“I have a lot of internal drive," says Harper, "a self-motivation to always get better and build from the ground up."
Maryland senior forward/center Laura Harper didn't expect to lose to Stanford in the Regional Final last Monday. And you can't blame her. After winning the NCAA title and being named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player as a sophomore in 2006, the Terps seemed primed for a return to the Final Four in Tampa this season.
But after being upset by Stanford, Harper has been forced to ponder her next step, which almost certainly includes being selected in the WNBA Draft next Wednesday.
WNBA.com caught up with the former U-21 U.S. National Team player in Tampa and spoke with her about her time in College Park, the WNBA player she loves most and her hopes for her rookie season.
WNBA.com: What have you been up to since the end of the season?
Harper: "Well, yeah, it's only been a couple of days, but I'm trying to spend as much time with my teammates as I can, Crystal (Langhorne) and Kristi (Toliver), and realize just how important being a part of this team has been for me."
WNBA.com: Have you been doing anything special to prepare yourself physically for the next level?
Harper: "Honestly, I've been taking some time off. My body is really, really fatigued… and that's the main reason I didn't take part in the Pre-Draft Camp. I don't want to get hurt and I have to listen to my body and stay smart. But as soon as the Draft's over, I'm gonna get back in the gym. But I think it makes sense to take a week and some change off, relax and do some other things for a little while before getting back into it fulltime. And it's so nice to have a teammate (fellow senior Langhorne) going through the same process with you."
WNBA.com: Speaking of your time at Maryland, what do you think your fondest memory of being a Terp will be?
Harper: "Definitely winning a championship my sophomore year. Those moments spent with that group of girls and the friendships I've built since then are irreplaceable."
WNBA.com: What do you feel like you've learned in your time at Maryland that will help you make the move up to the WNBA?
Harper: "At Maryland, I've learned a lot of responsibility. Coach B (Brenda Frese) has taught me a lot about how to value my time and how important it is to be on time for things… and just to be responsible and to be professional. And those aren't things everyone can say their college coach helped them to do. She's prepared me for just about anything I can encounter.
"And just seeing the way she handled herself when she was pregnant with the twins, doing what she did this year, made us even tougher as players and people."
WNBA.com: What attributes do you feel you'll bring to whichever team takes you in the Draft on Wednesday?
Harper: "I feel like I'm going to work harder than anyone else out there to make the team and to succeed for you. That's how I am. That's my energy. Hopefully my new teammates will enjoy being around me. :) "
WNBA.com: Is there something that you feel you need to work on to be the kind of player you want to be at the pro level?
Harper: "I still have plenty of parts of my game that need fine-tuning, you know? I definitely have to work on my left hand. And I just have to play. That's always the best way to get yourself used to playing a different way or in a new system."
WNBA.com: Is there a team with which you think you'd fit in really nicely? Have you been paying attention to any of the mock drafts out there and where those people think you're going?
Harper: "No, not at all. I honestly didn't think we were going to lose at this point in the tournament and I thought we'd still be playing now. I swear I didn't even think about it until a couple of days ago. And now that I have a little bit, I just want to play. I just want to be on a team. And if someone picks me up, I'll be happy to wear whichever jersey fits me best on draft day."
WNBA.com: Are there any players in the league whose games you really look up to? Would you call yourself a fan of the WNBA?
Harper: "Oh, yeah, absolutely. Especially when I was younger. I was a HUGE fan of the Comets, of their reign as champions and of what they did on the court. And as I got older and kept playing basketball, I kept following it hoping I'd eventually make it here. And being at Maryland, I followed the Mystics, who are nearby, as well. Of course, I also followed Shay (Doron), my old teammate, who's with the Liberty. I'm a huge fan of hers as well.
"But generally, I love what the WNBA has gone for women's basketball. It's had a huge influence."
WNBA.com: Where did you grow up and how did you get your start in the game?
Harper: "I grew up in Philly, when the Rage were around… Dawn Staley… the whole deal. Dawn Staley has had such a huge impact on women's hoops, especially in Philly."
WNBA.com: Is there anyone in the league after whom you've really modeled your game?
Harper: "I'm in love with Swin Cash. She works so hard. And I remember her when she came out of UConn and it totally reminds me of myself… playing on teams with so many great players, but always flying a bit under the radar and bringing something different and special to the team. I picked my number for her. I don't know if too many people know that… but she's really my favorite. And when we played the U.S. National Team this fall, I was totally in awe. And the way she's transformed her game since her days at UConn is completely awesome to me."
WNBA.com: Is there anyone else who you've really been excited to play against?
Harper: "Lisa Leslie was also on that USA team this fall, and she's been the best center around for so long and I grew up watching her and idolizing her game as well. And Swin is younger, so Lisa has been my idol for even longer, I think… since I was a kid. She's always been such a dominant player in all facets of the game."
WNBA.com: What is it that inspires you to get out there and to be the best player you can be?
Harper: "I have a lot of internal drive, a self-motivation to always get better and build from the ground up. Every new step is a big deal and it means that I have to work that much harder, but I'm willing to do it. I'm looking forward to it."
WNBA.com: Finally, what are your hopes for the coming season?
Harper: "Well, a lot is going to depend on where I go and I still feel like I'm clueless about how everything works… but I just want to play. I want to go somewhere they think I can play and really help a team. I understand how rookies sometimes have to prove themselves, especially with all of the veterans around, but I respect everyone in the league and I just want to play."