Shock training camp opens with several young, unfamiliar faces

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The Detroit Shock opened training camp Sunday at their Auburn Hills practice facility. If they needed any reminder of what they’re preparing for, the Pistons hosted their NBA playoff opener just two hours later across the parking lot, at The Palace.

Actually, learning the playbook might be the more pressing concern right now.

Shock training camp looks and feels a lot different than last year, when the defending champions convened with a limited number of veterans, all of whom had guaranteed roster spots. Thanks to a salary-cap change and the team’s effort to incorporate young players, this camp will be unlike any that head coach Bill Laimbeer has run previously.

The Shock had 14 of the 18 players listed on the training camp roster in attendance. Ten of them are rookies - the five players selected in the Apr. 9 draft and five rookies signed to training-camp contracts.

“We’ve got a lot of drafted rookies this year so it’s important that we get them a good showing, and we need more players in camp to do that,” Laimbeer said.

Prior to 2008, a player injured during training camp had to be compensated by the team they were in camp with, which then counted against the team’s salary cap. The Shock did not have the salary-cap space to risk such a hit, so Laimbeer invited only the players he intended to have on the team - while also lobbying for a rule change.

That change went into effect this season, and training camp injuries no longer hold salary-cap ramifications. Laimbeer’s extra invitees will be competing for a roster spot in their own right, but also providing the bodies necessary to give the drafted rookies, like No. 4 pick Alexis Hornbuckle and No. 11 pick Tasha Humphrey, a more active introduction to the WNBA.

Having so many players who are unfamiliar with the Shock - and professional basketball altogether, for that matter - has required Laimbeer to run a simple camp in the early going. Several players have not been on a court since their college seasons ended in early March.

“This first week is going to be more conditioning,” Laimbeer said. “A lot of these players haven’t played any basketball in the last three weeks. Most of them have not been in the finals of the [NCAA] tournament. So we want to get their conditioning and their game legs underneath them as well as teach them some simple stuff because you can’t put in too much; they’ll get confused.”

The quicker learners will have a leg up on one of the open roster spots. The Shock carried the league-minimum 11 players last season because of salary-cap restraints; this year Laimbeer says the team has enough money for 12 or even 13 spots on the regular-season roster. “That’s our option,” he said. “We’ll have the money to do that.”

While the absence of several big names might provide the coaching staff a longer look at the young players, Laimbeer does not prefer it. “I don’t like that at all,” he said. “I think all the veterans should be here so you can get your good, cohesive team coming out of training camp, but that’s the way it is.”

So where are all the familiar faces? Deanna Nolan, Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton are still playing overseas with their respective teams and will return at a later date; Katie Smith is with USA Basketball participating in the Goodluck Beijing Tournament from Apr. 19-26.

That leaves All-Star Cheryl Ford, who remained stateside this winter to rehab the left knee she injured on three occasions last summer, and Elaine Powell as the only camp attendees who started for the Shock last season. Fifth-year forward LaToya Thomas is the third veteran in camp.

AfterShocks: Ford worked out individually with team trainer Laura Ramus during portions of Sunday’s workout, but Laimbeer said the 2007 All-Star Game MVP she could partake in full activities as early as this week.

“Cheryl is going to be practicing later in the week I believe, and we’re being told she should be ready to go by opening day,” he said.