by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
After a rough season last year, the Tulsa Shock has the opportunity to bring in two great rookies for the 2012 WNBA season. Glory Johnson, who was the fourth pick of the draft out of the University of Tennessee, and Riquna Williams, the 17th pick from the University of Miami, are part of the process of bringing a new attitude to the team.
“Training camp is great,” said Johnson. “It’s a really positive energy going throughout the gym and we’re really talkative. It’s more of a learning and a building experience. I know a lot of my game still needs to be developed coming from college into the big leagues, but everyone’s been good to me and treated me pretty nice coming in. I just appreciate the coaches and players for welcoming me into the program.”
A big reason for the smooth transition for the rookies is the leadership of their new head coach, as well as the first-year coach for the Tulsa Shock, Gary Kloppenburg. His early leadership with the team is helping to ease any anxiety over the upcoming season for the young players.
“Of course, it’s all new, but Coach Klop has done a great job of being patient and making sure we understand everything,” said Williams. “The vets are really helpful, making sure the rookies and the newcomers really have it all down pat. He doesn’t yell or raise his voice, he’s very patient and making sure everyone is on the same page. This is a new start for us and we want to make sure we’re all together and we’re moving together as one.”
Glory Johnson knows a thing or two about playing for a great coach. After all, she had the amazing opportunity to play for the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee, a woman whom everyone in the basketball world has the utmost respect for and rightfully so.
“Coming from Coach Summitt being a lot more aggressive, he takes a different approach to get things done and it works both ways,” said Johnson. “He’s a calm guy and you want to work hard for him because he’s in the gym, in the drills, in the workouts with us and watching us the whole entire way. He has just been great and really helpful. He stays after practice, comes in early, gets in there and starts up with the posts. He’s not afraid and I like that because if he’s willing to work for us, I’m more than willing to work for him.”
As the regular season approaches quickly, Tulsa’s rookies are focusing on the directives of their new coaching staff and, of course, they are different for each player. Johnson averaged 10.5 points, 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in the preseason, as Williams averaged 13.5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist per game. If those numbers translate to the regular season, both players are more than on the right track to success.
“Being consistent at the one because that’s not my strength, but I don’t mind doing it because I can do it,” said Williams. “Just being consistent and what’s been great is that he’s just letting me play. He’s not saying ‘Don’t do this or don’t do that.’ He’s just letting me play and trusting me. When I do make a mistake, he gives the help of, ‘I think you should’ve done this or done that’ and it’s great.”
“Coming in and kind of playing a different role,” adds Johnson. “I’m a rookie. I was a senior and now I’m a rookie learning things from older players, veterans who have been on this team. I’m learning to face the basket more. I was comfortable with it before, but I hadn’t been doing it much in college. Now, that’s my game. I go outside, I go inside. It’s a little different, but Coach Klop has been helping us a lot before practice and after practice getting a lot of work in, learning new mores, getting my shot straight and developed. All the coaches have been very helpful, talking to me, working with me and basically trying to perfect my shot.”
Now that they have been in training camp for a while, the fact they are now professional players is something that has begun to settle into their minds. After having a goal, they both have achieved it by making it to the WNBA, but now it is time to show they truly belong with the greatest female basketball players in the world.
“It kind of sunk in the first day I got here because you’re in an apartment by yourself, you’re on your own and you have to get places on your own, so it kind of sunk in a while ago,” said Johnson. “At the same time, this is a job now. We’re not in college anymore, so everyone is fighting for a position. It’s really competitive and it’s a lot more competitive now because your job is at stake. It kind of hit me early.”
The regular season tips off for the Tulsa Shock on Saturday against the San Antonio Silver Stars. With their two preseason games behind them, Johnson and Williams are ready for the games that count.
“I’m so excited to be a part of the WNBA and for a new start with my vets here in Tulsa and with Coach Klop,” said Williams. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It’s sinking in, I fit in and I’m loving it, even more than college. The coaches and vets are great.”
As the rookies get comfortable with their new lives as professional athletes in the WNBA, they see good things in the future for the Tulsa Shock. They know the history of the team since the franchise moved to Tulsa and believe the team is on the upswing, starting with the 2012 regular season.
“I know for sure that things are going to turn around for Tulsa,” said Johnson. “It’s a new team, it’s a new year and it’s a new season. There are new players coming in, everyone is coming in and working hard and is committed. What happened in the past to Tulsa—yeah, they weren’t successful—but it’s in the past. We’re trying to look forward and we’re getting better every day. Every single day. There hasn’t been a day in training camp where we’ve had an off day, so we’re going to continue building on the positives and stay positive with each other every single game, every single day.”
If the preseason is any sort of indication, the two rookies are correct: fortunes may be changing for the Tulsa Shock.