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Tulsa Shock practice notes: Early injury means ten to win, an Oklahoma homecoming and more

Amber Holt got in some shooting time on the court during practice, despite a broken left thumb that will leave her on the bench for 4-to-6 weeks.
Amber Holt got in some shooting time on the court during practice, despite a broken left thumb that will leave her on the bench for 4-to-6 weeks.

Tulsa practice journal:

The two-hour practice started the same way I expect many of the Tulsa Shock practices to commence - with a team elder calling out stretching drills with the team circled around center court. The elder in question - at least today - was second-year player, Marion Jones. All 11 circled up, even purple-casted Amber Holt.

Drills are run, with 3-on-2 down and 2-on-1 back proving to be an entertaining exercise. Head coach Nolan Richardson ups it to 4-on-4 with two ladies looking on for the injury-shortened 11-turned-10-person roster. Calls of, "whatever you want to run, just run it!" ring out from the coach. At key times, Richardson stops to explain his methodology, at one time saying, "trap with opportunity. All you've got to do is hustle if you trap with opportunity."

Everyone takes to the court for 5-on-5 full court drills, and speaking to his center who is sometimes struggling with the adjustment to contact on every play Richardson is quick to point out, "this is not a nice game. Only the strong survive."

Forty minutes into the action and after Andrea Riley takes a hard fall near midcourt due to pressure from her usual comrades turned practice opponents, the team takes a break on the bench.

"We beat ourselves," Richardson says as the team gets a rest he is quick to point out about last week's game against San Antonio, their upcoming foe. "They did not beat us."

After the break, the posts and the guards break off into separate sides of the court for rhythm drills. The post-side, coached by Wayne Stehlik hit five threes in a row, capped by a roller that went down for Liz Cambage. On the guard side of the floor Teresa Edwards makes the women work for their shot.

"Hit em on the legs, make em know you're there. Don't punch them though," brings some laughs and some even more physical play.

Half-court 5-on-5 is next with the defensive five consisting of Ivory Latta, Tiffany Jackson, Sheryl Swoopes, Jen Lacy and Cambage. They practice transitioning from man-to-man to the 1-3-1 and zone defense.

"I like what I see, girls!" Richardson yells from the baseline after an aggressive defense leads to a tough shot. "Let's go now, ladies!"

Teresa Edwards makes her presence known on the sidelines as women go to her for clarification of plays. With Cambage getting bodied down low at one point, Edwards called out, "get your arms up Liz!" She was met with a frustrated reply from under the basket, "She's holding me at the elbow!" The response from Edwards rang out, "You don't think the other team is going to hold you? Find a way to get your arms up! Be strong down there!"

Practice winds down with some team time around the bench. The voices you hear encouraging the team are those of Jackson, Swoopes and Jones. Jones talks to rookie Chastity Reed, "at the guard spot we are very, very short so we need you! We need every single person to bring it hard."

Ten to win:

After riding a bike, doing crunches, leg work and even shooting on the opposite end of the floor during practice, Holt talked about the injury that put her in the purple cast.

"It was just like - you know how cars just collide?," Holt said. "Me and Jen [Lacy] were running in to go get a rebound, and we just went into each other. My thumb I guess went into her ribcage because she got a bruise. I still went back out and tried to play, but it hurt real bad."

Her absence will be felt at the already thin guard spot and Riley knows that every one of the ten available players is going to have to elevate their game.

"You can't really replace an Amber Holt," Riley said. "She goes hard, she plays great defense and she can score the basketball. I think that we all as guards have to have a mindset of take what you can get. If it's an open shot, if it's creating for your teammates, do what you've got to do. We are shorthanded. This whole league really is shorthanded with an 11-man roster, so I think everyone just has to have a mindset of going hard every moment of every play."

Rookie Cambage is also very aware of the added intensity that will be required by everyone, not just the guards as Holt recovers from injury.

"Coach is actually putting me at point guard, you hadn't heard that yet?," Cambage joked. "Amber is just so strong, she just goes, goes, goes so I think we've all just got to pick up and fill that void that she's left us with for a couple weeks."

Holt knows the pressure that the guards will face, though as the team looks to fill the void.

"Every guard. I mean every guard. It's not just one specific person, every last one of them needs to step up and take the slack," Holt said.

But she's not giving up on the season or her game, rather she's embracing her time on the sidelines: "I am [disappointed with the early injury], but now that I'm out I can see what to do when I come back and how to do it and teach others and let them know what they're doing wrong or what they're doing right."

Oklahoma homecoming:

The Shock start the season playing five of their first six contests on the road, including the preseason game in Seattle. A two-game swing into the Eastern Conference at Connecticut and Indiana follow their first game tomorrow at the BOK.

Richardson thinks the home court advantage will be a benefit for the youthful squad.

"We're a really young team and we're out there trying to learn to play the game on a hostile court," Richardson said. "So hopefully we'll have some real success with our own fans and being able to sleep in their own beds. This team has no identity at this point. It's so important that we find our identity and who we are and how we're going to approach the game."

Along with the team homecoming, it's an individual homecoming for guard Riley. Riley, a Lieberman Award winner at Oklahoma State, was acquired in the off-season from Los Angeles and is excited to have the opportunity to play her home games in Oklahoma again.

"I'm just really excited to be back," Riley said. "Of course, our expectation is to win the game. I think adrenaline has to be pumping, we have to be so excited, we have to show our fans that it's a different year, it's a different team just by getting after people every single possession. I heard it's sold out. If we get this rocking, it will give us so much confidence and everything, we'll get a win."

Riley, who received medical clearance to return to the court before Tuesday's game at Minnesota after having a baby girl this spring, was surprised to be playing so early in the season.

"I thought I was going to be back in July and still had three or so more weeks to go," Riley said. "I think that I still have a ways to go to get in shape and everything, but I think after practices like this, I'll be ready in no time."

"It actually feels pretty good to be back," Riley continued. "I thought I was going to be really struggling and I thought that it was going to be hard for me to move laterally and stuff having a C-section. But I think I got mentally prepared those last two months of being pregnant and then I have a great supporting cast as well. So by getting my mind mentally ready, I knew physically it was going to be a little challenge at first, but my teammates really support me and I'm just excited to be back."

A rematch, but not a repeat

"I don't think that we were beaten, I think we beat ourselves," Richardson said of the season opener at San Antonio. "Of course, San Antonio played really good defense, they made some shots. They shot a ball from behind the basket and had it go in. We know what they're capable of doing and we don't really know what we're quite capable of yet. I think our players are going to be much more prepared playing them at home this time around."

Some things about this season are already different. One is the slow start that is plaguing the team while last season the lull would come in the third quarter.

"I think we can fix the situation of the beginning of a game," Richardson said. "It's harder when you come out of the dressing room after you've played pretty well and then you fall flat, so we've changed that.

"We're a little bit better rebounding team, we've changed that. We're not shooting the ball as well as I thought we'd be shooting at this point and that's why we get in the hole. The thing that we've got to do is stay in striking distance. That's not as hard as getting in the third quarter and not being able to play. I like where we are."

Another somewhat noticeable change early on is the lack of the signature press in the 40 minutes of hell defensive scheme. This is not necessarily by design, however, and should return when offensive consistency comes through.

"You can't hardly ever get in a press like we want to do if nothing falls," Richardson explained. "We're hoping that we can somehow get started, make some shots at the beginning of the game, get confidence and play from there.

"What we're trying to do is we're trying to get to the kind of basketball that I enjoy. We feel like can somehow get the ladies to play some fashion of really scrambling basketball and hopefully bring it home in front of our crowd and get a win."

The hope opener, expected to be a sell-out crowd, is tomorrow at 7 p.m. CST at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa.

 

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett held a press conference before the Shock practice session this morning. Bartlett, a Tulsa season ticket holder, received a personalized jersey presented by Tiffany Jackson: