- Blair Angulo, Reporter, WeAreSC.com
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After nearly two years of rehabbing injuries, newly signed Los Angeles Sparks guard-forward Alana Beard finally feels at ease.
The Sparks announced the signing of the four-time WNBA All-Star to a free-agent contract Wednesday, and now hope a change of scenery is just what the former Duke star needs to return to old form. Beard, the second overall selection in the 2004 draft, averaged 16.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game in six years with the Washington Mystics before missing the 2010 and 2011 seasons with ankle and foot injuries. She is currently playing for Elitzur Ramla in Israel.
Based on credentials alone, the decision to sign Beard was a no-brainer for Sparks vice president and general manager Penny Toller.
"The evaluation of Alana was very simple," Toler said. "Alana is a very, very talented player. She's different than any guard we have on our team; she creates her own shot, has leadership ability, is a defensive stopper. When she was given a clean bill of health, it was easy for us. For me she's the crown jewel of free agency."
Beard, meanwhile, says she feels 100-percent healthy.
"As far as sitting on the sidelines [the last two years], it was something that I accepted," Beard said. "I knew it was a process I had to go through. I did the work. I knew I had to rehab and I got up every single day to do my rehab knowing that eventually I would get back on the court."
Beard is slated to make her Sparks debut when the team tips off its 16th WNBA season May 18 on the road against the Seattle Storm in the league's only opening-night game. The home opener is set for May 20, also against Western Conference rival Seattle.
First-year coach Carol Ross, who gains control of a 15-19 team that missed the playoffs last year, is excited about the addition.
"When you add Alana Beard into the mix, you not only add one of the best defensive players in the league but also a very complete player," Ross said. "She values both ends of the floor. That's a very important component as we move forward."