April 29, 2006
Darling Raising Expectations In 2006

Like many of her Sting teammates, Helen Darling enters the 2006 WNBA season with some high expectations for herself and the Sting after a letdown in 2005. This should be no surprise to the team�s fans, seeing as how Charlotte returns all five starters, is bringing in a new coaching staff and drafted a group of rookies who hope to make an immediate impact in the league.

Charlotte�s point guard and floor general made it obvious in Sting training camp this week that she will lead by example as the team prepares for the upcoming season, and as her first order of business, set the bar high for Charlotte in terms of what she thinks this team will be able to accomplish.

�Our goals and expectations are extremely high,� says Darling. �I�d like to go from being one of the worst (in 2005) to one of the best (2006). I expect everyone on this team to come in, play hard and try to put us in a position to be successful this year. That starts with each person individually and collectively.�

Darling also knows she must elevate her own game in order for the Sting to challenge to get back to the playoffs in the 2006campaign. In order to do that, she has made a list of some personal goals that will assist her team in accomplishing its ultimate goals.

�I would like to make the All-Defensive Team this year,� Darling states. �I take pride in my defense, and that is one of the big things for me. Also, I would like to be in the top five in the league in assists and just put more numbers up offensively. I would like to average around 10 points per game.�

One of the Sting�s top defensive stoppers, Darling does indeed take much pride in her defense and makes her opponent earn every basket. After accumulating 41 steals last season, including a career-high seven on August 12 against the New York Liberty, she is striving to continue making her opponents� lives miserable on the defensive side of the ball.

�I feel I bring the intensity on the defensive end of the court,� Darling proclaims. �I get my hands on the ball and slow people down. Defense for me is internal. It�s instinctive, and it�s something that I love to do.�

Darling saw action in 31 games for the Sting in 2005, starting the last 11 after veteran point guard Dawn Staley was traded to Houston. As a starter, Darling averaged 7.0 points and 4.5 assists in 31.0 minutes, compared to 1.5 points and 1.3 assists in 17.6 minutes off the bench and hopes that strong finish will carry over into the 2006 season.

�It was tough last year playing under a great veteran player like Dawn Staley,� Darling admits. �It was hard to find minutes. But once they made the trade, I was the only remaining point guard, so I had to produce. I�ve been a starter in this league for four years, so I know how to run a team. Hopefully I can carry that over and run this team all the way to a championship.�

Through Darling�s five years in the league, she has learned some skills from veteran guards in front of her on the depth chart that make her the complete player she is today.

�I was very fortunate to play behind three Olympic point guards,� admits Darling. �There was Susie McConnell Serio in my first year with the Cleveland Rockers, Theresa Edwards at Minnesota and then Dawn Staley here in Charlotte. With each one, I took a little bit of their game and tried to incorporate it into mine to become a better point guard.�

Now it looks to be Darlings turn to pass these skills down to the young players that make up the Sting�s training camp roster. By setting the tone in conditioning workouts, she is using her leadership role to demonstrate a strong work ethic and commitment to winning -- both elements she�s hoping the rest of her teammates will find contagious.

�I�m more of a leader by example,� Darling states. �Everybody knows that when I�m out there I�m going to give you 110 percent. I carry a lot of energy with me. I try to talk to rookies and try to be positive with them. Sometimes I can be a little hard nosed, but I afterwards I will go back and say, �Hey listen, I didn�t mean to talk to you like that on the court, but you need to do this, this, and this.� So I describe myself as a leader by example.�

Darling appears to be the ideal point guard for the up-tempo coaching schemes being implemented by Head Coach Muggsy Bogues. In Coach Bogues style of offense, Charlotte should have no problem handling the new 24-second possession clock with Darling at the helm.

�I like it -- even when we had 30 seconds, I always provided a spark when I took the court,� says Darling. �I always came in and would run the up-tempo fast break in a tight game. I�m an up-tempo type point guard who loves to push the ball up the court.�

Through the first week of training camp, Darling sees the team beginning to gel and is giving everyone reason to look forward to the 2006 upcoming season.

�So far we�re looking okay,� she said. �We seem to be coming together as a team. I�m a very critical person, so for me to say we�re doing excellent�you would probably never hear that from me. But we�re coming along and are looking good. The rookies are stepping up too. It�s a fresh start for everyone this year, but there will always be room for improvement.