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WNBA DRAFT


April 15, 2013


Laurel Ritchie


BRISTOL, CONNECTICUT

LAUREL RITCHIE:  This is the third consecutive year for our draft, and we are very excited that this is taking place in primetime.  I think it is a reflection of how far the game has come.  It's a reflection of the three women who have lots of conversation about them entering into our league, but I will say that I have spent the last two days here in Bristol with 12 prospective members of the class of 2013, and they are an amazing group of athletes and equally important an amazing group of women.
I have said that I think we're going to look back on 2013 and realize that it was a year that really changed the landscape for the WNBA.  I'm very, very excited about the level of play.  I am excited about the players who are coming into the league.
As many of you know, we have undergone a bit of a rebranding, revisiting our brand identity, and that was done solely to make sure that the way in which we present ourselves is a true reflection of the diversity and athleticism of today's WNBA players.
We were also thrilled earlier this year to announce in partnership with ESPN an extension to our partnership through 2022, and I think that says as much about ESPN as it does about the WNBA.  ESPN is an organization that is committed to women's sports, committed to female sports fans, and we are very, very proud to be in partnership with them, and I think there are going to be lots of great things coming as a result of that contract.
We spent some time today here meeting with the content team, the full content team, and I think we've got some really exciting things.  We're a smaller league, we're a nimble league, and that affords us to try things and to experiment, and we're very, very excited about that.  I couldn't be more bullish about the WNBA.  I'm excited to be coming to you from Bristol.  I often describe ESPN as the epicenter of all things wonderful in sports, so for us to be here for our draft is really, really exciting.  Here's to 2013 with the WNBA.

Q.¬† With what happened in Boston today, was there any thought of not holding the draft tonight in some aspect because of what happened up there, and secondly, on a less heavy‑hearted note, just talk about the excitement with Griner and Delle Donne, some very different types of players who will be joining the league this year.
LAUREL RITCHIE:  As you can imagine, we had discussions about whether or not we should continue.  Those are always tough decisions and made the decision to go ahead with tonight's draft.  There's just no question that this draft class I think has the potential to be a moment in time that we're going to look back in 10, 20 years and say, remember that class that came in with Brittney, Skylar and Elena, and having spent the last two days with a couple other of the prospects, I think there are a couple surprises in there, too.  I think it's also going to be written as we focus on those three, and one or two I think may surprise us in what they do when they enter into the league, as well.

Q.  With the new brand identity and what you've launched this last month as well as tonight's draft being one of the most anticipated drafts since the league's inception, it seems almost as if there's a line of demarcation we had an amazing 16 season, now we're entering into season 17.  Can you talk a little bit about where the league is headed from this point forward, and what are your goals and what would you like to see the WNBA accomplish from here moving forward?
LAUREL RITCHIE:¬† So first and foremost, it is always about what happens on the court, and I believe that in our 16‑year history you've seen a steady increase in the strength and athleticism of the women who enter into the WNBA, and then you have a draft class like this one that you can't plan for it.¬† There's no work that I can do sitting in my office to say this is what I'd like to have happen, but I sure as heck am going to take advantage of it.¬† So a lot of that is just luck, and I'm very grateful to the parents of Skylar and Elena and Brittney that they did such a great job raising them, and thanks to their coaches, as well.
And then from a business standpoint, the league in partnership with our teams, we've really spent some good, hard time looking at our business and making sure that we are focusing on the right things and focusing on the fundamentals so that we can take advantage of where today's female basketball players are and what they do on the court and make sure that we do the marketing work to bring more people to the games, more viewers.  We're thrilled to have State Farm with us for the first time as our presenting partner of draft and some other activities through the year, so that's an important aspect of us, as well.  But we're just collectively full steam ahead, heading into our 17 season.

Q.  Elena Delle Donne, specifically what does she bring to the league?  What are some of the qualities that she has that you think will really enhance the WNBA?
LAUREL RITCHIE:¬† You know, I think she is one of the most prolific all‑around players that I've ever seen.¬† So I think first and foremost, with her size and her multifaceted abilities, I think she is a very, very unique player.
I've had the really great pleasure of spending some time with her, getting to know her, and this is a woman who is very clear on what's important to her.¬† I think all of us know the story of her sister and her relationship with her sister, and she's talked a lot very eloquently about her desire to use whatever limelight or spotlight she has to be of service and benefit to that community, and I think that is one of the things I love most about the WNBA, is that we have world‑class athletes who are very conscious of the communities in which they compete, and even on the eve of entering into the WNBA, that's first and foremost on her mind of how can she use this for broader good.¬† I think that's really amazing.

