"My dad made me watch Pete Maravich, Dr. J, Magic Johnson… all of the old tapes," says point guard Ivory Latta, "and that’s how I got my ball-handling skills.
CLEVELAND, April 3, 2007 "Rockin', Rollin' and Rebounding in Cleveland, Ohio." So stated the Carolina blue T-shirt of a humble, yet bubbly Ivory Latta as she sauntered into the interview room the day after her Tar Heels' painful 56-50 loss in the Final Four to Tennessee. While she had hoped to play one more game with her Carolina teammates, Latta is ready to take that rockin' and rollin' to the WNBA.
The probable first-round pick spoke with WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield about her questionable height, her physicality and why she should be on the next basketball video game.
Q. After losing to Tennessee, what's the transition like going from Tar
Heels, Tar Heels, Tar Heels, Final Four, Final Four, Final Four to
our season is over. How hard is it to turn that off and to look ahead?
Latta: "It's overwhelming. To come off a great season with the Tar Heels, then look ahead to what I hope is a pro career in the WNBA I'm just trying to take everything in."
Q. What was your college career like in a nutshell? What did it mean to
you? How did you grow as a person and as a player over four years?
Latta: "I had a great four years at North Carolina. Playing under Coach (Sylvia) Hatchell, a legendary coach, was one of the great experiences I've had. She molded me into a better player who could see more of the game and into one of the best point guards in the nation she'd always tell me so (laughs). I just learned a lot a lot."
Q. Did your parents play a big role in your development as a player?
Latta: "My dad made me watch Pete Maravich, Dr. J, Magic Johnson all of the old tapes, and that's how I got my ball-handling skills. But my mom, every time I play her one on one, she fouls me EVERY TIME! I really learned to take physical (contact). So now I get hit by players and it's like, 'OK, my mom hits harder than that!' I can never score against her, and then after she fouls me, it's her ball! I can't win! (Laughs.) But I've learned a lot from both of them. They've taught me a lot about the game of basketball, and it's paying off."
Q. What particular strengths and skills will you bring to the WNBA team
that drafts you?
Latta: "I can bring whatever they want me to bring! If they want me to go in there and pass it and get everyone else open, then I can do that. I'm willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to help the team win. Whatever they want me to do, I will definitely do it. But I will say that my strengths are as a scoring point guard. I can score on the offensive end and play great defense as well."
Q. You stepped up your 3-point shooting during your senior year. Are there
other things you can work on and improve on before heading into the WNBA?
Latta: "Oh yeah. This year, I just practiced day in and day out, shooting 500 jump shots a day. I also worked a lot on going to my left, because a lot of people would say, 'Oh, Latta can't go to her left!' I've worked on it a lot and I haven't perfected it yet, but it's gonna be there! There are still a lot of things I have to work on. I'm willing to do it to get better as a player."
Q. What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges as you step up
to the next level? Are there any major adjustments you'll be forced to make?
Latta: "I think the physical play may be an adjustment. Just watching the WNBA on TV and seeing some of those big girls (in the paint). Some of the things I've done in college, I definitely won't be able to do in the WNBA. I'll have a tougher time taking the ball inside, so that will definitely be an adjustment. I guess I'll have to work on my outside jump shot a lot."
Q. Did you follow the WNBA growing up? Did you have a favorite team to watch?
Latta: "Most definitely. Ever since the WNBA started, I've tried to catch games every season and watch games on TV. My cousin, Tiffani Johnson, played with the Houston Comets, so I'd watch whenever they played. In my room, above my bed, somebody made me a little WNBA (poster) with a ball and me with a little jersey on. It's great! I wake up and see it every day. And it reminds of my dream that I've always wanted to play in the WNBA."
Q. Who was your favorite player to watch?
Latta: "I loved Cynthia Cooper. Every time I watched her, I had a big smile on my face. There was no telling what she was going to go next. There are parts of her game that I've tried to add to my game, like the in-and-out move and the pull-up jumper. And just how hard she plays always going out there with a lot of intensity. People love her. And I hope people love me too so I just go out there and try to do the same thing. Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Swoopes, Diana Taurasi I love them all."
