Little Does Dirty Work for Storm
With the Seattle Storm trying to rally from a deficit late in last Tuesday's game against the Phoenix Mercury, Phoenix star Cappie Pondexter blew by her defender and headed toward the rim. Before Pondexter, who is in the league's top five in both scoring and assists, could decide to shoot or find a teammate, her path was blocked by the Storm's Camille Little. Pondexter was unable to slow down in time, ramming into Little for an offensive foul and a key turnover.
The day before that play, Paul Swanson of the Minnesota Lynx ranked the top WNBA players in terms of drawing offensive fouls. Near the top of the list was Little, who ranked tied for third behind Connecticut's Lindsay Whalen (12) and Indiana's Briann January (10). By taking the charge from Pondexter, Little joined them in double-digits. Yet to her, it's just part of playing defense.
Much more often than not, Little has been in the right spot. In just her third season in the WNBA, Little has established a reputation as one of the league's better defenders. She started to earn that respect at the University of North Carolina, where Little helped lead some of the nation's best defenses.
"I think in college, for some reason I realized that my players made me guard the best player on offense," she said. "By then, I got the idea that they did it for some reason. I started taking pride in stopping people.
"It has to be something you want to do. Not everybody's playing defense. If you're really good at it and you like it and you don't want anybody to score on you, you take it personally, that helps you a lot. If you don't want them to score on you, you're going to try your hardest."
Unbeknownst to Little, that attitude was catching the eye of Brian Agler, then an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars scouting for the 2007 WNBA Draft. The Silver Stars held the second overall pick, which they ultimately traded to New York for All-Star Becky Hammon - but not before Agler had seen enough from Little to believe she could help the team.
"After I saw Camille play a lot, I said, 'I don't know if we can take her with the second pick of the draft, but she should be in the conversation,'" recalled Agler. "We projected her to go mid-first round. It went throught he first round and she kept dropping and dropping. We were sitting there with the second pick in the second round and she was there, so that was almost like Christmas for us there. We couldn't even believe it. We were excited about her being there."
San Antonio's good fortune was also Little's initial misery about slipping in the draft.
"I just remember her mood," Agler said. "Her and her mom, they were so upset that she hadn't gone earlier. We just said, 'I know you're disappointed where you're at, but you couldn't be in a better place' because of the respect we had for her and how she could fit in. It's worked out that way."
During her rookie season, Little played a key role off the bench for a Silver Stars team that made the postseason for the first time in five years. She ended up beating out most of the players selected ahead of her to win All-Rookie honors. Midway through Little's second season, player and coach were reunited. Agler, who had left San Antonio to become the Storm's head coach and director of player personnel, had an opportunity to deal for Little, who was languishing on the bench in Atlanta after a preseason trade sent her to the expansion Dream as part of a trade for veteran center Ann Wauters.
The acquisition was perfectly timed for the Storm. After playing off the bench for a couple of weeks, Little stepped into the starting role vacated by Lauren Jackson first to prepare for the Olympics and then because of ankle surgery. Little's production was a big reason why the Storm was able to finish the season 8-5 without Jackson.
With the two-time MVP returning for 2009, Little could have been forced to the bench. Instead, her play during training camp convinced Agler to start her alongside Jackson in a smaller, quicker lineup.
"I was looking forward to (playing with Jackson)," said Little. "I had some time to play with her a little bit before I left. I think we've been doing a pretty good job. She's great to play with; it's easier to play with her - just give her the ball. Nobody can really guard her. It's not a hard thing to do. I really like it a lot."
After a slow start to the season on offense, Little has picked up her scoring since the start of July, averaging 12.2 points on 54.4 percent shooting. The constant has been her defense, and the combination of the two has been valuable enough that Agler has had a hard time taking Little off the floor. She's now averaging nearly 30 minutes per game, a career high.
"She's just a ballplayer," said Agler. "She's a competitor. She does a lot of the dirty work, scrappy, but yet her offensive game is starting to develop. She's not someone you have to feed the ball for her to be productive. She finds ways - rebounds, stickbacks, free throws, getting to the open spot, slipping to the basket - a variety of things that she does. We all know that she's a very, very good defender and a great competitor. I think her teammates like playing with her."