Hightower ready to go for Sun after two-year absence

Mohegan — The last three years of Allison Hightower's life, as told by her:

“Let’s see,” Hightower said with a grin. “Surgery. Rehab. Surgery. Rehab. Surgery. Rehab. That’s been my last three years pretty much.”

Hightower isn’t exaggerating, as the Connecticut Sun guard has played a mere 35 games since 2013 due to injuries. She’s missed the last two WNBA seasons to knee injuries and surgeries.

Hightower is back with the Sun, working herself back into basketball shape at training camp and hoping to get back to her old self.

“It’s just a blessing, honestly, to be back here, and I’m feeling really good,” Hightower said. “I know that I’m going to have to work my way back into things. I know that it’s not going to come overnight, but I like how I feel.”

Hightower had become one of the league’s better young players after being drafted 15th overall (second round) in 2010. She was a 2013 All-Star, just one of 18 players in the league’s 20-year history selected to play in the game who were taken later than 12th in the collegiate draft.

And then came the injuries. She missed the last 13 games of 2013 due to a strained right knee injury. An arthroscopic debridement procedure on her left knee cost her 20 games in 2014.

Oh, there’s more. Hightower missed all of 2015 after arthroscopic right knee surgery in March of that year. She couldn’t play last season because she had microfracture surgery on her left knee.

“It definitely wears on you mentally and physically,” Hightower said. “There were a few times where I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t know if I can do this again,' start over.

“I felt that my body could get back to what it was as long as I got my knee back. And I had a lot of people behind me cheering me on and keeping me encouraged and that helped a lot along the way. You have to have a good support system to be able to make it.”

Hightower played a few games in Israel this offseason but stopped because she didn’t feel right and didn’t want to jeopardize missing another WNBA season.

“The thing when you come back from injuries is you haven't been forced to play when you're tired," Sun general manager and head coach Curt Miller said. "You haven’t been forced to play when you wake up sore.

“The thing now for her is to figure out through this training camp is what is soreness and what is injury-pain. ‘When can I keep pushing through, and when do I need to listen to my body and take some practice off?’ … Her biggest adjustment is her durability over the course of a season."

A lesser challenge for Hightower will be getting acclimated to her teammates. Her only teammates left from 2014 are Alex Bentley, Kelly Faris, Kayla Pedersen and Alyssa Thomas (Chiney Ogwumike, who won WNBA Rookie of the Year honors that season, is out this season after Achilles surgery).

The other eight players from that 2014 team are gone, a testament to how tumultuous things have been in Connecticut the previous four seasons.

“It’s kind of surreal for me that I’m back here,” Hightower said. “It’s basically a whole new team. We’re young (as a team). To see that I’m the oldest now (29) is just crazy to me.”

Notes

The Sun are (already) dealing with physical issues. Forward Morgan Tuck had a minor procedure to remove debris from her knee on April 12. Guard Alex Bentley wore a walking boot on her right foot at Tuesday’s practice after tweaking it back home in Indianapolis prior to camp. Neither issue is considered dire. “(Tuck) is way, way ahead of schedule,” Miller said. “Were going to be cautious with (Bentley). She did some shooting earlier in the day without the walking boot on. We’re cautiously optimistic, as with all our rehab warriors, that she’ll get back sooner than later."

Connecticut has 15 players in camp: guards Rachel Banham, Jessica January (rookie), Shekinna Stricklen, Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Williams, Bentley, Faris and Hightower, forwards Shayla Cooper (rookie), Reshanda Gray, Alyssa Thomas and Morgan Tuck and posts Jen Hamson, Jonquell Jones and Brionna Jones (rookie). Posts Danielle Adams, Lynetta Kizer and Kayla Pedersen will arrive later after finishing their overseas commitments. Teams may only carry up to 15 players in training camp and 12 during the season.

The Sun will have a two-hour live stream as part of Wednesday afternoon's media day starting at 1:30 p.m. Bob Heussler and Deb Fiske will host and the broadcast may be watched at https://www.youtube.com/user/ConnecticutSun.

n.griffen@theday.com

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