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May 20, 2013

Rebecca Lobo

Carolyn Peck

RON HOWARD:  Thank you for joining us today as we get set for tipoff this Friday when the Defending Champion Fever visit San Antonio, and the weekend will feature a total of six games highlighted by a doubleheader on ESPN2 on Memorial Day Monday with Tulsa hosting Washington and Phoenix hosting Chicago, those games are at 3:00 and 5:00 Eastern respectively.
With that in mind, I'd like to welcome to the conference call ESPN WNBA analyst Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck.  And I'll ask each of you, Rebecca first and then Carolyn, if you would, to make a brief opening statement on what you see for the league this year, and then we'll immediately open it up to questions from the media.  Rebecca?
REBECCA LOBO:  This is the most anticipated WNBA season in a really long time, I think, because of the draft class coming in, in particular the three to see.  I'm eager to get the season started.  I'm eager to see what Phoenix looks like.  How Brittney Griner is going to play early on in her WNBA career.  I'm eager to see how Indiana is going to weather the storm, as we saw today another injury with Erin Phillips, so we'll start the season with three key players out with injury, how that will impact them early on.
Chicago losing Epiphanny Prince for a month when she goes back to Russia, new coaches, new places, there are just a lot of great stories this year.  It's going to be fun to watch, again, not only the three rookies, but all the teams in the WNBA and the changes in Seattle.  What can Brian Agler do out there without Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird.  So it's going to be a fun and exciting year.
RON HOWARD:  Thank you, Rebecca.  And Carolyn?
CAROLYN PECK:  Well, I would echo what Rebecca has said.  I think this is the most anticipated season for me, other than the first year when the league started, with not only the three to see, but the coaching changes that have happened, the movement of some players.  The teams that Rebecca brought up, I'm also interested to see what L.A.'s going to do.  I think that they could be a contending team in the West and potentially a championship if the chemistry gels fast enough.
I think it's going to be exciting.¬† I think that, for me, not a season where you can clear cut say you're just watching to see‑‑ you have one team pick that should be the all‑out winner.¬† In the East, I think it's a toss‑up.¬† I think it's an improved Eastern Conference with the coaching move with Anne Donovan coming back, Bill Laimbeer back in the league, I think that Mike Thibault will over time make Washington a competitive team, if not this year, in the seasons to come.¬† And in the West, it's just going to be a dog fight, So I think it's going to be an exciting season.

Q.  Carolyn and Rebecca, if you could first talk about how you see the Mercury playing this season with what looks to be so many weapons and of course also a lot of people are looking at them as a WNBA Championship contender.  Can you talk about how realistic that is for the team as well?
REBECCA LOBO:¬† I see them playing a similar style that we've seen them play since Corey has been there, whether as an assistant or head coach.¬† I've seen them getting up‑and‑down.¬† The nice thing when you have the number of weapons that they have, they take a lot of shots as a team, so I think every player's going to continue to get her number of shots.
It's going to be great to see Diana back and Penny.  Though I'm eager to see how soon Penny is back and how soon she gets to a hundred percent, how Brittney fits in there, what Samantha Prahalis can do surrounded by so many weapons, and I think many people look at them as definitely a championship contender and maybe a favorite coming in especially with healthy pieces.
DeWanna Bonner is second in the league in scoring last year, and now she's going to be flanked on the perimeter by Taurasi and Penny, and there are just so many offensive weapons there.  To see how Brittney's going to fit in with that mix, I think that's what most fans of the WNBA are eager to see.
CAROLYN PECK:¬† I think that Phoenix, we're going to see a similar transition up‑and‑down teams.¬† But from the past, they've been pretty much an outside team first, then in.¬† Now they have options.¬† So they're going to be a tough preparation for their opponents of trying to figure out what you're going to stop.¬† If you try to take away the perimeter, they have Brittney Griner inside.¬† You concentrate too much on her inside, they've got that outside threat now or the inside threat that will command so much attention that the outside will be even more open.¬† I think that they've gotten more versatile with the addition of Brittney Griner.

