Maryland star Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was thrilled when the Washington Mystics selected her sixth overall in the WNBA draft this April. Not only would she get to stay in the DMV area, where she’d flourished the past four years, but she was getting to join a team that had just added superstars like Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver.
A couple of months into her professional career, the 22-year-old is still feeling pretty, well, great about her situation.
“It’s going great,” Walker-Kimbrough told The Summitt after the Mystics’ win on Sunday over the Indiana Fever. “The adjustment is great, the veterans are great, the coaching staff is great. And, I mean, we’re winning, we’re doing really well. That’s always a plus.”
Indeed, the Mystics are 7-3 on the season, trailing only the Minnesota Lynx in the league standings. But during that time, Walker-Kimbrough and the other rookie on the team, second-round pick Jennie Simms, have not seen a lot of playing time.
Walker-Kimbrough has seen action in seven of the 10 games this season, averaging 8.3 minutes and 2.7 points per game in those seven games. Her most prolific game came in a loss to the Seattle Storm in May—it was the Mystics’ third game of the season, but the first time she took the floor—when she had 10 points in 14 minutes. With some of her teammates battling minor injuries and Emma Meesseman in Belgium, she’s been picking up some significant minutes here and there, but Thibault is in no rush to force Walker-Kimbrough, a three-time selection to the the All-Big Ten First Team, who set the Big Ten record for three-point percentage in her junior season, into the lineup
The Mystics are deep this year, particularly at the guard position. Walker-Kimbrough currently trails Kristi Toliver, Tayler Hill, Natasha Cloud, Ivory Latta, and Tierra Rufin-Pratt on the depth chart. (Delle Donne can fit into the rotation at guard, too—Thibault is pretty flexible when it comes to positions.)
“When [Walker-Kimbrough and Simms] made the team, I basically told them that our practices are your games. You have to use those as a learning thing, be a sponge,” he said. “I think it’s hard sometimes to come from being the star of where you’ve been to now being stuck on the bench and not knowing if you’re going to play.”
Overall, Thibault is pleased with Walker-Kimbrough’s work ethic and basketball I.Q., and excited to see how she progresses as the season wears on. But he does feel that a few times this season, he’s caught Walker-Kimbrough off-guard when he’s put her into the game, so he’s stressing the importance of coming into every game ready to play.
“If you don’t you don’t, but you’re not turning down your paycheck every Friday by sitting on the bench,” he said. “It’s part of being a pro athlete. You learn and you get better and you be ready when your time comes.”
The 5’11” guard is certainly taking that lesson to heart. She admits that she’s been surprised a few times when Thibault has called her off the bench, and says she is ready to provide the team with whatever it needs, whether it’s energy on the bench or energy in the game.
Judging by her limited playing time, it’s going to take a while for the thin Walker-Kimbrough to adjust to the physicality and pace of the WNBA game. But she is adamant that the biggest shock about the transition from college to the pros is just how smooth it’s been.
“The veterans have been really great just helping me along,” she said. “There are a lot of new people in the team, we’re all trying to learn the system, not just me and Jennie. I’m just trying to be a sponge—it’s not every day you get to play with Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver, Tayler Hill, so it’s just an honor to be here.”