SEATTLE – Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon of the Atlanta Dream had a plan for their All-Star break. Clarendon bought Williams a model rocket – “because I’m a nerd and I like that science stuff,” Williams said – and they were going to find a local park and go launch it.
And then the WNBA called.
“Obviously, it’s a good reason not to have a break,” Clarendon said.
Ten players will take the floor for their first-ever WNBA All-Star game on Saturday at Seattle’s Key Arena – two of them for the veteran-laden West team and eight for the upstart East team.
Clarendon laughed about the fact that her and Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas were feeling very competitive during the shooting contest at Friday’s public practice session.
“I don’t think we know the politics of how you are supposed to play this game, whether you are supposed to be cool in the first half and then everybody picks it up in the second half,” Clarendon said. “We are just going to try to get out there and have fun.”
Williams said Sue Bird gave her good advice about finding a “happy balance”.
“But I think there are some players like Maya (Moore), who are going to go hard from the beginning,” Williams said. “So we will see what happens.”
Clarendon tweeted on Friday from the bus on the way to practice that she was getting emotional about this experience because she knows it was the result of a lot of hard work.
Her fellow newbies feel the same way.
“I’m just trying to take it all in,” said Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley, whose family will be in the stands for the game. “We are all looking at each other saying ‘I don’t know what do to. I’ve never done this either.’ But it’s pretty cool.”
Williams said the energy is rubbing off on the veteran players.
“I think they are kind of reminded about how they felt the first time they were here,” Williams said.
Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, one of three first-time All-Stars from the Sun, was dancing after practice, laughing with her East teammates, taking pictures. But she isn’t going to miss the opportunity to glean some knowledge from one of her idols.
“Tina Charles is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, so I’m going to pick her brain,” Jones said.
Chelsea Gray is one of the two first-year All-Stars on the West team, along with Seattle’s Breanna Stewart. Gray was a contributor off the bench last year for the Sparks in their championship run before becoming the team’s starting point guard this season.
She considers her inclusion in this game a “blessing.”
“To be considered one of the top players in this league is a blessing,” Gray said. “I think it’s going to be fun to see a different side of everybody. We are always playing against each other, and you are able to pass to them and it’s going to be exciting to be able to do that.”
Gray acknowledged she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know about this experience.
“It’s going to be a learning process, for sure,” Gray said. “I’m just going to take it in stride.”
Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas is excited to be here with her Sun teammates, considering they are one of the hottest teams in the league.
“Whether I made it or not, I was happy for my teammates,” Thomas said. “They work hard, for people to get recognition is enough for me. But for me to get announced as an All-Star just shows how hard we’ve worked as a team.”
Stewart spent much of Friday with a video camera strapped to her chest, recording her first-hand experience as an All-Star. When the West team gathered at half-court to start practice, the “rookies” were supposed to dance off. Gray showed off her moves. And Stewart just shook her head. Didn’t want to jostle that camera too much, clearly.
But Stewart is ready for a celebration of the best talent in the WNBA on the Storm’s home floor.
“It’s great to be here in Seattle,” Stewart said. “I feel like it’s similar to the Olympic experience, where you get to play and hang out with people that you don’t normally play with.”
Diana Taurasi remembers her first All-Star game experience. She sat down in the locker room between Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. Everything else after that is pretty much a blank.
“I remember that I was in awe, I was out there petrified,” Taurasi said. “I would tell them to go out there and enjoy it. Don’t take it too seriously, but on the other hand, you want to go out there and shine, because that’s why you are out here.”