Kelly Mazzante feels as if her patience has finally paid off.
The 6-0, second-year shooting guard waited 62 games to get her first WNBA start with the Sting after being selected in the second round (18th overall) of the 2004 WNBA Draft. She was highly touted coming out of Penn State as the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history with 2,919 career points, and there were many prognosticators who figured Mazzante would be an impact player in her rookie season.
Unfortunately for Mazzante, that wasn't the case.
She played in all 34 games for Charlotte in 2004, but her name never cracked the starting lineup. She averaged 2.3 points and 1.0 rebounds in 10.0 minutes and scored in double figures in just two games. The outlook didn't look much brighter for Mazzante as the 2005 season wound down, as she averaged 1.8 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.2 assists in 6.2 minutes and did not play in seven of the Sting's first 24 contests.
Still, Mazzante wasn't about to let it get her down.
"At this level, it's really day by day," Mazzante said. "Trades happen and coaching changes happen, so there's a point where you really have to stay strong mentally and physically and fight every day in practice. When the opportunity is there, you just have to take advantage of it."
Mazzante's opportunity changed on August 3, when Muggsy Bogues took over as head coach of the Sting and didn't hide the fact that everybody on the roster was going to get a chance to show what they had under his tutelage.
"My assessment is that we�ve got some talent," Bogues said the day he was hired. "We�ve got talent on the team, and I�ve just got to find out and explore and put them in the best situation where they can be successful. It�s a rebuilding stage for us. For me, it�s more or less an evaluation, seeing what they can do, seeing how they respond to certain situations."
Under Bogues, Mazzante was given the opportunity to showcase her skills almost immediately. In her first three games under her new head coach, Mazzante came off the bench and averaged 1.0 point, 1.0 rebound and 1.0 assist in three minutes. Her numbers weren't mind-boggling by any stretch, but she began taking baby steps to becoming an important piece off the bench rather than a fixture on it.
"I thought this might be my time to get my opportunity (when Bogues took over)," Mazzante said. "I think everyone understands that people were going to be given the chance to play, but you have to look at the bigger picture. It is a team atmosphere, and you have people playing right now who might not have had the chance to play with each other earlier in the season. I haven't played with the starters much all season, so there is a combination of getting the opportunity but having to get used to each other on a different level."
Bogues obviously felt confident in what he saw in Mazzante in his first three games as head coach, and on August 12 against New York, Mazzante's name was introduced in the starting lineup for the first time in her WNBA career.
"I think my excitement really just comes down to having the opportunity to play," she said. "Whether I start, whether I come in as the first, second or third player off the bench, it's just a matter of getting out there and playing. It's felt good - really good. I think it would feel a lot better if we were winning, though. I think we're all continuing to work hard and still have five games left to do something."
For now, Mazzante is adjusting to life as a starter and trying to recapture the shooting touch that made her a star at Penn State. In her two games as a starter, she has averaged 2.0 points while going 1-9 (.111) from the field, including 1-5 (.200) from three-point range. Still, she doesn't seem worried that her shots will start to fall soon.
"I feel great out there," she said. "I feel like I'm trying to bring some energy to the team and do some other things. I'm not worried about my shot. I'm a shooter. I always think the next one is going to go in, so I'm not concerned about it."
What she is concerned about is trying to help the Sting finish the season strong by helping notch some wins in the last five games of the season.
'For me, it's never been about the opportunity to shine," Mazzante said. "It's about getting the opportunity to contribute to the team. That's what I'm trying to do. I just want to be out there trying to help us win."
By Matt Rochinski, charlottesting.com