Fast Track to Success
Shanna Crossley experiences a revival in Nolan Richardson’s ’40 Minutes of Hell.’
by Josh Flynn
Very little fazes Shanna Crossley when she steps on a basketball court. Stepping in to Tulsa Shock head coach Nolan Richardson’s training camp, however, was a different story. “I’ve never been more nervous,” she admits.
Becoming a member of a new team is difficult for anyone. Consider joining a team that used to be the world champion Detroit Shock before they were uprooted and moved to Tulsa, OK. Throw in a hall of fame coach making his WNBA debut and touting a system called “40 Minutes of Hell.” For Crossley, the combination made for her first extreme case of basketball jitters. “There was so much fear in to what “40 Minutes of Hell” was supposed to be like,” she says. “Nobody knew what to expect. No one knew how he held his practices, what he expected, what his demands were. I was extremely nervous the first day. I ran out of gas the first day. I wanted to pass out the first day. But it was a good experience.”
When WNBA fans saw the Shock at the end of the 2009 season they were battling the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals. When the team relocated it did so without stars Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Cheryl Ford—all who chose not to rejoin the team in Tulsa for various reasons. Now, midway through the 2010 season, the Shock sits at the bottom of the league. Crossley recalls watching the difficulties her new teammates had shedding their past identity and adapting to Richardson’s new system. “Detroit was a great team and they have their philosophy and they did what they did and were very successful at it,” she says. “But it was completely 180 degrees from what Coach Richardson had in store. The Detroit players are very… strong in their ways so trying to mix and gel together was very difficult. But it was just part of the learning and growing process.”
While the former Detroit players struggled, Crossley was finding a system tailor-made for her skill set, even going as far to call it a perfect fit. She’s averaging career highs in minutes (25. 1), points (10.2), rebounds (1.5), assists (2.2), and steals (1.1). “Its weird because when most people think of me they probably don’t think of a get up, get out and go, pick up style player but that’s what I thrive in,” she says. She attributes a lot of her success this season to her teammates who continue to find her for open shots as they race up and down the court. “We’re continually trying to work well together but its just such a different style. People aren’t used to it. The refs aren’t used to it. We’re not even used to it quite yet. It’s still a process but I’ve enjoyed this new style. It’s kind of like a rejuvenation of my career.”
So what is “40 Minutes of Hell”? Crossley says its fast. Very fast. The Tulsa Shock want to get in to their opponents faces, pressure them, force them to play fast and out of control. They want to see teams wearing out from running up and down the court and struggling to maintain the pace—and making bad decisions—in the final minutes. “To be honest we don’t do scouting reports,” she says. “We don’t do anything because if we are playing the way we are supposed to play we don’t have to worry about what their sets are. It’s not run and gun offensively to the point its out of control—taking bad shots—there’s a lot of strategy to it. But there is just a lot of go, go, go, go, go.”
But like all new situations, there is a period of adaptation and right now the Shock opponents are the ones reaping the benefits of “40 Minutes of Hell.” Opposing teams are averaging 89.2 ppg compared to the Shock’s own 78.7 ppg. Opponents are also shooting better from the floor, grabbing more rebounds, and dishing out more assists. Detroit was a physical team playing gritty defensive basketball. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective, winning three championships in the last decade. To move closer to his vision, Richardson has been wheeling and dealing his players trying to create the roster he needs to win with his system. Along with frequent trades are injuries and illness—Crossley recently missed two weeks due to a staph infection—wrecking havoc on the lineup. “We haven’t played together as a cohesive unit for more than a week at a time,” Crossley says. “It’s just hard to get in a rhythm and hard to get everyone playing together.”
Crossley has been fortunate to play in basketball rich locations all her career. At Wawasee High School she climbed in to the ranks of Indiana basketball legends and made a successful transition to a leadership role at the University of Tennessee. Drafted by San Antonio in the second round of the 2006 Draft, she saw limited minutes but was able to learn the WNBA game from perennial all-star Becky Hammon. Now, after an off-season trade to Tulsa, she is once again in a women’s basketball rich location and able to show off her growing skills to a new group of fans. “A lot of people have so much excitement, so much respect for Coach Richardson and they are eager and wanting to do what they can to help us out,” she says. “It’s a great situation. Everywhere I’ve been it’s been a great situation.”
Despite just three wins and an 11-game losing streak they are only three games back from the fourth Playoff position with half a season to go. And if they miss the Playoffs, college superstar Maya Moore could be waiting in the 2011 WNBA Draft. Until then, all Crossley and the Shock can do is keep running, running, running.