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WNBA MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 8, 2016
New York, New York
Ron Howard: Thank you very much for your time this afternoon, and we are going to jump immediately into the question-and-answer segment. Let me first say that the 2016 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm will be held at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Thursday, April 14. ESPN 2 will provide coverage and analysis of the first round beginning at 7:00 p.m. eastern and ESPNU will air coverage of the second and third round starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern.
With us now from ESPN we have basketball analysts re Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck. Welcome, ladies.
Q. Rebecca, Shereesha Richards from the University of Albany has been talked about as the best player in that school's history, maybe one of the best in that league. What are your thoughts on if and what she has to do to take the next step to the next level professionally?
REBECCA LOBO: Well, I had the chance to see Shereesha her freshman year in the NCAA Tournament down in Delaware, and she's been impressing people ever since her freshman year.
I think for her, it would be to develop even more of a perimeter game. At 6'1", she's interesting because you look at her and say, oh, she's a little bit undersized to be a 4 in the league, but pretty much every time she went against top-tier competition she was able to perform and still get the points and rebounds that she would get.
I really like her. I think it would take getting in the right situation a team that can see the potential for her to develop a little bit more of a perimeter game and has time to develop her, but she definitely has the tools, and you can't question her rebounding ability and her ability to finish inside.
Q. So you think she is a WNBA player?
REBECCA LOBO: I think yes. I don't know if that means she's a WNBA player this year. If she can -- I wouldn't be surprised if she was on a roster this year. I don't know how much she could contribute to a team this year, but I think she's the type of player that when you look at her, you look at her work ethic and her tools, you could say, all right, if she goes overseas and develops a little bit more of that face-up game, she could be a player that could contribute to a team in years to come.
Q. Rebecca, because of the fact that they have Danielle Robinson and Kayla McBride. I'm wondering if you think San Antonio might think about passing up on Moriah Jefferson and going for a post player, and in relation to that question, do you think Morgan Tuck will be the first forward taken?
REBECCA LOBO: Your first question, I don't think there's any chance that Moriah doesn't go 2. If San Antonio didn't -- if she wasn't on a San Antonio roster, it would be become somehow they traded that No. 2 pick. But I think without question Moriah Jefferson is getting drafted 2.
Dan Hughes made it clear for him to trade that pick, somebody would have to kind of overpay for that pick, and I think especially now that Danielle Robinson is out with her Achilles this year, it's even more of a certainty than before. So Moriah is going to be 2.
And talking in terms of the first forward, if you're looking at a 4 or 5, yes, I do think she has a great chance to be that player. I think sort of the wild card in there would be Jonquel Jones from George Washington. If for some reason Connecticut didn't take Tuck at 3 or 4, you know, at 5 or 6, would there be a chance that someone might take Jonquel, yes, but I do think Tuck will be the next forward to go.
Q. Rebecca, just watching Moriah Jefferson in the time she's been at UConn, what do you think she's done to improve her game and improve her draft stock?
REBECCA LOBO: I mean, she's a completely different player now than she was her freshman year. You know, there were times even her sophomore season where she was hesitant to shoot the three-point shot. People would completely play off of her and allow her to take that, and now she's a huge threat from the three-point line. She's become a much more confident player out on the court. Even as slight as her frame is she's become a stronger player.
Coaches in this draft are really, really high on her, especially this year. It's hard to find sort of true point guards and she's one of those, and she can affect the game on both ends of the floor.
I think people, especially Dan Hughes, are really excited about her potential, not only this season but in years to come in the league.
Q. I cover Florida Gulf Coast University and they have two-time A-Sun Player of the Year Whitney Knight. I'm wondering what you know about Whitney and what you think her chances are of being drafted next week.
REBECCA LOBO: Sure. I have not seen Whitney in person, but I've had a chance to talk her on tape, and I think she's intriguing to people as a stretch 4 and as a player who can potentially be a 3 at some point in the future of the league. Speaking to GMs and coaches, I've heard her name mentioned more than once, not necessarily as a first-round pick but maybe somewhere in the second round, but as a player that people think -- they always like versatile players, players they think can play multiple positions in terms of playing the 3 and the 4, and I think that's how she is seen, as a person that can potentially do that.
