POSTED ON MAY 12, 2010:
Ready to Shake It Up
Tulsa's new WNBA Shock might be a "semi-expansion team," but they're prepared to defy expectations
Working Back Up. One of the most recognizable additions to the Tulsa Shock is former Olympic track star Marion Jones, well known from her downfall with performance enhancing drugs and a prison sentence
Tulsa has long been a hotbed for sports, but playing in the big leagues may take a little getting used to.
While cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles sport a bevy of big-league teams, T-Town's idea of big-time sports usually centers on the annual football showdown between Jenks and Union.
Sure, there are the Drillers, the Oilers, the Talons and the 66ers, and while those teams have had success in their respective leagues, none play at the highest level of their respective sports.
That changes Saturday, when the WNBA's Tulsa Shock opens its inaugural season in T-Town against the Minnesota Lynx.
Shock Head Coach Nolan Richardson can't wait.
"In the coaching business, the easiest job is to get out on the floor and do what you do best or what you're hired to do, and that's working with youngsters -- or young ladies in this case," Richardson said. "I'm looking forward to that."
Rebuilding a Dynasty
Two of the worst words for sports fans to stomach are "rebuilding" and "year."
While this is certainly going to be a season of reconfiguration for the Shock franchise, it's more of a fresh start than a rebuilding process -- an expansion as opposed to relocation.
"They bought a team (where) the five players who started for them are not in this gym," Richardson said. "So me and (assistant coach) Wayne (Stehlik) have called it a semi-expansion team."
More than half of the players from the Detroit team did not join the team in Tulsa, including star players Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith.
But Richardson and Stehlik have been able to draw on their experiences recruiting players to Arkansas to aid them in essentially building a team from scratch. Stehlik said he and Richardson watched video on players they were targeting as additions to the team, almost as if they were scouting prospective freshmen all over again.
From signing free agents to making trades, Stehlik said the front office has been able to piece together a roster they think best fits Richardson's system.
"In the trades we've made, we've picked up players who we think fit our mold," Stehlik said. "You look at (guard Shanna) Crossley. She's a lot like (former Arkansas player) Pat Bradley, who's maybe not the greatest athlete but is the all-time leading 3-point shooter in SEC history. We brought Crossley in and have been watching her, and I don't think she's missed a shot yet."
Crossley, a career 40 percent 3-point shooter, is one of three players to be added to the Shock's roster through off-season trades. The former Tennessee Volunteer and three-year WNBA veteran was traded to the Shock from the San Antonio Silver Stars but originally wasn't thrilled about being traded, she said.
"I'm not gonna lie -- at first, I wasn't as excited," Crossley said. "I was confident and comfortable in San Antonio. My husband and I have a house there. But the more that I thought about it, the more I see the style of play and see the player personnel, and I know the opportunity that presented itself to me and the desire that they had for me to come here.
"It just kept growing on me. My heart began to change, and I became so excited to come here and I did not want to stay in San Antonio."
Also making the trek to Tulsa through a trade with the Connecticut Sun are Chante Black and Amber Holt, who came to the Shock in exchange for the seventh overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft.
Black, a second-year center out of Duke, averaged 2.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a rookie. Holt is entering her third season, and the forward has career averages of 6.3 points and 3.1 rebounds.
Another newcomer, guard Scholanda Robinson, joined the team after being selected by the Shock in the Sacramento Monarchs dispersal draft. The Monarchs, one of the original eight teams of the WNBA, folded in the offseason after relocation efforts failed.
Robinson, who averaged 6.6 points per game last season, said she, like Crossley, was at first hesitant about coming to Tulsa.
"I didn't really know anything about Tulsa, so that was my initial thought," Robinson said. "I knew I was gonna end up somewhere. It was a (dispersal) draft, so I knew I was gonna end up somewhere new. I didn't know it was going to be this new -- new team, new place, a new franchise pretty much."
While Robinson and Crossley weren't originally excited about the prospect of playing in Tulsa, rookie and former Sooner Amanda Thompson was thrilled with the idea of continuing her career in Oklahoma.
"I was really excited. I wasn't ready to leave our fans," Thompson said. "I wasn't ready to leave Oklahoma. I've just gotten so accustomed to this lifestyle. What a great opportunity to play in front of them again."
Fresh off a Final Four run with the Sooners and a senior season in which she earned All-Big 12 First Team honors while averaging 13.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, Thompson said she wants to keep giving back to basketball fans in Oklahoma.
"I just want to do more for (the fans) and play hard for them," Thompson said. "I'm just excited for these fans here and just to do that same thing for them."
Thompson was drafted in the second round with the 19th overall pick and joins third-round draft pick Vivian Frieson as the two drafted rookies on the team.
