Most rookies must go through the process of transitioning their game — their status from college star to starting all over again as a pro freshman. This isn’t some initiation process but the natural progression in pro sports.
San Antonio Head Coach Vickie Johnson, a 12th overall pick in the 1997 W Draft, played a dozen seasons, eight with New York and four with the team she now coaches.
Recently she gave us a quick assessment on what a pro rookie might expect in her first season: “This is the best league in the world, the best athletes in the world. Nobody has come from the college level and dominated the WNBA except one person — Maya Moore,” stressed the coach.
“It’s an honor but I don’t really think about stuff like that,” Allisha Gray told reporters, including the MSR on being named WNBA Rookie of the Month for May. She led all rookies in scoring, rebounding, and minutes played, as a Dallas Wings starting forward.
It’s nice but it’s only one month into her first season in the Big ‘D,’ she pointed out. “I appreciate the award — it’s a nice award, but the main thing is getting those Ws,” continued Gray. She is just a couple of months removed after cutting down the nets as South Carolina won its first national championship, ironically in the same city she’s now representing as a pro.
This season’s Wings might be the league’s youngest, with five rookies and two second-year players on the roster. Skylar Diggins-Smith, now in her fifth season, laughed about being seen as a grizzled vet.
“I didn’t think I’ll be old on this team,” she chuckled, but quickly praised the youngsters: “When you come into this league, you feel you have to do things different,” noted the point guard. “All of our rookies contribute. They come from great programs and great pedigree. They’re looking to learn and ask questions.”
Diggins-Smith on Gray, who plays on the wing — “She attacks. She is not afraid of competition, of the contact. She came in prepared.”
What better teacher than her college coach, Dawn Staley, one of the all-time greats, admitted Gray. “She preached to me the physicality of the game. You got to go in strong, and not back down from anybody. If you’re not physical, you will get thrown around in this league.”
And Gray is awfully glad she paid close attention to Staley’s ‘hoop sermons’ at South Carolina. “You don’t get the foul called that you normally get in the college game. You just have to play through the foul. The biggest adjustment for me in the WNBA is the physicality of the game. Coach Staley definitely prepared us in many ways getting ready for the league.”
“The veterans have helped a lot,” continued Gray. “They answer our questions. They are willing to work with us. They have done a great job being patient.”
Now, she has to be patient as her first season in the pros continues. “Overall I’m just trying to enjoy this journey,” concluded the rookie.
Yes, she said it…
“The WNBA always have been inclusive…has included all people. They are so supportive of us players and the fans,” said Washington’s Elena Delle Donne on the WNBA cerebrating Pride Month throughout the month of June for the fourth consecutive year.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.