2011 WNBA All-Star Game: West Practice Notebook
San Antonio, Texas - When the first game of the WNBA tipped off on June 21, 1997, Maya Moore was eight years old. So was Danielle Adams. Liz Cambage was still two months shy of her sixth birthday.
On Saturday, this trio of rookies will play in their first WNBA All-Star Game on the same day the league is honoring its greatest legends as part of its 15th Anniversary season.
As members of the previous generation of WNBA stars are celebrated, they will also be able to witness the fruits of their legacy as they watch these young stars take the game’s brightest stage.
This year’s All-Star Game features a record 11 first-time All-Stars. All of them have three years experience or less. Four are rookies. This is a group of players that grew up with the WNBA and were able to watch the best players in the world every summer. Now it is their turn to shine. And inspire the next generation.
“That’s really exciting,” said West All-Star Penny Taylor about the new talent in this year’s All-Star Game. “This year being the 15th season, we’ve been looking back a little bit, but knowing that there are so many young players doing so well this season is a great positive looking forward.”
Moore, Adams and Cambage are the only first-timers that will play for the West on Saturday. Moore was voted in as a starter by the fans, Adams was named a reserve by the coaches and Cambage was selected by league president Laurel Richie to replace Candace Parker, who is missing her first All-Star Game with a knee injury.
The rest of the West squad is filled with familiar faces, players such as Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Becky Hammon that make an annual trip to the league’s midseason soirée.
“It’s always fun; it’s an honor,” said Bird, who along with Taurasi and Tamika Catchings have been voted starters for every WNBA All-Star Game since they entered the league.
“It’s kind of a privilege in a lot of ways to be selected to the All-Star team but it’s also a fun time, a time to play with some of the league’s best and to celebrate the fans and put on a good show for them.”
But along with their standard favorites, this year the fans will be able to see some new blood pumped into the All-Star festivities.
From Draft Day Steal to All-Star
Every WNBA team bypassed Danielle Adams in the 2011 WNBA Draft. Of the players invited to attend the Draft on the ESPN campus in Connecticut, she was the final one to hear her name called and walk to the stage to receive her jersey.
The San Antonio Silver Stars used their second pick of the day – 20th overall – to take the 2011 NCAA Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player from the champion Texas A&M Aggies.
It’s turned out to be a very wise choice. Adams has had a remarkable rookie campaign thus far, earning her first All-Star nod and leading the Rookie of the Year race. Along the way, she has used the fact that teams didn’t pick her as a motivating factor.
“I’m just proving people wrong,” she said with a smile. “I know I’m capable, but that didn’t change my mindset of the WNBA. When San Antonio picked me, I was happy and just knew I had to work hard for this organization and made the team and I was proud of myself. I go out every single game and leave it all on the floor.”
Silver Stars point guard, and fellow All-Star reserve, Becky Hammon is glad to see Adams in silver and black every night.
“(Danielle) is a basketball player. The girl can ball,” Hammon said. “I don’t think our team is where it’s at without her. There’s been a lot of games where she really has given us a boost. She’s just going to continue to get better. I’m really excited for her, I’m glad she’s on our team.”
Hammon isn’t the only fan of Adams’ game. Count fellow West point guard Lindsay Whalen among the many that are singing her praises.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Danielle Adams,” said Whalen. “I only watched the Final Four games of her college career, but I’ve watched a lot of her games this year, so I’m really excited to see her play. I’m just intrigued to watch her, she’s a great shooter, and she scores the ball like crazy when she comes in. I’m excited to see her, I’m a fan.”
Adams needs to be careful not to give too much away this weekend though.
“I know we play them in a week so we have to try to get the scouting report this weekend,” said Whalen with a laugh.
Maya Up for the Challenge
In her first season, the first pick in the draft made her first All-Star Game and is getting her first starting nod thanks to the votes of WNBA fans.
By doing so she becomes the first rookie since 2002 to start in the All-Star Game.
Of course we’re talking about Maya Moore, who has a knack for all things “first,” whether it is individually with the numerous awards she has won throughout her young basketball career or as a member of a team sitting at the top of the rankings or cutting down the nets and hoisting trophies.
At the midway point of her first WNBA season, Moore and the Minnesota Lynx sit in first place in the Western Conference standings.
But things have been a bit different this year. While she always played with talented players in college – her former UConn teammates Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery will suit up for the East on Saturday – Moore has always been the first option on the teams she has played for.
That isn’t necessarily the case in Minnesota, a team that boasts the most All-Stars of any team in 2011 with four – Moore, Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson. Moore is currently second on the team in scoring and third in rebounding as she has fit in rather seamlessly with the talented players around her.
One thing is for certain, she has left a great first impression on her teammates.
“She’s cool, she’s a great person on and off the court, we have a great connection,” said Whalen. “I kind of know where she’s going to be and she knows where I’m going to be too so that helps us on the court. Off the court she’s a funny person, she has a great personality, she’s someone that is really down to earth and has been a great addition to our team as a whole.”
“She’s doing great, she’s still learning, and I think she’s holding back,” Augustus said. “I think the second half of the season is definitely going to be her time to shine.”
Moore agrees that she still has much to learn as she continues to acclimate herself to life in the WNBA.
“It’s a grind,” she said. “I think I expected it to be competitive. I didn’t really know necessarily how the scores were going to look, but I knew every night we were going to be facing great players. But now that I’m here I realize it even more and understand what that means.
“If you look away for one second whoever I’m guarding - some of the best and most athletic players in the world, I mean just the other night I was guarding Diana or Penny - if I look away for a second, she’s gone and scoring. It’s a great challenge but I love it.”
A New Setting for Cambage
Liz Cambage was the final player to get the call relaying the good news that she had been selected as an All-Star. While not voted in by the fans or the coaches, Cambage was selected to replace the injured Candace Parker for the West All-Stars.
“It was a bit of a shock,” she said. “It’s a real big honor, trying to fill someone like Candace’s shoes is going to be hard, but I’m having a lot of fun here with the other girls.”
Of course that fun included her reaction when she first walked into the West All-Stars locker room.
“In our change room it’s like Team USA really, it’s like ‘oh I’m in the wrong change room,’” Cambage said with a laugh.
While many of the WNBA’s elite players have a chance to play together for USA Basketball, Cambage has just one of her national team teammates to share this experience with in Penny Taylor.
“Penny’s locker is right next to mine so that was really sweet.”
A nice touch by whoever was in charge of setting up the team locker rooms.
It will be interesting to see how much playing time Cambage gets in Saturday’s game. At 6-foot-8, she is the tallest player on either roster, but her next tallest teammate is just 6-2 in Rebekkah Brunson, who West coach Brian Agler inserted into the starting lineup for Parker.
Cambage, Brunson and the rest of the West will have to deal with an imposing frontline for the East, highlighted by the twin towers of 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles and 6-foot-5 Tina Charles.
For Cambage the All-Star selection and weekend activities are all part of what she describes as a “roller coaster ride” of a rookie season. While her Tulsa Shock has not had much success on the court, she has had a number of games that show tremendous promise for the future.