Q&A with Minnesota Lynx center Nicole Ohlde
You could hardly blame Lynx center Nicole Ohlde for taking off for Spain for a few months. Of course, she was working on her game, helping her club to a berth in the EuroLeague tournament. But now she's back in the good ole U.S. of A., preparing for a 2007 season in which she's hoping to lead the Lynx to a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. Ohlde spoke recently about the NCAA Tournament, April's WNBA Draft and the upcoming season with WNBA.com editor Adam Hirshfield.
Q. We're neck deep in the middle of March Madness and you were a star at Kansas State from 2000-04. What are your memories of playing in the NCAA Tournament?
A. "I remember it being such an honor to make it, because it means you're one of the best 64 teams in the country. Then, there's an atmosphere that goes along with playing in March Madness. I love to play basketball and I've loved watching it ever since I was little, so the excitement of actually getting to be there at the Big Dance was incredible."
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A. "Oh yeah, absolutely. I remember the game we won to make it into the Sweet 16. It was on our home floor and the energy and excitement of winning that game and moving on as one of only 16 teams left… it was such a great thing for our university and for us, especially since we were such a young team. I'll always remember that."
Q. Who are your Final Four picks?
A. "I originally had North Carolina, Duke, UConn and Ohio State. But now (after Ohio State lost to Marist in the first round) we're going to go with Tennessee in their place."
Q. All of the No. 1 seeds? That's kind of boring, isn't it?
A. "OK, then we'll go with Oklahoma."
Q. And what do you think of K-State's chances in the NIT? Can they repeat their 2006 title?
A. "Obviously, winning their first game (March 17 against Southern Illinois) was huge. They struggled a lot late in the season due to injuries, losing some close games. But they came together really well in the opening round and hopefully will continue on. I don't know if they can repeat, but hopefully some of what they learned in winning it last year will carry over."
Q. So you were overseas this winter, playing for Perfumerias Avenida in Salamanca, Spain. How did the season go? Was this your first experience overseas?
A. "It was my second year… I went to Belgium last winter. This year, we did OK. I stayed throughout the EuroLeague, but we didn't do as well as we'd hoped to. We made it to the playoffs, then lost in the first round to Katie Douglas' team from Lithuania. It was a decent result for our first year in the EuroLeague. We were doing pretty well in the Spanish league, too… we'd only lost two games before I left."
Q. What's the biggest difference about playing in Europe?
A. "Definitely the language barrier. I was fortunate to have a lot of teammates who spoke English, but at the same time, my head coach spoke no English. And even though we had a translator, it's still pretty difficult. It's pretty loud in the gym, so during timeouts or when he's trying to yell something to us out on the court, it becomes an issue."
Q. Was that the toughest thing about playing overseas?
A. "Well, that and being away from the States and family and friends for so long. I also love my fast food, so I had to get used to the Spanish food. They actually had really good food over there. The steaks and chicken meals were delicious, but they also have this potato tortilla thing… delicious!
"I also really missed watching TV and my shows and movies. I'm a huge fan of Grey's Anatomy, 24 and Lost. I've had to catch up on iTunes. Thank goodness for the Internet. I also missed watching college basketball once that started."
Q. How do you think the international game compares to basketball in the States?
A. "It's very competitive, just like over here. There's a ton of talent overseas. Everybody goes after it, everybody's excited to play. Everybody works extremely hard. It's up-tempo and spread out. I don't think there's as much banging as there is here… there aren't as many big girls. But it's really competitive."
Q. You were a member of the 2006 U.S. national team during last year's European tour. Is being on the 2008 Olympic team a goal of yours?
A. "Playing in the Olympics is one thing I would love to do before my career is over. It's something I strive for and always keep in the back of my mind as something I want to achieve."
Q. Is there one skill you've really been focusing on this offseason? Or was playing in Spain more of an attempt to keep in shape?
A. "One of the benefits of playing over there is that you do stay in shape. I've also been working on extending my shooting range. I want to improve my face-up jumper more than anything. You want to improve on every part of your game, but my face-up game has been my main focus."
Q. So now you're home to prepare for the WNBA season. Have you spoken with new Lynx coach Don Zierden? What have you heard about him?
A. "I've spoken with him a couple of times, yeah, and everything I've heard has been great. I've also met him a few times, and he seems like a great guy and a great coach... he definitely knows his stuff. He's been around the game for a while, so that's always a plus. I think he's very excited to get going and to get us on the court. I think he has a lot to teach us. He's going to be really good for us."
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A. "The first thing is not to make the same mistakes we made last year. I think we'll be in better shape, I think we'll have more offensive sets and we're going to be a better defensive team. I think (our defense) really hurt us last year. Adjustments in those areas will help us become a more competitive team, because ultimately that's what we want: to become more competitive."
Q. What are your expectations for the Lynx in 2007?
A. "If we can get everything together, we should definitely be in contention for a playoff spot. With all of the changes teams have been making, the West is going to be very tough again, but I expect us to be in the running."
Q. Now that we're only a couple of weeks away, what do the Lynx need in this year's WNBA Draft?
A. "Obviously, it will depend on who gets picked before we go, but we could definitely get a little more athletic and quicker on the perimeter. And having lost Vanessa (Hayden) to pregnancy this year, we don't have a big banger inside, so we could probably use another post player."
Q. Are there any prospects you've seen who you're hoping the team goes after?
A. "Yeah, there are definitely a couple out there. There are a couple of great guards, some solid wings and a couple of big girls, too. There are a lot of people I could pick, but I'll wait and leave that up to my coaches."
Q. Looking back on your draft experience, what were you thinking as your day approached? Were you more excited or nervous?
A. "Everything happened so fast, it was kind of a whirlwind. You're getting done with your college season, you're having award banquets and then the Draft comes up. So it's excitement and nervousness all at the same time. I remember that after the Draft, it was more (a feeling of) excitement that I did get drafted and was moving on to the next level. There were a lot of emotions going into the process, but all in all, it was very exciting."
Q. What words of wisdom do you have for the soon-to-be-drafted college players?
A. "Have fun with it! It's a huge step in your life, and it's an awesome opportunity to get to play at the next level. So have fun and enjoy it."
Q. Which one player in the league would you most like to play on a team with?
A. "I would like to play with Tamika Catchings, because she goes all-out all the time. 110% every possession… there's no backing down. She's so good offensively and defensively and she makes her team so much better. It's a tough pick, but I'd have to go with her."
Q. If you weren't a pro basketball player, what would you be doing? And what do you want to do after your playing career is over?
A. "I'm trying to figure that out (laughs)… I wouldn't mind coaching. I want to stay around basketball, so I could see myself doing that."