March 28 - Opening Statement and thoughts on the Draft: College basketball is in really good hands. I think that there are a lot of quality young players and certainly next year’s draft is going to be a star-studded one. In regards to this year and the big picture in terms of the draft, I think there are some uncertainties and some intriguing uncertainties, clearly regarding Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker, two major talents, two game-changing talents at the next level. Whether or not they will be in the WNBA this summer remains to be seen. I think that uncertainty is having an impact on the lack of movement regarding trades.

If you’re Phoenix, you simply can’t make a move until you know for certain what those two are going to do. I don’t think the coaches have touched on the fact that this is not a draft that has overwhelming talent, but there are a few players that I think can have an impact as far as productivity and major minutes and production.
When I think position-specific, I look at Linsdey Harding who in one season changed herself from a very good college player into somebody I believe can be, with time, a major talent in the WNBA. She definitely plays both sides of the ball.

The other major storyline in this draft is the fact that you will have some teams that I think are thinking more about the future when they pick in this particular draft, especially in the later rounds, like Detroit or Connecticut whose starting five is in place. Their thought process, along with a couple of other teams, may be down the road. Also, because of salary cap issues, picks may surprise people, or you may wonder if they were already filled at that position, but they’re looking to the future.

Q: Do you think the WNBA and the executives in the league are going to be able to contain themselves as we go into the future and not press and lobby for changes in the eligibility rules?

Burke: At this point, with the leadership that’s in place in the league I believe firmly that those people are committed to two things: I think first and foremost, the game of basketball and caretaking of the game of basketball. That’s anyone’s responsibility that is involved with the game. I think both of those women (Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles) are realistic about the compensation packages that are in place, and both are very much aware. And I think the WNBA has the best interest of their players at heart, which is fundamental to any success that any professional league would have.

So, I don’t see them pressing that, at least not in the immediate future. I think clearly, if anybody’s going to press to make a change, it would be a talent who might be 18 years of age and does not have, as you see on the men’s side, well, hardship is a term that is no longer used, but if there is an instance from a socioeconomic viewpoint, that somebody that is talented enough and capable of playing after their freshman or sophomore year, they may push for it in terms of their legal avenues, whether or not they can get into the WNBA. It goes beyond the WNBA in terms of that hardship sort of situation.

Q: In this draft, there aren’t clear cut stars, but sleepers like Lyndsey Medders of Iowa State and Eshaya Murphy form USC. Where do they project and do you think either of those two players can make an impact in the league?

Burke: To be perfectly frank with you, I think Eshaya Murphy would probably get picked. In fact, I’d be surprised if Lyndsey got picked before ‘Shay. I just feel like from a scoring standpoint, ‘Shay brings a lot of different dimensions. Her perimeter shooting has been a little bit inconsistent over the course of her career, but I just like her ability and will to score the basketball. When you look at her frame, she’s clearly prepared, from a physical standpoint to compete in the WNBA. That, for the most part is a major adjustment for people coming out of college. It is a physical league. It is a fast paced league, but ‘Shay has all of the qualities necessary, I think to be a player, down the road. Again, I’m not sure if immediately she would fits into a starting role for certain organizations, but clearly she is someone that has the physical skills and the will to be a part of this league.

Lyndsey Medders is an intriguing prospect to me. Her time at Iowa State with Bill Fennelly’s system did not afford her an opportunity on the defensive side of the ball to showcase whether or not she can guard. This is a highly athletic league. It gets more athletic and faster paced every year. I think in that zone, where she did show that she can keep people in front… whether you can do it consistently over the course of a WNBA game, it would be questionable. On the offensive end, Lyndsey Medders is a player that can shoot the ball with deep range. I think there’s always a high value on people that can score and stretch defenses. She has a solid handle. She understands how to set her teammates up. She’s a very good passer.

So, both of those players, I think are people that can definitely make rosters, which will be a major challenge for a lot of players that will be in this draft.

Q: What do you see as a need that the Sun need to fill and what players do you think might be around when they pick?

