Youngsters Taking Advantage of Opportunities

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

Without an injury to Drew Bledsoe, would the Patriots’ Tom Brady be the legend we know him as today? As the story goes, Brady replaced the injured Bledsoe early in the 2001 season and eventually led New England to its first ever Super Bowl victory.

It’s a fair question, and a recurring theme that several Phoenix Mercury players are going through at this very moment.

Penny Taylor, Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree, Nakia Sanford, Charde Houston, and now Sammy Prahalis (shoulder, day-to-day) have all sustained injuries that have caused them to miss significant playing time.

Needless to say, it hasn’t been a typical year for the two-time WNBA Champions.

Still, if there is any silver lining to the injury-plagued season the Mercury is having, it’s undoubtedly the previously untapped talent that has been revealed by the so-called “replacement” players: Lynetta Kizer, Briana Gilbreath, and even Dymond Simon.

To clarify, I’m not suggesting any of the players who have replaced Mercury stars this season will be the WNBA equivalent of Tom Brady, but the principal remains the same – a star gets injured (or multiple stars in this case) and opportunities present themselves for young (or formerly unknown) players to contribute.

Conversely, just because someone has the chance to make an impact certainly doesn’t mean they will. Being waived or getting cut by a team isn’t easy; it takes a strong person to bounce back and prepare themselves for another possible opening. Perhaps even more difficult is the harsh realization that the “next” opportunity may never come as the parity in the WNBA continues to increase.

That’s why so much credit should be given to Kizer, Gilbreath and Simon

Take Lynetta Kizer. Drafted by the Shock this year, Kizer played in seven games for Tulsa averaging 2.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in nine minutes per game before being waived in June. However, Kizer stayed in shape and prepared herself in case another team called.

With major injuries to Phoenix’s frontcourt, the team sorely needed another post player and quickly went after the former Maryland standout. As a member of the Mercury, Kizer has increased her scoring average to 6.7 ppg and upped her rebounding output to 3.3 rpg. Her best game was against the Storm at home on July 13 where she tallied 14 points five rebounds, an assist and a steal in 24 minutes of action. The team announced they signed Kizer to a rest of the season contract in August.

Another example is former USC star Briana Gilbreath whom Phoenix recently signed to a third consecutive seven-day contract, filling a roster exemption spot created by the long-term injury to Candice Dupree. After being selected by the Mystics in the third round of the 2012 WNBA Draft, she was waived prior to the start of the regular season. When she signed with Phoenix, Gilbreath was immediately thrown into the proverbial fire. To her credit, she’s done a phenomenal job adjusting to the Mercury’s system and managed to turn quite a few heads with her impressive play.

In her five games with Phoenix, Gilbreath has averaged 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game. Her best game as a professional came in the Mercury’s recent win over San Antonio where she scored a career-high 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line. She also grabbed five rebounds in just 17 minutes off the bench.

Finally, Arizona State University graduate Dymond Simon has also benefitted from her short stint with the Mercury. Simon filled one of the roster exemptions granted due to the long-term injuries to Candice Dupree and Charde Houston and helped play the back-up point guard role to Sammy Prahalis. Her time with Phoenix subsequently led to several opportunities to play professionally overseas.

There’s a very important lesson here: Never. Give. Up. If you stay positive, committed and devoted, you never know what could happen.

Don’t believe me? Ask Tom Brady.

Or, Kizer.

Or, Gilbreath.

Or, Simon.