37 rookies attend New Player Orientation in Chicago.

WNBA Welcomes the Incoming Class of 2005

CHICAGO, IL., April 24 -- They made up an impressive and formidable list of names. McCarville, White, Johnson, Irvin and so on. They looked around the room at each other, some old friends and teammates, others as new teammates. All did their best to hide their uncertainty as they face this next step in their lives.

Temeka Johnson and Janel McCarville at a Read to Achieve event in Chicago.
Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images
For the first and, most likely, only time in their careers, the entire class of 2005 rookies assembled together to attend the 2005 WNBA Player Orientation held in Chicago this past weekend. Just days after 39 women heard their names called at the WNBA Draft on April 16, the WNBA's newest class of rookies was officially welcomed to the league. There were no basketballs or hoops anywhere in sight, just notepads, pens and handouts.

The two-day event introduced the incoming rookies to many speakers and presentations offering a broad range of information and resources to facilitate their transition from college to life as a professional basketball player. It took place at a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare airport to accommodate the nearly 40 players flying in from all parts of the country, not to mention league representatives and other training staff.

The format of WNBA Player Orientation consisted of group-wide presentations as well as smaller group sessions. For many, it probably reminded them of being back in one of their university classrooms, but the purpose of which was to offer a greater general understanding of how the WNBA works as well as to enable new teammates to get to know each other better.

In addition to the informative training sessions, there was also a lot of what you might expect to happen when a group of 37 college girls gets together: laughter, bonding, story-telling and general socializing. Despite early mornings, there was an optimistic buzz and jovial conversation about the large ballroom at all times. Most of the players did not require introductions to one another. After all, they have grown up playing with and against each other for most of their lives, in A.A.U, high school and college. They now embark on their professional careers together as well.

The event began Thursday evening with a welcome dinner and introductory words from WNBA President Donna Orender and Vice President of Player Personnel, Renee Brown. Orender conveyed that players are the key to the success of the WNBA and laid out many of the general points that the players would continue to hear throughout the course of the weekend. In addition, she provided an overview of the league, its history and its bright future.

Brown the cautioned the hopeful group that their transition to WNBA life would not be an easy one, but certainly a challenge that all were capable of conquering. She outlined several key points to the group of elite athletes about what it takes to be successful at this level: a competitive attitude, a willingness to learn, pride, being a selfless teammate, the ability to adjust and maintaining ones health and fitness.

Tasha Butts, Tamika Williams and Stephanie White at Rookie Orientation. NBAE Images

Other topics discussed throughout the course of the weekend were about professionalism, security, benefits, media training, public relations and community responsibilities. Several of the rookies, including Tan White, Janel McCarville, Temeka Johnson and Kristen Mann, participated in their first community outreach event, a "Read to Achieve" literacy promotion event at a middle school in Chicago, earlier in the day on Thursday.

After meeting with several of the WNBA's most important sponsors and marketing partners on Friday morning, the group then heard from several nutrition and fitness specialists, including Victoria Johnson. Johnson, who was one of the weekend's most dynamic and engaging presenters, stressed the importance of nutrition and offered diet and behavioral tips for players to keep their bodies in optimal shape. Some key points emphasized the importance of a good breakfast, drinking a gallon of water a day and not eating late at night.

"When it's late in the game and you are bent over with your hands on your knees, looking down the other end of the court that you're about to start running back towards, you'll be thinking 'I probably should not have had that doughnut,'" Johnson predicted. "And you'll be right. You should not have had that doughnut."

With all of the new information to digest, the whole whirlwind began to sink in.

"We haven't done too much yet in our professional careers, but it seems real," Monarchs rookie Kristin Haynie said. "At the orientation, we got a whole lot of information about a number of things - finance, security, the rules… so it definitely feels real."

Of course, it wasn't all as serious. At the final session on Saturday morning, Jeff Janssen talked about peak performance and understanding how to play at the optimal level. To demonstrate his points, Janssen directed a game called "The Minefield," where half the players were blindfolded and had to be led through a series of obstacles laid out on the floor, led by their sighted partners to get across the finish line. Among the few who successfully made it all the way through were Kristin Haynie and Ashley Battle.

But the most lively sessions took place on Friday afternoon, when the new players got to meet and interact with a panel of past and present WNBA players. Because no one can comprehend or speak to the lifestyle demands of a WNBA player better, the two-way dialogue really began to open up. Retired players Rebecca Lobo and Carla McGhee first spoke with the group about WNBA life.

Kristin Haynie is led through "the minefield" by her fellow WNBA rookies. NBAE Images

"Never go in and second guess your coach," McGhee said. "If you are not immediately a starter or in the rotation, don't gripe on the bench or in the arena. There are more players out there that want to be where you are, so always remember that."

They were then joined by a panel of current players who are not too far removed from being rookies themselves, Minnesota Lynx forwards Tamika Williams and Tasha Butts, as well as the recently-retired Stephanie White. Most players wanted to know what the transition would be like, and just how hard ther first WNBA training camp would be.

"You all got drafted for a reason," Williams said. "Just come into camp willing to do whatever is asked of you and stick to what you do well. Hopefully there will be some veterans there to take care of you. This is your job now, and you have to treat it as such. Know that you can't be out to five in the morning and come to practice at nine and dragging it. You can get cut the next day."

The experienced veterans also left the newcomers with some important responsibilities.

"The WNBA wasn't around when I started college, but I reaped the benefits of the others who laid the foundation and came before me," White told the incoming players. "You have to learn from that to keep the league growing. Always be aware of where we started, where we are, and where we are going. You need to bust it every day to continue to grow the league and our game."

But the most immediate responsibility these new players now face comes on the court. From Chicago, the rookies traveled to their respective new cities to begin their preparations for the 2004 WNBA season. For some, it is about competing for a starting role and getting used to the speed and physical play. But all are putting college behind them and ready to face what lies ahead.

"It is going to be a lot more physical than you have ever known," Riley said. "Plays that might have been fouls in college are not necessarily fouls in the WNBA. Especially for your rookies."

For others, just making a roster is the ultimate goal. With teams permitted to invite up to 18 players to training camp yet only carry 11 on its opening day roster, there were likely several players in attendance at Player Orientation who will not make a WNBA team. Each will get her fair chance in training camp.