Q.¬† We have three great transcendent potentially players, before that we had Maya, before that we had Candace, before that we had Diana.¬† Should there be any concern that we're rehashing the rookies‑saving‑the‑league type of attitude as opposed to just mentioning the fact that we have these unbelievably talented players that have won Olympic gold medals and done so well internationally?
LAUREL RITCHIE:  So I would not at all characterize it as three rookies who are going to save the league.  I would characterize it as three phenomenal players entering into a league that has more than a handful of phenomenal players.  So I think to me, it is an additive thing.
And that said, I don't think anyone would argue that Brittney Griner is unlike any athlete we have seen in a very, very long time.¬† So I don't ever hang‑‑ the players do their job on the court, and I'm excited to see these three on the court, and then there are a whole host of other things that happen to continue the league and continue to make sure that we're growing in the ways that we want to grow.

Q.¬† Coming off of that, can you maybe talk about‑‑ do you feel like these sort of young stars coming in, maybe some of the older players are going to be looking forward to‑‑ I don't want to say taking them down a peg, but maybe looking forward to saying, hey, I want to go against Brittney Griner, I want to go against Elena Delle Donne, that that's something you can look forward to, too, some of your stars taking shots at the youngsters?
LAUREL RITCHIE:  I hope I'm not talking out of school here, but one of the things that we have done this weekend with some of the draftees or prospects that are coming into the league is they've spent some time with our current players, and I have to say the conversation between Tamika Catchings and a group of our rookies was a very, very interest, direct and compelling conversation where Tamika said you may be drafted on Monday night, but you still have to earn a spot on the roster.  And I think she was very clear on her intent to hold on to the spot that she's got.
I think she probably answered that question better than I could.

Q.  You have three of the most successful in league history in new spots with Anne Donovan in Connecticut, Bill Laimbeer back with New York, and Mike Thibault in Washington.  How do you think that may impact the landscape of the Eastern Conference?
LAUREL RITCHIE:  I think it's going to be exciting.  I think we're thrilled to have Bill back in the league.  I've had the pleasure of spending a little bit of time with him, and I'm very clear that he is a personality and a force to be reckoned with.  Anne coming back in the league I think is terrific for Connecticut, and the Connecticut Sun have been very clear about their intention in making the change in coaching, and they believe that Anne is the coach to do that.
And I think the change in Washington I think is going to bode well for Washington.  Not that they asked my opinion when they made those changes, but I look at the landscape now and I think all three of those changes make those three teams very interesting to watch in the season ahead.

Q.  Again speaking as you mentioned about the level of competition, there was a lot of talk prior to tonight's draft about Brittney Griner perhaps trying out for the NBA.  Did you find that that discussion helped create attention around tonight's event, and also just what were your thoughts about that?
LAUREL RITCHIE:  I read something somewhere that referred to that as catnip for the media, and I thought those were wonderful words.
For me tonight is all about the WNBA and our draft, and last I checked Brittney is all suited up and ready to go.  I probably have blinders on.  I've been incredibly focused about her being on the verge of entering into the WNBA and waiting very excitedly about seeing her impact.

Q.  There are some prominent names who aren't going to be playing this season, and we've dealt with this for the entire history of the WNBA because of sometimes getting injured or needing a rest.  Is that a continuing concern for you?  Are you worried a little bit about the fact that some of the bigger names are looking now to take maybe a season in the WNBA off?  And is there anything you feel like the league has to do to maybe try to prevent that when possible?
LAUREL RITCHIE:¬† You know, first and foremost, I want to do everything I can to make sure that when our athletes hit the floor they are healthy.¬† They know‑‑ they and their doctors know their bodies better than I ever will sitting up here or sitting in New York.
While I may be disappointed when an athlete for health reasons is not coming and competing in the WNBA, I am always first and foremost wanting to make sure that they are healthy, and sometimes it doesn't fall our way, and that's the reality that we deal with every day.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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