Practice Squad Tryouts a Huge Success

By Ben York, Special to
Posted: March 31, 2010

Last Saturday, almost 200 of the Valley’s best male basketball players gathered together at US Airways Center. They weren’t there to see the Phoenix Suns, or for a rec-league tournament, or to participate in club ball – they were there to show their unwavering support for the Phoenix Mercury by trying out for the team’s official practice squad.

The Tryout

Beginning at just past noon, players started to arrive and prepare for their tryout. Many used the time to stretch, to listen to some motivating music, and to mentally ready themselves for the onslaught of running that was inevitable. Needing all the preparation they could get, Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines and assistant coach Bridget Pettis weren’t going to take it easy on them.

Tryouts began with Gaines thanking everyone for coming out and for showing their respect and adoration for the Mercury players. Gaines told a few stories about how he tried out for the New York Knicks and how he thought he had blew his chance at making the pros by missing every shot he took during the tryout. In spite of the missed shots, Gaines worked his behind off by hustling after every loose ball, playing lock-down defense, and doing the little things that then-head coach, Pat Riley, had always loved.

Not surprisingly, he made the team.

Gaines shared this story to inspire the guys and to encourage them to keep shooting even if they miss a few. “Not every shot is going to go in, but keep on playing and working hard. Don’t sulk and feel bad for yourself. Making every single shot is impossible and doesn’t always matter to a coach. What does matter, however, is the attitude you have and how you bounce back from adversity.”

Next, the guys were fortunate enough to listen to a short presentation by Sarah Harrison of Live Evolution Coaching Company. Harrison is a renowned life coach in the Phoenix area who spoke to the guys about the importance of setting goals, believing in themselves, and the power of positive thinking. Harrison had the full attention of the group, and each player listened intently to her inspiring words. Undoubtedly, this motivated the group to give all they possibly could at the tryout.

Then, the guys were ready to show what they got on the basketball court.

A simple three-man-weave drill tipped off the basketball portion of the tryouts. The guys may have thought they were in tip-top shape but once they started sprinting up the floor over and over again that belief immediately left their minds. After a few rotations of the weave, Gaines wanted the guys to focus on outlet passes for a lay-up on the break. Again, more running.

Sound familiar? It should. After all, this is the style the Mercury is going to play, and the team needs guys who are conditioned.

After the full-court drills, the group was broken up into two different squads. Half the group went with Gaines and the other half with Bridget Pettis. This is where the guys had the chance to showcase their shooting ability. The drills started with a dribble hand-off to the shooter at the top of the key and progressed to a dribble hand-off then a pass to the shooter in the corner. This lasted for a good 10-15 minutes before the group would assemble together at center court before the scrimmaging.

The group was then separated into two packs based on the color of the team-provided shirt worn (black or white). Teams of five were quickly put together at random and each “game” would last either three minutes or to whoever scored three points, whichever came first. Each subsequent team would have the chance to play two games.

The games were extremely competitive and many guys were finally able to demonstrate their basketball value. Gaines and Pettis made sure the pace of play was as fast as possible and, thus, a limited number of fouls were called. The scrimmaging lasted about 30 minutes before time was up. By the way, for those keeping track at home, only one guy ended up “losing his lunch.”

The tryout ended with Gaines, Pettis, and Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale thanking the group for coming out and supporting the Phoenix Mercury. Each coach reiterated how difficult of a decision it would be to cut the field down to just 19.

Huge Success

More than anything, the tryout was a testament to the amount of respect the Mercury has around the Valley. These guys were not there to joke around, to just have a “good time,” or to pass the hours on a Saturday afternoon; they wanted to make the squad. Many of them could easily dunk the ball and were extremely gifted athletes. If they didn’t think the Mercury were phenomenal basketball players, none of them would’ve showed up or had the heart to tryout.

The fact that close to 200 men took time from their busy schedules, and on a Saturday, to try out for a practice squad for the Mercury shows immense progress for the WNBA and the respect many individuals have for the Mercury players. More importantly, it demonstrates a paradigm shift in respect for the WNBA and its players as a whole.

The practice squad is good. Really good. But come scrimmage time between the practice squad and the Mercury?

The easy money will always be on Diana Taurasi to lead the Mighty Mercury to a victory every time.