Walking into the locker room after the Tulsa Shock's 92-78 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday night was a chance to not only get reacquainted with the team that just completed a four game (and four loss) road trip but also to see fresh faces in the adjusted locker room seating chart.
The game analysis seems simple - Minnesota was 12 of 19 from three-point range against what appeared by all to be a lax defensive effort by the Shock, forced or sometimes just watched Tulsa commit 21 turnovers and outscored the home team in every quarter of the game, including that dogged third quarter meltdown for the Shock was yet again seen on the court.
Candace Wiggins and Seimone Augustus are both fully recuperated from the injuries that allowed Tulsa to take two of the first three meetings in this five game season series and both played impressively and were joined by Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen as double-digit scorers.
Richardson even said of the returning pair, "They got Wiggins back, they got major players back, they've got Seimone, major players. I mean big time players. They were out when we played them and the people that were playing a lot for them are now sitting on the bench. That just goes to show you that they were good without them, but now they're real good with them."
So although the stat sheet has all signs pointing downward for the Shock, especially considering not only the recent string of defeats, but also the margin in which they've lost lately (25, 12, 32, 11, 14), all is not lost. The optimism of those new to Tulsa and those who helped unveil the logo give a feeling of camaraderie and team, heart and character, growth and rebuilding, all reaching toward the common goal of winning. But not just winning, enjoying the ride as it comes. And for Coach Richardson that ride now has the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel after the latest roster changes.
"It's a work in progress, our basketball team. We're actually building it from the ground up. We only have two Shock left on the team and that's Hornbuckle and Braxton. All the Shock that were on the basketball team - the starters, the stars, the All-Americans, the Olympic [athletes] - those people are no longer," Richardson said. "So my job is to try to build this thing from the ground up and I can see light at the end of the tunnel because I've got some real good ladies that are in the program that I think will get us turned around."
The newest building block was seen on the court in just her second game as a member of the Tulsa squad and her first time in the BOK Center, Tiffany Jackson. Jackson expressed her excitement at playing an uptempo style for Richardson, whom she's already rightly tabbed a legend. Richardson expressed his desires to have Jackson integrate into a role of a rebounding presence and she's already beginning to do just that, nabbing a team-high six boards in the loss.
Kiesha Brown and Jennifer Lacy, whose acquisition preceded the Jackson trade by a week yet also made their home debut, are also ready to become integral cogs in the wheel. Like Jackson, Brown feels her game suits Richardson's style to a T.
"I'm an instinctual player. I play a lot of pickup ball which is what Coach Nolan likes," said Brown. "Being able to actually bring that particular style of play into the professional game is pretty good and you get comfortable with it and at that point you just have to do it in an organized fashion."
Keeping with the theme that Richardson has basically hand-picked his roster, Lacy also feels like someone whose basketball can shine in Tulsa.
"I think his style of basketball complements me as a player and I'm just trying to figure it out and figure out how I can come in and be effective and give good minutes on the defensive end and come down, get rebounds, knock down open shots - just whatever I can do I want to come in and do it for him," Lacy said.
The three are also eager to find cohesion with their new teammates on the court, with Lacy extolling the virtues of chemistry and Brown already buying into the "team concept". But it's more than just lip service from the newest faces of the franchise. You can see their authenticity when Jennifer Lacy and Natasha Lacy joke about being cousins, as Jackson shows her emotion and jubilation on the court after a team play goes right or when Brown is bonding with her locker neighbor, Marion Jones.
Jones, a positive force while in the locker room, on the bench or in game action, talked about the fact the team feels encouraged by some of the recent changes.
"We see strong points, we see highlights. Everybody sees the turnovers and the amount that we're losing by," Jones noted. " We're all encouraged - we're not down, we're encouraged that things are getting better."
Jones suggested that the changes to the roster may in fact have some part in the positive atmosphere in the locker room.
"It's totally different but it feels really positive. The energy is just really positive and I don't like to speak for everybody but in this regard I might; I just think we all just kind of enjoy coming to practice and we enjoy this journey," she said. "It's a challenging one, it's been bumpy and it's probably maybe gonna be little bumps in the road but I think generally we think that we can win in Tulsa."
Enjoying what you do can go a long way in achieving success on the court and now that it appears there are 11 ladies enjoying this team, this culture, this style of play the drive to succeed gets a little more evident - even in defeat.