While many WNBA players spent the extended off-season playing abroad, Seattle Storm center Ashley Robinson stayed in the U.S. as a WNBA communications intern.
While she said after practice that it was good for her physically, it also helped her gain a new appreciation for the big picture of the WNBA.
Yesterday's WNBA newsletter described Robinson's experience this off-season as an opportunity to learn what goes on behind the scenes in the league office. As part of her duties, she was asked to pitch a story to someone and chose to pitch a story to Swish Appeal writer freelantz about Connecticut Sun draftee Johannah Leedham, a dynamic Division II player who she believed deserved more attention.
For a growing blog like Swish Appeal, it was an opportunity to interview a player and better understand the mindset of someone preparing to fight for a roster spot. Now that she was in Seattle's training camp, I was interested in her side of the story, particularly why she chose Leedham.
"The PR people told me to pitch the story, but I had to actually pitch it," said Robinson. "I just called and she's a third round draft pick and she tore it up in college. And most people don't know that this Division II player was like the fifth leading scorer of all of NCAA. Like most people don't know that and she deserved to have a little story out about her."
However, in the course of promoting the league's lesser known storylines, Robinson felt the most valuable part of the experience was the opportunity to see how much work goes into running the league and better understanding why players need to do things like making public appearances, like tomorrow afternoon's "Stormin' the Lake" event.
"It was really cool for me just to learn the business side a little bit and just to see what goes on behind the scenes and just see, kinda, just how much hard work goes into just keeping the WNBA around," said Robinson. "I feel like the majority of WNBA players totally don't understand what goes into keeping this league. And when you think of the money part of it -- I don't think that we really think about it's a business and how we can help our league have a positive revenue at the end of the season. And that's things that you can't worry about when you're on the court because I feel like our basketball shows for itself. But it's the off the court stuff that we have to make sure we really start excelling in.
"And as a whole, WNBA players are good at appearances. I just think that if we understand the business end of it, it just makes it that much more worthwhile going out there smiling and just being that happy-go-lucky appealing person and making more and more people want to come watch us play."
That affinity for thinking about the bigger picture of the WNBA also represents what Storm coach Brian Agler would later identify as one of Robinson's biggest assets.
"Ashley is a very intelligent player -- she understands the game," said Agler. "She gets it, she understands. She doesn't make many mental mistakes."
As Robinson continues to "just makes sure" she makes the roster, that understanding of the game might help her in doing the thing that both she and Agler think she can contribute most to the roster: offensive rebounding.
When asked what she would need to do to make sure she makes the roster, the first thing Robinson mentioned was offensive rebounding.
According to Agler, before Wednesday's scrimmage against the Chinese National Team in Portland, Robinson set a goal of getting 5 offensive rebounds. Had she not sat out the final stretch of the game, she might have had that last rebound. Nevertheless, it was a positive sign for Agler, although he wouldn't guarantee her a spot.
"That was sort of a point of emphasis right now for her," said Agler. "Coach Jenny [Boucek] has talked with her a lot about, 'Here's the average -- the best offensive rebounders in the league -- here's what they've averaged during the season.' Like Yolanda Griffith: she had the highest average ever in this league. She averaged like 3 point something a game, offensive boards. If you think about it just as a sort of a typical citizen, you think that's not that many. But then in the basketball world, if you can do that on a nightly basis that's quite a bit. That's quite a bit.
"So we think that she can -- I don't know if she can get to that level because you have to have minutes on the floor -- but I think that she can be a specialist that way: getting offensive boards. Running our offense, anticipate what's going to happen, and make your contribution on the offensive glass."
Having explained what great offensive rebounders do, he then explained how great offensive rebounders do their job, again referring to Griffith. After reiterating the importance of anticipation to the small group of us at SPU, he gave us a little demonstration on the court.
"Yolanda Griffith, her deal was -- if you ever watched her on film was -- she knew how to play in this area," he said stepping away from us and standing in the narrow space in bounds between the baseline and backboard. "When she anticipated the shot to go up, she played behind the backboard. She never moved out there, she almost moved down in here. That was her deal. And of course, you don't ever think about blocking out people down here. She'd go from one side of the floor from the other down here and get position on the back side and that's where she got her spots."
While a player like Cheryl Ford uses her power in the paint or a player like Natalie Williams used a combination of power and athleticism, Robinson will probably have to draw upon former teammate Griffith's example. Robinson will have to outwork and outsmart players in the paint similar to Griffith but also find ways to utilize her length and athleticism in order to become a better offensive rebounder.
For Robinson, it's just a matter of continuing to work hard and showing the team what she contribute, in terms of offensive rebounding as well as continuing to contribute on defense.
"When you think about the type of athletes that you have to have to be successful and stay in plays with people defensively, you gotta have people that can guard Candace Parker," said Agler. "You've gotta have people that can guard Sophia Young and [Candice] Dupree and those type of players. So is she one of those people? She's definitely athletic enough that she can do that. And that's what she's been here for in the past. Does that guarantee her a spot? No it doesn't guarantee her a spot because we've got other people that we've got to evaluate too that hopefully can do some of that."
Regardless of what she's done in the past or who she is competing with, Robinson is focused squarely on playing her game and using her off-season "vacation" as a comparative advantage.
"I think my game is what it is," said Robinson. "I don't think that it's any different. It's just I'm fresh, my mind is fresh, so I'm just ready to keep working hard."
- Agler said that Tanisha Smith relayed to them that she needed three classes to complete her degree and was uncertain about prioritizing fighting for a roster spot over finishing school. More from Kevin Pelton at StormBasketball.com.