Q. Is there anyone in the league now who you'd love to play with or against?
Latta: "Sue Bird is a great point guard. I've always wanted to play with her."
Q. This might be a silly question for a point guard, but which player do
you see as being the most important out on the court?
Latta: "The point guard! They have to organize their team. They have to make sure that every person is in the right place and that they're running the plays the coach wants to run. They have a big job to do. I think that, being a point guard, you have a lot of responsibility. If a play goes wrong, it may be that someone didn't catch the ball, but the coach is always going to look at the point guard."
Q. Do you like to talk trash out on the court?
Latta: "I don't like to call it 'talking trash.' I just like to get emotionally involved and get inside someone's head on the court. That's what I like to do. I just love to have fun. That's what I do. I don't want to be disrespectful or anything like that. I just love to out there and have fun playing. If I can get inside your head, then that's great! It's to our advantage!"
Q. Do you plan out the on-court celebrations (like Sunday's bicep flexing
in the Final Four game against Tennessee) beforehand, or is that all spontaneous?
Latta: "People always ask me that 'What are you going to do tonight?' But it's the love I have for the game. And it comes naturally. (Against Tennessee), I was just trying to get my team fired up. And I don't plan anything it just happens."
Q. What should a WNBA fan know about Ivory, the person?
Latta: "I smile all the time. I have a deep passion for the game of basketball. I love to compete. I definitely love to win. And my main thing is that I just love to have fun. I try to have a positive attitude and be a positive role model at all times. That's just me."
Q. Do you have any pregame rituals?
Latta: "Yes, I usually talk to my parents before every game. My mom just tells me some off-the-wall stuff and my dad does too."
Q. What's your favorite way to relax off the court?
Latta: "I love to sleep. I also love to play video games. NBA Live or NCAA hoops I love to play football too."
Q. What about the new NBA Street Homecourt game? How would you like to be
a character in a basketball video game?
Latta: "Yeah, that's a real dream of mine. I would love to be the cover (speaks directly into microphone) I WOULD LOVE TO BE ON THE COVER OF SOMEBODY'S VIDEO GAME! (Laughs.) I just love to have fun playing PlayStation games or Lazer Tag. I'm a little kid."
Q. How important is diet and training and going to the gym?
Latta: "It's very important. Especially playing at a place like Carolina, where we do the running, fast-paced game, so getting into the gym, being in shape and watching what you eat are all important. I want to have a nice figure and be more athletic and more cut. I love getting into the gym I love to lift weights and I love being healthy."
Q. Have you given any thought to a career after basketball?
Latta: "I'm an exercise sport management major. And I have a lot of things I'm interested in doing. I've thought about being a pediatrician. I also want to build a Boys' and Girls' Club back home for kids in the neighborhood I'm from it would be nice for the kids who come from a place where they don't really have anything to just come hang out. I'm going to have to sit down and weigh my options, but there are a lot of things I want to do."
Q. How important to you is fashion?
Latta: "I care about it, but at the same time, that's not the kind of person I am. I think I look good in a pair of sweatpants and nice shoes. I'm a very simple person. But when I have to dress up, I will dress up!"
Q. Are you going to get dressed up on Wednesday for the Draft?
Latta: "We'll see Woo woo, it's gonna be nice!"
Q. What's the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Latta: "This isn't really advice, but someone told me a while ago that I'm too small to play in the ACC or in the WNBA. So my whole career from college and hopefully through the WNBA, that quote is with me at all times. They tell me I'm too short? I'll overcome it. And hopefully I can do that in the WNBA. That's always going to be on my sleeve: too short."
Q. How tall are you really? You're listed at 5-6, right?
Latta: "Yeah, this year I was (listed at) 5-7. I'm actually 5-6, but every year, I've gone up. Still growing! Next year, I'll be 5-8."
Q. So people tell you that you can't do it. Is that your source of inspiration?
Latta: "Definitely. I use it. I turn all that negativity into a positive. And things have worked out great for me."