Alaina Coates talks about mental health, therapy and Turkey

INDIANAPOLIS — Alaina Coates has seen peaks most people only dream of, but to find herself again, the Indiana Fever Center had to take a hard look in the mirror and analyze the valleys.

She couldn’t escape her feelings, not after everything she had been through. To save her career, Coates let her go temporarily.

“Last year I didn’t play, I just took it personally, but not in a bad way. I just had to work on myself,” said Coates. “…I feel very accomplished. I worked very hard to come back here.”

As Coates stood on the baseline of Fever’s practice court on Thursday — about two years after her last WNBA game with the Washington Mystics in 2020 — she pulled back the curtain on her 2021 break from the league. During this time she got a therapist and made her mental health a priority. It was the first time Coates really explored the ups and downs of her life.

Within two years, she managed to win a national championship in South Carolina and was drafted second overall by Chicago Sky in 2017 until missing her entire rookie season due to a right ankle injury and her 55-year-old father hatte , Gary, died of cardiac arrest on March 13, 2018 — just over two months before her WNBA debut.

Admittedly, Coates said she wasn’t in the right position early in her pro career, and while trying to push through, she eventually realized that keeping your foot on the gas pedal wasn’t the solution.

“I took[my mental health]seriously, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have,” Coates said. “And at one point I was like, ‘You know what? I think that’s what I really need to do to get back to where I used to be.’ I was just very glad that I could see that because it was a lot. My dad passed away and couldn’t see anything of my WNBA career and then how it’s gone since. This is my fifth team in four years, so I just thought, ‘Something has to change.’ And I know that a big part of what could change starts with me.”

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Coates said it wasn’t easy to face the feelings she was previously trying to suppress, but she’s confident she’s become a better person and player.

The 6-4 center returned to the pitch in October 2021, appearing abroad for Nesibe Aydın GSK in the EuroCup and Turkish Super League. Coates averaged 14.9 points and 12.8 rebounds in 10 EuroCup games and 17.9 points and 12.9 rebounds in 29 Turkish Super League competitions.

The Fever took notice of Coates’ outstanding play and signed her in February. Missing the first three games of the season when it ended in Turkey, she became part of the active squad on Wednesday. Coates was kept out of Friday’s road win over the New York Liberty as she readjusts to the team.

Indiana is hosting what will likely be Coates’ debut at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday. The 27-year-old believes this will be a turning point in her career.

“I just want to show people that there’s a new narrative behind my name,” Coates said. “I know so much has been said about me over the years, with the different teams and not really producing and all that stuff, but it doesn’t matter. I use that as motivation. You can say whatever you want about me, but what you can’t say from this moment forward is, ‘She won’t work hard’ because I made sure it was a complete change going through that, what I’ve been through.”

Coates is still in therapy and will have virtual sessions throughout the season. She hopes that by being transparent about her struggles, it will break down the stigma surrounding mental health and empower others to seek the help they need.

“Mental health is just as important as physical fitness,” Coates said. “…And I feel like when you realize there’s a lot of things going on and you might need some help, you should just go. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It makes you not.” less of a person. We are all human. We all have emotions. We all have feelings, and life can get overwhelming at times. I know there were a lot of underlying things for me about going to therapy that I didn’t even realize I was dealing with, and it has helped me get to the space I am in today.”

Follow IndyStar Pacers Beat writer James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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