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Editor's Note: Kyle Ratke was able to sit down with ESPN analyst and Basketball Hall of Fame member Rebecca Lobo before Tuesday's game against the Dream. Check out the conversation the two had.
Kyle Ratke: First off Rebecca, I want to say thank you so much for joining me today. I know you’re busy.
Rebecca Lobo: My pleasure.
KR: First off, let’s talk a little bit about you. You were one of the best basketball players in the world before retiring in 2003. Then you chose to become an analyst. What has that transition been like for you?
RL: It's been great. Early on it was a little bit weird because I was covering a lot of people I played against or was teammates with. But I love it, I love being around basketball. I knew I didn't want to be a college coach or a WNBA coach; this lets me stay around the game. I had no idea how much work went into it as a player, but I love it and I love the WNBA. It's my favorite sport to cover.
KR: A lot of athletes retire and think they are going to be great analysts because they’ve been around the game for so long. That’s not always the case is it? You’re saying it was a little tougher than you anticipated?
RL: It's the things that you don't understand. When I first started I was a reporter. It was really, really easy to answer questions but it's not as easy to come up with thoughtful questions especially if it's during a game and you have a very limited amount of time with a player or coach. That's been the biggest challenge I think.
KR: I suppose as an analyst and a fan of the sport, you were pretty pleased with the recent deal ESPN and the WNBA struck?
RL: Especially during the playoffs because there have been some Game 3s and we would not have them on ESPN and some series were going to a final game and we didn't get to cover them. The past couple of years it makes for a really, really hectic fall because we are flying all over the place. So many games are Game 3s, so we don't know if they are going to happen until after Game 2, but it's great. It's a lot of fun the games are always really competitive really great and I'm just so glad to be a part of it.
If you couple that with LiveAccess, fans can watch any game they want. That happens in the WNBA, that isn't available at the college level and it makes it so much easier for me to prepare. If I know I am calling a Lynx game, I can go back and watch as many Lynx games as I want to watch. Everything is available, not only with local TV contracts, radio contracts -- the Lynx have a tremendous radio package -- but also the LiveAccess capabilities make it very easy for fans to watch their favorite players and favorite teams.
KR: The game is growing and evolving for a hungry fan base, but these players have changed quite a bit. I mean, Brittney Griner and Maya Moore, these players are changing the game. How has the game changed since you’ve played?
RL: It's a completely different game than when the league started in 1997. The players are bigger, faster, stronger, and more skilled. There were great players in this league when it started, now there are just more of them. Especially now that the roster size is only 11 players. There are fantastic players in this league... It's such a hard job to have. There are a lot of great women's players who don't have jobs because it's so competitive and the rosters are limited. The games are faster and players are doing things we've never seen before. We see not only what Brittney Griner is doing but also all around, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, players have skill sets that we haven't seen before.
KR: Okay, with these rookies coming in like Griner and Elena Delle Donne, are you surprised with the instant success they’ve had or is this something we all expected?
RL: I think what's been really impressive has been, you kind of knew what Griner was going to bring and she's brought it and she's had a great rookie campaign so far, but right now I would say the Rookie of the Year is Elena Delle Donne. I finally got to see her play in person in the NCAA Tournament this year and I was blown away at what she can do at her size. Especially defensively. People thought that she would be a real liability on the defensive side of the basketball, but she hasn't at all. She's really held her own. Those two players in particular had really lived up to the hype.
KR: After doing some research, I saw that you picked Phoenix to win the West and ultimately the title. I know Lynx coach gave you a friendly jab for that. I’m sure you know, but the Lynx have won three against Phoenix this season and have somewhat shut down Griner. Are you sure you don’t want to back off that prediction?
RL: I think coming into the season those expectations were fair. Phoenix was getting the best player in the world back in Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, who once again is getting integrated into the lineup, and they add in Griner. I still think that they will be a really formidable team in the West. The Lynx obviously are playing really well right now and LA is playing exceptionally well at home. Those three look like the top-three teams in the West and they are playing that way. The real surprise has been out East. Nobody has foreseen the injuries that Indiana or Connecticut has had. No one expected Atlanta to have the 10-1 start that they have come out to. The biggest surprise has been the East, because in the West, it's still going to be those three teams to win the West... It wouldn’t surprise me if any one of those three teams won the Western Conference this season.
