A WNBA All-Star experience to remember

My first WNBA All-Star weekend experience held at the Target Center was certainly one I will never forget. But, it’s not for the reasons one might think.

Sure, there was Minnesota Lynx guard Maya Moore leading Team Parker to victory over Team Delle Donne, while earning her third consecutive MVP award in the game.

There was Quigley winning a dramatic three-point contest at halftime. And then there was a capacity crowd of 15,922 fans that kept the place rocking and rolling.

While those were definitely the highlights of the first All-Star game hosted by the four-time WNBA Champions Lynx, it was the other activities during the weekend that will remain in the memory of this columnist for years to come.

(l-r) Kristi Toliver (Washington Mystics), Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx) and Ahmir Crump, whose dribbling exhibition during the WNBA All-Star FIT Clinic impressed everyone in attendance. Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News

Wanting to take this rare experience in, I attended the WNBA Jr. All-Star Clinic hosted by the WNBA and Spalding last Thursday.

The clinic was held at The Courts at Mayo Square for seven to 14-year-olds from local community organizations, and led by WNBA President Lisa Borders and WNBA Chief Operating Officer Ann Rodriguez along with WNBA All-Stars Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), Tiana Charles (New York Liberty), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings) and A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces).

As a prep sports columnist, I was delighted to see some former metro area prep stars serving as mentors for local youth, as well. Former St. Paul Central and University of Minnesota basketball standout Ashley Ellis-Milan and C’yerra Mills, who starred at Minneapolis North and Osseo, were spotted assisting the youth as they participated in drills at various stations.

Ellis-Milan, who was an assistant coach at Concordia University-St. Paul, now works for the Lynx and Timberwolves in their sales and service department.

On Friday, as the WNBA All-Stars, led by Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx), Kristi Toliver (Washington Mystics) and Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), worked the WNBA All-Star FIT Clinic for youth. (hosted by the WNBA and Kaiser Permante) at Life Time Athletic Target Center, I ran into Ballin’ Pretty (8th grade) AAU coach Yolonda England who brought 40 youngsters to the clinic from the Sanneh Foundation.

The Sanneh Foundation was created by former pro soccer great Tony Sanneh in 2003 to connect with community-based organizations and provide positive environments for urban youth. Sanneh, who also attended the clinic, excelled in basketball and soccer at St. Paul Academy before starring in the latter sport at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

But, the highlight of the weekend for me came near the end of the WNBA FIT Clinic when England’s five-year-old son Ahmir Crump put on a dribbling display that mesmerized the onlookers in attendance.

Crump’s skills were so impressive that Fowles and Toliver both requested a picture with him. Participants in both clinics were provided with free tickets to the WNBA All-Star Game.

Later that afternoon, at the conclusion of an open practice by Team Delle Done and Team Parker, I ran into former St. Paul Johnson basketball standout Tramon Van Leer, a freelance photographer, who was assisting the WNBA with camera work.

Finally, I was able to interview former St. Paul Central and University of St. Thomas basketball and volleyball great DeJurnett Buford about her WNBA All-Star experience from a fan’s perspective.

“It was a fun game to watch,” said Buford. “The women looked like they were enjoying themselves — even when they didn’t know which basket to go to at the beginning of the game. The three-point contest was amazing!”

Buford, who now works as an operations analyst, eloquently expressed the importance of her WNBA experience and why it was a special moment for her: “Spending time with my mom and also seeing the WNBA president on the court was not only a woman but a woman of color.”

Well said!