Jessica Adair laced up her sneakers in the visitors’ locker room at the Verizon Center on Aug. 18, but the setting still felt like home.
The D.C.-native and former Colonial was suiting up with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, preparing to face off against the Washington Mystics.
Adair’s shed 70 pounds since the 6-foot-4-inch center led GW to back-to-back Sweet 16’s in 2007 and 2008, and she’s resurrected her career with the Lynx. Now a key reserve player for a team that waltzed through the regular season, locking up a playoff berth, Adair, 24, has transformed from a WNBA cast-off to an asset.
The Anacostia High graduate was a surefire pro prospect after averaging 12.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game across her four-year span as a member of the formidable Colonials. In 2009, the Phoenix Mercury rewarded her performance, drafting her 34th overall, and it seemed as if all the pieces were falling into place. But her life-long dream of WNBA stardom was temporarily dashed when Adair found herself without a spot on the Mercury’s roster, waived by the team soon after being drafted.
“I wanted to play professionally, but in order to play at this level, you have to take care of your body better. I wasn’t eating right,” Adair said. “It made me give up on the thought of playing basketball.”
So she returned home to work for the non-profit Peaceaholics, which looks to give youth in crime-ridden areas of D.C. the opportunity to write their own comeback stories. Adair found the work rewarding, she said, but ached to return to basketball.
“After being an athlete for so long, a regular nine to five just isn’t what you’re looking for,” Adair said.
An invitation to the Lynx’s training camp in 2010 gave Adair hope for a potential return to the court. Despite being cut in the preseason, she stayed in shape, working hard to eventually earn a recall for the Lynx’s final game last season, in which she scored five points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Adair had no time for celebration. She still lacked a secure roster spot for the next year, and needed to prove herself to Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, who spent five years as an assistant coach at GW in the 1990s. So Adair headed overseas, honing her skills in the Turkish Women’s Basketball League.
“After the first couple of games there, getting pushed around made me realize I needed to change some things,” she said. “I stopped eating red meat, and cut out pork and white bread products. I’m a big sweet eater so there was no more apple pie.”
Her slimmer frame made a significant difference. Lighter on her feet, Adair now glides across the court and around the basket. The combination of her marked improvement in fitness level, as well as stellar play in Turkey, where she averaged a double-double, convinced the Lynx to make her a permanent fixture on their roster.
“She looks a lot different than when she was [at GW],” Reeve said. “She’s faster, more agile. She’ll tell you that her game hasn’t caught up to her body yet, that she’s still almost too fast in the way that she approaches things now.”
Adair admits that her game still has holes – she is averaging 8.4 minutes a game – but Reeve still counts on her to deliver off the bench. She’s averaging 1.9 rebounds and 3.5 points for the Western Conference-leading Lynx.
In her homecoming game last Thursday, Adair admitted to “crazy nerves” before taking the court for her first professional game in front of friends and family, including twin sister Jazmine Adair, who joined her sister on the court for GW.
Adair checked into the game for the first time midway through the second quarter, her team working to pull away from the nagging Mystics. The Lynx looked to the center to provide a key play, but after a lay-up and two blocks, her jump shot sailed wide left for an air ball. Shaking off her nerves one minute later, Adair’s rebound and putback layup extended the Lynx lead, eventually beating the Washington Mystics 81-62.
Adair may not have executed the play as it was drawn up, but she scored nonetheless.