Checking In with Nakia Sanford
The Mystics center discusses life during the offseason.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
One of the challenges for WNBA fans is attempting to follow players during the off-season. Players sprinkle out throughout the world, playing overseas and it is difficult to keep it all straight sometimes. That is a main reason that the WNBA world has an amazing online presence with sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Nakia Sanford of the Washington Mystics for an off-season check in, as she plays overseas and finds an interesting business opportunity fall right into her lap.
SLAM: So, are you playing overseas this offseason?
Nakia Sanford: Yes, I’m in Ibiza, Spain. I came over a little later than most. It’s only been about three weeks now. I wanted to stay until after Christmas, but I just got the itch and had to go.
SLAM: Why did you go over late?
NS: I bought a small deli this summer and had to stay home to manage the transition.
SLAM: Really? Interesting…what made you decide to do that?
NS: It was a great opportunity and kind of fell in my lap. It’s the last thing I thought I would be doing!
SLAM: Where’s the deli? What’s it called?
NS: It’s American Deli 2 in Jonesmorrow, GA.
SLAM: Very cool. Do you know much about “business?”
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
SLAM: So, who runs it for you in your absence?
NS: My dad–who is the best dad in the world, by the way–moved from California to Georgia to run it for me. I’m so grateful.
SLAM: OK, I suppose we should get back to ball. How’s your team playing?
NS: When I got here, they were 0-7. We have won 2 out of 4 games–should have been three–since I got here. We are advancing to the next round of Eurocup as well.
SLAM: So you should be MVP, huh?
NS: Naaaah! Sometimes, a person can just change the mentality of the team. I’ve never been THAT player, you know, but I think I have been successful because of the other things I do.
SLAM: How are you playing individually?
NS: I’m playing well. It’s bad, but I only look at stats when I have a bad game. I have been hearing from the coaching staff in DC. According to them, I’m having a lot of double-doubles.
SLAM: Is there a specific area or two of your game that you’re focusing on improving?
NS: Yes, my free throws! I was doing so great for the first games—so mad right now—I missed so many our last game. I don’t know what happened. Now I messed everything up. I’m trying to bulk up a little more. I think my body changed so much now that I don’t eat meat. I want to be stronger.
SLAM: What are you doing to improve your free throws? Different releases, concentration, etc?
NS: Concentration. I really think I have ADD or something! Well actually, I’m pretty sure I do, but I have trouble sometimes not thinking at the line.
SLAM: You don’t eat meat now? Are you vegetarian? Vegan?
NS: Vegetarian. Well actually, I call myself a pescatarian. I still eat fish and byproducts. Milk, cheese, etc. My Step-Dad is vegetarian, but eats milk, cheese, etc.
SLAM: Did you just made that decision recently? Why the choice?
NS: No, it wasn’t even a choice…just a series of events. It started about five years ago. I had two experiences with sausage and a hamburger where I bit into gristle and either a piece of bone or tooth or something crazy. It grossed me out, so I stopped eating red meat. I loved steak—even worked in a steak house—but I just didn’t want to do it anymore. That was about a year or two, then slowly I stopped wanting chicken too—couldn’t eat it off the bone anymore. Then I would only eat it if it was ground up. I tried to go back on a few occasions.
SLAM: I HAVE to ask this then…and now you own a deli?
NS: Yeah, I’m the vegetarian that sells chicken wings! Ironic. I don’t try to convert people, but people always try to convert me back!
SLAM: Total shift in topic…..how many years have you gone overseas to play?
NS: Do I have enough fingers? I believe I’m going into my tenth year. No, no…nine! You want a list? France, South Korea, Israel, Turkey, Belgium, Italy, Russia and now Spain.
SLAM: You must be used to different cultures? Any culture shock anymore?
NS: Russia was pretty hard. Want another list? Seriously, its just a tough place. Lack of sun, the directness of the people, you don’t see people laughing and joking much and a lot of drinking. That stereotype is really true.
SLAM: What was the biggest weakness in the Mystics last year that needs to be addressed this off-season and by the players when you all return?
NS: Hold on. Let me get my PR voice going. No, seriously, I think we just have to have a more balanced team effort. I really think, as an organization, the team is headed in the right direction. I absolutely love Doctor J and our GM Angela Taylor. Gregg Bibb has done a great job on the corporate side. As a team on the court, it all comes back to balance. I think teams played us for that weakness and we were predictable in a lot of areas.
SLAM: What do you personally do to help out with that?
NS: I think I can help by trying to be more consistent with my own effort and I definitely think I was not proactive at times over the past two years. They have been a personal disappointment to me career-wise.
SLAM: Can I ask why you think that happened?
NS: You know Crystal Robison. CRob told me once that a lot of athletes go through it, especially us as women. You just hit a wall. I was so disappointed. I came off of a steady improvement every year to not being able to make a lay up the next. I had hopes for making All-Star ballot and then All-Star, so in my head my goals were there, but, physically and spiritually, the energy was not there behind it. This year I felt a lot better and I was happy to be back with Chasity Melvin. She helped me so much when we played together before.
SLAM: You said that many athletes go through that, especially women. Why do you think that is?
NS: At this level for one, we play all year. If you’re lucky, you get a month or so in between. If you’re more lucky, you are Lisa Leslie or Candace Parker and you can make a living off endorsements. Without that salary, not a chance.
Second, imagine you’re away from your family and loved ones for about 6-8 months out of the year. The other four months, you are away playing in another city. The mental sacrifice can get to be a lot also. I wonder if there is a study on the career span of a female pro athlete. My guess is three years.
Lastly, as females, you want a family and you want stability. You have to sacrifice all of that. I mean guys make enough that they can bring their partners with them, have kids and go to work. I know some women do it, but oh my, I can’t imagine trying to be a mom with this job. No sir…not I.
SLAM: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to Mystics fans that will see this and are looking forward to this summer?
NS: First, THANK YOU. I know it sounds cliché, but truly, our fans have been one of the best parts of playing in DC. I have been there for years, so I know.. This summer, we are going to continue building the foundation for the success of our team for years to come. I still get excited about putting on my DC uniform and running out into that gym.