There was a time not too long ago when Mystics forward Theresa Plaisance wondered if her career as a competitive basketball player was coming to a close. Hampered by persistent knee and back injuries, she wondered if her body could take any more. Once one of the most promising young centers in the league, injury virtually sidelined 6’5” Plaisance in the Bubble and threatened to take away her future, too. But at the start of the 2021 WNBA season, Plaisance shocked the basketball world, recording her first start since 2019 and turning in nine points, seven rebounds, one assist, two blocks, and two steals in the Mystic’s defeat—showing us all that Plaisance isn’t just back, but that she is better than ever. And with Elena Delle Donne out with injury, this New-Look Plaisance could be the secret weapon the Mystics are looking for.
EARLY DAYS: Growth Spurt and Versatile Skillset Put Plaisance on the Map
Though she is the daughter of Nicholls State head coach DoBee Plaisance, basketball wasn’t forced on Louisiana native Theresa Plaisance as a child. “My parents were very adamant about allowing us to choose what we wanted to do,” Plaisance explained, “As a kid, we were put into everything, from pottery to choir, to soccer, to swimming, I was also the quarterback on my flag football team, I did everything. I ended up falling in love with basketball, and my mom was very appreciative of that—but it was my choice to choose basketball—I loved to work at it—I loved the relationships you make while playing the game.”
“As a kid, I was never the tallest,” Plaisance noted, “I was slightly above average, and when I went to the doctor for a checkup when I was around seven or eight, we walked into the office and my projection chart said I was only going to be 5’11”. My mom went into a panic, like, ‘oh my gosh I have a point guard, we are going to have to work on guard skills!’”
And from then on, Plaisance started to develop her three-point game and ball handling skills, assets of her game that still help separate her from other posts. To everyone’s surprise, Plaisance eventually underwent a major growth spurt. After leaving home in the eighth grade in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Plaisance returned home six inches taller just six months later.
With her newfound height and frame, Plaisance made a splash on the international scene in high school, landing a spot on the 2010 USA Women’s U18 National Team. Plaisance averaged 7.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while bringing home the gold alongside teammates like Diamond DeShields, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kayla McBride and Chiney Ogwumike. “I honestly didn’t understand the caliber of player I was at the time … it was my first time playing with players from outside of the area other than AAU … being able to represent your country at such a young age, I took it very seriously and took it as quite the honor.”
Plaisance’s size and skill fielded interest from several of the nation’s top programs, eventually deciding on hometown LSU over finalists DePaul, Notre Dame, Purdue, Oklahoma and Auburn. While at LSU, Plaisance saw minimal time as an underclassman before exploding onto the scene her junior year. She went from averaging 4.5 points as a sophomore to an SEC best 17.0 as a junior, becoming the first LSU player to lead the SEC in scoring since Seimone Augustus.
WNBA BEGINNING: From Third Round Pick to Starter
After a successful senior season, Plaisance was selected by the Tulsa Shock with the 27th overall pick of the 2014 WNBA Draft. Plaisance became one of the few third-round picks to stick in the league, working her way up the Tulsa ranks. She averaged 4.7 minutes per game as a rookie, then improved to 8.2 in her second year with the Shock. Plaisance started to become featured more prominently in the lineup when Tulsa moved to Dallas, averaging 11.9 minutes per game and shooting a career best 39.8 percent from the floor. She enjoyed her most successful WNBA season in 2017, becoming the Wings’ starting center and tallying career bests in minutes per game (20.3), points per game (7.7), rebounds per game (4.3), steals per game (.7), and blocks per game (.7).
One of the most promising and versatile young bigs in the league, Plaisance suffered a torn ACL shortly after her breakthrough 2017 WNBA season while playing overseas in Poland. Plaisance immediately had surgery and signed a three-year deal with the Wings. Still in recovery for a majority of the 2018 season, Plaisance returned sparingly and earned some minutes during the last seven games of the Wings’ season. During the 2019 season, Plaisance was traded from Dallas to CT, going from averaging 17.1 to 7.1 minutes per game while working her way into a new Connecticut system.
INJURY: Back Injury Sidelines Plaisance
It was in Connecticut where Plaisance’s back issues started. Unsuspecting enough, one day while sitting on the bench, Plaisance noticed that she was slowly losing feeling in her leg. With her focus set on the WNBA Finals, Plaisance pushed through and began feeling her leg again after going on a steroid, a Medrol dose pack. Little did Plaisance know that this numbness was a sign of something to come months later.
At the conclusion of the 2019 WNBA season, Plaisance traveled to China to play in the offseason. Shortly after arriving, she contracted what was believed to be COVID, which was a “terrible experience.” Plaisance returned home when the Chinese league went on break, only to learn that she could not return when the travel ban kicked in.
This meant that, for the time, Plaisance had something new—free time. For the first time in years, she was able to simply rest—she didn’t have a team to play for until the WNBA started back up, and could finally spend time relaxing with friends and family.
The respite was short lived, though, as one morning Plaisance woke up once again unable to feel her leg. “Nothing happened, I wasn’t training, I wasn’t doing anything crazy, I just woke up and couldn’t feel my leg,” Plaisance explained.
Worried that the injury was more severe than previously presumed, Plaisance headed to the hospital. An MRI revealed that the issue really was her back, not her leg, and she immediately prepped for surgery.
The difficult procedure left Plaisance with an even more arduous path to recovery as for the next two weeks she was only allowed to lay down or stand up and couldn’t pick up anything heavier than a dinner plate. Her recovery took a downturn four days post surgery when she returned to the hospital and learned that she had developed a serious infection.
