Extending the ladder down, a WNBA tradition
PHOENIX — When the final roster cuts were announced before the WNBA season tipped off, the Phoenix Mercury led all teams with four rookies making their season-opening roster.
But the Mercury also lead the league in experience, too, with five players already having 10 or more seasons in the WNBA and a sixth (DeWanna Bonner) playing in her 10th season this year. For head coach Sandy Brondello, blending the youthful quartet with a roster that’s overflowing with experience is vital.
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“You need that. We want basketball players, number one, but you need that veteran experience and presence,” Brondello said. “But I like our rookies, that’s good that they got their first game out of it. They do bring a lot of energy and the more and more they play, they’ll get more comfortable.”
And while it’s easy to feel that a player like Diana Taurasi has always been in the league, every pro athlete was once a rookie, too, and looked up to veteran players. Bonner remembered what being the only rookie on the 2009 Mercury squad was like and how much she appreciated how a veteran like Tangela Smith took Bonner under her wing.
“We hung pretty tight and she helped me out, just with the ins-and-outs of the WNBA. Not just on the court, but off the court stuff, too,” Bonner said. “I was the only rookie, so everybody was always helping. Diana, Cappie [Pondexter], Tangela. Everybody that was there helped me out a lot. I know what it is, it’s like a whirlwind.”
That experience is a big factor in Bonner attempting to pay it forward with the Mercury’s rookies this year, something she addressed during last week’s Media Day.
“They’re away from home. They’re professionals now. They’re on their own,” Bonner said. “It’s always like, ‘Ok, where do I need to go? What do I need to do? What do I eat?’ So I always try to make sure I extend the offer … I think it’s important for us to have that team chemistry and for them to feel comfortable. They’re already uncomfortable on the basketball court, so off the court should be fun. I just try to do that for them.”
With that in mind, I went around to as many of the Mercury as I could and asked them the same question: who was the person that, when you were a young player, showed you what it means and what it takes to be a professional basketball player?