Mercury Pop for Pringle

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: April 9, 2008

Phoenix Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines said that his 2008 WNBA Draft strategy came down to one word, “Instinct.” Instinct, coupled with a little luck, allowed the Mercury to select the player they coveted the most, North Carolina senior LaToya Pringle.

When Gaines and the rest of the Mercury staff began preparing for the draft months ago, they set their sights on the agile forward/center. However, as Pringle’s talent became more renown, Phoenix didn’t think they had a chance at her with the 13th pick.

But as the first round unfolded and the teams ahead of the Merc kept choosing guards, the reigning WNBA Champions were able to fill their need for an exceptional post defender and shotblocker by nabbing the 6-3 Tar Heel.

Gaines was blown away by their good fortune.

“One thing that I learned from Coach Paul Westhead was to stick with your instinct,” the first-year coach said. “We unbelievably got the choice we wanted a long time ago and we didn’t want to guess or change at the last second.”

Pringle, who was named to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament in her junior year, followed that performance by registering 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game in her final season. She led UNC by shooting 58 percent from the field, while ranking second all-time at North Carolina and sixth in ACC history with 241 blocks.

“Pringle was our first choice four months ago, but we didn’t think she would be around at the 13th pick,” Gaines said. “We thought she would go fifth or sixth.”

Although other players might have posted better overall statistics in the draft, Gaines and Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers-Drysdale believe that she was the perfect fit for their system.

“Because I was broadcasting games, I’ve seen her play since she was a freshman,” Meyers-Drysdale said. “She can step out and shoot the 17-footer, she’s tough, long and she can run.

“We’ve all seen how she can block shots and the coaches knew what they want in the offense and that’s the player that stood out to them.”

North Carolina, which led the ACC in scoring, operates a similar up-tempo style to Phoenix. Because Pringle has excelled playing for a run-and-gun team, the Mercury coaching staff believes that she will have the stamina and strength to thrive at that pace at the next level. And although she may be long and lean, one shouldn’t underestimate her toughness.

In one of Gaines’ three trips to North Carolina to scout her this past season, he recalled a moment against Duke that erased any doubts he might have had about her tenacity.

“She was hit in the mouth and it split her lip right open,” the rookie coach remembered. “She got up without complaining and headed to the bench, taped it up and re-entered the game without blinking an eye. I said to myself, ‘That was lovely.’”

Pringle also believes that she can assist in some of the areas where the Mercury are vulnerable.

“I heard that the Mercury were interested because I can run the floor, grab rebounds and play defense,” Pringle stated. “They have all of the scorers that they need and that’s why they won a championship last year.”

For the former ACC standout, it is also an opportunity to join forces with some players that she’s always admired.

“I was rooting for them to win last year because I love the way Cappie (Pondexter) and Diana (Taurasi) play,” Pringle said. “I can’t believe that I get to play in Phoenix with such outstanding players.”

While Pringle may be enjoying the thought of suiting up with her new teammates, Phoenix is even more overwhelmed with elation after landing their prized prospect.

“Incredible,” Gaines beamed. “Nobody could have guessed that would have happened.”

Draft Notes

With the 25th pick in the second round, the Mercury selected Leilani Mitchell out of the University of Utah. In 2006, the 5-5 guard was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press and WBCA ans was also a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award for the nation’s top point guard.

After transferring to Utah from Idaho, Mitchell led the Utes to a 27-5 record and an appearance in the 2008 NCAA tournament. She owns career averages of 17.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.7 steals.

“Leilani is a true point guard who knows how to lead a team,” Meyers-Drysdale said. “She is great at getting the ball to shooters, and plays tough, hardnosed basketball.”

In the third round, Phoenix grabbed Ohio State guard Marscilla Packer with the 41st pick. Packer, a 5-9 Ohio native helped lead the Buckeyes to their fourth consecutive Big Ten championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, averaged 15.1 points in 2007-08.

Known for spreading the floor for players to drive and dish, the Mercury hoped to use the second and third rounds to acquire some long-range marksmen.

“Marscilla comes from a top college program at Ohio State,” said Meyers Drysdale. “She is one of the top shooters in the Big Ten, and her style of play complements our offense nicely.”

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