The WNBA will begin their historical 20th season this weekend when training camp starts across all 12 teams on Sunday. Many teams will have new faces suiting up to go along with new uniform colorways while others return their core with minimal changes. The team to beat remains the defending champions; The Minnesota Lynx, but with Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor returning to the Phoenix Mercury lineup many would beg to differ. I’d say that the West will again be a battle at the top but with the new scheduling format of the regular season, every team will have pretty even chance to see how they measure up across the entire league. The 2016 season will be an odd season for many, especially rookies, and players who have been in the WNBA for less than three years as they have not experienced a summer with an olympic break. The WNBA will take a month long break from games as players from across the league compete for a gold medal in Rio. The USA final roster has yet to be announced but we can expect that decision to be made shortly. The difficult task will be for teams to keep their chemistry, focus and momentum going once they return to play after the break. Teams will continue to practice, but for many, their best player or players will be missing for that month during the break if they are selected to play for the National Team. Coaches will have to be creative in finding ways to keep players in shape and prepared to compete for a championship when games resume. A positive from the olympic break will give teams the opportunity to build better chemistry and work on player development as most are unable to put a lot of effort into this because the WNBA’s training camp is so short. Teams who don’t have a player on the National Team will really be able to develop during that time. Either way, training camp is on the horizon and I’m sure we all are excited about another season of WNBA basketball!
Last week I went to Connecticut to be a part of a player’s panel during rookie orientation to speak with the seniors who were invited to the WNBA draft. Myself, Tina Charles and Carolyn Swords were there to have a candid conversation with the future players about what life is like in the WNBA and to answer any questions the prospects may have had. As the three of us are in varying stages of our careers and all have different experiences and roles in the league it was a great mix of opinions and ideas. The girls were very excited and extremely tired from all of the orientation forums they had to attend. I’m sure it was information overload but it is important that these young women are prepared for the next level of their career not only on the court but off the court as well. The WNBA put together a great orientation for the girls which gave them information on boring stuff like taxes and 401k’s to social media behavior to rules changes and a bunch of other stuff. I’d like to think that our portion of the day was the most exciting. We got a lot of questions about training camp as the girls seemed to be really nervous about what’s to come during camp. I always say that if you can make it through a college pre season you can make it through a WNBA training camp. For anyone that has played college basketball we all know how challenging college pre seasons can be! I remember it like it was yesterday, as I contemplated quitting because I felt like I had joined the track team and not the basketball team! I’m glad I stuck it out but these girls don’t have to worry themselves too much.
Training camp on the professional level can be challenging. Players are bigger, faster and stronger. The first thing you don’t want to do is come into camp out of shape. Training camp moves very quickly and since a lot of teams have pre season games lined up in as little as a week after camp starts you have to take in a lot of information daily. From learning plays, to learning new terms, drills and techniques, you have to be locked in at all times. This is what I like to tell players entering the W; EVERYONE in the league is good! Yea some players may not play a lot of minutes of even get off the bench at all but for them to be on a roster they have to be good and you have to respect that. This can be different from college where you may face a team that may have only one or two very good players that you have to worry about (four of five if you’re UCONN). In the WNBA, night in and night out, you are facing the best players in the world. The other thing is that in training camp and there are no guarantees. There are players in camp working to make the final roster just like you and since there are only 11, with the option to carry 12 players on each team, space is limited. In this league, just because you were drafted doesn’t mean you will make the team. But that shouldn’t scare you, that should motivate you to show what you are made of. Outside of the first round draftees, and sometimes first rounders don’t make the squad, there will be a battle for those few roster slots available. Which brings me to an entirely different subject on the need for more WNBA teams because talented players have to be let go because there simply aren’t enough spots on the team. I am hopeful that more teams will join the league in the future.
Anyway, I let the players know that this will be some of the best times of their lives. You’re a professional basketball player! The best of the best and you deserve to be here. Just imagine getting paid to play basketball! Do you know how many people would love to get paid to play sports? It’s a blessing and something that we should never take for granted! I welcome new talent and I enjoy watching young players develop and grow into women. This will be my 11th training camp and I am just excited for this one as I was for the first abeit the nerves. This historical 20th season should be one of the best in the history of the league with so many great storylines, players, and teams. I hope that this season gets the recognition that it deserves and people all over the world will see how great the WNBA is, how passionate it’s players are, and how exciting it is to watch some of the best women’s basketball players in the world compete to be a world champion! The season tips off May 14th as the Phoenix Mercury take on the Minnesota Lynx on ESPN!