KR: Okay, Rebecca. Now ponder me this. The Lynx have been so great at home. Then they go to LA and got beat bad. Then LA comes here and it looks like we are back on track and we beat them by 30-some. Then we go back to LA and get destroyed. I’m confused. Are road games that difficult?
RL: LA's an intriguing team because they have been playing so incredibly well at home and so poorly on the road. The Lynx have been playing well at home but the drop off isn't as great when they go on the road.. It's not easy to play on the road in the WNBA, especially when you're playing in a short amount of time, flying commercially, or you're dealing with injuries. I don't know what exactly it is, a lot of teams have great home crowds, including Minnesota and that helps them. LA and the contrast of them playing at home, I don't really understand.
KR: We spoke about Maya earlier, but she’s taken a leap both offensively and defensively this season. There have been a few games that she’s disappeared, but for the most part, she’s been pretty great. What makes her so good?
RL: Just her ability to score so quickly she makes such a difference in the basketball game. Teams will try to stick around; the game against Phoenix is a good example, all the sudden, Maya in the third quarter, when she starts hitting her 3-pointers and all the sudden a reasonable lead is a huge lead. Her ability to come down, those nights in transition, hitting those deep threes and shooting the way she can shoot, she is just so fun to watch. So dangerous and at times unguardable. When she is playing that way she makes Minnesota a much more dangerous team.
KR: Being from UConn, do you cheer for players like Maya who have graduated from the school?
RL: From the players, no. I really don't. It's fun to watch players grow up through college then into the WNBA through UConn or elsewhere. I've really enjoyed watching Brittney Griner to when she was as a freshman at Baylor to where she is now and how she's evolved and improved as a player and how she's evolved as a woman and how confident she is. So, you kind of take an interest in players you've watched develop; sometimes as a really young player to a woman. Seimone Augustus is another player. I covered her when she was a freshman at LSU and it's been fun to watch her mature as a player and a person throughout her career. It's more about the players growing rather than a specific school.
KR: We’ve seen a lot of teams get off track this season because of injuries. Minnesota has been somewhat lucky. Hopefully Seimone returns sooner rather than later, though. In the WNBA, how crucial is it for a team to stay healthy? I feel like if I played for San Antonio I’d be injured immediately.
RL: It's huge in the WNBA because the season is so short and the roster is limited with 11 players. San Antonio, Indiana and Connecticut have been crushed by injury. Their hope, especially with Indiana and Connecticut is to hope they can stay within striking distance so when those players return they can make a run into the playoffs. But it's huge in the WNBA and the bright side for Seimone's injury is that at least it happened at this time in the season and not at the end of the season. She has time to get healthy. She has time to get integrated with the team depending how long she's out. It' might be a bonus because Monica Wright might get some more time to develop that maybe she wouldn't have gotten. But injuries in this league play a huge, huge part because the season is so short.
KR: With players like Moore and Augustus, Lindsay Whalen doesn’t get a lot of national credibility, but obviously experts and opponents know how good she is. She was just nominated for an ESPY. And obviously Minnesota loves her being she was a Gopher. What makes her so unique?
RL: I think when you discus best point guards in the world, up until last year it was Sue Bird, Sue Bird. Last year you started to see that go to Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen as the best point guards in the world because they make everyone else better. They make the right pass at the right time. They might not be flashy, it might not be the wow factor, but it's delivered at the right time. They make the right decision. Whalen will score whenever her team needs her to. I’ve always been a big Lindsay Whalen fan and got to see a lot of her when she was in Connecticut. Another player I'm interested to see how she develops is Janel McCarville. I love the way she plays and she has the vision and passing ability of point guard from a forward spot. She came in this season and needs to get herself in shape, she'll be better later in the year as she gets in better game shape but I believe she'll have a great impact on this team as the season goes on.
KR: The Lynx are hungry for another title. What do they need to do to get it?
RL: They need to stay healthy. They have been there before, they know how to win it all... They have the pieces at every potion.
KR: Well, Rebecca. Thanks so much again. Hopefully we can do this again.
RL: Not a problem, Kyle. Thanks for having me.
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