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Lauren Jackson can see the sand running out of the hourglass.
The 17-year-old basketball prodigy who was the great young star of Australian basketball is 30 years old now. She has many fewer years at the front end of her career than she has in the back.
And her latest injury, a torn labrum in her hip that required surgery, was a stark reminder.
"When you are dealing with injuries, you don't ever know if it's going to be the end of your career or not," Jackson said. "I've had a lot of surgeries and gone through a lot of rehab processes. But to be honest, I didn't know how I was going to come back from this one. That surgery was the most painful thing I've ever had to go through."
Jackson had surgery on June 30. She missed 20 games of the 34-game WNBA season. She's been back for nine games, and it speaks volumes about her importance to the Seattle Storm that they have won eight of those. But the hip is still sore as Jackson prepares to lead Seattle into the postseason and a defense of its 2010 WNBA championship.
The Storm, seeded No. 2 in the West, hosts No. 3 Phoenix on Thursday.
There's little doubt Jackson will be a strong influence on the proceedings. Just as she always has been.
"She brings presence," said Jackson's teammate and close friend Sue Bird. The two have played together in Seattle since 2002. "To literally have her standing on the floor with us makes us better."
Jackson has to be considered one of the most eclectic, dynamic personalities in the WNBA. She is warm and funny and intensely competitive.
The 6-foot-5 three-time MVP and seven-time All-Star has moved through her professional career with a variety of hair colors, tattoos, piercings, a distinct sense of fashion and a reputation as a young woman who loves life and a good party.
Jackson said that might have been true 10 years ago.
"I think there was part of me that was untouchable. I thought I could rule the world," Jackson said. "But reality sets in and things happen and you change and you grow up. I love my life and having a good time, I love having a good glass of wine with friends and doing nice, low-key things. Being in a nightclub until 5:30 a.m. and those crazy things? I just can't do it anymore."
No, instead the grown-up version of Lauren Jackson has turned into a homebody, a bookworm and activist, taking classes, earning diplomas. She has studied business management and developmental psychology. She's working on her degree in gender studies from Macquarie University in Sydney.
"I'm doing units based on and around cultural studies, rights and racism, some political units, women's rights and history," Jackson said. "I'm just trying to fit in as much as possible. I love it."
Jackson is back in class after her injury derailed her studies temporarily.
"We'll be in the locker room and people will have their headphones on and she's at her locker with a notebook and a highlighter," Bird said. "She will talk to you in-depth about women's rights and Lady Gaga."
Jackson has "adopted" children in Africa, sending money to support them in their home countries, including an HIV-infected woman in Rwanda and her child.
"She gets report cards and letters and updates all the time," Bird said.
Bird said her friend is a "live in the moment" kind of person.
"Her hair color, she'll change it depending on how she's feeling that day," Bird said. "Her tattoos, if she tells you at 10 a.m. that she wants a new tattoo, the next day she'll have one. I think it translates onto the court. She plays every play like it's the only one she has left."
Lin Dunn, now the head coach of the Indiana Fever, was the head coach in Seattle when Jackson joined the team.
"The first thing I think about Lauren is that she's a free spirit," Dunn said. "She beats to a different drum, and I say that in a positive way. She is fiercely competitive, but she loves life and she plays so hard. I just love her."
Her current coach, Brian Agler, said Jackson's love of studying comes through in her game as well.
"It's always interesting listening to her perspective about opponents, because often she's spot on," Agler said. "She's a tremendous competitor, but she's thinking all the time. She's studying and watching film. She values education."
Jackson said she has been giving thought to the end of her career. While she loves the Emerald City, which has become her second home, she wants to move back to her native Australia. Live out in the country. She's talked about becoming a U.N. diplomat, an advocate for women's rights.
"I am looking forward to being closer to my family and friends," Jackson said. "As I get older, I'm craving more of that stability. I have set up a nest here, but my parents are a million miles away, and I'd like to see them more."
Jackson said she has a five-year plan when it comes to basketball.
"I can give it everything I have for five more years," Jackson said. "After that, we will see."