Dallas Wings forward Glory Johnson has made a remarkable return to the WNBA after giving birth to twin daughters last October. In eight games so far this season, the Tennessee product averages 11.8 points and eight rebounds per game – just short of her 2014 totals.
But though Johnson has returned to form on the court, the news she’s made over the past year has been mostly non-basketball-related.
She made headlines for her turbulent marriage to Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner last year, and her subsequent pregnancy. After the couple split, Johnson gave birth to Ava Simone and Solei Diem three months prematurely, and wasn’t able to bring them home until February. But despite adversity, Johnson managed to get into game shape to make an immediate impact for the Wings earlier this month.
Of course, Johnson is not the first to have children and return to game play, but she is the only one in recent years to fully bounce back from giving birth to twins.
Former WNBA guard Helen Darling returned to play the following season after giving birth to triplets in 2002, but told WNBA.com that she felt like she had lost a lot of speed and quickness. Four-time WNBA Champion Tina Thompson gave birth to her son in 2005, and resumed playing just two months afterwards, but she was a shell of herself on the stat sheet. Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker missed the first eight games of the 2009 season, but ended up leading her team to the Western Conference Finals that season.
Every woman’s recovery is different. A 2012 study conducted by Dr. Julie Wray revealed that is takes a year to physically and emotionally recover from childbirth. At the Wings’ first practice in April, Johnson was flying up and down the court just six months after giving birth. The result of the work she put in during the off-season allowed her to contribute immediately after serving a seven-game suspension for domestic violence charges when with Griner.
But Johnson admitted she began working out too soon.
“I sat out six weeks – well, four weeks,” she said. “I started a little early and I shouldn’t have, because it set me back two weeks.”
She began working out with her high school team, Webb School of Knoxville, until they went to state. She also worked out with the Vols until they were eliminated from the NCAA tournament.
Her work did not stop there. Johnson said she then began to put in work with the guys, fellow Tennessee star Bobby Mays and the men he brought over from overseas, in order to hold build her strength and hold her own in the paint as an undersized post in the WNBA.
“[I was] getting a lot of shots blocked, but at the end of the day I was getting cardio in and getting a little stronger in the paint” Johnson said.
Her first game back was June 8 against the Washington Mystics. She put up 15 points and grabbed five rebounds, which was close to her average from hear last full season two years before. The Wings lost that day, and the two games following, but went on to win four games straight before losing to the Fever this past Saturday night. Johnson recorded three-straight double-doubles during that span, and was two rebounds shy of recording a fourth in the Fever loss.
The Wings are still trying to find their way now that they have all of their pieces available for play. Johnson has started in in the last two games for the Wings, but she is willing to play whatever role is needed for the team to be successful.
“I think we are trying to change things up and see what happens with different people in the lineup,” Johnson said of her last two starts. “I think they are trying to shake things up a little bit. I try to bring a lot of energy.”
Off the court, Johnson is getting help with childcare from her mother and sister, who also take turns accompanying her on Wings road trips. She said caring for twins is a challenge.
“I try to get them on the same time frame, but they never want to eat at the same times,” Johnson said. “They also wear different sizes. I’ve got to get used to it.”
Johnson and the Dallas Wings are in action Tuesday against Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. Pacific/10 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
Sue Favor contributed to this report.