Starting Over

By Justin Whitaker | Sept. 1, 2009
Being at the top and then starting over at the bottom is not easy for anyone.

But for Indiana Fever rookie forward Christina Wirth, she understands her role on a veteran team coming from highly decorated high school and collegiate careers. She is just happy to be here.

“To play in the WNBA period, is just a great opportunity,” Wirth said. “Considering that an entire team got cut and the rosters are down from 13 to 11, I feel blessed to be here.”

Playing on the WNBA’s best team and behind two MVP candidates in Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas is rewarding for a rookie.

“Being on the number one team in the league is just amazing,” Wirth said. “They have some of the best players in the world on this team and it is great for me to play with and learn from them everyday.”

Wirth has looked to the experienced Catchings for advice and guidance this season, trying to soak up knowledge from the All-Star.

“She has helped me a lot with plays or if I make a mistake, she’ll tell me ‘hey, do this,’” Wirth said. “That is good for me because the strength and the speed is a lot different from college.”

Both play the small forward/power forward spot and Wirth has come to highly respect Catchings.

“She’s experienced and a two-time Olympic gold medalist – she’s doing pretty well for herself!” Wirth said. “She is a great leader, she knows when to talk to you, when to leave you alone. I just really respect her.”

Drafted 19th overall by the Fever this year, the Vanderbilt graduate has basketball roots which extend to her high school days in Arizona.

Wirth was a standout player at Seton Catholic High School in Mesa, Arizona. She was the 2005 Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year along with being a McDonald’s All-American. Wirth says that McDonald’s All-American Game is one of the highlights of her basketball career.

“There is so much leading up to the actual game,” Wirth said. “We went to the Ronald McDonald house, which was awesome. Getting to play ball with the guys and watching them was neat. “

Wirth also participated in some of the All-American Game festivites, the 2 Ball competition. In the contest, a female and male player are paired together in a shooting competition. Certain spots of the court holds different point values and whichever team has the most points wins.

“My partner was Richard Hendrix, who went on to play at Alabama, and we won!” Wirth said. “I wasn’t even going to do it but the other girls were egging me on. So I told them to sign me up. They signed me up and we won.”

After high school, Wirth chose to play at Vanderbilt – a decision that was pretty easy once she visited the school.

“I lived in Arizona for 18 years, so I was ready to leave,” Wirth said laughing. “That’s probably the only thing I knew for sure during my recruiting process. I had never heard of Vanderbilt until my sophomore year, they started recruiting me and I did my homework on the schools. I took my first official visit there and loved it.”

During her time there, Wirth increased her scoring average in each one of her four seasons for the Commodores, averaging 11.5 points per game for her four-year career.

In Wirth’s senior season, she was MVP of the SEC conference tournament and led her fourth-seeded team to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2009 NCAA Women’s Tournament. She scored a career-high 28 points in the 78-74 loss against the top seed Maryland Terrapins.

Besides having an excellent basketball career Vanderbilt, Wirth also found a best friend in teammate Jen Risper. Together, the pair averaged 24.4 points per game their senior season and led Vanderbilt to a 26-9 record and SEC Tournament Championship.

Going into the 2009 WNBA Draft, the roommates had the possibility of being drafted together.

“We were actually sitting in our room, watching the draft, just wondering who was going to go next – that was kind of fun.” Wirth said. “It was really neat, too, because of all the places we could have gone. It was just exciting sitting there together.”

Wirth was selected by Indiana in the second round. Risper was drafted in the third round, 29th overall, by the Chicago Sky – but she was cut at the beginning of the season.

“I thought she had a good chance to make the team,” Wirth said. “But it was tougher than ever with the roster cuts. She didn’t make it. This offseason though, we are going to go overseas this year and play together in Slovakia.”

Looking forward, Wirth feels like she mainly needs to improve a certain aspect of her game.

“Getting stronger is the biggest thing,” Wirth said. “In college, at 6’1”, I was a pretty average post player. But here, I’m a tiny post player. That was probably the biggest thing at first, guarding Ebony or our big post players. We are about the same height, she is just a lot stronger than me.”

Going from the leader on her college team, to a rookie reserve on a veteran team has been no easy task for Wirth. But she is doing anything and everything to learn, and make the Fever better.

“Once you are leader, you are always a leader,” Wirth said. “Your leadership role might change a little bit, but I try to be somebody that is really encouraging. I’m not talking the entire practice like I did in college. “

“I really just try to see what I can bring that this team needs. Whether that’s talking quietly with someone on the side or being encouraging my teammates. I’m just trying to fill a role that we might need filled. “