Palmer Hungry for a Championship
Wendy Palmer found herself on the wrong side of the outcome of 2004 WNBA Finals. Hampered by a strained right shoulder that limited her to 23 minutes in the final two games of the series, Palmer could only watch as the Seattle Storm cruised to a 74-60 Game 3 victory over her Connecticut Sun to lay claim to the WNBA Championship.
A year and a half later, Palmer hopes to experience life on the other side and finally lay claim to an elusive championship ring after signing with the Storm as a free agent last month.
"I remember it like it was yesterday, but I can either sit and harp on that feeling or say, 'You know what? You have to move forward,'" says Palmer.
Palmer's veteran experience was exactly what Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Anne Donovan was looking for this off-season after the Storm was eliminated in the opening round of the 2005 WNBA Playoffs. After watching the Storm fall to the veteran-laden Houston Comets, Donovan desired a player hungry to win a championship.
"We were targeting that person that would do anything to win a ring," says Donovan. "Wendy is one of those who has done a lot in her career, has been a very good player in this league, but has not won a championship and is very hungry to do it. She had a lot of options, and she picked Seattle because she feels confident we can get that done."
"At this point in my career, I want to compete for a championship," confirms Palmer. "I had a taste of the possibility of winning a championship. I want to get back to that point and go all out. It was one of the best experiences that I have had basketball-wise; we just fell short when we lost to Seattle.
"I still embrace playing. I love it and I want to be in a good situation where my experience can help the younger members of the team and I can still have the opportunity to play and be coached by a great coach."
Besides winning a championship, Palmer has already experienced about everything a WNBA player can during her career. One of just eight players to be in the WNBA all nine seasons of the league's existence thus far, Palmer will add a sixth different jersey to her collection with the Storm, having already played for Utah, Detroit, Orlando/Connecticut and San Antonio.
Palmer has been an All-Star (in 2000 with the Shock), made an All-WNBA Second Team (in 1997 with the Starzz), been given up as on the downside of her career and then shared the league's Most Improved Player award (in 2004 with the Sun, along with Kelly Miller).
While Palmer still has plenty of game left after shooting a career-best 51.3% from the field and averaging 10.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season in San Antonio, knowing that her time left in the WNBA is limited serves as a motivating factor for her.
"You don't know how much longer you have to play," says Palmer. "You come out and you play as hard in practice as you would in a game. Every day I want to win. Every day I set out, in practice or in a game, to win. I want to learn every day. I'm going to work on something specific every day."
In turn, Palmer believes that level of effort and dedication serves to motivate her teammates.
"You can look on the court and at any given time, you're going to see that Wendy's out-working a rookie, or Wendy's focused," she says. "Wendy's ready to be here, she's going all out, diving on the floor. I think it inspires them when they see that you're working hard. It's special to them."
Palmer's veteran presence should be an asset on a young, albeit championship-experienced, Storm roster that included only one player in her 30s last season.
"Leading is not something I have to work at," Palmer says. "Leaders are born, and that's just who I am."
"I want to be a head coach," she says. "That's one of my goals. I don't know if I'm going to be a 30-year coach like my coach at Virginia (Debbie Ryan), which is just amazing and awesome. I have thoughts of being an A.D. I have a foundation that I'm trying to get up and running. I'm in grad school working on my masters. I have thoughts of being a history professor. There are a lot of things I want to do."
At VCU, Palmer has the unique experience of working with Rams redshirt freshman Quanitra Hollingsworth. A talented 6-4 post, Hollingsworth is also a gifted scholar who skipped fifth and sixth grade and entered college at age 15. After sitting our 2004-05 to focus on her studies and develop her frame, Hollingsworth led the team with 14.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game and was named CAA Rookie of the Year.
"It was pleasurable, and at times it was challenging," Palmer says of coaching Hollingsworth. "Q is a very talented young lady and also, she's a prodigy. The girl is so smart. Whereas you can tell one kid, 'They're going to defend the screen this way,' you have to really get out there and illustrate it and make the reasoning behind defending the screen one way make sense for her. Which is not a bad thing. That's the type of person she is. She has a scientific mind. It's refreshing.
"If Quanitra wants to play in the WNBA, she can play in the WNBA. She's in the E school taking the hardest classes, wants to become an engineer. She can accomplish whatever she wants to. It truly can be her world."
Palmer is one of a handful of WNBA players who spend their off-seasons patrolling college sidelines. She believes the experience will help her next season when she returns her focus to playing.
"I learned a lot of lessons that I feel are going to help me as a player," Palmer says. "Just understanding the other side of what goes into it. I respect coaches' time because you spend so much time preparing for a two-hour practice or preparing for a game. As players, I think we take that for granted. We don't realize how much goes into it.
"I'm at the point of my career where I can still relate as a player and have a good time as a player, but also if someone asks me something - 'What do you think I should do? What can I do to get better and work on my game?' - I can say that from a constructive point of view, not just as a player. I guess my eyes have been opened to the coaching world and the coaching side and the different things you look at from that aspect."
Palmer hopes that experience brings her and the Storm that much closer to a championship.