The 2014 Atlanta Dream is still a work in progress, with Media Day coming at the end of this week.
With the start of the season less than two weeks away, Atlanta must have looked forward to the first time this year when they would scrimmage against someone other than themselves. The Chinese National Team is touring against WNBA teams this preseason - among their stops will be Seattle, Los Angeles, and Tulsa. Atlanta chose to play the Chinese National Team in a scrimmage closed to the public, held on the practice court of the Atlanta Hawks.
What was it like?
There were no announcers. No cheerleaders. No goofy sound effects. No seating, except what you could find around the court (folding chairs were brought in for the benefit of the visitors). And for the members of the Dream that were present, there were no uniforms. Remember that old saying that you can't tell the players without a scorecard? Sometimes, it's true. Aside from the fact that these were the best female basketball players in the world, it looked a lot like games played in gyms all around the world.
There were WNBA referees present, but the only video you'll find of this game was taken by the team. The Dream had a lot of flexibility, and decided to play five quarters - five 10-minute periods of basketball. Both substitutions and time outs were infrequent. Without commercials and frequent meetings for strategy, those minutes went by surprisingly quickly.
Running it all was Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper. I had read that Coach Cooper wasn't the kind of coach that paced the sidelines, and for the most part he remained seated, with only new assistant coach Teresa Edwards there to keep him company. The pre-game workout was surprisingly intense, more so than the lackadaisical warm-ups I've seen in so many WNBA games where players go through the motions of stretching.
It gave me a chance to see some of the Dream's newest players for the first time, like Shoni Schimmel, Louisville guard and the Dream's first-round draft pick. Second round draft picks Inga Orekhova out of South Florida and Cassie Harberts from Southern California were also ready to play. Harberts played under Cooper when he was still the head coach at USC.
Many of the big names for the Dream - Angel McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle, and Celine Dumerc, for example - were not available. They were overseas and will report to training camp late. The absences allowed Cooper to keep the training camp size well under the WNBA limit of fifteen players.
When speaking to someone, I asked, "Orekhova's the blonde one, right?"
"No, that's Nadia Colhado" was the answer I got back. It turns out we were both right: the player I pointed out was not Orekhova, but Colhado - a Brazilian player who played alongside Erika de Souza this off-season with Tiffany Hayes in Brazil - was blonde, too. Erika de Souza was in training camp, and the two were workout partners, with Erika serving as impromptu translator.
There was also Samantha Prahalis, easy to recognize with her black hair and tattoos. Courtney Clements, who played for the Dream last season, was also in in camp. Jhasmin Player and Amanda Thompson were also looking for roles on the team.
The game started with de Souza, Harberts, Clements, Jasmine Thomas and Tiffany Hayes. It was unlikely that this would be the starting lineup for the regular season opener against San Antonio. Cooper was sending various mini-squads onto the floor to see what they looked like.
How was the game?
* The Chinese players are big. Big and tall - linebacker size. If the Chinese couldn't give the Dream a match in skill, they'd give one at least in height and weight.
* Atlanta was behind 17-16 after the first quarter. There wasn't a lot of 3-point shooting going on from either side during the game. The 3-point arc in use on the Hawks practice court is the NBA line, by the way.
* China took a 23-17 lead in the middle of the second quarter, their biggest lead. Cooper brought in another squad and Atlanta managed to close the gap. The lead went back and forth sending with a 31-29 Dream lead at halftime.
* China tied it up 31-31 to lead the third quarter, but the Dream closed out the quarter with an 11-2 run that extended into the fourth quarter. Atlanta led 57-49 after three. They continued to put distance between themselves and the visitors, and closed the fourth quarter with a 75-60 lead after forty minutes of time.
* Both sides agreed to play one extra quarter. Cooper put more of the true rookies in. With both sides gassed, only two points was scored by both teams in the first four minutes of play. Atlanta closed the 50-minute game beating the Chinese 88-72.
How did the individual players look?
Shoni Schimmel played this game more in the role of a point guard and a shot facilitator. She wasn’t firing away, and the shots that she did take didn’t fall. I was surprised by her athleticism – she was dribbling, fell, and pushed herself back up from the floor and back on to the dribble with one fluid motion.
Nadia Colhado was very physical. She was willing to put a body on the Chinese players to where at times they looked like they were going to wrestle. One of the few runs China had was a 6-0 run were Colhado was on the floor; I don’t know if it was Colhado’s fault but Cooper replaced Colhado with Clements and the Dream fought back.
Cassie Harberts looked a little confused early on in the game, as if she were lost and trying to weave her way through a crowd to get back to her position. The game seemed to come to her more naturally the more she played.
Inga Orekhova took a few ranged shots. She tended to play slightly more than arm’s length away from her opponent, with no attempt to smother the ball handler.
Samantha Prahalis showed a little flash of playground flair with a no-look bounce pass. She did cause a shot clock violation by hanging on to the ball a little bit too long. I couldn’t tell too much about her defense.
Stay tuned to more about the game with Cooper's post-game comments.