It's weird not seeing big Sylvia Fowles patrolling the paint for the Chicago Sky.
The 6-foot-6 center missed the WNBA season opener against Indiana Friday night at Allstate Arena because she is recovering from hip surgery that repaired a torn labrum she played with last season.
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The always upbeat and optimistic Fowles, who will likely be out a few more weeks, is confident about her future in basketball, even after such a major procedure. She is eager to get back on the floor.
And yet, she is also ready to be more careful and pragmatic, too.
Playing 10 to 12 months at an elite level every year might not be in the cards for the 29-year-old Fowles, now in her seventh WNBA season.
"I'm going to have to slow down," Fowles said.
During the WNBA "offseasons," Fowles, like most players, takes her game overseas, sometimes for six or seven months. That's on top of the four-month WNBA schedule.
Granted, playing in the WNBA is a good summer gig. Most players earn a comfortable yearly salary in just four months of work. Plus, most get the chance to play at home, in front of friends and family.
But because the pay in places such as Russia and China and many European countries is substantially better (close to seven figures for elite players instead of the approximately $100,000 they can make in the WNBA), playing overseas is a good business decision. Especially in a job with a short life span.
Of course, the nonstop grind on their body comes with another kind of price -- major injuries.
They are rampant in the WNBA. Not even the most elite and most physically impressive athlete escapes some kind of significant injury over her career.
Besides her hip injury, Fowles has had two knee injuries and a foot injury since she turned pro.
"I've basically been playing three nonstop seasons, with the WNBA, USA Basketball and overseas," said Fowles, who used her "spare time" to help win gold medals for the United States. "I always had this mindset of just go, go, go, go, go. When the reality is, if your body don't go, you don't go. Since my body is my moneymaker, I have to take care of it.
"It's hard as an athlete to (pull back). You're so competitive and you want to go out and make everyone happy. And it's hard to give up the money overseas because you only have so long to make that kind of money.
"At the end of the day, you have to do what's best for you and your body."
Fowles believes she has found a solution. For now.
Before her hip surgery, she played for the first time in China, which has a shorter four-month season.
"I'm at the point where I don't want to play six or seven months overseas anymore," Fowles said. "I just want to give my body a break and China was the outlet for me. The shorter season is nice. If I can just get through 4 months, I'll be OK."
Fowles should get nearly three months in with the Sky, which she hopes will be enough to make an impact, and another big statement.
She averaged 16.3 points and a career-best 11.5 rebounds per game last season, falling just short in WNBA most valuable player voting.
"I got underrated a little bit. But that just motivates me to go out and work harder," said Fowles, excited to see what she can do without a torn labrum. "This league is all about proving people wrong. It keeps me hungry every year. That's just part of my game."
• Patricia Babcock McGraw also is part of the Sky's broadcast team as a sideline reporter. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter@babcockmcgraw.