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At the Draft, Pt. 1: "Hello... And A Few Words About The Draft"

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Well, all right.  More than a few.  After the jump: some of the verbose, subjective, occasionally self-absorbed, nerve-wracked ramblings of a rookie reporter with a tape recorder.

This humble reporter's specialty lies in the postmortem, as it were- writing up events afterwards instead of trying to react in the moment. Our intrepid colleague freelantz was able to handle a lot of the live events with her cutting edge technology. I, however, am still trapped in the 20th century, with a tape recorder and a notepad, and work best after the fact.

After arrival and a bit of time to do some extra reading (and for one quick-thinking young reporter, an extemporaneous interview with Ashley Robinson), our group of Internet media headed downstairs to Madam President's dressing room (well, suite; it was about the size of a studio apartment) Donna Orender, who was asked to greet us and say a few things about the draft. After saying, well, exactly and literally what was suggested to her, she got down to business. She described the day as "the culmination of the career for all these young women who've worked so hard, who've achieved great heights in the game and now get to take the next step". What I thought was interesting was her description of the draft as "very familial... you really get the real personal insight into their families and how hard they've all worked together to kind of get here today." Her optimism remains very strong.

She had the opportunity to expand on the familial theme, since the first question asked what she had done to instill the familial relationship into the league. She replied that the league's always been family oriented, and that what they've done while she's been president has been "getting the message out that this is a place where dads bring their daughters, moms bring their sons, families come together", bringing up the affordability of the league as well. She spoke about the "sensibility of the arena"- that it's not an NBA arena, that it's about being fan-friendly- "the approachability of the athletes- it really starts with them"- and that it's a safe place to bring kids.

Yours truly asked her how her experiences as a collegiate player and a pro player in the WBL influence her as league president. (Since most major leagues in the US have been around for a very long time, it's rare that someone can come in with experience from a failed league; I also don't know how many execs have played their game at the level they now oversee.) After a few moments of thought, she said, "I guess the number one thing is that I just love this game. It's interesting, because when you love something so much and you have a passion, you want to make sure you maintain a business detachment to make really good, smart decisions. But at the same time you understand where athletes come from, because you've been one, you've walked the walk- you'd like to wish you could still walk the walk, but, you know, age gets in the way- so I think that has really been an added element that I think adds to my perspective."

(In retrospect, I should have followed up with "What lessons did you learn from the rise and fall of the WBL that you're using in the WNBA?" Maybe when I have more experience, I'll figure out the follow-up less than eight hours later.)

The young lady from Girls, Inc. asked what advice Orender would give to someone who wanted a career in women's basketball. (I think. My recorder started skipping here.) "Go for it. I would say that to all young people in general. Find what you're passionate about and have courage and no fear, and you pursue it." She used her assistant for the day, a high school intern, as a example of someone who pursued what she wanted to do.

Someone asked about the draft on ESPN2 and how that would provide exposure for the league. She said that they worked hard to get as much exposure as they can in every way they can. She would have preferred a primetime or weekend spot, where they would hav an opportunity to get more eyeballs, but every year they do a little bit more and get a little better, and the league gets better.

Someone else asked what kind of a challenge it had been for her to get to her position- as a businesswoman, as a executive. "I think what we all have to do, right? We just gotta work hard. Seriously. Really. It's about working. It's knowing where you think you want to go. I'm never going to pretend that I had a path... I never had a straight line, but I'm not a straight line kind of person. But I would think it's just knowing what you want to do and then you work hard to do it... you focus on people and that's what I try to do."

Then she put Ashley Robinson on the spot, and Miss Robinson rose to the occasion. Unfortunately, my recorder really started skipping here, so most of what I have is Ashley talking about her experience working with the league, and then it cuts to post-mini-presser chatter with the young lady from Girls, Inc. (who wants to be a gynecologist- "I can't help you there... I'm always trying to connect people, but... I could tell you about my experience I childbirth if that would help- but not right now") and a concluding remark about the draft and how "all of us in the back, we always kind of kibitz a lot".

A hastily swiped M&M later, we headed back upstairs for a few minutes in the workroom, where freelantz and I met up, and then it was back downstairs, around, and upstairs for our tour of the control room, studio (if you saw a purple suit and a gray top in any background shots, that would be me, rocking the Monarchs' colors in memory), and broadcast operations center. Freelantz asked intelligent questions of our tour guide about how the camera feeds worked. I snickered at the fact that all the graphics they were practicing with had Tina Charles as the #1 pick, and decided that I want a broadcast operations center in my house once I hit Powerball. I'm here for the comedy value, folks.

Tour complete, it was back downstairs, around, and upstairs to the workroom again.

I should mention in passing that Sherri Coale had also set up shop in the media workroom, writing out thank you cards to, I would presume, Oklahoma supporters. I think only two people bothered her, but I am thinking that it was not the most brilliant move for the coach of three prospects to sit in the media room, where the media is. But she's one of the top coaching minds in the country, and I'm a schmiel with a computer and a tape recorder older than her players.

So, anyway, Coach Coale's preparation for departure was a pretty good clue that media availability for the college coaches would be starting soon. We followed her to the conference room (which was the only travel of the entire day that didn't involve stairs) and settled in to hear her, Connie Yori, Debbie Ryan, and the late-arriving Bill Fennelly. Since he was late, Coach Coale informed him that they had decided he would start. He countered that Coach Yori had been National Coach of the Year and that Coach Coale had been to the Final Four, so one of them should start. Big XII press conferences must be a blast. They were able to successfully pass the buck to Coach Ryan because of her long years of experience (next year, perhaps they won't invite three coaches from one conference and one from another). My batteries decided they didn't like to work here, so I will have to defer to freelantz for full coverage of the coaches.