So yeah, I think she will get drafted probably somewhere in the second round.
Q. Carolyn, I'd like you to speak on Rachel Banham's draft status, if it improved or didn't improve because she didn't play in the tournament, and also, Aerial Powers' decision to come into the Draft this year.
CAROLYN PECK: Well, we'll start with Rachel Banham. Anybody that puts up three games going 45-plus points is definitely going to get the attention because offense is a premium in the WNBA, and a player that can score the ball the way that she does, I think that teams could find a role -- when you look at, you have a shooter like Tricia Liston who is with the Lynx, I think Rachel Banham can definitely be that type of scorer in the WNBA.
I mean, you look at Aerial Powers, I like her athleticism. I like her competitiveness and her toughness, and I think that that's what will help her, and what has attracted a lot of GMs and coaches for her in the WNBA.
Q. Carolyn, if you had an idea, some perspective on who would be the first five picks in the first round this year?
CAROLYN PECK: Well, like Rebecca talked about, I think Jefferson has got to go San Antonio. I think Connecticut has got some options. They could go with Morgan Tuck and then Aerial Powers. And like Rebecca talked about, Jonquel Jones is real interesting to me at 6'3", averages a double-double, has a three-point-range shot in her game. I had a chance to meet her and spend some time with her at the Final Four, and looking at her frame, I think she has a huge upside and a potential.
And then you've got Dallas, and Fred Williams has got some options there, depending on what Connecticut does, and you could go anywhere from the previous players mentioned to also looking at a player like a Tiffany Mitchell, who is athletic, and he likes defensive guards who can score and that she could definitely bring.
Q. I'd like to direct this to Rebecca and Carolyn: Speaking about USF's Courtney Williams, I wanted to ask what you were impressed with by her game and how you see her fitting into the WNBA level.
CAROLYN PECK: The thing that most impressed me about Courtney Williams was her last two games against Connecticut, because Connecticut is the closest that you're going to be able to measure how a player can perform to the WNBA without actually playing in the WNBA, and she is a shot creator. She's got tremendous elevation on her shot. So I think that that, yeah, takes away from anybody saying she's too small.
Because of her quickness and her ability to elevate, I think that she also this season demonstrated not only is she a scorer, but she has the ability to pass, and I like the confidence that Courtney plays with, and I think you've got to have that in order to play in the WNBA.
REBECCA LOBO: Yeah, Courtney is a ridiculous athlete, and when you watch her in person, you can't help but be wowed at some of the things she does on the floor. Her explosiveness, especially in the mid-range game, she can shoot over some of the longest, biggest defenders, including Breanna Stewart, who is so long and a great shot blocker, and Courtney was able to get off shots over her, whether it was in the mid-range game or her threes, as well. Very effective in the pick-and-roll game, which some coaches put a high premium on. I could see her going as high as 3 or 4 to Connecticut, but she will not fall -- I don't think she will fall out of the first round; she's too much of a talent.
And especially when you look at her development from the three-point line over the course of her career, I think her junior year she made more threes than in her freshman and sophomore seasons combined, so you could see continued improvement. You can see she's the kind of kid who wants to get in the gym and get better, so all of those point to a player who's going to be successful at the next level.
Q. Rebecca, you played the 5 position in college, and Imani Boyette, she's going to be on this call in a little while, 6'7", you've watched her for four years. Two-parter: If you were to advise her on what to expect from an adjustment standpoint, what would you say to her? And two, would it be similar to whatever adjustment you went through from UConn to the WNBA in your first year?
REBECCA LOBO: You know, to be honest, I think the adjustment she's going to face is much different from the one I went through, simply because the game has changed so much in the course of the last 20 years. In the league as a 5, you're going to be battling against Brittney Griner, Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, players with that size and skill weren't on every team 20 years ago, but that is the case now. You know, within the course of a play defensively you might end up on Candace Parker or Elena Delle Donne. So it's very different from 20 years ago to now.
