From Louisville to Nashville to Indy, With a Detour in Spain!
Fever rookie Jenni Benningfield has appeared in three games this season, scoring her first pro basket in a loss at Seattle, and appearing at Conseco Fieldhouse for the first time while hosting the L.A. Sparks. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and a 2004 draft pick of the Charlotte Sting, Benningfield hails from nearby Louisville. After signing with the Fever late during the 2004 season, she spent the 2004-05 offseason in Spain where she played overseas with roommate and former Fever teammate Kate Starbird.
Benningfield sat down recently with Fever media intern and website contributor Joe Gombach to discuss her first season in the WNBA. Below is Part I of Benningfield’s interview. Part II appears on Monday, July 4.
Fever Website: You’re from Louisville. How has it been playing close to home?
Jenni Benningfield: “Well, it’s been great. My parents live in Louisville, and one of my three brothers lives in Louisville, so they come up to just about every home game. That’s been nice, and I also went to school in Nashville, which is just a little bit farther away, so a lot of my teammates and friends have been able to come to some games too, which is cool.”
FW: You mentioned going to school in Nashville. What made you decide to go to Vanderbilt?
JB: “For one thing, it’s a very good academic school, and it’s in the Southeastern Conference. Being close to home, like I said before, was good for my family to come to games. That was important to me, and overall, the team was like a family, and it made everything so much easier – being away from home and competing on and off the court.”
FW: You had a great high school career. You were named Kentucky’s Miss Basketball, your high school [Assumption High School] retired your jersey, and you were also a volleyball All-American, so what for you personally is your most memorable achievement?
JB: “Wow. I would have to say for basketball, winning Miss Basketball because that is something that was my goal since I was little. As far as volleyball, we won a national [prep] championship, and that was really cool. It was a great opportunity for me to play volleyball. I played basketball year-round, and volleyball was something different, so that I didn’t get burned out and also to help me work on my skills for basketball. I miss playing volleyball because our team was really good, and we had great coaches.”
FW: What made you choose to keep playing basketball instead of pursuing volleyball?
JB: “Basketball was something that I had always done. I started playing when I was five years old, and I didn’t play volleyball until I was in fifth grade. It was tough to choose because so I was so competitive in both, and I really enjoyed both. I even considered playing both in college, but basketball is my first love, so I stuck with that.”
FW: You had a good college career and going into the WNBA, you were drafted and then waived by Charlotte – before being signed by Indiana. Last year, you never made the active roster. What was that like emotionally, and what did you do to try and stay positive and stay focused?
JB: “I think that everything happens for a reason. Obviously, I was disappointed when I got waived by Charlotte. I kept working in the summer time, and it paid off when I got picked up by the Fever. Although I didn’t get any playing time, it was a great experience to get in and practice against veterans and learn. I knew that I was going overseas [in the offseason]. I learned what it was actually going to take to make a team. It was very motivating. Once Charlotte waived me, I was even more determined to get on a team.”
FW: How did playing in Spain in the offseason improve your game.
JB: “It definitely gave me more confidence. I could feel that from last year’s camp to this year’s camp, I had a lot more confidence in my ability to go against people. In Spain I played a lot and got more experience. I worked on my inside and outside game. The style of play in Europe in completely different than it is here. It kind of showed me a different side to basketball and how to see it in a different way and showed what abilities I have that didn’t know I had – and I can use those here.”
FW: When you were in Spain, you lived and played with former Fever guard Kate Starbird. What memorable experiences did you have rooming with her?
JB: “It was great. There wasn’t a day that we didn’t have fun. We have a lot of similarities. We helped each other get through tough times, and we had good times. I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate, a better roommate, or a better friend. We learned so much from each other. I learned so much from her. She’s older and has so much more experience. We worked on our game together after practice, and she also taught me so much about life, about how to look at things, and how to deal with them. She was basically like a sister to me for six-and-a-half months. I was very lucky to be put in that situation.”
FW: Did you travel much around Spain?
JB: “We played all throughout Spain, not all of Europe, but all around Spain.”
FW: Did you get any chances to take in the culture and just be a tourist?
JB: “Yeah. I went home during Christmas, but she traveled a bit. During Easter, Kate, my brother, and I went to southern Spain and visited two cities. Also, we only played once a week, so if we played in a city that seemed nice, we would stay the next day on our day off and go travel and sight see and come back on our own. It was nice that we got to see the whole country. I’m actually going back again this year and playing in a different city.”
FW: What did you like most about Spain?
JB: “The culture and the people. You just saw a different style of life. Everything is so different. It taught me to be open-minded and just soak up everything that you can. Everyone sees things in a different way. It was interesting to see another part of the world.”
FW: Was there anything that you didn’t like? What did you miss most about home?
JB: “The food. I definitely missed the food. Well, first of all, I missed my family and friends! That’s for sure. It was hard being away. I came home for Christmas, but it was still hard. You have the Internet, but you don’t really get to talk on the phone, and you take things for granted – cell phones and TV. The biggest obstacle was the language. That was the hardest part because I don’t know Spanish very well. It was hard just to have a sit down conversation with somebody. Kate helped me with that. She knew Spanish!”
Part II of the Benningfield interview appears on Monday, July 4.