They haven’t as yet received attention similar to “The Big 3” WNBA rookies — Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne — but here are two other “under the radar” rookies who are also worth noting.
A first-round selection usually is a roster lock, but that’s not necessarily the case for players picked in later rounds. Once a projected first-rounder, Minnesota guard Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers was the 14th overall pick in the 2013 Draft.
“I had to come in here and try out,” recalls the second-rounder. “When I made the team, I was excited. Now I have to work the hardest to stay on the team.”
The Washington, D.C. native Rodgers adds that she was initially disappointed. “I thought I would get drafted higher. To be honest, I wanted to be drafted by the Mystics and play at home. I went to school in D.C. and love the D.C. area.
“[However], I got drafted here, “continues the 5’-9” guard. “I can learn from Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore — just to be on the team with them is unbelievable.”
Unlike the draft’s top three overall picks, Rodgers isn’t getting many minutes. At least two DNPs (did not play) are credited to her this summer, something that didn’t happen to her either in high school or at Georgetown, where she was a four-time all-conference and finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer, three-point shooter and in steals.
Instead, it’s starting-over time for the young woman. “You’d rather be on a winning team sitting on the bench than [on] a losing team sitting on the bench,” notes Rodgers on the Western Conference-leading Lynx. “My chance will come if I keep working hard at practice.” And chances are coming: She had a pro-career high 10 points in 25 minutes at Los Angeles June 28.
“I was always told that just because you’re not in the spotlight, do the little things and eventually you will get there,” she remembers. “Whether you get there or not, it’s still the little things that make the team. You got to get out there and do your job — 20 seconds, 25 minutes, whatever.”
Furthermore, it’s not the over 2,500 career points scored in college or the first-team conference selections she’s most proud of, but rather that she stayed straight, believes Rodgers. “I’m the first in my family to graduate from college,” says the English major, who minored in theology.
“Just for me to get a degree, that’s the biggest accomplishment in my life. Where I come from, most people don’t get degrees — they’re either six feet in the ground or in jail.
“My brother and sister both were incarcerated. My sister graduated from high school, but my brother didn’t. I just took a different road. I didn’t go down the bad path, stayed in the books, and stayed with basketball. I got a scholarship — I never thought I would go to college.”
As she heads into this weekend’s All Star break, Rodgers briefly assesses the first half of her first WNBA season, saying she’s getting used to the game’s pace among other things. “I’m just happy to be here. This is big for me.”
Atlanta rookie guard Alex Bentley has followed the WNBA pretty much her entire basketball life, which began as a young girl. At Penn State, former WNBA point guard Coquese Washington was her coach.
“Coach [Washington] has a lot of basketball knowledge,” admits the 5’-7” player. “She taught me a lot. She taught me how to be a floor general and taught me how to be a leader. Without her help, honestly I don’t know if I could have made it to the league.”
Bentley was the Dream’s second-round pick in this year’s draft. She’s ranked fourth behind the “Big 3” rookies in scoring and set a new league record in June by making 10 consecutive three-pointers. But the first-year guard says, “I definitely think I have to get better at defense. Honestly, I’m just trying to grow as a player.”
Dream Coach Fred Williams says he likes Bentley’s “swag.” As a result, she and Jasmine Thomas, acquired from Washington in the off-season, have combined to average 16 points, nearly five assists, and almost two steals a game this season. “They really compliment each other,” says Williams.
“Jasmine has really been a great help to me on the court, in practice and in the games,” says Bentley. “All of my [veteran player teammates] help me out. With their help, it makes it a lot easier for me.”
Other than 1999 and 2001, this MSR reporter (from the only Minnesota media in attendance) has reported on eight WNBA All-Star Games as well as the 2010 WNBA stars-USA Olympic team exhibition. (No games were held in 2004, 2008 and 2012.) Next week, we will report from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. on the 2013 contest scheduled for Saturday.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]