Victoria Vivians is watching and learning as she recovers from her first major injury

The 8th pick in the 2018 draft, who tore her ACL while playing in Israel, feels good about where she’s at in her recovery

Indiana Fever guard Victoria Vivians had never suffered a serious injury during her basketball career. She played every game during her stellar career at Mississippi State. She then played every game during her rookie season in Indiana, where her 65 three-pointers ranked third all-time among WNBA rookies.

Her promising career took a drastic detour during a playoff game in Israel on March 25. Vivians came off a screen, pivoted to catch a pass, then felt her right knee pop twice. She had just suffered the first major injury of her basketball career — a torn ACL.

“If I wanted to get hurt, it was definitely not going be overseas,” Vivians said during halftime of Indiana’s 82-76 loss to New York at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on August 20. “It really sucked, just coming back here and knowing that I wanted to do a lot for Indiana. Coming back here and not being able to play just hurt so bad because my heart and my soul was always for the WNBA. I never dreamed about going overseas, so just getting hurt overseas totally broke my heart.”

Vivians had surgery in Indianapolis, but making the international journey home on a bad knee is not an experience she ever wants to repeat. Vivians was not able to fly until the swelling diminished, which was about a week and a half after the injury. She then had to maneuver her way through airports and sit alone on her commercial flight back to the USA. She flew to her hometown of Carthage, Mississippi, first. After she took care of a few things there with the help of her family, she traveled to Indianapolis for her surgery.

Vivians said her recovery has been full of ups and downs. She’s appreciated all the support from the Fever organization and the enthusiastic manner in which her teammates have welcomed her back to the practice. She says when she has bad days, she focuses on how eager she is to be back on the court. That provides the motivation she needs to keep pushing herself during the long recovery.

“I know I want to play and I know I’m not ready to be done,” Vivians said. “I have my tough days, but I know I want to play. And I know people want me to play and I know people expect me to play. So basketball, in general, keeps me going.”

Vivians says she is feeling good about what she’s able to do at this point of her recovery. She started running at the beginning of August. She is running in straight lines, but not yet cutting or doing any defensive drills. She has also been working on starting and stopping while running, regaining foot speed, and stretching.

She has also been participating in shooting drills. Vivians has not lost any confidence in her shooting ability.

“Oh, my shot is fine! It never left,” Vivians said.

Fever coach Pokey Chatman says the work that Vivians had been putting in for years has helped her recovery.

“She walked in the draft room on draft day (April 10) and she said, ‘Look at me! I’m not injured. I think they got it wrong on the MRI,’ because she looked so good and her swelling was down,” Chatman said before Indiana’s game on August 20. “Then you get to the next phase of that, her surgery goes well, she’s ahead of schedule in terms of her strength and her flexion in her knee. Then (a few weeks ago) she’s running in a straight line. So that speaks to her being in shape prior to her attacking the rehabilitation and her desire to get back.”

Vivians made 281 three-pointers at Mississippi State, which was second in school history when she graduated. She continued showing off her shooting ability in the WNBA last season by shooting 39.9% from behind the arc while averaging 8.9 points per game. She was expected to be a vital part of the Fever’s efforts to rebuild after last year’s 6-28 season.

Vivians, who said it’s a “great possibility” that she will play overseas sometime after the 2019 WNBA season, is still expected to be a vital part of the Fever’s rotation in 2020 as the franchise continues to rebuild. This season, she’s sat under the basket next to the team’s bench at several Fever home games. She’s not on the official team roster, as her contract has been suspended for this season, which means she has not been able to sit on the team’s bench. Since the Fever knew Vivians would miss the entire 2019 season, they did this so they could sign a 12th player.

Vivians and the team are looking forward to having her back on the roster in 2020, especially with all that Vivians has learned this year by watching.

“I’ve learned a lot just sitting back and watching the game of basketball,” Vivians said. “You learn a lot just sitting here watching your teammates and watching the other teams play. So I’m learning a lot from the whole WNBA. I can probably tell you what everybody’s doing and what they’re going to do … I’m not saying I wanted the injury to happen, but I’ve learned a lot more about basketball just by watching.”

KANSAS CITY, MO – MARCH 25: UCLA Bruins guard Kennedy Burke (22) moves past the defense of Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs guard Victoria Vivians (35) for a layup during the NCAA Division I Women’s quarter final game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the UCLA Bruins on Sunday March 25, 2018 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While Vivians is impressed at the improvement her team has shown this year compared to last season, she said it would really help the Fever to get out to better starts. Against the Liberty, Indiana fell behind 30-13 early in the second quarter. They came back to tie the game at 61 in the 4th quarter, but the large deficit was too much to overcome. That continued a trend of games after the All-Star break where the Fever have fallen into an early hole and spent the rest of the game trying to claw back.

Vivians has also enjoyed watching rookie Teaira McCowan become an excellent rebounder and interior defender. Vivians played with McCowan for three seasons at Mississippi State. Even though she hasn’t been on the court, she’s still been there to support and encourage McCowan during her rookie season.

“She’s doing pretty good,” Vivians said about McCowan, who went on to score a career-high 24 points in the game against New York. “She was a little shaky (early in the season) … she was telling me that she was nervous, but as the season has gone on, she keeps doing really good things for us.”

Vivians has also used this time off the court to host a weekend event in her hometown of Carthage. She organized the Victoria Vivians Community Weekend on July 26-27 at Leake Central Junior High School. The weekend included a basketball camp for kids, food, music, and activities. Vivians enjoyed spending a few days interacting with people in her community. She would like to do this again in the future.

If she does this event next summer, she hopes to be talking to people about all the three-pointers she’s making in the WNBA.

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