Plank Balances Offseason Tasks, Part I
Fifth-year assistant coach Julie Plank was interviewed recently to talk about her offseason schedule which is split between managing the Fever’s offseason training sessions and evaluating college talent for the upcoming WNBA Draft.
A former point guard at Ohio State, Plank is particularly proud of her alma mater’s current No. 2 ranked women’s basketball team. She is a former college assistant at Stanford and Vanderbilt, and assisted for a year with the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team. She played under coach Tara Vanderveer during her final three seasons at OSU, and later served under Vanderveer while at Stanford.
Plank has been on the bench through every game in Fever history.
Part I of her interview appears below. In Part II, Plank analyzes her own game as a college point guard, as well as those of some of the nation’s top college seniors.
Fever Website: What does your weekly schedule look like this offseason?
Julie Plank: “I’ve been spending time working out with our players, and that’s been a priority for me. Tamika [Catchings], Coretta [Brown] and Ebony [Hoffman] all are in town and I try to spend as many mornings with them as I can. They work out anywhere from two to four days a week, depending on who’s here and what their schedules are like.”
FW: Those three players all are playing games this winter with the Chicago Blaze. How do you schedule their workouts?
JP: “I try to get the players in the gym as much as possible, but I have to work around their Blaze schedule, their classes (Catchings) and other commitments. A lot of our players are playing overseas, but some of them are coming back later this month. We spend most of our time working out with ballhandling and shooting, and some defensive work – usually for about an hour-and-a-half when they’re here.”
FW: How do you spend the rest of your time?
JP: “The rest of the time, I spend coming into the office watching tape – some of it watching our team from last year, some of it our opponents, and of course a lot of tape of college prospects, and some overseas. There is a lot of film work during most afternoons, and I spend a lot of time going out and watching games in the evenings. I also try to spend as much time as I can talking to college coaches.”
FW: How do you compare the time spent between watching and evaluating our current team, and scouting and evaluating college talent?
JP: “I’d say it’s about 50-50. Even though it’s our offseason, I like to spend as much time as I can with our team. So even if it’s not working out in the gym, I watch a lot of tape from last year, studying what we can do better and different areas that we can improve.”
FW: What are some specific things that Ebony Hoffman does best?
JP: “She has a good all-around game. She is a nice shooter. She’s got a nice touch outside, and she can both face up and play with her back to the basket. We are continuing to improve in both of those areas – working on different low-post moves, working on putting the ball on the floor, and increasing her range, so that she still has that ability to play both inside and out.”
FW: You called her deceptive before. What does that mean?
JP: “I think she’s explosive. I think sometimes when you look at her size and strength and bulk, people might think she’s just a low-block player. But that’s only one of her strengths. I think facing up, shooting 3s, putting the ball on the floor or passing – those are also strengths of hers."
FW: Can you identify one area that she has improved the most?
JP: “Probably her range and finishing her shots, the consistency in her shooting. She is taking a lot of game-like shots, both inside and out, and I think that will help her shooting percentage. In fact, I’ve already noticed a difference just in the way she is shooting in the with the Blaze (among league leaders in shooting percentage overall and nearly 60 percent from 3-point range)."
FW: Between now and training camp, what is one area that you’d like to see her improve?
JP: “I think she needs to continue to improve her one-on-one moves. Besides just playing within our system, she needs to be able to score one-on-one against her player, whether it be outside or taking people off the dribble. She is working on her first step, both right and left. She is a tough matchup for post players because she has that ability to be explosive to the basket, and put the ball on the floor. She can take a player down low, with moves and quickness. She is continuing to work extremely hard on her strength and conditioning, also.”
FW: What does Coretta Brown do best?
JP: “Her 3-point shooting is her best skill. She hasn’t always been consistent, but I think she really helps us spread the floor. She has hit big shots. We are working on consistency and I think she has improved in that area over the past month. We are trying to get her really to focus on the fact that every shot matters.”
FW: What type of technique or drills can you employ to improve that consistency?
JP: “I think making drills game-like is important – making shots game-paced, timing her shots, requiring her to make so many in specific time, or so many in-a-row. We are trying to simulate situations where it is important that every shot matters. I think it has helped her focus.”
FW: What is something that she needs to work on?
JP: “I think she has always been good at getting to the basket, but finishing in the lane and traffic are important for her – being able to finish when she gets hit, or being able to pull up. Developing a nice mid-range shot would really help her all-around game. She’s got the ability to get to the basket, and shoot a three, but we want to help her pull up off the dribble, or step back off the dribble. Coretta has shown progress in the weight room, too, and she needs to continue to get stronger.”
FW: When you are scouting college players, what types of things do you look for?
JP: “We try to see situations that might simulate the WNBA as much as possible – what those players might see in terms of pressure or pressure defense. How does a point guard respond when they get trapped or face full-court pressure? I like to see a player’s decision making, maybe what they do when their opponent switches defenses.
“Sometimes you gear who you will see players against based on what other teams do defensively. You might say to yourself, beforehand, ‘This ought to be a good game,’ based on what types of defense that player might face. Or, in the case of someone big – Janel McCarville or Sandora Irvin, let’s say, seeing them against other top big players. Or against LSU or Tennessee who has nice size. We like to see them in those types of situations instead of against 6-foot post players which is unrealistic in the WNBA.”
FW: How much weight do you really give to statistics? Does it matter that someone might average 20 points or 10 rebounds per game?
JP: “You look at the stats. Obviously 16 blocks by Sandora Irvin stands out, no matter who it’s against. But I think it’s just as important to look at who it’s against, or how they’re getting their shots, or even where they’re getting their shots. Are they scoring from long range? Are they driving to the basket? Are they getting to the free throw line?”
FW: How can you measure the drive or motivation of a player? Or other intangible things that don’t show up on a box score or on tape?
JP: “Not only is watching games important, but watching practice helps a lot. You like to be able to see things like how they compete in practice. Is practice important to them? How vocal are they? How much of a leader are they? What do they do to prepare? What do they do to impact other players on their team?"
“We talk to coaches a lot, and try to watch players in situations outside the game. It’s also important to watch them from year-to-year – how have they improved? What have they added to their game? You try to get a feel for some of those intangible things by talking to other people. Learning what really are their goals, or how driven they are – do they want to play in the WNBA? Or be a WNBA All-Star? Do they want to play on the Olympic team? Are they happy with getting to an NCAA Tournament, or are they driven to win a national championship?"
FW: How often do you get the chance to watch a college practice?
JP: “Sometimes it’s hard to watch practices, but sometimes with a top player, we try to watch one or two practices leading up to a big game. Sometimes the day before a game, practices won’t show too much, so we don’t see a practice, certainly, every time we go to see a game. We like to see just how they respond when the lights aren’t on, or when they’re not playing in front of 10,000 fans.”
Part II of Julie Plank's interview will be posted on Feb. 19.