By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Courtesy photos/Washington Mystics
WASHINGTON – Washington Mystics stars Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles did not travel with their teammates to start The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) preseason as they await a decision from the league’s medical panel to be medically excused from playing, the team announced Wednesday.
Both players were scheduled to travel with Washington to Bradenton, Florida, to start the shortened season. An independent panel of doctors selected players based on past health-related concerns and will go over their conditions to determine if they can receive a medical excuse to compete this season.
Last season’s MVP, Delle Donne has battled with chronic Lyme Disease, a tick-borne illness, throughout her career since being diagnosed during her college days with UConn in 2008.
She has dealt with multiple setbacks caused by the disease, compromising her immune system, which could put her at risk if she contracts the coronavirus.
During a 2016 interview with ESPN The Magazine, Delle Donne said she takes “around 50 supplements a day” and manages her diet to handle possible future flareups.
In a statement released on her Twitter account, Delle Donne said she is waiting for a risk assessment from the league to determine if she will be allowed to play.
“Missing my teammates but health and safety are the priority,” Delle Donne said.
Charles, a seven-time WNBA All-Star center, was traded from the New York Liberty to Washington after averaging 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 33 games.
“Having coached Tina before in Connecticut, I know what a huge impact she can have on the game every single night,” Washington Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault said. “Her ability to score inside and out will make our offense even more dangerous than in the past.”
It is unknown at this time why the medical panel called Charles. Charles has not released a statement on her status.
If cleared, both players will receive their full salaries for the upcoming season and join their teammates in the WNBA “bubble” in the IMG Academy to start preparing for the season, which is scheduled to be in late July. They can still opt out before a decision is made or if the panel does not grant medical waivers. If they opt-out, they will not be paid, according to the league’s policy.
If Della Donne and Charles cannot gain clearance, Washington will be down to 10 players. They were already missing Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, who opted out of playing in the abbreviated season.
Point guard Kristi Toliver elected to sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Sparks during the offseason, leaving Washington with only two remaining starters from last season’s championship run: forward Emma Meesseman, the 2019 Finals MVP, and guard Ariel Atkins.
Replacing both players will not be easy either. Last season, Della Donna became the first WNBA player to shoot over 50% (51.5%), 40% from the 3-point line (43%), and 90% at the free-throw line (97.4%) in rout to leading Washington to its first WNBA Championship.
Together with Charles and Meesseman in the frontcourt would have made the Mystics one of the favorites to win the title this season. The WNBA has not announced when the panel will look at each player’s case or when a decision will be made.