I should not pass judgment on the interviewer whose questions led me to think that he didn't know that women have been dunking since Georgeann Wells, or that Leslie and Parker had dunked in the WNBA. Even if he was the same guy who almost hit me in the head with his camera a couple of times because he didn't seem to care that I was standing in a ring of media with a tape recorder out.

I did manage to save one excellent quote from Coach Coale relating to the increased athleticism (and related potential dunking) in the women's game: "I wouldn't necessarily say that our mission is to try to be like the men's game." I really appreciated that- in general, she's one of the better-spoken people I've had a chance to hear.

By that time it was just about three, so it was downstairs, around, and upstairs again. They set us up in an auxiliary room just off the studio, with a couple of screens showing the draft and donuts that were not for us. And then it was waiting time, with hurried glances over shoulders at the television and calls of "who got picked?" between interviews. I don't know if I'm made for so many concentrated spurts in a row with so much lag time in between.

Freelantz was on the scene when Tina Charles and her soft voice were available, but I didn't get close enough; once again I must defer to my colleague for a recap on that. (Tina Charles: living proof that not all New Yorkers are loud.)

Monica Wright was absolutely adorable. She seemed overwhelmed by the whole thing. I don't think it's sunk in for her how good she is, or she puts up a good front of humility. She's very excited about playing with Seimone Augustus. I thought it was interesting that seeing the Monarchs at the White House was the moment that made her want to be in the league. It turned out that she and Kelsey Griffin were roomies at the Final Four and in NY for the draft, which made her wonder if "they" knew something. (And then, well... but we'll get to that with the peripatetic Alaskan.)

Kelsey Griffin was really excited about playing in Minnesota- "Growing up in Alaska, Minnesota was kind of a state I related with, because that's where my mom was from, we had summer vacations there." She sees herself as both a three and a four, and she's been preparing herself to "expand" to the three. She takes a lot of pride in being Alaskan- "I will have no problem with people maybe not knowing my name but saying, 'hey, that player's from Alaska!'- I'm completely fine with that." (Unasked question: but what if they're referring to Jessica Moore?) She used to snowboard. Someone had to make a Sarah Palin joke... y'all do know that not everyone in Alaska knows each other, right?

Most of the questions to Danielle McCray revolved around her injury- which I guess makes sense, given that taking her #7 was a bit of a surprise. She used "blessed" to describe herself a lot in this situation. Someone did ask her a rather leading question about how much she knew about the tradition of women's basketball in Connecticut. She's the only girl in two generations of her family, so she played against the boys a lot, which she says made her stronger. Alana Beard is her WNBA heroine, which she said she's never brought up before. Yours truly asked her if she saw a potential silver lining in having to sit out this season (I didn't bring up the Tamika Catchings parallel, but I should have). She said, "From sitting on the sidelines, I kind of learned a lot, so... just watching this team and... things happen for a reason. ...I think this injury has given me the opportunity to see how Connecticut's going to be next year, how he's [Sun coach Mike Thibault] having his playing style, and what to expect when I go in there next year, so I kind of have that edge where I can sit out and look at a specific team, where previous players, they really don't know what team you're going to, so you have to adjust, to wait until you get there- so that's an advantage, I would say."

In order to smooth things a little, they stopped trying to keep the picks in strict order, so after #7 came #5, the lovely Jayne Appel, wearing what one of my colleagues referred to as an interesting pair of shoes (one sandal, one orthopedic boot). So she's out a couple of weeks to get the ankle ready. Unlike a lot of players, she wasn't really worried about her draft status- she felt that she had proved herself before her injuries, and that everyone knew she was playing through injuries. She thinks anyone who's played for Tara is prepared for the league both in the basketball sense and the life sense. Yours truly, by now having gotten her feet under her and a bit of her Noo Yawk cockiness into place, asked what other post passers she finds remarkable in the women's game, since her passing ability is always the first thing mentioned about her as a post. She named Courtney Paris, who faced a lot of double teams in college- mentioned that she played against Paris in AAU ball, too.

Jacinta Monroe is very striking up close. Very quiet, too. It was really hard to ask her questions- can't put my finger on why. Yours truly brought up the ACC connection with the Mystics, and asked her how she thought she would fit into that. (As an aside, oh, dear God my voice sounds so high on the tape.) "The ACC, we all play versatile, we all play in pretty much the same way, so it's going to be a lot of fun, even though we were all rivals in college." Someone asked her about her build, and whether she could bang in the WNBA. She said that she's not a conventional 5 player, and she's not worried about banging with the bigger posts, because she can step outside and shoot a jumper or go around them. The follow-up was about whether there were any NBA players with similar builds she admired and modeled her game after- she named Gasol, Bill Russell, and went on to mention Magic Johnson and Chris Bosh. The follow-up to the follow-up was about the WNBA, and she named DeWanna Bonner as an example (surprised she didn't bring up Leslie immediately). She is inordinately fond of the word versatile.

Chanel Mokango seemed really uncomfortable trying to do the interviews in English. There are some days I wish I had taken French in high school so I could have at least tried to ask her a question in French and maybe put her at ease, but it is what it is. She comes across as very confident in her ability to bring her defense to the next level, but that might be a communication breakdown issue. The huddles with de Souza and Mokango next year should be fun. She did say that she'd seen one game- Mwadi Mabika sent her the tape, and she's apparently watched it a lot.

 

Coming up in the second part: the second half of the first round, adventures in conference calling, "what pick are we up to?", and more climbing of stairs.