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WOMEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 31, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the conference call to tip off our 2011 season, the 15th for the WNBA. Joining us today first on the conference call will be ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck. They'll be followed by three WNBA coaches, and four players. The coaches will be Pokey Chatman, Corey Gaines, and Dan Hughes. The players will be Alana Beard, Kara Lawson, Candace Parker, and Sheryl Swoopes.
Right now we'll get started with Rebecca and Carolyn. Thank you both for joining us. If you'd each make a brief opening statement, and then we'll open it up to questions. Rebecca, if we can start with you, please?
REBECCA LOBO: Well, first of all, it's amazing that it's been 15 years that we're celebrating this anniversary because it doesn't seem like that long ago that we were throwing the ball up for the first tip in that New York-L.A. game.
But it's going to be an exciting year. I think we're all eager to see what happens on Thursday when the final rosters are set and then the kickoff to the season. I don't think anyone expects we'll have a year like last year in the west with only one team having a winning record, but it's going to be just fun to watch and be a part of it and celebrate this 15th season.
THE MODERATOR: Carolyn.
CAROLYN PECK: I'd have to echo what Rebecca said. Also, the new faces that are coming into the league, I think there is a lot of young talent that was drafted and has the potential to make some teams. Also the return of some players, like a Candace Parker, who has been out with injury, now to come back to the league. I do think it will not so much of a one-horse race this season, which will make it very entertaining and fun to watch this season.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you Rebecca and Carolyn. Questions?
Q. Rebecca, you've talked a bit about touching on the 15th anniversary. I'm just curious, when you started with the league, could you have imagined 15 years?
REBECCA LOBO: No. I couldn't have imagined myself as a 37-year-old (laughing). But I think early on those of us who were part of it were so excited that we had this league, and something we didn't even think about as kids because it didn't exist. I don't even remember dreaming about a women's league when I was a little girl. It was always maybe I'd get a chance to play for the Celtics kind of a thing.
The fact that these rookies this year grew up with the WNBA, they have known nothing other than a professional league here is pretty amazing. It's even more -- I'm even more proud of it because I have three young daughters myself, and it's normal for them to watch women play professional basketball.
But, no, I mean I don't think I could have ever projected my life 15 years down the road and had a grasp or any grasp as to what this all would mean.
Q. Carolyn, with the rosters, the 11 roster spots and obviously the 12 teams, do you think in any sense that the league has become too difficult to break into? That there are perhaps a lot of young stars that people follow, and some of these younger players are just not making rosters or some veteran players who were on a roster for a long time, do you think it's just too difficult to make a team?
CAROLYN PECK: I think that it is difficult. But I think what it has done is it has intensified the quality of talent that is on each team. It's not allowing teams with the 13 players that they used to be able to have to carry IR, and some players that you could develop. I think that's where it hurts the most is having the ability to have players to develop and hold the rights to.
But I think what it does though is it makes -- I think it keeps the fire under the veteran players that they have to stay sharp on their game because there are younger players that are itching to get into the league.
Q. I wanted to ask you with the Minnesota Lynx, with the drafting of Maya Moore and Amber Harris and a healthy Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins, do you think this might be the year the Lynx finally put it together?
REBECCA LOBO: I thought last year was going to be the year they put it together then they dealt with injuries again with Candice Wiggins and Seimone coming back less than 100% early in the season.
They really have the pieces. They have some great young players. I think Cheryl Reeve is a really good coach. The key for them is always can they stay healthy? If they stay healthy, especially with the addition of Maya, I could see them contending for the western conference title.
CAROLYN PECK: I'd have to agree with Rebecca if they stay healthy. They haven't just added young talent, they've added great talent in a player like Maya Moore, and Amber Harris and her versatility. The key is the point guard position, and being able to distribute and getting the basketball in the right places at the right time, and understanding how to play with a veteran player like a Seimone Augustus.
I think adding a Taj McWilliams brings some veteran leadership in to kind of help that along. Right now it's just a matter of managing the talent. When you have that much talent together, who takes the shot, when, and how to make that machine work well together?
Q. With the addition of Maya Moore, the return of Candace Parker and now a well-rested Diana Taurasi, who do you think are the top three front runners in the western conference and in what order?
CAROLYN PECK: Front runners teamwise in the West I've got to believe that Seattle right now would be the front runner and then I would say Phoenix with a well-rested Taurasi. But with Candace Parker coming back to L.A., I think that those would be the three teams to battle it out in the west.