Q.  You both mentioned this being a really exciting year.  Carolyn, you mentioned it being the most exciting since the inception of the league.  Obviously, Griner has a lot to do with that.  I was just wondering if you two could just say a little more about what she's doing for this game?  We saw it in college, and now we should be able to see it on this level from the fan standpoint.
CAROLYN PECK:¬† I think that Brittney has brought a lot of attention, first and foremost, because of her accomplishments and the things that she did on the college level.¬† I think when you look at a player that is 6'8" and has the versatility and the ability to do the things that she does, she's not just from the old traditional post‑player that is just solid on the block.¬† You've got to wait for her to get down the floor.¬† She's a player that will run the floor.¬† She's very agile on both offense and defense, and we've demonstrated in college how even from the lane she has the ability to get out and block shots taken from the three‑point line.
She is, I think, the first true player that will consistently play around the rim, and I think it will up the level of everybody else's play around her.  I'm interested to see how players like Candace Parker do going against Sylvia Fowles or Brittney Griner, and excited about the news of Elizabeth Cambage, if she returns back to Tulsa.  You have great sized players that are going to have to up their games because of the talent that Brittney Griner brings.
REBECCA LOBO:¬† I think Brittney Griner since she was in high school, she's an intriguing person and an intriguing player because she does things that we've not seen before in women's basketball.¬† No one else makes watching warm‑ups exciting, but she does because she goes up and dunks the basketball and plays it above the rim.¬† She's just fun to watch.
I think she'll bring a different fan to the WNBA, much like in college, I think people who don't normally watch women's basketball wanted to see Brittney Griner because they don't know much about her.  The WNBA is such a high level of basketball and an exciting brand of basketball if people just give it a chance.  I think she'll bring those added eyes to the game, and hopefully those eyes will continue to want to watch once they are first introduced to the game by Brittney.

Q.  But when you guys think of the Phoenix Mercury franchise, I'm wondering what your gut reaction is as far as the fan base and the organization overall?  I guess my second part of the question would be the WNBA over the years has kind of taken different approaches of how it has marketed itself.  I'm wondering if you guys feel maybe there is a certain way that is best to market this league?
CAROLYN PECK:  Well, Phoenix is one of my favorite places to come and do a game.  I'd love to come to a game as a fan and not working because they seem to have so much fun in the arena.  Even in a season like last year that was down with so many players out, you still had tremendous fan support.
When you talk about the marketing of the WNBA and part early on with the Orlando miracle, and it was pretty much marketed as a sport to go watch that was fan friendly, the players were accessible, and it was geared around the community involvement.  I think now the marketing can be faced around the town and the players, the commercials and all that show the skill and talent that these women play.  Now you can market those other things plus you're going to see a great game and great product on the floor, and fans will be entertained while they're in the arena, and I think Phoenix does a terrific job at that.
REBECCA LOBO:  I know when I was playing and Cheryl Miller was the head coach in Phoenix, it was one of the most fun places to go play because not only did the crowd show up in big numbers, but they were energetic, really involved, super passionate, and they just had a different vibe to them than many other arenas.  It's a phenomenal place to play.  You've seen that at times when the team has been successful in the past few years.  But I would imagine it will get back to that same level of craziness this year with the anticipation of what Griner can do and the success that the team might have.  So I'm eager to get down there on Monday and experience it.

Q.¬† I have a couple of questions on two different subjects.¬† The first kind of follow‑up on the Griner.¬† Do you see her as a generational athlete who will fundamentally change the game in the sense as a somebody like a George Mikan did and Kareem Abdul‑Jabbar did for the men's game.¬† On a second note, I know Cheryl Reeve of Minnesota is taking a little bit of motivation from the feeling that her team is being a little slighted in terms of experts' predictions for this season.¬† I was wondering if you could talk about what you see in the Lynx chances this year?
REBECCA LOBO:  I don't see Brittney Griner as a player who is going to change the game because there is nobody else like her.  She will change every game in which she plays, but she won't change the game of women's basketball because there aren't any other 6'8" women out there who have her athletic abilities.  So that's what makes her so different, unique and exciting.  There just aren't any other women who can do what she does at her size.
You know, Minnesota's poised to have a great year.¬† I heard from Coach Reeve soon after the draft giving me a hard time, how dare I pick Phoenix and L.A. in front of them.¬† And I think it's interesting, because last year going into the season, they were the clear‑cut favorites to repeat from day one.¬† And this year they can kind of embrace the underdog role because I think a lot of people are picking Phoenix to win the West and maybe win the WNBA Championship.¬† But, obviously, the players in Minnesota, if they can stay healthy, they have championship experience, they've got a great coach, and they'll be in the hunt, without question, for the Western Conference Championship.
But it is unique with the talent they have, the championship experience that they have, that they can embrace an underdog role in some ways or play on that feeling of being a little bit disrespected.
CAROLYN PECK:  I think as far as Brittney changing the game, I think that what will have to change will be the same thing that changed in college, and that is how to officiate Brittney.  I think that a lot of college officials officiate in the WNBA.  The WNBA is a faster game, and the players are stronger, more developed, more mature so now how do I carry that to the next level in the WNBA?  And, again, I think we'll see some goaltending potentially in the WNBA.
As far as the slighting of Minnesota, I think that the west is going to be a battle.  I think that the championship experience that Minnesota has from two years ago will definitely carry over, and I'm sure that they have the sour taste in their mouth after last season.
They've got a tremendous point guard in Lindsay Whalen, and I think Maya Moore's game has evolved to another level.  You complement that with Seimone Augustus and from what I've been reading, you have the complement of a Monica Wright who can sub in at three different positions, gives them great versatility.
That's what I think is exciting about the WNBA is you can't turn on the TV and say this team's going to win.  You've got to watch it.  And I think that's what makes an exciting season.

