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Alyssa Thomas dribbles the ball down the court.
Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

  • Alyssa Thomas is the WNBA triple-double queen and a leading candidate for the 2023 MVP award.
  • She has been among the league’s best players despite competing with a torn labrum in both shoulders.
  • The Connecticut Sun star told Insider how he handled injuries, including changing shooting hands.

There’s something you should know about Alyssa Thomas, the WNBA superstar who is a leading candidate to win this year’s MVP award: She absolutely hates talking about herself.

So in the rare moments when he breaks his self-imposed ban on talking about his own accomplishments, like after he recorded his sixth triple-double of the 2023 season last week, fans know he means every word.

“I mean, I’m doing something that’s never been done before in the league.” Thomas said after dropping 27 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists against the Los Angeles Sparks on September 5. “And I’m making it look easy. There’s no way triple-doubles are easy.”

Thomas handles the ball for the Connecticut Sun.
Photo AP/AJ Mast

“I come here every night and flirt with a triple-double,” he added.

But in typical Thomas fashion, the 31-year-old Connecticut Sun star neglected to brag about what is arguably the most astonishing aspect of his dominance: He managed to rebuild a statistically record-breaking season, leading his team to the top seed in the playoffs, while playing. a couple of debilitating injuries.

Thomas has played with shoulder injuries for 9 seasons.

The 6-foot-2 star has been dealing with shoulder issues since 2015, when she first injured her right shoulder and missed 10 games of her second WNBA season. She injured the other side while competing overseas before the 2017 WNBA season, re-injured her right shoulder the following year and then dislocated that same side while in Bradenton, Florida, for the league’s 2020 season. in the “Wubble”.

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint; At the end of the humerus, which extends from the elbow to the shoulder, there is a ball that sits in the socket of the scapula or shoulder blade. The labrum is the cartilage that lines the socket and is responsible for helping the ball move smoothly without slipping or dislocating.

When the labrum is intact and the joint functions as it should, the arm can move out, up, and around without any obstacles. But with labral tears, shoulder movement can cause pain, impingement, limited range of motion, and instability. In many cases, people with a torn labrum are also more susceptible to shoulder dislocation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

This is a problem for any basketball player. From rebounding and shooting to diving for loose balls, almost every aspect of the game can be affected by a single torn labrum.

Now multiply those struggles by two and consider the level of play required to compete in the biggest women’s basketball league on the planet. That’s Thomas’ reality, and he has been for the better part of a decade.

Thomas grabs her shoulder during a 2015 game.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Thomas likely tore his labrum with the first shoulder injury in 2015 and each subsequent incident has only worsened the damage. The initial injury to his left shoulder, which affected Thomas’ shooting hand, was serious enough to disrupt his performance on the court.

She has pushed through the pain and discomfort year after year, playing a full season in the WNBA before heading overseas to compete for a second team each winter. The star who does it all, who is listed as a forward even though she, in reality, plays a central role, she attributes that resilience and toughness to the way she was raised.

“My mom was always tough. When we fell down, she would just ‘get up’ and ‘you’re okay,'” Thomas told Insider. “So I think it really started there. And as I’ve progressed in my career, I know when I can go and when I can’t.”

The 31-year-old has relied on strength training and rehabilitation to stay on the court.

Despite his considerable injuries, Thomas has done everything he can to stay on the court and play at the highest level possible.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Many people who tear their labrum choose to treat the injury with surgery. But Thomas has no plans to go that route; He refuses to miss any time on the court and insists that he “has adapted my game to fit this style now.”

Part of that adaptation, he told Insider, involves incorporating “a lot of strength training” into his routine. In addition to ongoing rehabilitation, Thomas says it’s crucial to focus on developing “all the muscles around the shoulder—the biceps, the back muscles, all that”—to help maximize support for injured shoulder joints.

“I do a lot of activation exercises and a lot of strength training, especially in the off-season,” he told Insider. “That’s where I tend to lift the most weight. When I get to the WNBA, it’s about keeping up and being smart.”

Thomas changed his shooting hand to mitigate the limits of his injuries.

Thomas throws the ball during pregame warmups.
Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Simply messing around with the shot is considered dangerous territory for many high-level basketball players. But changing your shooting hand completely? That is practically unthinkable.

But not for Thomas, who has proven time and time again that he will do whatever it takes (even what seems impossible) to maximize his impact on the court.

Although the four-time WNBA All-Star told Insider she’s “always been ambidextrous,” she has shot exclusively with her left hand since her early days playing basketball. She was the dominant left hand on the court during her collegiate career with the Maryland Terrapins and during her first four years in the WNBA.

Thomas used her left hand to shoot throughout college and her early days in the WNBA.
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

But in 2018, while playing in Korea, he recognized that his limited range of motion in his left arm was becoming an impediment to his shot.

So she just… changed hands.

“It got to a point where it didn’t really work with my left hand,” Thomas told Insider. “One day I was playing with it and thought, ‘You know what? I think I’ve discovered something here.’ I just kept working on it little by little.”

After a lot of practice for a year and a few changes, Thomas said she really started to feel comfortable with the change. She noted that learning to use both hands while she finished at the rim helped “make the transition a little easier for me.”

The final product looks less like the traditional gooseneck shape associated with elite shooters than a one-handed “raising the roof” motion that launches the ball skyward. But it doesn’t have to be pretty, as long as it does its job.

At this point, even if she had surgery to correct the root of the problem, Thomas isn’t convinced she would even remember how to “shoot normally.”

“So I think I’m going to continue as long as I can,” he said.

Thomas is the first to admit that he “has had a lot of tough shootouts over the years.” However, for the most part, his free throw and field goal percentages have increased since he changed hands.

The hardest part of the conversion, he said, was cementing “the muscle memory of it all.”

“I really had to train my body after filming for about 20 years to change the hand and the shape completely,” Thomas told Insider. “I finally made it and right now I’m happy where it is.”

Despite everything, the four-time All-Star has made WNBA history this season

Even with her injuries, Thomas has enjoyed a historic campaign in 2023. She was already the WNBA’s all-time triple-double leader entering the season, but she took those stat-boosting efforts to a new level this year. .

Photo AP/LM Otero

Thomas’ six triple-doubles in 2023 represent a whopping 20% ​​of the league’s. all the time triple-doubles. Combined with her four games with double-digit points, rebounds and assists from past seasons, Thomas is now responsible for one in every three triple-doubles ever recorded in WNBA history.

He finished the 2023 regular season with 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, just 0.1 rebounds and 2.1 dimes per game shy of a triple-double average in the anus. No WNBA player has ever come close to such a feat.

Thomas was not only informally crowned the league’s triple-double queen, but she also led the league in several important statistical categories. She ranked first in total rebounds, total assists and rebounds per game, finished second in dishes per game and recorded third in steals per game.

Perhaps most importantly, Thomas’s remarkable performance helped save a Connecticut Sun season that could easily have gone awry. Just a month into the 2023 campaign, Stephanie White’s team lost star Brionna Jones to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Photo AP/AJ Mast

Thomas filled the gaps on both sides of the ball and in virtually every role a team could need. He distributed the rock, blocked opponents, fought for boards and loose balls, and finished off traffic with consistency.

In other words, she did it all.

“I’m the type of person who wants to impact the game in a lot of different ways,” Thomas told Insider. “I’ve always flirted with the triple-double and this year I really went to a different level.”

“I’m just proud of the fact that I’m able to impact the game the way I’ve been doing so far,” she said.

Thomas and the third-seeded Sun face the Minnesota Lynx in the first round of this year’s WNBA playoffs. The do-it-all superstar will find out if she receives her first career MVP award on September 26.

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