Asia Durr, finally back with Liberty after long COVID, taking return one step at a time

Asia Durr hasn’t played a game for the Liberty since rookie season in 2019. (Jessica Hill/AP)

Asia Durr completed a fourth day of training camp Thursday. For Durr, the Liberty organization and its fans, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

“I was emotional, for sure,” Durr told the Daily News, from the practice court at Barclays Center, of returning to camp this year. “It’s been such a long journey just to get here.”

Two years ago, AD was diagnosed with COVID-19. What followed couldn’t possibly have been predicted.

Durr was forced to miss the 2020 and 2021 seasons after developing long COVID — the term used to describe those who don’t have an active COVID infection, but still experience symptoms from the virus, of which there is no cure. Being home trying to complete simple tasks like doing laundry was difficult for Durr. Doing a basketball workout was the furthest from Durr’s mind, especially when COVID can affect the heart.

In November 2021, after going through all the required cardiac testing, AD finally got the green light from WNBA medical officials to return to basketball. Durr got right to work.

Five months after getting cleared, the former Louisville star was back on the Liberty courts, completing five-on-five practices, running, shooting, playing, learning and re-learning.

“Obviously, I have a long way to go, but I’m just super grateful just to be back out here on the court with my teammates,” AD continued. “At first, it didn’t really feel real just because being at home for two years being sick, it’s like I kind of got used to that. … (Day 1 of camp) I was excited and at the same time nervous.”

AD is still dealing with the effects of COVID and said the illness messed with their brain. Durr still struggles with brain fog and doesn’t have the same reaction time and comprehension of executing basketball activities they previously had.

Not that it’s obvious or apparent. In training camp Thursday, the second-overall pick in the 2019 draft looked absolutely in their element. AD put the pressure on practice squad players on defense, daring opponents to move. AD was unafraid driving under the basket for layups. There wasn’t a second thought in Durr’s eyes when they positioned themselves at the corner of the court to shoot a seamless three-pointer.

“It’s always hard to come back from an illness. AD, what she had… because you haven’t played for a while. I think they’re doing great, quite honest,” new Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said of AD and other players returning of injury hiatus. “They’re gonna get better, we know that.”But I like that they are just playing,” Brondello continued. “They have no fear, they’re being aggressive. They’re trying to do everything that we’re asking of them. They’re in a good spot and I think the more time they get comfortable, the better than they’ll get.”

When the day’s session wound down and everyone went to their open baskets to complete final free throws, Durr looked every bit the senior to rookie Lorela Cubaj and third-year Kylee Shook, both who were rebounding for the Georgia native.

Physically and mentally, Durr felt good. They’re still a ways away from competing in WNBA games and don’t have any estimate of when playing in live games will happen because of the ever-changing nature of COVID side effects — Durr said the last time a timeline for return was set was in January 2021 and then it all went to bits.

But that long road hasn’t deterred the 5-10 guard.

“If anything, my drive is more,” AD said. “I haven’t lost any confidence or lost any drive. I’m more hungry now.”

Durr returns to a Liberty team completely different than the one they last played with in 2019 — when the face of the franchise was still Tina Charles, the head coach was Katie Smith, the home court was at the Westchester County Center and the franchise owner was Jim Dolan.

This Liberty team started forming in 2020 and has been waiting on Durr’s return since. But they know AD’s condition makes that return ever more a marathon than it is a sprint and have been more than willing to help Durr complete the comeback.

“From one to 14, we literally all click. Everybody’s been great on and off the court,” Durr said. “This is a team I feel like we already have a pretty good bond. … We’re all on the same page. If I do something wrong, it won’t just be [Paris Kea] or [Betnijah Laney] or [Natasha Howard].

“Anybody will come up to you and help you because everybody cares that much.”