REBECCA LOBO: I would have to agree. You say Seattle because they've won in such dominant fashion and their record last year in the west. And then I would go to Phoenix as well, not only a rested Taurasi, but you have to remember it's a rested Penny Taylor as well, and then L.A.
But L.A.'s going to be much improved just because Candace is back, but also Jantel Lavender is a big presence for them, a rookie that comes in with a big body. I think she's going to allow Candace Parker to have a little bit easier time whether she's inside or out because Jantel is such a physical presence.
Q. Would you say that Maya Moore is the biggest name in the league and biggest game changer since Candace Parker in 2008?
CAROLYN PECK: I would think so. You're coming out of college a three-time Wade recipient winning three National Championships with the dominance that she's had on her impact in college and the versatility and the way she plays, I would have to say yes, she probably is since Candace Parker.
REBECCA LOBO: I think she's definitely the biggest name, and for those reasons that Carolyn just said, winning three championships. She's been talked about especially by ESPN because of the success she's had. Being on that UCONN team that broke the 88-game streak, I think she has more name recognition than any other player since Candace.
Q. Carolyn touched on a little bit ago about roster size, but since you've been around since day one league or pretty close to it in terms of when you coached, Carolyn. How has the league evolved over 15 years in terms of where we're at today or even some of the steps you've seen along the way in terms of the early days compared to what's out there on the floor right now?
CAROLYN PECK: I would say since the inception of when it started from the time that I coached it to now as being an analyst, you see more aspects of the NBA or the pro game now evolving in the WNBA. Back when it first started, you had a lot of college coaches that were trying to coach the college game at the professional level, and it's just different. There are different aspects, defensive schemes, more of a motion-type offense, better run, not just the quick hitters, and the speed of the game has evolved along with the talent.
I can remember back early on watching some games and certain teams that would play each other and offense was a struggle. That's not so much the case now. You can turn on the TV on any given night and watch a WNBA game, and for the most part you're going to see great offense and great talent and strategy on the floor.
Q. Rebecca, you want to talk on this since you played back then?
REBECCA LOBO: I would echo the same sentiments. The athletes, much like the college game, are bigger, faster and stronger. I think they're more skilled, and I think there are a lot more really good players. I think there were good players 15 years ago when the league started, but I don't know that you had 11 players on each team that were as talented as you're going to see on the roster this year.
Carolyn's right on the money in terms of the pro coaches bringing in a very different mentality. They brought in a different terminology in terms of defensive schemes and what they're called and how they want to do different things and their approach to the games and video and all kinds of other things. So the game has definitely evolved and changed drastically in the last 15 years.
Q. Unfortunately, this question has been asked earlier, but I am from Minnesota, so I need to ask this question. There is a minor buzz about Maya Moore's addition to the team, almost like they're putting this team almost in the second round of the playoffs for a team that hasn't been in the playoffs for so many years. Is that buzz too much or is it justifiable? Secondly the league still after 15 years still doesn't get the media attention locally as they would for a team that's been around a long time. Can you address from a media standpoint why still this league is still seen as minor league and not major?
CAROLYN PECK: Again, that's a great question. But I think that winning helps. You look at what the Atlanta Dream were able to do in this past season and the media buzz, and attending that final game in Atlanta when they earned a championship and to see the arena full, winning definitely helps.
I think that will also be the case in Minnesota. Look at the talent that they've had and they've really just been plagued by injuries at bad times. You thought Minnesota was going to be there especially after they were able to acquire a player like Seimone Augustus and then adding Lindsay Whalen.
But now having a healthy roster and having a quality player in person of a Maya Moore with the work ethic, I think she's going to draw a lot of attention. And I think that attention from the publicity that she earned when she played at Connecticut will follow her and bring some attention to Minnesota.
I think it's tough in getting media attention for the league across as a whole in the summer because so many people are doing so many different things. Because really the only sport that's going on that's followed is baseball, for the most part, until the latter part of the WNBA season and then football starts.
But it's a sport that's played inside in the summer, and a lot of people are vacationing and traveling. But I think that what we've talked about on this call and with this league being in existence for 15 years, the league has continued to improve. It's a process, and it is my hope that the media coverage will also continue to improve as the talent has.
REBECCA LOBO: If I can quickly add to that, I think it can be market to market as well. I know here in Connecticut all of the papers do a great job, as do the TV stations, at covering the Connecticut Sun. And you I think there are other markets across the league that do a really good job. I think in Minnesota the more that they win, I think they'll get a little bit more attention.
