Last year, with her teammates on an up-and-down journey that would end in the WNBA Finals, Brooke Wyckoff was the only member of the Connecticut Sun able to show her fashion sense -- hardly consolation for a lost season.
Night in, night out, she occupied a seat at the end of the bench, a torn ACL keeping her in street clothes. She clapped. She yelled. At times she jumped -- very gingerly.
``Cheerleader,'' Wyckoff said this week. ``Some role, huh?''
Back on the court -- and 100 percent, she says -- Wyckoff was wearing a red practice jersey at Connecticut College Tuesday, running the break as she had in the Sun's run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2003, a season that sprung her from fringe player to Sun stalwart.
With so many new faces and so much success in 2004, it's easy to forget the role Wyckoff played a year earlier, doing a little bit of everything to displace Rebecca Lobo as a starter and become one of coach Mike Thibault's most dependable and versatile post players. She could shoot, keep up with guards and, most important, defend.
By the end of the 2003 season, Wyckoff (6 feet 1) was consistently stifling the likes of Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings and hitting the three-pointer that served as the dagger in the Sun's two-game sweep of Charlotte in the opening round of the playoffs.
But any momentum she carried into last season came crashing down on a drive to the basket the first week of training camp. Her right knee contorted. The ligament tear was revealed a day later. Surgery followed three days later. Last season was spent in rehab, working with trainers on the most basic functions and eventually rejoining the Sun for practices toward the end of the season.
Wyckoff, 25, played all 102 games her first three years. That her teammates came within one victory of the WNBA title made sitting out barely tolerable.
``In retrospect, it feels like it went by like that,'' Wyckoff said as she snapped her fingers. ``But there were definitely days where it was tough, painful and boring. It doesn't seem like it was all that tough looking back now. How could you not enjoy watching what they did last year? But at the same time, of course, I would have rather been on the court.''
When Asjha Jones was acquired last year, Wyckoff was set to play more small forward than power forward. This year, she'll do both, likely joining Jones off the bench in support of Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the former center who has moved to power forward with the acquisition of 7-2 Margo Dydek.
But Wyckoff's role won't necessarily be of a secondary nature.
``She's going to be the sixth man extraordinaire,'' Thibault said. ``Any time you sit and watch that long it does a couple of things. It makes you more hungry. It makes you appreciate what you have. I think it also allows you to have a sincere appreciation for the way the game is played. And it helps to see the game through a different set of eyes. [She saw] the same game I see.''
After two relatively nondescript years with Orlando, Wyckoff, who played at Florida State, set or tied career highs in nine categories in 2003 after the team moved to Connecticut, averaging 4.6 points, and gained further respect of teammates.
``Brooke is so versatile,'' said Nykesha Sales, who tore an Achilles' tendon as a senior at UConn. ``She can take minutes everywhere, add a lot, too. Just wanting to get out there is tough. But she had to take her break. She's back, in great shape, and she's as confident as she can be. Coming off an injury, you have to have that confidence. You can't hesitate, and that's the hardest part.''
Wyckoff, who completed her rehab playing a fourth consecutive off-season in Spain, is competing without hesitation. She said she occasionally wakes up at night fearing another injury, but the thought does not occur to her on the court.
Many of her Sun teammates -- six joined the team last year -- are relatively unaware of her worth.
``We're learning quickly,'' second-year point guard Lindsay Whalen said. ``I see it already.''
Thibault is aware.
``Every time we needed to stop someone on the front line [in 2003], it was either her or Taj I pointed to,'' he said. ``One of the things I kid her about is that the reason we didn't win the whole thing last year is because we were waiting for her.''Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times