But she's definitely got size. She's skilled. She can really move up and down the floor. I think that's what some of the traits that are really appealing about her to GMs. I think the key for her is going to find a level of consistency on both ends of the floor, where every night she can come out and a coach knows exactly what she can give them in terms of her points and rebounds.
So it's going to be a big challenge for her because the competition, as good as it is in the Big 12, it's not the WNBA. But she's the type of player, again, another one, who if she goes overseas and gets a lot of reps on the offensive end of the floor, learns how to really be a consistent go-to player, because that was kind of the knock on her this year is she was at times inconsistent on the offensive end, I think coaches see her as a player that has a lot of upside being 6'7" and as mobile as she is.
Q. Do you think that a WNBA team would take a chance on her just because she's 6'7" and even in the WNBA, 6'7", there can't be that many?
REBECCA LOBO: I don't think we're talking about a team taking a chance on her. I think she's going to be a player taken in the first round because she's 6'7", and she's got a lot of skill. There's just going to be a matter of them getting her and hoping to develop her to be that consistent threat that I talked about.
Q. Rebecca, going back to Courtney Williams, you've watched her a long time now. Where did she make the biggest strides as a senior in your opinion?
REBECCA LOBO: You know, I think the continued improvement in her three-point game. You know, her ability to stay consistent, especially at times this season where she had some key teammates that were out with injury, and she is always the focal point of the other team's defense. Even though it could sometimes be the high volume in terms of the number of shots she was taking, she continued to perform night in and night out, and just showed her ability and her athletic ability to get things done every night.
I mean, she was the focal point, especially when Laia was hurt, when Ferreira was hurt, those are two big scorers that went down. When Jenkins was hurt, and she still night in and night out was able to get it done, and that's hard to do when you're the focal point of the defense every day.
Q. Is there a place on a WNBA roster for Alisia Jenkins?
REBECCA LOBO: There's probably a place for her in training camp. I think she'll get a shot, whether it's being drafted or getting an invite, and then it will be up to her for teams to see if she can continue to rebound at the level she did in college when she was against WNBA players.
So I think she'll get into a training camp. Again, I don't know if that means she's drafted or not, and then it'll just be about whether she can earn a spot.
Q. Given the fact that it looks like Moriah will be taken at No. 2 by somebody, do you see another guard there that really fits Curt Miller's system and his needs at Connecticut, and who might two or three of them be that would kind of fit his system?
REBECCA LOBO: To me, two guards that would immediately come to mind for him with Moriah, assuming Moriah is gone, one will be Courtney Williams, because he's talked about he wants to run the style of heavy pick-and-roll offense, and she's proven she can be successful in that. And another one that would be intriguing is Rachel Banham. People like to compare her to Becky Hammon, and he coached Becky Hammon way back in the day. So I think those would be two players in particular that you would have to think might be on their short list and ones that might fit in well to his system.
Q. Do you have another pick there? Do you think they will go big with somebody to complement Chiney?
REBECCA LOBO: I think they will go with Tuck as their big there. I really do. Pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, if you can have a big that can set a screen and hit the three-point shot or put the ball down and score inside the way Tuck has been able to do consistently throughout the season, but especially in the postseason, her numbers and her percentages were up.
To me, Tuck fits their system perfectly if they can complement that with a guard who can really shoot from the three.
Q. How WNBA ready is Rachel Banham at this point, and what role or position do you see her playing in the league?
REBECCA LOBO: I think she's very ready on the offensive end based on the people I've spoken to. The question that constantly comes up with Rachel is defensively. The zone defense that they play at Minnesota does not lend itself to being able to judge what a quality defender she is, so I think from the people I've talked to, she's ready offensively. They see her as a 2-guard who can play some 1, if needed. Probably not somebody that would be solely a point guard but kind of a combo guard with most of that time being spent at the 2, and her ability to create her own shot, her ability to hit deep threes is not in question at all.
I think the question that comes up consistently is what can she give you on the defensive end just because she hasn't really played any man defense recently.
Q. Rebecca, you kind of touched on this earlier, but I would just like to ask a little bit more specifically, do you think this is the golden age for post players in the WNBA?