I think it's great that Maya's having that buzz or people are creating had a buzz, because I think if people come out and watch the game they're going to enjoy it, and then the media will be forced to cover it a little bit more.
Q. Rebecca, you and Sheryl Swoopes were key parts in the building of the foundation of the WNBA in 1997. I was wondering your thoughts of her returning to the league this year, and your thoughts in 2002 when you spent the time together down in Houston?
REBECCA LOBO: I'm excited for Sheryl. I haven't spoken to her much since she left the league. But from what I've read, it didn't seem she left on her own terms. So I'm glad she has the opportunity to be back and to play. I'm hoping she still has a lot of game left because she is from that first generation of players in the league.
I really enjoyed being on the same team with her in Houston. She was a great teammate. I wish her a lot of luck, and I'm looking forward to watching her play because when I was playing with her in all those years, she's a heck of a player. I'm hoping we'll see some of that this season.
Q. In general, the Tulsa Shock, I know it's year two in rebuilding the franchise, can you talk about expectations this year for that program?
REBECCA LOBO: It's tough because it is an expansion team, but there are no pieces left from when they were in Detroit, that championship team in Detroit. It's going to be interesting on to watch especially now that Coach Richardson has gotten some of the pieces that he wants in place.
Liz Cambage is a terrific young talent, but she is very young. So watching her development will be interesting as well. But they're trying to build an identity still because they've got a new coach. They're only in their second year. They had so much -- their roster had so much movement on it throughout the season last year.
So with players with training camp under their belt for some of them a year learning the system, it will be interesting to see how much they can improve from last year.
Q. Carolyn, the same question about your thoughts on the Shock?
CAROLYN PECK: I would agree with what Rebecca said. In the system that Coach Richardson has intended for his team is one that takes time and it takes continuity and consistency. Throughout the season with the roster changes that he made last year, that's tough to do.
Watching his practices and as they prepare, you talk about the defensive schemes, there is a matter of trust that is built up and reads that different players make based on what other players are doing. When that changes, it's hard to get that consistency.
Now that he has a core of good talent and he has a veteran player like Sheryl Swoopes on his team, they can keep a consistent roster throughout the season, that's going to help both on the offensive and defensive team because a lot of his schemes are based on feels and reads. And players have to be around each other in order to understand that.
Q. Just tell me your thoughts about the Connecticut Sun this season, and what are they based on?
CAROLYN PECK: Well, with Connecticut I feel like they're a team that I think they have some good pieces to be competitive. I thought they'd do far better last year than they did. They were also a team that was bitten by the injury bug.
But with Tina Charles having a year under her belt, if you can get Kara Lawson healthy and experienced, Renee Montgomery to go along with Ashja Jones, they have some very nice pieces to be able to have that consistency and keep the players on the floor.
With the 11-man roster, a couple of injuries can be very detrimental to your team.
REBECCA LOBO: I agree. Connecticut is a team that I thought would do really well last year, but I didn't anticipate the injuries that they have. I think it hurts a little bit that they don't have Gruda back this year because she was so good at stretches during the season last year. But Ashja's healthy, and that is big.
I think this is the year for Renee Montgomery to really have a great season. She was overseas in Israel all throughout the winter, and now this is her third year and her time to kind of with a year under her belt playing with Coach Thibault and understanding that system. She's got players surrounding her who she is very comfortable with in terms of collegiate experience together.
I think this is a year that it will be fun to watch her to see how much she's grown and matured. I just think Tina could be in the discussion for MVP if she puts up the numbers she put up last year and Connecticut has a lot of success.
If they stay healthy and get some production out of DeMya Walker in terms of that core group of players, I think this is a year Connecticut could be very good again. And don't forget Danielle McCray. Her addition is very important to that team as well.
Q. You were talking about marketing and Minnesota before, and now you have a new WNBA President who is an expert in marketing. What are your thoughts on her hire and the future of the league for both Carolyn and Rebecca?
CAROLYN PECK: I think it was a great hire, especially with the marketing experience that will definitely help. And new and fresh ideas have each year, each time there's been a change, there's been an evolution and for the expansion, and the marketing, and the team and the league. So I'm excited about it.
REBECCA LOBO: I'm excited too. In 15 years this league has shown that it has some legs and it will be fun to see where she can take it and what new ideas the league offices will have. Because the talent and the play on the court is there. I think it's always been just about getting more people to give it a chance. And hopefully we can get some new eyes watching the game this year, and people when they do watch will appreciate the great, great assets that are on the floor.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports