The toughest thing to do in sports is progress in your second year after a successful first season. Many try and hit the wall or the dreaded sophomore slump.
Kia Nurse is in her second season in the toughest women's professional league and is thriving.
Nurse has seen her numbers increase in points, assists and 3-point percentage, all while coming to terms with the added responsibility and pressures of becoming the New York Liberty's second option behind Tina Charles.
|2019 (24 games)||30.4||14.0||2.5||2.0||33.6|
|2018 (34 games)||22.8||9.1||2.4||1.6||29.4|
The transition wasn't made overnight. However, it was all part of a plan that came together in Nurse's very short offseason. After helping the Canberra Capitals of the Australian WNBL win a championship, Nurse came back home and started to prepare for the grind of another WNBA campaign. Among seeing friends, family and making her debut on T.V. in an analyst role, she finally sought out the help of a trainer to help her take the next step.
Nurse reached out to Justin Alliman, founder of Dream Chaserzzz Basketball and one of Canada's well-respected skill development trainers. The two of them went to work on a plan that would help the 23-year-old become a more complete offensive threat.
"When we went to the drawing board in the offseason and I finished playing in Australia," Nurse told NBA.com, " I came home for the three months that I had and I really for the first time worked out with a trainer named Justin Alliman from Dream Chaserzzz.
"He works out of Mississauga and for me it was kind of a new thing - I have never really been with trainers before and I decided that I wanted to really work on the progress in becoming a three-level guard.
"So at the rim, mid-range and 3s. I felt like for most of the season last year one of my biggest deficiencies was my mid-range game. Being able to not only knock down 3s, which was something that I had done in college, and that translated pretty well to the league."
So far the plan has worked out for Nurse. Heading into Friday's game against the Dallas Wings, Nurse has already attempted 60 field goals inside of five feet with 10 games remaining in the season. Last season, she attempted 77 for the entire year.
The threat of her 3-point shooting will always force defences to try and take that away from her. This year she's making more plays like this and making defences pay for overcommitting:
"Figuring out when (the defence) says 'OK, she's a shooter' and then they take that away, what's the next step?" Nurse continued.
"It's getting to the rim and getting to your pull-up so working on finishing around the rim and around taller players and length was something that was really big for us and that we worked a whole lot of in the offseason."
While the work to perfect her game started in the offseason, the work to preserve her body continues throughout the year. It's one thing to say you're going to attack the rim more as a player, but you have to be ready for the pounding that comes with it.
The women in the WNBA don't get much time to rest their bodies in the offseason. (Most of them are playing in leagues overseas). In Nurse's case, she went from her rookie season in the WNBA to Team Canada duties at the FIBA World Cup, then straight into her first season overseas in Australia.
That's a ton of basketball, but Nurse believes she's doing all the right things to ensure that her best ability remains availability.
"It's a process, I think the toughest part about being a professional is that you really do end up playing all year round," Nurse said.
"And it's a matter of how you keep your mind and your body ready to go. It's the work that you put in in the offseason but it's also the maintenance stuff that you have to do throughout the season.
"Even if you don't want to have to go to practice early or be in the training room extra early, it's that little maintenance stuff that has to happen and you have to do it just to make sure that you're OK by the end of the season.
"I think we have 13 games in the month of August, you really have to be ready for the travel. You have to be ready to put your body on the line every single night, and mine has been alright so far."
While there normally isn't much time for rest and relaxation during the WNBA campaign, Nurse had the rare opportunity to reset her battery at this year's All-Star Game in Las Vegas. Nurse was voted as a starter and selected to Team (A'ja) Wilson for the game. It was her first time being recognized as a WNBA All-Star and she became the first Canadian All-Star since Tammy Sutton-Brown in 2007.
🎤 @nyliberty guard and 1st time All-Star @KayNurse11 with the opening remarks at the #WNBA FIT Clinic Presented by @aboutKP pic.twitter.com/SCLCKDeGJw- WNBA (@WNBA) July 26, 2019
"It was really interesting," Nurse said of being a WNBA All-Star. "It was amazing to be in that kind of setting with everybody. We did so many different things, whether it was the minimal on the court stuff we did or a lot of the off the court stuff.
"Being able to do orange carpets and not only be around so many incredible players that are in the league now, but doing clinics with WNBA legends like Sheryl Swoopes and being able to be around all of them, and that was really, really exciting for me as well.
"I just took the time to really try and get to know people who I didn't necessarily play with before or I've never really met, and that was really exciting.
"For me, I've seen and known AJ Wilson from our draft class but to be in the All-Star stuff with her, to have done the off-court stuff, we hung out a lot and I think that was really, really awesome.
"She's a great person, extremely humble, but I just love how much passion she has for the game and how she uses her platform to better us and better it for the next generation."
While the All-Star break was a thrill for Nurse, she now faces the pressure of helping the Liberty get back to the postseason. New York finds itself battling for the eighth and final playoff spot alongside a handful of teams.
With just 10 games remaining in the 34-game season, the sense of urgency is at an all-time high. Every game is being looked at as must-win as the Liberty can't afford to slip up.
Nurse believes her team has the talent. They just need to go out and prove it.
"Every single game really has to be played like a playoff game. The further you get within the season the more emphasis it becomes on making sure you're trying to get some wins under your belt.
"This season especially, there's been a ton of parity. Obviously, with all the teams outside of the top three or four, we're all kind of in that mix and we play each other constantly night in and night out.
"I think it's just a matter of making sure that every single game we go out we play like it's our last one and making sure that we're trying our hardest to get to the playoffs right now.
"It's a really tough week to do that in but it's continuing each and every single day to execute play to the best of our ability. I think throughout the season we've shown we can play with anybody in this league. It's just finishing out games for us."
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