REBECCA LOBO: Do I think this is the golden age for post players in the WNBA?
REBECCA LOBO: I think what you're seeing is kind of this evolution of the postgame in the WNBA. When Lauren Jackson was playing, she was kind of -- I guess Tina Thompson was this way a bit, but just a very different kind of post player, 6'4", 6'5" size who could hit the three and who could spread the floor. We're seeing that a little bit more than we did in the past, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker are a couple that can do that.
If anything, more teams have the option and are going to kind to a four-guard offense. So opportunities for post players, for there to be just a traditional two bigs on the floor isn't really there as much as it was in the early days of the WNBA, but in terms of having that one player who is versatile, a few teams have that, but then a few teams have the big posts that we were talking about before in Griner and Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.
It really is kind of interesting and will be interesting to see the ebb and the flow of the traditional post player versus the kind of stretch 4 or big 4 who can shoot the three throughout the course of the next few years in the league.
Q. And then if I could follow up with that, then how do you see Stewart's game sort of translating to this next level here?
REBECCA LOBO: I think she's going to be great right away. She's the only player who's had extensive experience playing already with and against pros because of her experience with the national team. But I think she's going to make an immediate impact kind of like Elena Delle Donne did her rookie year. I think she's going to be pretty great right away.
Q. Carolyn, obviously we talked about Rachel Banham quite a bit already. I'd like to ask you quickly about maybe last year's draft and Amanda Zahui. She came out early as a sophomore and kind of struggled a bit in her first year. The transition for post players to the WNBA, specifically her, how did you see that maybe she struggled and how some have made an impact in their first year?
CAROLYN PECK: The biggest difference from college and the WNBA is the versatility of the post players, and especially with a rookie post player who's used to staying predominantly in the paint defensively has to come away from the basket. Amanda has the ability to score, but in the WNBA, you also have to have the ability to defend.
When you have players like Elena Delle Donne who can move from the 3 to the 4 but still have that capability of stepping away to score, to shoot the basketball and defend that face-up game, I think that's the biggest transition that post players going from college to the pros have to make.
Q. A question on Rachel Banham: How high do you see her going potentially?
CAROLYN PECK: I think that that will mainly depend on teams' needs. Everybody questions her ability to possibly -- ability to defend, but we really haven't demonstrated that she can't, it's just that Minnesota has played the majority zone.
And two, you have some coaches that look at can she score more points than she will give up, so I think that she has the potential to be taken in the first round, it's just a matter of what the GMs look at, of what they're going to need in their backcourt, and when you have so many veteran players in the WNBA, that's one of the things that we'll have to look at as far as, do they take a post because size sometimes outweighs the guard (inaudible).
Q. Carolyn mentioned before, just talk about the Dallas Wings going into this draft and maybe some prospects that seem like good fits for them, especially with that fifth pick.
CAROLYN PECK: I think with the fifth pick, I think that especially with Riquna Williams going to LA, I think that Dallas would possibly look at some guards, and you have some good options in Aerial Powers, we talked about Tiffany Mitchell and Courtney Williams. And then you have the versatility, because with the fifth pick, you have the potential to get a player like Jonquel Jones or going with some more size in an anchor to help in the post in Imani Boyette.
REBECCA LOBO: All those players that Carolyn mentioned, but Boyette, I would not be surprised if Boyette stayed home and went to Dallas as the No. 5 pick.
Q. Just the kind of career Moriah Jefferson you think will have in the WNBA.
REBECCA LOBO: I think she's going to have a great WNBA career, and I think she's going to have -- it starts with having an opportunity to play, and I think in her rookie year, she stays healthy she will play a ton, but she can impact it on both ends of the floor. Her quickness, there's not many players that have that type of quickness. There's not many players that have that commitment in addition to that quickness on the defensive end of the floor. She works ridiculously hard whether she's off the ball or on the ball defensively, and I don't know that I've ever seen her get tired. She is just a unique kind of player in that way, and especially if she goes to San Antonio and stays in San Antonio, she'll have a ton of opportunity to play and grow with a team that has a nice young core. So I expect her to really flourish and have a great career.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports