Let’s Go! Mercury Training Camp Begins

By Andrew Nicholson, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: April 24, 2006

With Suns players fresh off their first win of the 2006 NBA Playoffs watching from the sidelines Monday morning, the Phoenix Mercury began training camp on the main court at US Airways Center with plenty of fastbreak basketball in their spirited two-hour practice.

“Get ready,” first-round draft pick Cappie Pondexter said, “It’s just go, go, go.”

Even with the likes of Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, and Kamila Vodichkova temporarily absent due to overseas basketball commitments, Pondexter and teammates know they are gearing up for a run-and-gun season. The trial by fire began Monday and “go” is exactly what they did for new Mercury Head Coach Paul Westhead.

“It was very interesting because coach likes to ‘go,’” said Tamicha Jackson, who was with Phoenix in 2003 before a two-year stop in Washington with the Mystics. “It was a lot of running, A LOT of running.”

In the off-season, Westhead did his part to bring together a team that could play his style of ball and “surveyed the league to find the speedsters.” He got his preview Monday.

“It went terrific,” the head coach said. “There was a lot of hard work, a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. They are in pretty good basketball shape, but not fastbreak shape.”

Jackson added, “It’s an opportunity to get in the best shape you’ve ever been in, which is a good thing.”

The practice was, for many, a first meeting for the young Mercury players. Twelve of the 15 players in training camp Monday have two years or less experience in the WNBA.

The overall feeling of practice was intense and focused. Although many of the players were new to the team there was already a sense of camaraderie. The players often congratulated one another on nice passes and made jumpers. Although the team is young they were all very focused on learning and running the way Westhead was instructing them.

The head coach was very passionate about making sure the players knew that “go” is their style and will help them win games. He stressed the importance of playing fastbreak style, especially in a drill where the players were running a five-on-two break. After a few turnovers, Westhead stopped practice to tell the players how important it is that they make the smart pass and take the quick jumper instead of trying to do too much.

Pondexter showed confidence and focus on the court, much like a floor leader should. Her jumper was falling and her conditioning looked strong. Her court vision was excellent, but she often took the shots that coach wanted her to take in the fastbreak, rather than passing to teammates. There is no doubt that the Mercury selected a very talented and capable leader as their new point guard.

Ann Strother, the Mercury’s second-round selection in this year’s draft, looked wide-eyed and excited to be out on the court for her first practice. She got up and down the court extremely well for a being 6-foot-3 and shot the ball well from the baseline off the high pass. In her first he also made a good impression on her new coach.

“She was the best player at pick No. 15,” Westhead smiled. “We were happy to get her for multiple reasons. She can shoot the ball, she has good size and she can run.”

And with the new head coach’s style of basketball, she and her new Mercury teammates will certainly get the chance to do plenty of that this preseason.