Youngsters inspired by WNBA trailblazers

WBNA 20in20nobylineFor 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section will feature a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series.

This week: That first thought of playing professional basketball

These are the post-1997 players. These women hoopsters saw first-hand America’s longest running and most successful women’s pro basketball league as it moved from the drawing board to reality. As youngsters they could finally join their male counterparts and dream about something that many pre-WNBA generation players could only do abroad — one day playing pro ball in the States.

“The first time I thought about it, I was in fourth grade,” said Morgan Tuck, a rookie with Connecticut.

Dallas rookie Aerial Powers noted, “I can’t remember a specific moment [when she thought about playing professionally], but I do remember the Lisa Leslie dunk and her putting her hands up to the crowd.”

“When I was a little kid,” added Tuck’s rookie teammate Jonquel Jones, “I thought about being in this moment and just thinking about walking across the stage [on draft night] and getting your jersey and all of that stuff.”

Bashaara Graves
Bashaara Graves Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News

The Bahamas native recalls, “I remember flicking through the channels one day, and I ran across a WNBA game, and it was my first time seeing a WNBA game. I just saw these women playing and I could tell that they were playing at the highest level. I just remember watching them, like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is this? I really want to be a part of this.”

“My mom played in the WNBA,” said Imani Boyette of Pamela McGee, who was the second pick in the 1997 WNBA Draft. Her daughter is a rookie center in Chicago. “My first memory would be probably around age two or three, and she played for the Sparks with Lisa Leslie…watching my mom, [me] being tugged around to practice and all of that stuff.”

“I didn’t realize that I wanted to make it my profession until I was in eighth or ninth grade,” stated Lynx rookie Bashaara Graves on playing pro ball.

Tiffany Mitchell’s first memories came from watching her later college coach at South Carolina in action. “I grew up in Charlotte. I was drawn to the Charlotte Sting, so my mom would always take me [to] their games. She bought me Coach [Dawn] Staley’s jersey and everything. I have it still hanging in my house right now.

“It was kind of cool being able to do that at a young age, because I know most girls growing up, they don’t have a WNBA team in their city, so it was a good luxury for me and a good way to introduce me to basketball,” continued the Indiana Fever forward.

Minnesota forward Natasha Howard, now in her third pro season, admitted, “I really didn’t watch [the WNBA] when I was growing up,” but players such as Sue Bird and now teammate Maya Moore eventually drew her to the games.

Eighth-year Minnesota guard Renee Montgomery also told us, “When I was younger, my main aspiration [was] to get a college scholarship” and not about the W. “I didn’t start thinking about the WNBA until I actually was in college.”

“I remember watching the New York series when T-Spoon [Teresa Witherspoon] hit that half-court shot” in the 1999 finals, noted 12-year veteran guard Jia Perkins, now in her first year in Minnesota. “[There were] some great players back in the day. They were the trailblazers for the league.”

Those trailblazers and others like them are the reason why there is a WNBA today beginning its second decade. “I love Lisa Leslie,” said Tuck. “She was my favorite. I did a project on her in school. Since then, I’ve known I wanted to play in the WNBA.”


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