painstakingly detailed process

This week is Wall Week at NBC Sports Washington. We are rolling out content each day centering around the Wizards' five-time All-Star point guard. Today, we examine how the Wizards are closely monitoring his rehab from a ruptured left Achilles...

With $170 million committed to John Wall over the next four years, the Washington Wizards will do everything they can to make sure they get his rehab from a ruptured Achilles right. The future of their franchise depends on it.

So, in order to certify that things are going well, there is a team of people at work. Jesse Phillips, the Wizards' director of player performance and rehabilitation, has spent much of his summer in Miami, FL where Wall makes his offseason home. Steve Smith, the team's senior director of health wellness and performance, flies in to be with Wall Monday through Thursday.

Wizards assistant coach Alex McLean leads Wall through his on-court workouts, which at this point feature only light basketball activities. General manager Tommy Sheppard and head coach Scott Brooks have also made the trek to South Florida to check on Wall. And Dr. Daniel Medina, the Wizards' new chief of athlete care and performance, has been involved, making sure all of those playing a role in Wall's recovery are on the same page. 

Wall also has his own people who are Miami-based. He has a physical trainer, Dr. Brett Fox, who counts many professional athletes as his clients including Wall's former teammate Jeff Green and NFL wide receiver Allen Hurns. And Wall has a personal trainer, Andy Luaces at Core Fitness, who has worked with Green, Hornets point guard Terry Rozier and many college and pro football players who reside in the Miami area.

There are a lot of people working with Wall and monitoring his progress. His rehab is being so closely managed that he joked at a recent charity event: "I feel like I'm in solitary [confinement]."

Keeping tabs on Wall's recovery goes beyond simply having people there to see it. Phillips and Smith prepare reports on Wall's daily progress. Those notes, sometimes paired with video, are sent to top executives in the organization including managing partner Ted Leonsis. 

Leonsis doesn't just skim past them in his email inbox, either.

"I used to start my day reading the Washington Post. Now I start my day reading [and watching] my daily John Wall exercise video," Leonsis said.

Part of the reports include Wall's weight. He weighs in towards the beginning and end of each month to track his progress. 

All of it makes for a painstakingly detailed process. But despite being the subject of all that attention, Wall doesn't mind being micromanaged.

"It’s great for me, to understand that the organization I give my all to and the city I give me all to has my full support and believes I can come back to be the player I am," Wall told NBC Sports Washington. 

"That’s the best-case scenario. I’ve seen guys who have been with organizations that didn’t really stand by those guys. To have Ted and Tommy and all those guys, Coach Brooks, the whole D.C. community or DMV, has my support, it means a lot to me."

"John knows that. We text and talk all the time," Leonsis said. "I think great athletes think that’s fantastic. We care about him."

Wall, who turns 29 next month, is entering his 10th NBA season. He has been around long enough to have undergone several significant injury rehabs. He has made plenty of friends in the league and has heard how other organizations have treated their injured players.

Wall believes the Wizards are doing things right and in part by expressing almost extreme patience. Everyone from Leonsis on down has said that Wall has no defined timeline to return. They will be understanding even if he has to miss all of the 2019-20 season to make a full recovery.

Wall says that patience isn't there in other situations.

"To know they have my back and that I don’t have to rush back, it’s the best [situation] ever," Wall said. "A lot of guys have been in this position and they have to rush back from injuries. I don’t have to do that. I can take my time."

How much time Wall will end up taking seems to be very much up in the air. Leonsis said at a press conference last month said that Wall "probably won't play at all next year." But in order for that to happen, Wall's rehab would stretch to an unusually long amount of time.

The return timeline for a ruptured Achilles is generally 11 to 15 months. The 11-month mark is in January when three months of the season will still remain. He could even take 13 months, one month longer than most players have had in the past, and still return to play 15-20 games.

Missing all of next season would mean Wall waits 20 months following his surgery to return to NBA game action. That is a long time, especially considering Wall is in a precious window of his athletic prime.

But Wall, at least at this point, insists he is in no rush.

"I’m enjoying it. It’s a fun process," he said. "It’s not boring like a lot of people told me it would be. I love the challenge."

What may ultimately be tough to balance is that patience coupled with Wall's competitive drive. When the regular season is in full swing and the Wizards are where they are in the standings, will Wall be willing to stay on the sidelines?

Because as much as Wall says the right things about taking the long view and being understanding if doctors say he should sit out all of next year, he can't help but also issue warnings to his critics, the stuff that suggests he has some urgency to get back in due time.

"I love to hear everybody talking about ‘oh he will never be it again, John Wall is done.’ That motivates me more every day," he said. "I wake up and say ‘I’m going to prove somebody wrong.’"

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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

On a stacked Mystics team, LaToya Sanders knows her role. 

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound wisp of a center is asked to guard far bigger opponents throughout the season and still complement her teammates on the offensive end. It’s a lot to deal with. She does so without complaint. 

Sanders, the most unheralded of Washington’s five starters, did it all on Thursday night in a 103-91 WNBA semifinal win over the Las Vegas Aces at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

She finished with 17 points on a night when WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (14 points, 5 of 15 shooting) struggled given her lofty standards. Sanders also played the kind of defense that left coach Mike Thibault insisting she should have been named WNBA first or second-team All-Defense. 