Q.  The Fever have been pretty dinged up even before the season starts.  Talk about being left by the wayside.  I haven't heard anyone even mention, I don't think hardly, that the Fever are still in the league.  Is there any reason to believe that they can repeat given all these early injuries?  I know the schedule is a little spread out, so that might give them a reprieve?
REBECCA LOBO:  I think Indiana has to be named as the favorite if not one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but this third injury really hurts.  It's the third player that looks like they're going to be without for the first four.
To six weeks of the season.¬† With the short season that the WNBA has, that can be significant.¬† And that is why an 11‑player roster, players 9, 10, and 11 are so important, because they are going to determine some playoff positioning early in the season.¬† So Indiana, while they have everybody back, this does hurt them quite a bit with the injuries that they have.¬† Who is going to be the back‑up center?¬† Who is going to be the back‑up point guard?
But Lin Dunn is one of the best coaches in the league, and they've got that experience of winning it all last year.  So they just have to weather the storm for the first month of the season.
CAROLYN PECK:  And I think Indiana's going to have to heavily rely on a rookie in Layshia Clarendon with that injury.  But she's a smart player, so that definitely helps.
The x‑factors that I think Indiana has with Catchings and Douglas, I always pitched them into contention to win ballgames.¬† Now it's just going to be a matter of like Rebecca said, to weather the storm so they can get some of these injuries heal, and will time allow that to happen?

Q.¬† Griner is such a lightning rod for attention since she came to Baylor and now she enters the league, and obviously last week she got into it again with a report that your network provided about her comments about Kim Mulkey and Brittney's sexuality, how that impacted Baylor and the recruiting.¬† I'm wondering if both of you from your perspective, Carolyn, as a coach and, Rebecca, as a player and long‑time observer, if you can honestly tell us what kind of impact sexuality has in the construction of a WNBA roster, and whether it's a problem anymore or how coaches and players approach it?
CAROLYN PECK:¬† Well, from a coach's perspective, the way that I look at it is players are players.¬† I think‑‑ this is my feeling, the media really puts more of an interest on the homosexuality or heterosexuality, the sexuality of the player than the players do.¬† The player steps out on the court in a uniform, they pick up the basketball and they play the game.
What people do in their personal lives I actually have no interest in.  What I am interested in when it comes to college basketball, the WNBA, the performance of the players and what they do on the court.
And as a coach, that was my emphasis.¬† When I was in the WNBA, we worked.¬† They have a job to do.¬† They come and do the job, whether it's to defend, run the screen and roll, shoot the three, play a one three one, play a zone, play a match‑up, play a man to man, and that's what we coach the players to do.
REBECCA LOBO:  The players don't care.  The players in the WNBA don't care what their teammate's sexual orientation is.  And usually women in the WNBA because they're no longer 17, 18 years old, they're women.  They're comfortable and so most of them are very open about who they are.  They'll introduce to their boyfriend, they'll introduce you to their girlfriend, because they know there are no judgments being made.
No one's uncomfortable in that situation.  I think players are very comfortable with who they are, and comfortable with the teammates that they have in the locker room.  You're always going to have teammates that you like and teammates that you don't, but it's never based on their sexual orientation.
I think because these women are at a different place in their lives and more mature, more comfortable with who they are, it's not really talked about, but it's not hidden in any way.  People are just really comfortable with who they are.  It's really actually a nice environment to be in to be honest with you.

Q.  Rebecca, I'm wondering why do the women seem to deal with this issue so much more gracefully than the men do like with the Jason Collins situation.  It strikes me that they're all adults.  Why is it such a big deal in the NBA and why do the women in the WNBA seem to handle it with a much more plum and sensibility?
REBECCA LOBO:  Because women handle everything with more plum and sensibility.  We're just better (laughing), no.  What's interesting to me is when you play a professional women's sport, whatever it is or when you play a men's professional sport, you're assumed to be straight; and when you play a women's professional sport, you're assumed to be gay by people on the outside, for whatever reason.
But I think the women maybe there isn't the same stigma that goes with it on the women's side, I don't know.  But women don't, in my experience, women are very comfortable being who they are and handle it exceptionally well.  I think Brittney Griner is just another one of those.
CAROLYN PECK:  I would ask the question, who makes it a big deal?