“I was rushed to the hospital, and the doctors saw that the infection was extremely close to my spinal canal,” explained Plaisance. “They were very concerned that if the infection were to get in my spinal canal then it would travel to my brain and I would get a brain infection. So I got on the surgery table that day, had surgery, and had to wait another two weeks of doing absolutely nothing beside laying down or standing up.”
After recovering at home, a still banged up Plaisance headed to meet with Connecticut’s doctors to see if she was fit to play during the 2020 season. The team agreed that Plaisance was able to play as long as she continued her physical therapy at the Bubble. But upon arrival, Plaisance quickly learned that the Bubble was not equipped to properly facilitate her PT. Even though it was difficult, Plaisance stayed in the Bubble, playing professional basketball while working to recover from one of the most severe injuries.
RECOVERY: With the Help of Many, Plaisance Fights Back
Plaisance finished the 2020 Bubble season with Connecticut but knew that her body was not where she needed it to be. So she returned home to Louisiana and immediately entered a physical therapy program with the goal of regaining her functions.
“After the Bubble I started working out with Tulane Sports Medicine back at home in New Orleans—I was in PT from late October until March. At the start I was focusing on trying to get back on my feet and be pain-free—focusing on walking around and not much of doing anything else. Just really anything was causing pain—sitting, standing, walking, sneezing, laughing, you name it, it hurt.”
In addition to the physical pain, recovering from a back injury can be emotionally and mentally grueling. “It was a very emotionally frustrating process,” Plaisance noted. ”The back is really fragile—and there are so many different variables that can affect your back. It is really hard to cancel out when you are feeling pain, or when you have tingling going down your legs and you can’t feel your toes, or when you can’t feel your heel and you don’t know why. You don’t know if it is the position that you’re sitting in—you don’t know if it’s the activity you’re doing, so it is really hard to figure out what is making the pain happen and how to make it subside.”
The pain was so extreme that at one point Plaisance had to put a mattress in her living room because sitting on the couch was impossible. This was while Plaisance was going to PT five times a week followed byweightlifting and strength training to put her body in the best position possible. Upon returning home, she’d land on her mattress, then wake up and get back to work the next morning.
“There were times where I was contemplating if I would have to retire medically due to the fact that I couldn’t walk or stand without pain,” Plaisance explained. “It was frustrating because as an athlete it is really hard to be injured. It is a very lonely process that you go through by yourself.”
“I play team sports, so I really love being around my team, and having teammates, and having the camaraderie and having team goals—that’s what I really love to do. So having recovery be by myself…it was a very slow process, and mentally it was very challenging at times to stick with it. But I am so happy that I did, because there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I am doing so much better now.”
And though her teammates weren’t by her side, Plaisance became a part of a new team—the team of people helping her recover. From physical therapists to strength coaches and doctors, there is a list of 20 or so people that put themselves on the line for Plaisance. Like her younger brother, Scott, who woke up at 2:00 a.m. to ready and insert her IV (one of three IV bags she was taking daily), the trainers that were getting her out to the gym at 5:00 a.m. due to COVID-19 protocols, and her parents, who from time to time had to basically wait on her hand and foot—an entire community of supporters stepped up, working outside of their normal work hours to help Plaisance.
“To all of the people that played a part in my recovery, I am forever grateful for them because I wouldn’t be able to step on the floor if it wasn’t for the people that stepped up big for me. I did not do this by myself, and I am really grateful for everyone that helped me along the way.”
NOW: Healthy Plaisance is an Asset to Deep Mystics Team
And 2021’s healthy Plaisance certainly hasn’t disappointed her supporters back at home.
It had been 615 days since Plaisance’s last start, a five point three rebound performance against the Aces. But after 615 days, Plaisance once again heard her name called in the starting lineup, taking the court with confidence. At this point in the season, Plaisance has improved her game bests for points (seven in CT, 11 in the Mystic’s win over the Sparks) and in just nine appearances has recorded more rebounds (30 vs. 13), assists (six vs. one), blocks (eight vs. three), and steals (eight vs. five) than she did in her 13 games last season. And after moving to the bench, Plaisance has shown that she remains productive, tallying 11 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and four blocks in 14 minutes off the bench against the Sparks on June 10. In a strong post lineup featuring talented bigs like Tina Charles, Myisha Hines-Allen and Erica McCall, Plaisance presents a versatile veteran option able to contribute across the stat sheet.
And now she appreciates the game even more:
“To come out through two back surgeries, and struggle through the Bubble, and struggle through some of the offseason trying to get healthy—I’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of time to have this moment and I just feel really proud to be able to step on the court, with a healthy body and be able to contribute and to help this team out. This is a really great organization, and I think today is just the beginning of something really good.”
“To see where I was through the Bubble, to see where I was even in December, I couldn’t even like sit down at times—I was either laying down or standing up, I was in a ton of pain. And to be able to get on the court, and be able to get in a defensive stance, and run up and down and stride without any pain is something that was my goal. And to be able to do it at a high level, and for the Washington Mystics, is something that is extremely special for me, because at times I didn’t think that I would be able to do it again. And I really appreciate everyone that took the time to help me out, helped me get my body right to this point, and I think that I want to just continue to grow and become more secure in my new frame. I want to be more secure in how I’m feeling and just grow off of that.”
When asked what advice she would give to other players going through injury, Plaisance preached the importance of patience and understanding: “Patience is a virtue—it is a frustrating process especially when you think that your own body is failing you. So being able to keep a relaxed mental state and understand that everything is a process, and that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and just understand that day by day even if you feel like you took a step back one day, or that the pain was excruciating, there is tomorrow. Continuing to stay confident in your process is very important.”
Thankful to still play the game she loves, a confident, healthy Plaisance will only continue to positively impact the Mystics organization.