“My job is probably the easiest on the team,” Sanders laughed. “My job is basically to hit wide-open jumpers and lay-ups. Pretty sure I can do those two things.”

Indeed, she was efficient hitting 7 of 10 shots and all three free throws. Sanders also had to guard Vegas’ 6-8 center Liz Cambage, a big ask given their size difference. Cambage did have 23 points and 10 rebounds, but she only took 11 shots. 

Sanders and her teammates tried to make it as hard as possible for the Aces to get the ball inside for easy baskets in their two wins this week. Washington won Game 1 of the series 97-95 on Tuesday, a game that left Cambage visibly frustrated. She also earned a technical foul in Thursday’s game on a rough play underneath the Vegas basket.  

“When you’re LaToya Sanders and you’re 6-3 and you’re relying on your long arms to guard people, she takes a beating every night,” Thibault said. “She guards Camabge and [Phoenix Mercury center Brittney] Griner and [Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia] Fowles and all those people. And every night she wins a lot of those battles.”

But the really unsung part of Sanders’ game is her mid-range jumper. Thursday she was on when some of her higher-profile teammates like Delle Donne didn’t quite have their shot dropping. 

Sanders had six points in the third quarter as the two teams battled back and forth in a tight game and that set the stage for the decisive run that tilted the game toward the Mystics. She also had a hot start to the night with two baskets in the first quarter. 

“[Sanders is] a really good player. She's just on a team with so many other good players that she doesn't get as many shots,” Vegas guard Kelsey Plum said. “But she plays her role as good as anyone in the league. She's a vet. She rebounds the crap out of the ball. I just think that she does a great job for them. Everyone made us pay."

Thibault referenced a rebound Sanders grabbed in traffic to stifle a Vegas possession when they were trying to get the lead under 10 points in the fourth quarter. Instead, Washington was able to work the clock at the offensive end and score a knockout blow. It’s the little things that matter most when a team is pushing for a championship. The Mystics are one step closer. 

“Cambage is a talent, she’s a big girl,” Sanders said. “I just do what I can to try to make it difficult for her, but she’s going to hit some buckets here and there. I try to dish it out, but not take it.”  

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Mystics take Game 2 and put Aces on brink of elimination

Mystics take Game 2 and put Aces on brink of elimination

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Mystics beat the Las Vegas Aces 103-91 in Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals on Thursday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Before Thursday's game, as she was accepting her second WNBA MVP award, Elena Delle Donne explained how she had learned in the four years since winning her first MVP trophy the importance of making her teammates better. That approach paid off in Game 2, as the Aces' defense swarmed to limit her to just 14 points, well below her 19.5-point average, and to 33.3 percent shooting.

Delle Donne made sure she was effective in other ways. She grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and used her length to eliminate passing lanes. Though she wasn't making shots, she created space for others by drawing Las Vegas' tallest defenders to the perimeter.

Delle Donne wasn't the star of the box score, but her approach and execution were pivotal in a Mystics win, one that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead as the five-game series shifts to the desert.

2. What many on the Mystics predicted entering the playoffs has come true through two games that Emma Meesseman would be a major difference-maker after she missed last year's postseason run that ended with a loss in the Finals. After dropping 27 points with 10 rebounds in Game 1, she was back throwing haymakers in Game 2, posting 30 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Meesseman (6-foot-4) isn't nearly as big as Aces center Liz Cambage (6-foot-8), yet she attacked the lane consistently to look for her shot and to set up others. She had a play midway through the second quarter where she spun around Cambage and finished through contact with her right hand for an and-1. It got many fans out of their seats and some emphatic fist pumps from Wizards guard Bradley Beal who was sitting behind the basket.

Meesseman's toughness and craft are perfect for postseason basketball. She can score inside and out and is a disruptive defender despite not being a major rim protector.

3. The Aces' defensive adjustment after Game 1 was clearly to take away the three-point shot. The Mystics made 11 threes on 28 attempts on Tuesday, but by halftime on Thursday had only seven shots and two makes. Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud had a combined two attempts.

Washington missed their first three shots from long range to open the second half before Meesseman got one to fall. The Mystics finished 8-for-20 (40 percent) from the perimeter.

4. Meesseman's contributions were crucial and the same for LaToya Sanders, who played well above her regular season level on offense in Game 2. She had eight points in the first nine minutes of the first quarter, more than her season scoring average (6.1). She had 17 points with six rebounds and two steals by the time it was over.

Sanders' main priority is defense and has been tasked with checking Cambage so far in this series. But she can affects games on offense as well and the Aces paid for forgetting that. They left her open on midrange shots and long twos, banking on her to miss because she rarely even attempts threes. Sanders, though, knocked them down and gave the Mystics an unexpected lift.

5. It was only the second game back for guard Kristi Toliver, who is still sporting a leg brace after missing over a month due to a right knee contusion and MCL strain. Though she has practiced and is now back in-game action, it will naturally take time for her to find a rhythm and to get back into game shape.

In Game 2, she showed some rust by getting into early foul trouble. She picked up her third foul late in the second quarter after just eight minutes of action. That forced head coach Mike Thibault to go deeper into his bench and give Shatori Walker-Kimbrough some playing time. Walker-Kimbrough did not play at all in Game 1.

Toliver was able to get going later on and ended up with 10 points and three assists, including a three late in the third quarter where she turned and cupped her ear to the crowd before it swished through the net.

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