Burke: That’s an interesting one. The big picture point I made earlier today about teams, particularly those picking late, they might base their pick on a need basis.
I think as far as Connecticut, Mike (Thibault) has clearly put together a terrific team. He’s got his lineup in place. I know that they have talked about a couple of things, picking up a quality wing, somebody that can back up that position and then maybe somebody in the post area or a quality core player that can give you some minutes at the 5 or even somebody that can go with the three spot.

The player that you look to that’s incredibly versatile is Asjha Jones and I don’t think there’s anybody like that. But if you’re looking for a four, and what Mike likes to do, certainly Brooke Smith comes to my mind as somebody who could be available in that spot. The reason I say a four or a five is because Brooke is very capable of facing up. She has the face up skills. She’s actually taking some threes this year. She has sort of that sweeping hook in either direction that I have not seen a college player do, any woman. She brings it down a little bit low. I guess the only question I have about her is if she is physically ready to defend people that are going to test her and her willingness to mix it up. So, she would be somebody that comes to mind.

There a lot of good wings in this draft and a lot that I think go two/three: Armintie Price, Noelle Quinn, Kamiesha Hairston, Jessica Dixon, ‘Shay Murphy, Katie Gearlds, Chrissy Givens. All of those players can play the two/three or some three/four, but if any of those players are still available for that particular spot remains to be seen.

Q: Are there any players that have helped their chances during the tournament, and are there any that you feel their spot may have dropped?

Burke: Honestly, if I’m picking in this draft, knowing that Phoenix has significant post needs, if you’re simply trying to elevate your post talent, at this draft, there’s one player who can elevate your talent. And I mean right now, and is going to play in this league, she’s reminiscent to me of Deanna Nolan in her athleticism, and that’s Armintie Price.

I know she doesn’t shoot the deep ball very well, but I believe she has the potential to do that. She has the kind of athleticism, the speed, the elevation that is going to make her a special talent in this league. She can slash with anybody in the country. She’s reminiscent of Deanna Nolan in that when she does elevate, her release point on that jump shot is so high, that there isn’t going to be someone who can contest that. You would be hard pressed to check this kid one on one.

Clearly, scouts in this league are so good and the coaching has become so good that people are going to play her soft and make her make jump shots. But Deanna didn’t come into this league as a great perimeter scorer. I think the Detroit staff has had a significant impact on Deanna physically and mentally and someone could have the same kind of influence on Price.

Q: Where do you see Jessica Davenport fitting in this draft and how would you see her fitting into the league?

Burke: I love Jessica Davenport as a basketball player and a person. I was able to cover her several times during the course of her career and then able to watch her on TV.

First of all, she was incredibly well coached by Jim Foster and second of all, she’s a highly skilled post [player] who brings great size and length to the game. Her field goal percentage, I don’t have the numbers right in front of me, but I want to say she was over 60% from the floor, so she finishes around the rim at a very high percentage. She wants to turn over one shoulder more than the other, but I believe she can go over either shoulder and will continue to develop that. I know that people are thrilled about her passing ability. This is a very low maintenance player, someone that is going to fit into a team dynamic right away.

Kara Lawson, a terrific analyst for ESPN who also plays for the league and had a chance to play with Jess last spring or summer said about her: “I liked her skills; I just wonder where she fits in terms of the next level.”

Kara talked about her ability to catch the basketball. If you put it near Jess Davenport, she’s going to catch it and something positive is going to happen with it. Clearly, and I think Anne Donovan addressed this, what people wonder about Jess, is whether she is athletic enough, mobile enough to compete in this league, because sometimes these true centers get pulled away from the rim and have to contest a jump shot or contain someone who wants to go off of the dribble-drive. I think she has to show that ability.

Q: Do you see Jessica Davenport as a top three or four pick?

Burke: Yes, absolutely.

Q: Have you all met and discussed how ESPN will handle LSU (and the Pokey Chatman story) in terms of this weekend’s broadcasts?

Burke: We have not had any discussions specifically regarding our coverage of the Final Four. Our first meeting will be Friday morning. Well, like you, have to cover it. It is a major story in college basketball.