Frieson, a former Gonzaga forward, said her transition to the WNBA has been made easier with the help of team veterans Plenette Pierson and Alexis Hornbuckle.
"It's kinda weird because everything is still getting established here, but the veterans have made it pretty easy," Frieson said. "Plenette and Alexis have been real vital in helping me catch up on a couple of things and helping me understand."
Pierson and Hornbuckle are two of the few holdovers from the Detroit Shock, the team's former incarnation that relocated to Tulsa in October 2009. Other members of the Detroit team joining the Shock in Tulsa include Kara Braxton, Olayinka Sanni and Shavonte Zellous. Two other players, Ivory Latta and Tulsa native Iciss Tillis return to the Shock after stints with other teams.
But perhaps the most noteworthy addition to the team has been former Olympic track star Marion Jones.
Best known for winning five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics and then subsequently being stripped of her medals after admitting to using performing enhancing drugs in 2007, Jones served six months in prison for perjury relating to her use of steroids.
But before her precipitous fall from the top of the track and field world, Jones was a standout basketball player for the University of North Carolina. As a freshman, Jones helped lead the Tar Heels to the national championship, and her No. 20 jersey hangs in the rafters at Carmichael Arena on the university's campus.
While her level of notoriety exceeds that of her teammates, Jones isn't concerned that her persona will overshadow the team.
"A lot of people know who I am, they know my story and all that, but it comes down to whether or not I can play basketball and if we can bond as a team and win championships," Jones said. "And once you do that, whether or not I'm Marion Jones the track star or however people might label me, if I'm part of a winning team, then everything will be okay. I'm not concerned that I'm going to overshadow anyone or the team at all."
It's unclear what role Jones will have with the Shock -- after all, she's a 34-year-old rookie -- but she does know how to win, and that winning mentality is what drives this team.
In It to Win It
With no returning starters from a season ago, it's easy for expectations to be low.
But the Shock aren't having it.
Whether or not anyone else does, the coaches and players have high hopes for themselves.
"We expect to win," Stehlik said. "In a previous life, we always talked about -- we had it in our locker room: 'Some play to play, we play to win.' So our thought process here in Tulsa with these 11 women on our team is every time we go out to play, we're playing to win."
Playing to win has always been the coaching mantra for Richardson, and his style of play -- appropriately dubbed "40 Minutes of Hell" -- perfectly reflects that attitude.
Almost expectedly, at his introductory press conference, Richardson addressed any lingering doubts as to how the Shock would play, even dubbing the WNBA-adjusted style "40 Minutes of Hell, Part Two."
"That's what we want to do," Richardson said. "We want to be in your face and do some pressure. I realize that in the WNBA, the calls may come against us pretty much because of the aggressiveness and maybe just maybe that's not what it's supposed to be. By the same token, we've gotta learn how to adjust. There's no question that we're going to start off playing basically the way that I've always played with my basketball teams."
It's a helter-skelter approach to the game, taking advantage of every mistake and capitalizing on every opportunity to pressure the ball.
"We're always in an attack mode," Stehlik said. "When we get the basketball, we're going to attack. When you get the basketball, we're going to attack. It's a 94-foot game. For example, when we score a layup, we're going to jump the ball right away, put some pressure on you and see how you handle it. After we steal or after you score -- whenever we get the basketball -- we're coming back at you."
Because the in-your-face style of play is typically not seen in the WNBA, Stehlik thinks the Shock can catch teams off guard.
"We call it attack basketball, and that's different than the norm in the WNBA, where there's a lot of 'you score, then we're gonna walk it up and run a set play or two,'" Stehlik said. "If we do our job, the opposing team will have a hard time running their set plays because we'll put so much pressure on them."
The players agree -- a new style of play can help Tulsa shock the WNBA this season.
"It's gonna be something totally new to the league that no one is really putting out there," newcomer Robinson said. "I think we're gonna shock a lot of people, no pun intended, when we get out there and start playing the way he's conditioning us to play."
Crossley said other teams in the league should fear the Shock's up-tempo style.
"Being on this side of it, I'm not gonna want to play us," Crossley said. "I'm not gonna want to have to go out and keep running and running and running and getting trapped and turning the ball over all the time. I'm glad I'm on this side of it."
Understanding the concept of constant pressure and harassment -- a mother-in-law defense in its finest form -- is one thing. Executing it properly is something else entirely.
It takes experience, and although the Shock return only one starter from a season ago, Jones said the roster is full of players who know how to win.
"The biggest thing is that (we) know how to win," Jones said. "We have a coach who knows how to win and is passionate about the game. You put all that together, and good things will certainly happen."
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