by Ryan Semanko
After dominating at the University of Florida by averaging 19.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in her senior season, Vanessa Hayden was excited to take her skills to the WNBA. Yet just days after ending her collegiate career, Hayden fractured her right ankle and was forced to have surgery.
The injury dropped one of the top collegiate players into the lap of the Lynx on draft day as Minnesota selected Hayden seventh overall. The 6-4 center worked hard to bounce back from her injury and just two months after surgery, she was in the lineup for the Lynx.
"Every day, she gets better and stronger," said Lynx head coach Suzie McConnell Serio. "She gets more confident, so she'll be a different player with more game experience. Right now we're trying to find her more minutes each game so she'll be a tremendous player in this league."
The 22-year-old has shown great potential in her rookie season. She posted season highs with 12 points and three blocks July 3 vs. Detroit. Hayden has also scored in double figures on two other occasions — a team-high 10 at Phoenix on June 22 and 11 points at New York on July 15 — despite playing a reserve role in each of her 16 appearances. She also tied her season high with seven rebounds against the Liberty. Hayden ranks third in the WNBA in blocks per 40 minutes (2.52).
After her period of adjusting to the league and recovering from her injury, there is no doubt in the minds of the Lynx coaches that Hayden will be a dominant force. "She could be one of the top players in the league with her physical abilities, her progressing skills, and her strength that will carry her really far," says assistant coach Carolyn Jenkins.
Hayden looks to be an inside force for the Lynx — one who cleans up the rebounds and is an intimidating presence in the lane on defense. She has quickly learned that things do not come as easily now, as the skill level from college to the WNBA is a big step up.
"Going from the collegiate level to here is tough to learn because everything here is at a much faster pace," Hayden said. "It's a lot tougher, so you need to be focused and disciplined."
The Lynx were lucky to get a player of Vanessa Hayden's stature and talent with the seventh pick in the draft. The payoff is already beginning to occur as she regains full strength and adjusts to the new level of basketball.
Vanessa answers your questions
WNBA.com: Time out with Vanessa Hayden
Get To Know Vanessa Hayden
May 28: Lynx activate Hayden
April 17: Lynx select Hayden with seventh pick
Lynx features archive 2004