I am thrilled for those young women, that they were able to turn their focus inward and were able to achieve something that is such a rare opportunity. You do not get to compete in a Final Four for a national championship very often. So I am thrilled for those kids. I know we’re not supposed to pull, as media, but when that story broke, all I could think of was that I hope those kids come out and play well.

But, we will absolutely address it. It’s an unfortunate situation, and it will probably be a lengthy discussion on how we can cover it.

Q: Can you assess what you’ve seen from Bernice Mosby?

Burke: I think Bernice Mosby is very high in the minds of all of the coaches that I have spoken to. I think clearly she is one of those players in which I’m wondering where she fits in terms of position. She’s very athletic.

Early on in her career was mostly around the rim and as someone who was a little undersized but was still able to score. She had a knack for scoring over or around players that were bigger than she is. She has now shown an ability to face up. She can make the free throw, jump shot and because of her explosive speed has that first step to go by (people) that will help her.

I do see her as her career goes on, and this really has to be something that Bernice and whatever organization takes her decides, where does she best fit in? She needs to improve her handle and her face up jump shooting enough that she can consistently play at the three position. Or do they believe that her best attributes will be around the rim?

That will be determined by Bernice Mosby and her willingness to work. Clearly she’s motivated to be in this league. I think she wants to be someone that makes big jump shots and play more at the three than the four. She’s a talent and she’s definitely first round; I would think in the top 10 picks.

Q: Are there any players from smaller schools or mid-major schools that weren’t considered at first as WNBA candidates that you have seen late in the season that could make a run?

Burke: I was thrilled to see the mid-majors have success, and I think there were some similarities in how those teams hatched.

First and foremost, when you look at American and some of the other people that had success, they were able to, number one, value the basketball.

Number two, they were a very good shooting team, whether that was inside or outside the three-point mark. They were committed to their defense and they played smart, taking away opponent’s strengths and making them play to their weaknesses; and they did that without fouling.

I saw some nice players: Ally Mann from Bowlin Green is a player that I watched tape of and then, seeing her in the tournament, I saw that she can make the rebounds for them and works well for their particular system.

But to tell you the truth, I think that anybody from the mid to late second round and the third round are going to have a very hard time making a roster. Roster spots in this league are really at an all-time high in terms of how hard it is to make.

I think that, athletically, any mid-major player is going to have a hard time competing at this level. Now that doesn’t mean that they can’t go overseas and get better and maybe improve their foot speed. But from the late second round and on down, they’re going to have a really hard time.

Q: Ivory Latta had less than a stellar senior season, yet, here they (North Carolina) are again in the Final Four. How do you see her making an impact as far as immediacy and over the course of her career in the WNBA?

Burke: Clearly the injury she suffered at the Final Four (a year ago) had an impact on both her preseason and off-season routine. She put on some weight. She was out of condition, and this was a player that, during the off-season, was committed to shooting 600 jump shots a day.

Another thing that had an impact on her was the fact that she was in a video, sent out by the NCAA regarding officiating. She was a player they focused on in terms of just trying to tone down effusive actions on the court that may be, to some people, offensive to an opponent or maybe not the greatest sportsmanship.
I think that had a bigger impact on Ivory than most people are aware of. She was afraid to get technical fouls. In fact, she was warned in a game in January so she turned that volume down a ton.

With that said, I think she’ll be the second point guard taken. I think there’s definitely a place for her in this league. She can stretch you with incredible range. She has been better as of late. She’s getting back to getting back inside the free throw line and looking to attack, whether it’s to score the ball herself or make a drive and pitch.

The other thing she’s doing is getting back to that emotion and trying to energize the players around her. I think she’s a player for this league. The question I have is the same that distinguishes Lindsey Harding: in regards to the defensive side of the ball, I still don’t know, and I know that North Carolina probably objects to this, I haven’t seen the same quickness on the defensive end this season that I saw last season. That would be one question I have. Can she get back to that on the defensive side?