Former UConn star Moriah Jefferson looking to reassert herself after series of injuries

Moriah Jefferson has never quite fulfilled her potential because of a series of injuries, but she’s hoping that changes this summer.

“I’m going extremely hard, working out constantly every day, just trying to get better every day,” Jefferson, the former UConn standout, said last week. “It’s not easy, but I know God has a plan for me so I’m going to keep following that plan as long as I can.”

Jefferson, the No. 2 pick of the 2016 WNBA Draft, has played in just 48 games over the past five years, including missing all of 2019 to rehab an injury to her right knee.

Still only 27, Jefferson’s now in her third season with the Dallas Wings. Jefferson started the first two games, but did not play in Monday’s loss to New York. The 5-foot-6 point guard wasn’t listed on the pregame injury report, and her absence was later designated as a DNP-coach’s decision.

Dallas head coach Vickie Johnson said last week that she still sees potential in Jefferson. She was an assistant under Bill Laimbeer when the San Antonio Stars (now known as the Las Vegas Aces) drafted Jefferson out of UConn, where she had won four straight NCAA titles and twice received the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation’s best point guard. Jefferson — who was drafted between UConn teammates Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck — still holds the program’s all-time assists record with 659 and is second in steals with 353.

“Before Moriah Jefferson’s injuries, Moriah Jefferson was one of the best guards in this league,” Johnson said. “She would’ve been the starting PG for the (U.S.) national team. We can’t take that away from Moriah Jefferson. She won four championships with Stewart at Connecticut. It’s not that she’s not capable, she’s just unfortunately had two major injuries and now she’s fighting back. But she can still play in this league. I still have confidence in her.”

“I think by the end of the Olympics in August,” Johnson added, “you’ll see the true Moriah Jefferson.”

Jefferson started all 34 games in her first season with the Stars, averaging 13.9 points, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals. She made the WNBA’s All-Rookie Team and finished second to Stewart in Rookie of the Year voting.

Then came the injuries. A right knee issue cost Jefferson 13 games in 2017 and the first 17 in 2018. She came off the bench upon her return for Las Vegas, averaging 5.4 points and 15.7 minutes.

The following offseason, Jefferson was traded as part of a package to Dallas for All-Star center Liz Cambage. Jefferson then sat out the 2019 campaign to continue rehabbing. Jefferson missed another 13 games in 2020 because of an injury to her left knee.

“It’s never easy to have injury after injury back-to-back like I’ve had,” Jefferson said. “But I’ve put in the work every day. It’s just a grind to do it every single day. We had training camp for about three weeks, so I felt good getting my feet under me. Coach VJ has a lot of confidence in me so I have a lot of confidence in myself as well.”

Jefferson split time with Tyasha Harris in her first two appearances, averaging 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 23.5 minutes. But Harris, a first-rounder in 2020, received the bulk of playing time against the Liberty. Harris had eight points and seven assists in 33 minutes.

Dallas’ leading scorer, shooting guard Allisha Gray, is currently away from the team to participate in U.S. 3-on-3 Olympic qualifying.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour