One of the most talented women in this year’s draft class is someone that’s probably the least discussed as of right now, Vicki Baugh. But there’s a reason why Baugh was invited to the ESPN headquarters for the WNBA draft on April 16.
And in speaking with Baugh, you can see her humility, wonderful sense of humor, her passion for basketball and the resolve that she got from the two most important women in her life -- her grandmother Barbara Baugh and head coach, Pat Summitt.
“I’ve learned that there’s nothing strong enough to hold you back from something that you love,” said the Tennessee Lady Vols forward in an interview with Swish Appeal. “[Summitt] talking to me and her battling what she’s going through now and still being there everyday, involved in our practices, it shows me that as long as I continue loving basketball, that nothing can hold you back.”
For the first time since 2008, Baugh is finally healthy and is ready to show the world the player that was so highly touted coming out of high school. As the number five recruit coming out of Sacramento High, Baugh had skills that even impressed her then-Tennessee teammate Candace Parker.
“I had Parker tell me, ‘Baugh, you are a great player and you’re going to be the next All-American,’” said Baugh. “Coming from Parker, obviously you have something good going for yourself.”
Baugh’s skills were so inimitable and dynamic that sometimes she played point guard in high school. And there were moments throughout the 2008 season where she showed flashes of brilliance but those high expectations were undermined by injury -- beginning with the National Championship game against Stanford.
“The first time I got hurt in the National Championship game, I wasn’t as upset as everyone thought I was,” said Baugh. “I was crying because it was painful at the time, I could feel my knee aching [but] it didn’t bother me [that] I tore my ACL. I don’t know why, I think that part of it was because I never had such a severe injury before.
“I was just like, 'My ACL, oh okay, that’s fine.' (Vicki starts laughing) I had no idea how much time it was going to take, how much hard work it was going to take, how much it was going to set me back, I had no clue, the worse I had ever done was an ankle injury.”
After spending the summer rehabbing, Baugh spent most of the 2009 season working her way back to where she felt like her normal self. Leading up to the "Big Monday" game against #2 Oklahoma, Baugh finally felt like her knee was strong again and fully recovered -- then tragedy struck again.
“Against Oklahoma, I was having a great game, I felt fine and I caught that lob pass and I tore it [ACL] the second time,” said Baugh. “And the funny thing is that every time I’ve done it, I’ve finished the lay-up (laughing).
“That was the time I would say it was the hardest, I didn’t know if I wanted to play basketball anymore, [that’s] when I really lost it and really started getting that depressed look.”
Just two years removed from high school, Baugh had to make one of the most important decisions of her life: Whether to play basketball ever again? Facing such a tough choice, it’s no wonder that she became somewhat aloof while pondering her imminent future. But there was one person that was able to reach Baugh and persuaded her that she needed to continue pursuing her dreams.
“I had to start working with one of our sports psychologists here,” said Baugh. “I didn’t know if I would be able to play anymore, my whole mindset was messed up. But [Tennessee Associate Athletics Director For Sports Medicine] Jenny Moshak told me ‘Vicki if you want to continue playing, you can do it.' I think Moshak has the most to do with why I’m still playing today. She’s the best in the country and I knew I could fully recover and she wouldn’t lie to me.
“She’s a very honest person. And if I couldn’t fully recover, she wouldn’t work with me, she wouldn’t tell me that, so she told me that if I wanted to continue to play, I can and it took me awhile to get back to her. But I told her that this is the game that I love, this is what I love, [and] I want to get back to it.”
Since that time, it’s been a struggle for Baugh to work her way back to form with nagging injuries along the way. But she started to show flashes of a full recovery this year.
It was apparent that Baugh was her healthiest this year as she had her best statistical year: She started more games this year (19), averaged more minutes (21.4), shot her highest field goal percentage (58%), and points (7.5).
Now that she’s 100% healthy, Baugh feels that she’s just scratching the surface of her immense promise and that her best days are ahead of her.
“I spent my whole college career just building to get back to where I was, I don’t think people have seen my full potential yet,” said Baugh “That’s one thing that excites me and I’m excited to see what [playing in the WNBA] brings out of me. On this team, we had a lot of different scorers; [in the WNBA] I want to show how versatile I really can be and also show the offensive part of my game.”
I reached out to Maria M. Cornelius of InsideTennessee.com for a first hand account of what’s she’s seen of Baugh over the years, “She is a legit 6’4” with a WNBA-ready body, has a tremendous work ethic and is coachable. Although there are other posts in the drafts, not one has her skill set - the ability to grab a defensive board and lead the break. She has ball handling skills of a guard and can step out of the paint and hit mid-range jumpers. She also is dependable from the free throw line (72% career).
“Baugh is about a college sophomore in terms of basketball experience. She was robbed of court time because of two ACL surgeries but she likely showed enough promise and skill to be intriguing to general managers. A team will also get an outstanding person with a high basketball IQ. Baugh stayed at Tennessee for five years because of the injuries and left with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I think she has more basketball left in her. A lot more.”
Couldn’t have said it any better: whoever drafts Baugh is truly getting a special player.