Foreign play seasons some W players, wears on others

This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.

Imani Boyette (facing forward at center) (Photo by Sophia Hantzes)

Most WNBA hoopsters typically have “The Friends of Distinction” experiences — they just go in circles, playing basketball virtually all year round. Beginning as rookies entering the league after their final collegiate season, after playing their first pro season they head overseas for their off-season, then return home to begin their second W campaign.

And the playing circle just keeps going, which reaffirms our long-standing insistence that female pro players work harder and longer than do their male counterparts.

Renee Montgomery (in blue) (Photo by Sophia Hantzes)

A couple of second-year players recently talked to us on their first “circles” season:

Chicago’s 6’-7” Imani Boyette gained “offensive confidence” in her first season in Israel, which to her means “gaining the confidence to take 15 shots a game,” she explained. “Going into this year, I knew I would have an increased role and my team would want me to do that. I needed to go somewhere I could be the first offensive option so I could force myself to shoot.”

“Imani’s confidence has expanded,” noted Chicago Coach Amber Stocks, “not just at the rim, but also her decision-making and her confidence in facing the rim has evolved.”

Jonquel Jones posted her first double-double in her second game of the season — 25 percent of the league’s GMs voted the Connecticut 6’-6” second-year forward center the player most likely to have a breakout season. “She uses her size to get her shots off,” observed the Lynx’s Maya Moore of Jones. “She is very intentional in getting to the offensive boards.”

Jonquel Jones (at left) (Photo by Sophia Hantzes)

“I focused on that last season coming out of college [George Washington] and into a league where everybody is big, better and talented,” noted the second year Sun, who played this past winter and finished with a championship and MVP honors in Korea.

“Jonquel really benefited from a terrific season in Korea,” noted Sun Coach Curt Miller. “She came back with more confidence. She is learning more of the pro game and different pro systems.”

Rachel Banham (Photo by Sophia Hantzes)

Lakeville native Rachel Banham, however, didn’t go overseas due to recovering from knee surgery — the guard got hurt and only played in 15 games last season. Essentially this is her “second rookie” season.

“My knees have been feeling real well,” she told us. “I feel I have a lot more to learn.”

For some veterans, playing overseas is more than just making more money. It helps them keep sharp by working on different skills that will enhance their W campaigns.

“I’m a role player here, but you have to flip that role overseas,” said eight-year Minnesota reserve guard Renee Montgomery, who played this past winter in Poland. “The scoring report is going to be all about you. When you’re an American overseas, the refs tends to compensate for how much more athletic you are…, then to make less calls for you. Overseas makes you tougher.”

As a result, playing virtually all year round can be either a boon or a bust for female hoopsters as the physical and mental tolls wear down their bodies and minds. Moore this past off season opted to stay home and take “a mental rest” after several years playing in China.

“I think I have a lot more to give during the WNBA season,” she said. “Taking the rest doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have an amazing WNBA season,” she added.

Yes, she said it…

“We’re winning games, but I think there’s a long way for us to go in cleaning up some areas defensively and be even more efficient offensively. We are not quite as sharp,” says Lynx forward Maya Moore on the team’s 6-0 start this season.


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