July 11, 2013 -- How would Atlanta Dream rookie Alex Bentley classify her last few months?
"It's still surreal, so I'm still just enjoying the moment."
Starting with her graduation from Penn State, life has been a whirlwind for Bentley. She has been drafted into the WNBA, performed on stage with one of her favorite musicians, and personally met her childhood idol after sharing the court. All the while, she has helped lead her team to the best record in the WNBA.
Raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Alex Bentley took up interest in basketball and the WNBA from the start. She would attend Indiana Fever games as a young girl and later as an intern for the team, saying, "You know what, I want to play in this gym one day."
As a teenager, she led Ben Davis High School to an undefeated 30-0 record, state championship, and No. 1 ranking in the USA Today Super 25 poll. From there she attended Penn State, where she was a three-time All Big-Ten selection, posting her name all over the school record books. In April, she fulfilled her lifelong goal by being selected by the Atlanta Dream with the first pick of the second round in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
"It's a great feeling," said Bentley of her experience, "They drafted me and I want to be consistent for them. I want to be effective for my teammates and my coaches and for the organization."
Now her team sits at 11- 2, winners of 6 of their last 7. Led by Angel McCoughtry, the league's second-leading scorer and MVP candidate, the Dream have come out to a scorching start. As amazing as McCoughtry has been, however, the consistently excellent play of role players like Bentley has been a driving force behind this stellar start. Despite the many fresh faces on the team, they have worked together to quickly foster continuity.
"It's a new team - we have veterans, we have Olympians, we have youth," said Bentley. "So I'm just working my way in and seeing how I can control the game as a point guard."
And she's done a fine job of that so far, fitting the right role for her team to keep them rolling along. Head Coach Fred Williams and his staff have made the transition easier for Bentley, who already feels comfortable with the group she's learning under. She calls them the smartest in the league, and with the best record this season, those claims may be true.
"They have a good time when it's time to have a good time and they get down to business when it's time to get down to business," said Bentley. "They're a lot of fun. But they also get on us and challenge us in ways that they should be."
Right now, Bentley's biggest challenge is keeping up the intensity on the defensive end while also helping to run the offense on the other side. The physicality of the game has been an adjustment for the 5'7" rookie, but she has impressed thus far, hounding physical veterans such as Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen without fear.
"These girls are quicker, they're smarter, they're faster, they're stronger," said the 2013 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award Winner, presented to the nation's outstanding female collegian 5'8"-and-under who excels athletically and academically. "It's been a real challenge to stick to our defensive principles and get stops out on the floor - I'm still working on it."
Along with the staff, Bentley has received guidance of veterans like McCoughtry and point guard Jazmine Thomas. The copious amount of tutelage has helped the rookie pick things up at a rapid pace and quickly learn from her mistakes.
"After every game, Angel tells me how well I'm playing, but also gives me some criticism and things I can work on," said the Penn State graduate. "Having her in my head and just getting to learn from the best is amazing. The fact that she cares helps me be more comfortable on the court."
While she is still working on getting comfortable on the court, Bentley has fit right into locker room environment. She wants nothing more than to be an effective teammate and fit into her role as leader both on and off the court.
One of Bentley's favorite ways to lighten the mood is her secret talent: an incredible singing voice. She can often be found singing along to her favorite artists in the locker room, including rapper Kendrick Lamar. Back in April, while attending a Kendrick Lamar concert at Penn State before her graduation, Bentley got the chance to join him on stage.
"It was a great experience," she raved, "His music is amazing to me, I listen to it every day in my car and when I work out. It was a great way to finish senior year."
Even since then, Dreams have continued to come true for Bentley. During last month's home at home with New York, Bentley got to meet one of her childhood idols, Liberty superstar Cappie Pondexter.
"I've been looking up to her since I was a youngster so it was amazing to be able to step on the floor with her," said the 22-year-old. "I got a chance to talk to her after the game, and it was really exciting for me. I've been looking up to her game for a while so it was pretty cool."
Though Bentley still tends to get the game-time jitters--especially when recognizing who she'll be sharing the court with--those are gone by the opening tip.
"I get nervous, I get excited, I get pumped. But the butterflies usually go out the window in the first minute."
That maturity will help Bentley grow as the season progresses. She continues to work on her game, trying to improve every day in practice to ensure that she will make the organization that drafted her proud.
The Dream travel to Seattle Sunday night to take on the Storm. Despite a Tuesday loss to the Lynx in Minnesota that snapped a six-game win streak, Atlanta still holds the best record in the WNBA at 11-2. Bentley knows they will return to their winning ways.
"We're going to keep working on the things that we need to improve on and we're going get better at the things we do well. We can't get complacent, we can't get satisfied, and we need to stay hungry."