"The two of them have come along for us and have really done a great job for the team,” says coach Pat Coyle.
Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
Having beaten the odds and finished the regular season with three straight wins, the New York Liberty face the Detroit Shock in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs. While Detroit won the league's grand prize in 2006, New York's roster consists of several young players who have little to no playoff experience. In the postseason, coach Pat Coyle will likely give plenty of playing time to rookies Tiffany Jackson and Jessica Davenport, both of whom have seen a good amount of action all season long.
"They have been in big games and both of them have gotten quality minutes. The two of them have come along for us and have really done a great job for the team," says Coyle.
A 6-5 center, Davenport was San Antonio's second overall pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft, but was sent to New York in the Becky Hammon trade. She averaged 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game this season. Jackson, the fifth pick in the Draft, had similar stats, putting up 5.1 points in 13.9 minutes a night. While the rookies have positively impacted their team, the season has been a learning process for both players.
"On the court, I have become much more patient and I have learned the game better," explains Jackson, a former Texas Longhorn. "Off the court, I have become a lot more organized. I don't think I had a choice… It is a business now."
Davenport also has evolved both on and off the court.
"I have had to adjust to the different styles of play," says the Ohio State grad. "Off the court, I am living on my own, away from my family for the first time. I am going through a growing up period."
Despite being high draft picks and elite athletes, Davenport and Jackson have not been exempt from making the typical "rookie" mistakes.
"We are playing in a new league and we are playing against different people. We are going to make those mistakes that we probably didn't make in college," Davenport explains.
Davenport uses those on-court errors to grow and improve.
"If you make a mistake, you then try not to make two of them in a row."
But the regular season is the time to suffer through the rookie growing pains. This is the playoffs now, when more energy and adrenaline will be coarsing through the veins of players, coaches and fans. And the Liberty rookies are headed into uncharted waters.
"Everyone's play is going to be elevated," says Davenport.
"It is hard," Jackson explains. "You never know what to expect going into a playoff situation. Your teammates can only tell you so much."
Coyle recognizes her team's youth.
"I am not really sure what they expect," Coyle remarks. "Our expectations are to play hard and play as best we can. Whatever happens will happen."
New York has defeated its nemesis before, as they have split the regular season series two games apiece. But Davenport is far from overconfident.
"They are the defending champs. They have a lot of experience, a lot of veterans. They have great post players, great rebounding and we have to come ready to play in all positions."
Jackson is ready for the postseason to tip off, and she believes her game is well suited to combat the reigning champs.
"Detroit plays my type of game, an up-tempo, physical game."
Rookie or veteran, it is the playoffs and the stakes are high.
Davenport was asked if being a rookie alleviates any of the playoff pressures. Are there less expectations placed on her because of her youth and inexperience?
"No," she says. "Everybody who is in the playoffs is going for that one goal and that is to try and win a championship. So, I think we all have the same amount of pressure."