Q.  Which teams do you think are the most improved coming into the season?  And number two, which teams do you feel are under the most pressure to live up to their expectations?
CAROLYN PECK:¬† I think the most improved team, if Elizabeth Cambage comes back to join Skylar Diggins, it would be Tulsa also having Tiffany Jackson‑Jones back.¬† I think that Gary Kloppenberg has an opportunity to definitely improve Tulsa.
I think that the team, to live up to the highest expectations, I think is Phoenix with all of the attention that is being drawn to Phoenix with Brittney Griner there and now having three players that were injured from last year, really four, if you count Samantha Prahalis coming back at a hundred percent, I would believe they are the team with the highest expectations to live up to.
REBECCA LOBO:  Yeah, I would think the team that would be most improved will be Tulsa, and also Chicago.  Chicago has never made it to the WNBA playoffs.  They're going to have to weather another storm with Epiphanny Prince being gone most of the month of June, but if Sylvia Fowles can stay healthy with the addition of Elena Delle Donne, this is a team that could really contend in the Eastern Conference.  So they could go from not making the playoffs to being in contention, to winning the conference.
I agree with Carolyn, the expectations are so high right now in Phoenix.  A lot of the people are talking about them being the favorite to win the whole thing.  So if they're not contending for the Western Conference title, it would be, I think, a disappointment in some people's eyes.

Q.  Enough has been talked about Brittney, but can you talk a little about Skylar and Elena, and also your opinions earlier about Minnesota?  Do you think they'll be able to get their mojo back that they had two years ago that drove them to a championship?
REBECCA LOBO:  I think they had their mojo most of last season.  It wasn't until particularly the WNBA final that's they lost it a little bit, but they're poised to have a terrific year, especially if Monica Wright can continue to play the way she seems to be playing in the preseason.
The other two rookies are exactly what their team needs.  Skylar Diggins, Tulsa needed a winner, and a point guard who could distribute the basketball and who could make the right decisions at the right time.  Especially if Cambage is back, Skylar know how to play with scoring post players and she's a perfect fit there.
And Elena Delle Donne is a player who not enough people have seen her play a lot, and she's a really special talent.  It's going to be fun to see how she competes against the WNBA players and what she can do with what she's surrounded with in Chicago.
CAROLYN PECK:¬† I think the other two rookies with Diggins and Delle Donne and Rebecca talked about the leadership and ability that Skylar brings and the ability to distribute the basketball.¬† And I think Tulsa is going to be much improved with having Tiffany Jackson‑Jones back, and Cambage coming back.¬† The thing that Tulsa will need is a consistent perimeter scorer.¬† Which transitions to maybe Chicago, often I felt like was the biggest need to help with Chicago, and that is something that Elena Delle Donne has the ability to do.
We watched her in the NCAA Tournament even receiving double teams on the perimeter.  This young woman can score the basketball.
As far as Minnesota goes, last season they were I think when it got to the finals they were trying to defend a championship as opposed to going after one like they did the year before with that same mentality to the season.

Q.  I'd like to ask Carolyn, what is a legitimate expectation for Skylar this season?  Is there a measurement in statistics or another way to measure what would be a reasonable expectation, and what would it take for her to exceed those expectations?
CAROLYN PECK:¬† Well, I think that as a whole, Tulsa is looking to improve in the win column.¬† And I think that that's going to be one of the biggest measurements.¬† I think the other is going to be the efficiency of Skylar Diggins.¬† And she has such a young team that is building and looking at what her assist‑to‑turnover ratio is, and how she's able to get players like she was able to do at Notre Dame, the basketball in the right places that they can score the basketball.
That will take some time, and I would really look at a measurement of the first half of the season versus the second half of the season, because in the first half of the season, there is going to be a chemistry that has to develop, and she will, knowing the player that she is, develop that chemistry and helping players to understand when she's going to get them the basketball and what they're supposed to do with it once she gets it.

Q.  It is a unique situation in the WNBA right now in comparison to any other league where the pros seem to take time off and rest during the WNBA season in comparison to other leagues such as the European league.  I understand these players need rest and sometimes their bodies are hurt from the whole season of play but this hurts our league as well.  Is there anyway that the WNBA can protect themselves at this moment?
CAROLYN PECK:¬† Right now with the amount of money that women are being compensated for playing in what we call the off‑season or outside the WNBA season this is their livelihood.¬† And as long as the WNBA has been in existence it's just really how the women have conditioned themselves to play.
Some of them play‑‑ some of the top talent play in China, which is pretty much a four‑month season; others play year round and they play in Europe and Russia, Italy, Turkey, so then they have to really‑‑ it's a matter of how they can construct their contracts in order to have at least a little bit of time to rest.
Right now, I don't see what the WNBA can do.¬† The WNBA season is during the summer where we're really not competing with any other sport, and it allows the women to play in the off‑seasons from their commitments, I think it's tough to do.

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