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At the Draft, pt. 2: "Epiphanny? It's The WNBA Again."

Yes, again.  After the jump: notes, quotes, long paragraphs, missed connections, and a smorgasbord of versatility.

I love Aussies. Why can't the Liberty have one? Their accents, their basketball skills... so Alison Lacey did play against LJ once, and is very excited to be playing with her. Yours truly asked a) whether there was a difference between the Australian and American styles, and b) if there is, which influenced her game more. "I definitely think there is a difference between the WNBA and, I think, other countries... I think I am more towards the international/Australian style, but I can learn a lot from the US style- it toughened me up a lot and made me more of an offensive threat." She's proud of representing Iowa State. She hasn't heard anything about the Australian National Team- someone asked if she would be playing in the summer or trying out for the national team. Yours truly brought up that she came in as a 3 (as per something Fennelly said earlier) and is leaving as a point- what were her thoughts on being able to learn from Sue Bird? "Sue Bird is amazing, and to have the opportunity to go and play behind her... I'm just ready to learn anything I can, so I'm excited- not being a true point guard coming into college, now leaving as a point guard, I'm ready to learn anything I can, especially from the best."

Jené Morris is a natural with the camera- she seemed much more comfortable in front of people than a lot of the more touted players. She said that she's been working on her offensive skills in the offseason, but that she thinks Indiana drafted her for her defensive presence. She wasn't expecting to be drafted in the first round, and she's very excited about this. Someone asked about the "ride" the last couple of weeks, with San Diego State's run through the tournament, and she said, "It's been an amazing end to my career and end to my senior season... to see our name in the national spotlight on ESPN has been amazing- no one really ever heard of San Diego State, but we have a great program, we have great coaches who had a vision and believed in our program, and my teammates work hard, and things happen when you work hard. I'm excited to see where the program continues to go." She talked about getting in the lane and applying ball pressure, that Indiana's going to surprise people because all five players can do that. She didn't think playing in the WNBA was a reality- "I always went to small schools, I've been part of small programs, but that's been working out for me." Her first hero was Val Whiting, and then she rattled off a list of more current stars. Someone pointed out that she had originally gone to Cal as a counter to her "small programs" theory, and she countered that at the time Cal was still a small program, and not that successful. (Though if she's class of 2010 with a transfer year, her year at Cal would have been 2005-2006, which was a tournament year, so... yeah.) freelantz asked her about her Twitter and her interest in social networking- since she wants to go into marketing and advertising, she's a big fan of social media and "keeping everybody informed". She wanted people to go through the experience with her. Yours truly asked her if she saw any advantages to not having stayed at a BCS school (everyone brings up the disadvantages, but I wanted to see if there were any benefits). "You know, it just made me work that much harder. You have to work that much harder to get your name out there. Even when I was successful in high school, people were like ‘well, you go to a small high school', so then I played AAU and club ball, and still was able to perform in AAU against the bigger schools and the bigger names, so I think it helps. There are disadvantages, but I think it depends on the player and it depends on the person, and I've always had hard work and determination- and I never wanted to hear ‘no', so I think it worked best for me." She describes herself as goofy, but when it's time to get down to business, she's a hard worker. She hasn't been home in four summers, because she's been in San Diego working on her game.

(Apparently we really liked Miss Morris- these aren't even all the questions that were asked.)

Andrea Riley has such a cute little voice! I'm so unused to basketball players who are my height. She's really excited about playing with Candace Parker. She wants to bring "heart and hard work" to Los Angeles and "do all the dirty things that you have to do to win". She mentioned Ticha Penicheiro as a player who would make her "feel like I'm someone on top of the world, because she's such a great player and such a great leader, and I think that I can learn so many things." She really loved playing at Oklahoma State and talked about the people who supported her there. Freelantz got the extended quote about living in Los Angeles, which I thought was great. She actually knows Coach Gillom from going to Gillom's camps when she was growing up, so she's very excited about that. She thinks it's a great honor to go to LA, since they have such a winning tradition, and gave a shoutout to the fan base. Lee from Full Court Press brought up the elephant in the room, as it were- how Riley would be able to make the transition to being someone who dishes out more, and Riley said, "That's what I've always wanted to do, because I'm a point guard- I was just a scoring point guard in college, so I think that I had to play that role at Oklahoma State in order for us to be successful, and that's why I did it. It's no problem with adjusting to being that disher, because it's just an amazing opportunity to have teammates surrounding you and a better supporting cast." She's looking forward to going to Los Angeles- "to actually go somewhere where there's sun most of the time". Freelantz brought up that she was unusually reserved (which, if that's reserved, seriously, Big XII press conferences must be awesome), and she replied that this was about business- "especially when you're a rookie, they don't show you no mercy". So that was the perfect opening for the comedy relief half of the Swish Appeal duo to ask what it would be like to tower over a teammate for a change, referring to 5'2" Shannon Bobbitt. "It'll actually feel great- I'll feel taller than someone finally."

I should not have the urge to fold a first-round pick up and put her in my pocket, but she's just so adorable! I mean, she'd probably drive me nuts as a player, but what a personality she has. She's becoming one of my favorite people in this draft.

Next up was Kalana Greene, who almost seemed resigned to playing for the Liberty, though that might just be a misreading of her matter-of-fact tone and phrasing. Or maybe she was tired- she'd had a few busy days. She wasn't nervous while waiting for her name to be called. "It's going to be fun" was her refrain. She deftly dodged someone's question as to whether the northeast has become home for her after playing at Connecticut for four years (plus, one would think, the year she got injured). Someone asked her about the Liberty's ‘adjustments' in the last week or so, and she brought up that when she was a freshman she played against Cappie Pondexter, who she described as "tough to play against, she's relentless, a competitor, a person who knows how to win, especially being in Phoenix." She says she'll be able to bring all the "intangibles" to the Liberty, and mentioned specifically rebounding and defense. One guy said, "You know you're not going to win every game in the WNBA?" Her response: "I can try." So I like that drive. She thinks that UConn did a great job preparing her for the next level- the phrase that sticks in my mind is ‘teaching you how easy it is when you work hard every day in practice". She likes watching good basketball (so, uh, good luck with that in NY). She doesn't seem to be familiar with Broadway as a more general metaphor for the bright lights and attention that comes from being in New York- when someone asked her if she was ready for Broadway, she mentioned that she liked the plays. (Probably should have clarified the colloquial use. But she'll learn.) Growing up she watched a lot of the college game, and named Charlotte Smith as a favorite player growing up, then Tweety Nolan, then brought up Lobo and Spoon in the WNBA. She describes herself as quiet, and once you get to know her she opens up. She works hard, and she thinks she got a lot smarter after her injury.

There's an inordinate amount of background noise in the Alysha Clark interview, which annoys me- she was one of the more comfortable interviewees. She plans to bring competitiveness and versatility to the Silver Stars- she was very open about the need to transition to the three. Lee brought up that the number of mid-major players in the league has decreased, and asked what it said about mid-majors and Middle Tennessee that she was there, and her response was, "I think it speaks a lot. Just because we're not at the big-name schools in the power conferences, we kind of get overlooked, and I think it's a testament to our hard work and the heart that we have to not let anyone keep us from our dreams also." Yours truly brought up MTSU's history of high scoring prospects and asked how she saw herself extending that tradition. "I stepped into the role when I transferred there once Amber left, so scoring's obviously not going to be a problem. It's other things I have to work on, different ways to score and being more confident and comfortable playing facing the basket." Someone asked her how she felt about being a second-round pick- "If this is where they see me, that's great." She was expecting to be picked either late in the first round or early in the second round, so she didn't have high expectations. "It doesn't really matter where you go, it's what you make of it where you go." She's excited about playing in San Antonio because she has family in Texas and it's close enough for her parents to visit too. Someone commented on her confidence, and she said that she had developed it over the years, and that it comes from her parents. She talked about how she only started playing basketball her sophomore year in high school- that freshman year it was something to do to keep in shape between track and volleyball, but once she moved to Tennessee "it was a whole new ballgame". The biggest transition for her from going from college to the WNBA is the mindset- "now it's a business and now you're your own product- you're not representing your college team or whatever, you have to represent yourself in the best way and put yourself in the best possible light and just now be aware of everybody that's around you." She wasn't into sports as a girl, and didn't watch a lot of sports. She may be one of the few WNBA players to ever admit to playing with Barbies. She's a broadcast journalism major, and she talked about how her confidence plays into that. Given that she was the only one of the fourteen prospects who went to two non-BCS schools, I asked her why (unfortunately, it came out a bit more obnoxiously than I would have liked), and she said, "Because they looked at me as a person and not just another number... they really, truly, cared for me and my well-being. When I got hurt, Belmont stayed in contact with me and wished me well. MTSU was just a good fit for me- you know, the style of play..." Following up on that, I asked her the same question I asked Jené Morris- did she see any advantages to having chosen schools that were off the beaten path? She said, "I think- you know, we played against some of the best competition in the country. We weren't afraid to play anybody, and I think that, again, plays into the confidence. We weren't scared to go play Oklahoma in the preseason NIT, we weren't scared to play Xavier or LSU. I think that says a lot, and that helps play into your confidence, because you can't really be scared to play anybody if you want to be one of the best." She describes her game as fast-paced, a little unique, and with a lot of heart.

Wow, we all kept Alysha Clark a while.

Then it was Kelsey Griffin 2: The Connecticut Files. Someone asked her, "Do you feel like you're on the Stock Exchange?" That was good for a laugh. She's excited to be going out to Connecticut, citing their fan base as a reason. Someone joked, "not as much snow, though", and she said "I'm not too sad about that, neither." (I guess if you live in Alaska and Nebraska, you have had it with this... snow on your... head.) She was asked what she thought Connecticut was trying to do by acquiring four of the top players in this year's draft. "I think they're trying to build a really strong program." (She also mentioned something about inexperience, but background noise failure. All apologies.) She sees herself fitting "wherever they want me" with the Sun, and mentioned that she would probably be playing a lot of small forward- but she thinks she can still score on the low block as a four- "it'll probably depend on what team we're playing". She's been working on her range- specifically threes and a 17-footer. Lee asked if she found it worrisome that there were so many new players coming in- if, with the reduced rosters, sticking could be an issue. She admitted that it was a possibility, "but you don't want to be scared. You don't want to play scared." We got to her before she got a chance to tell her family where she was going. There had been talk about the potential trade, and she had talked to the Connecticut people, but she had been completely ready to embrace Minnesota. I asked if she'd gotten the opportunity to talk to Tina... and Danielle... and Allison... about this, sort of as a joke. Turns out we got her after the photo with Tina Charles and the Sun jersey, and she had bumped into Danielle. She's still very excited. That seems to be her phrase of choice.

Next up was Amanda Thompson. Freelantz asked her to talk about staying in Oklahoma, and she said, "I feel like it's great. Our fans have been talking so much about how they'll miss me and how they wanted me to come back. It'll just be a great opportunity to play in front of them again. I know they'll support us." She hadn't had a lot of contact with Nolan Richardson- she hadn't even realized that he had been at Oklahoma games. She was surprised to go to Tulsa- "I mean, after a while it kind of started looking like that, but it'll be nice, it'll be fun." She thinks she'll fit in well in the "40 Minutes of Hell" system. She says it'll be a great opportunity to play with Marion Jones, to figure out what kind of person and what kind of player she is. She brings to Tulsa versatility- "I can shoot the three, I can shoot it inside, I can finish down low, I can defend in the backcourt..." She thinks she'll be a three/four in the league the way she was in college- "I'm sure if there's, like, a six-five girl down there, he won't put me at the four." She's looking forward to playing alongside Cheryl Ford, but something tells me she'll be disappointed in that. She didn't have any expectations as to where she was going in the draft- she didn't read any of the predictions, didn't know who was interested in whom. She watched a lot of the WNBA growing up, if the list of names she rattled off was any indication. She says that she has to get stronger and quicker for the WNBA. Given that Tulsa is a new franchise, someone asked her to say why people should come see the WNBA; her response was that they would bring a great game (though she wasn't sure of "who-all" was on the roster, a turn of phrase I'm only including to not make her seem clueless- as shown earlier, she knows the league, or at least its stars). Conversely, she thinks that Oklahoma has been very supportive of OU basketball, so she's sure that they'll bring that kind of energy and interest to the WNBA. We will ignore my lack of listening comprehension skills, because I did repeat a question that had been asked earlier (in my defense, this was about the sixteenth... can you even call it an interview when there are a half dozen people shooting questions at a twenty-something in front of a WNBA draft background who's just trying not to get blinded by the bright lights?).

After that, it was time to trek downstairs and around and upstairs again to the room where the conference call with Epiphanny Prince would be taking place. As we headed out, the lovely and still fresh Miss Robinson was bringing Allison Hightower up for her interview. Our media escort cleared up traffic and scheduling, then we went to the conference room. The call didn't start off very well- about two questions in, the connection was lost, and it took a good few minutes to find her again. Our escort left voicemails with Prince and her agent. Call me innocent, but if someone left me a voicemail starting with, "It's the WNBA..." I'd pick up faster than Superman ever couple. Maybe things are different for pros, I don't know. But once all that was straightened out, people started asking questions. Most of them were about her time in Turkey- if she had any interesting stories about her time there, if she'd tried any of the food, things like that. Her parents were representing her at the draft, and she was happy to see them on television when her name was announced. There was a moment of miscommunication with a question that wasn't clear, and we lost a few minutes while Prince tried to sort that out. Going over to Turkey helped her game and helped her understand the game, especially playing the point guard position. Someone pointed out that her teammate in Turkey, Courtney Paris, is also on the Sky, and asked about having a teammate she already knows in Chicago. She loves playing with Paris- "she makes my job so much easier- I feel like she catches anything." I added that they would both be adjusting to a new team (sigh, I miss the Monarchs)- would it be easier because they're both adjusting together or harder because neither of them has been with the Sky before? She thinks it'll be a little easier- "it can only be a positive, being able to go through this with her, having somebody who's going through the same thing that I'm going through." She's happy that she could make her family proud. Someone asked her what part of her game has changed since going to Turkey, and whether she's developed into a more traditional point guard. She says that she plays some point guard in Turkey, but that didn't seem to be the emphasis. (Again, apologies- tape recorder plus speakerphone does not equal great recording.) She hadn't heard anything from the coaching staff in Chicago except that they were excited that she was still on the board for them. She's looking forward to playing in front of her family- and to home-cooked meals (she doesn't cook and Courtney Paris doesn't like to cook for her, which I suppose makes sense since they have their own apartments). She doesn't know much about the Sky's style of play. (Again, a guess based on the skipping bits I have of that answer- freelantz might be able to provide more details.) While playing in Turkey, she got the chance to see a lot of different places- while the weather in Adana (where I presume her team is) isn't great, there are beaches they go to sometimes in Mersin. She also visited Ataturk's tomb in Ankara and the Eiffel Tower in Paris- they traveled a lot. She didn't watch the women's tournament after Rutgers lost, though she watched the men's tournament. She didn't have any great stories to share from Turkey- "I think basically we do the same thing every day- we'll go, we'll shoot before practice, then practice, then after practice, we'll do lifting and cardio, and then we always come to my house, and me and Courtney will be bored with each other." She tried Turkish food once- doesn't remember what it was- but she didn't like it, so she and Paris stuck with what they knew.

Speaking completely subjectively here, it sounds like she didn't really take advantage of being in a new country, and I'm kind of disappointed. I mean, if you're going to spend months there, try more than one of the local foodstuffs. I'm just saying.

After Prince was finished, Allison Hightower was ushered into the room. I think she was grateful to sit down, even if it was just to a small regiment of tape and digital recorders. She thinks she brings a lot of versatility to the Sun and also touted her defense- "I come from a defensive school. We take great pride in our defense." Someone asked whether Van Chancellor had given her any tips about going to the pros, and she said that he helped her out a lot, especially through this season, giving her a lot of tips. "He told me I needed to work hard on being a consistent shooter from the outside. That's what they really need in the WNBA is people who are consistent at shooting the ball... just to work on that, and just to be aggressive, to be confident, and prove that you do belong out there with those players." She also mentioned listening to the coaches and working hard. Someone asked what she saw "them as a group" (the four All-Americans in Charles, McCray, Griffin, and Hightower) doing for the transition. She wants to come in and make a big impact, and thinks they can do a lot if they come in and work hard. I brought up that she had made a big role transition once before, going from a reserve to the focus of LSU's offense after the class of '08 graduated, and asked if that experience would help her in moving to the next level. "I think so. I've been able to have the best of both worlds. Playing with a veteran team like that '08 team with Sylvia Fowles and Erica White and all those players, and then coming back, and playing with eight freshmen, and having to step up and be a leader and do a lot of different things, and now I'm transitioning to the WNBA. You've got a lot of veteran players and a lot of new players..." (aaaaand lost the rest of the quote, and Mac + WMA = fail) Someone else picked up on that and asked if the experience playing with all those freshmen as a junior would help her with playing alongside the other draft picks on the Sun. She talked about how this means she doesn't have to go through this alone. She says that her strength is, once again, her versatility and her defense. In case you had not heard, LSU is a defensive school. Something funny happened afterwards, because there's a lot of laughter on the tape, but I can't make out a damn word. She had hoped to be drafted to San Antonio, because it was close to home and to her college, but she's excited to be going to Connecticut. "I'm just so ready... so ready to get going... I'm just ready for the experience." I brought up a point she had made the day before- she went to Comet games as a kid and watched Van Chancellor coach them to titles, so I wondered what it was like for her to play for him at LSU. "Well, when he first came out for the job, I was like ‘he's really going to be our coach'. He comes from four, back-to-back-to-back-to back WNBA championships with the Houston Comets, and just to be able to play for him... he pushed me. He's a great guy, a great personality... he showed me a lot, he taught me a lot, and I appreciate him for that." Someone asked her if she had any thoughts of a non-playing career in women's sports, and she said that she hadn't thought about it much, but coaching had been on her mind. (I do think it's a bit gauche to ask that of a rookie, even if she's a second-rounder. Let her get to camp before you end her playing career, sheesh.)

And that was the last interview, on account of that being the last prospect we needed to talk to. I grabbed my bag, went to the workroom to see the last few picks, and then went down the stairs one last time to head back to Queens, and... well, I've pretty much been working on this since.

If any quotes are elided or mangled, there is absolutely no ill intent- I misinterpreted my tape recorder, and if there is a correction to be made, please let us know.

My thanks to all those who made this possible. Special thanks to Peter, our guide and shepherd, who took us around the studios, kept us posted whenever someone yelled "who did the Mystics draft?", arranged things for the second run at Kelsey Griffin, and helped sort out the bottleneck with Allison Hightower. Of course, thanks must go out to the young ladies who stood there and took our questions.

Hopefully this has made some of y'all feel like you were at the draft, whether it's the detailed coverage or the exhaustive recap. (I'm certainly exhausted. Still.)