TARRYTOWN, N.Y., April 8 -- Just hours after the women’s college basketball season ended in New Orleans, the professional hoops careers of many seniors unofficially got under way in a suburb of New York City.
The WNBA’s annual two-day Pre-Draft Camp was held Wednesday, April 7, and Thursday, April 8, at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, N.Y. The sprawling complex, which is also the practice home to the Knicks and Liberty, is about 35 miles north of New York.
Mystics Player Personnel Consultant Pat Summitt, WNBA COO Ann Sarnoff and Sun GM Chris Sienko.
John Maxwell/WNBAE Photos
Coaches, general managers and scouts from all 13 WNBA teams were on hand to scout players for the 2004 WNBA Draft, which will be held at noon ET on Saturday, April 17 at the NBA Entertainment studios in Secaucus, N.J., and broadcast live on ESPN and NBA TV.
"It is really helpful just watching them play against each other," Minnesota Lynx head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. "You see them with their college teams and everything that goes on here at the camp, and it just gives everyone a good sense for what they can do."
The sessions enable prospects to showcase their skills and serve as the last chance for team officials to see the players in action before settling down to make a final choice.
"Between my staff and myself, we have seen over 130 college teams play," Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault said. "We have been pretty thorough about it and put a lot of time in as this is a big draft for us."
The list of hopefuls was headlined by AP All-America players Shereka Wright (Purdue), Stacy Stephens (Texas) and Chandi Jones (Houston). Among those who also had impressive showings were Arkansas guard Shameka Christon -- who demonstrated her range by knocking down several 3-pointers in the organized full-court games -- and Purdue point guard Erika Valek, who ably managed the players around her despite some unfamiliarity.
"I am trying to show that I am a versatile player who can play inside and outside, and that I have long range on the offensive front," Christon said. "I want to show that I can be a factor and help a team out in any and every possible way."
The list of invitees was mostly loaded with talented centers and forwards, including Georgetown’s Rebekkah Brunson, Vanderbilt’s Jenni Benningfield and Colorado’s Tera Bjorklund. At 6-8, Lindsay Taylor, who led 14th-seeded, Cinderella-esque UC-Santa Barbara to the Sweet 16, easily stood above the crowd as the camp’s tallest player.
The prospects flew in from their respective campuses and New Orleans (many participated in the WCBA All-Star Game against the U.S. Senior Women's National Team), converging on Tarrytown in the early afternoon on Wednesday. After some informal greetings and renewed acquaintances, the 30 players, each donning black-and-white reversible mesh WNBA jerseys with her own number, began to warm up, stretch and shoot free throws. The camp’s first organized session began around 6 p.m. and lasted for nearly three hours. Players participated in ball-handling and shooting drills as well as half-court games.
"Most of the scouts, coaches and GMs have seen us play already," Stephens said, "but they want to see how we interact with people on the court, how we act during drills and how we react when we mess up. In my opinion, it’s more about personality."
Several prospects considered to be among the elite of the elite -- including Connecticut’s Diana Taurasi, Duke’s Alana Beard and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen -- opted to skip the sessions. Taurasi is currently playing with Team USA during its three games against the Japanese National Team, beginning in Denver on Friday night.
UNC's Candice Sutton and LSU's Doneeka Hodges take a breather during a time out.
Matt Wurst/WNBAE Photos
Perhaps as a result of the absence of these stars, talented players from some of the smaller schools were also able to demonstrate their skills for those who surrounded the two side-by-side practice courts. Harvard’s Hana Peljto
and Jackson State’s Amie Williams
, both of whom may not have had as many looks from coaches and GMs during their respective seasons, finally had an opportunity to show their skills against strong competition.
"I try not to worry about facing better talent because I knew coming in here that the competition was going to be strong," Williams said. "That’s not going to stop me from working hard and showing what I have to offer a team. It has been a great experience for me and it has been very exciting."
The camp’s second session convened bright and early Thursday morning after players underwent physicals and filled out some paperwork. The players then divided into four teams and played full-court games organized by various WNBA assistant coaches and league personnel.
More of the same continued in the final session in the afternoon, with players constantly being shuffled and separated into different teams to keep things fresh and give players the opportunity to play with and against each other. In total, the players crammed a lot of basketball into a short period of time before departing and going their separate ways early Thursday evening.
Despite the focused, competitive and serious tone the prospects demonstrated on the court, they were supportive of one another throughout their time together. They spent their downtime laughing and joking with each other, watching soap operas on the big-screen television, napping, and chatting with friends and family on their cell phones. They are, after all, just young women.
Case in point: George Washington center Ugo Oha, who ran for her camera when Knicks guard Penny Hardaway arrived at the facility.
"This has really just been a lot of fun," Stephens said. "I’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of great girls and it has been a great experience for all of us."