April 13, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
After helping the South Carolina women’s basketball program reach unprecedented success, several members of the 2016 senior class are hoping for personal success as professional basketball players. Three of the Gamecocks attended the 2016 ProHoops Women’s Basketball Combine held in Indianapolis in conjunction with the NCAA Final Four, April 1-3. This was an invitation-only combine to give the top college seniors, such as South Carolina’s Sarah Imovbioh, Tina Roy and Khadijah Sessions, an opportunity to be evaluated by WNBA coaches and other staff members before the draft is held later this week.
“After a few shooting drills, they split you up into teams, and you played five-on-five or three-on-three games so all of the coaches could watch you,” Roy said.
“The best part was the five on five,” Sessions said. “That’s where you could show your decision-making abilities and how you can shoot off the dribble. You had to show that you can make open shots and make other people better too. There are a lot of blue collar things that coaches are looking for.”
“It was really great to get a chance to play against all of those different players and to be in that atmosphere with agents and coaches to showcase your talents,” Imovbioh said. “I was nervous maybe for my first game, but once we really got going, I was OK.”
South Carolina had five seniors this season. All-American guard Tiffany Mitchell is expected to be selected in the first round of the WNBA draft, which takes place on April 14, while teammate Asia Dozier has considered going into coaching, among other things, after graduation. The combine gave the players exposure to agents and coaches from professional leagues overseas as well. In addition to displaying their talents, players had some opportunities to network, hear from current WNBA players and get feedback.
“I spoke with Coach Pokey (Chatman) of the Chicago Sky before the event started,” Sessions said. “She told me that she has seen us play a lot, and she just wanted to see if I could do a little more. She said everyone knew that we played on a very good team, so they knew we were coachable and work hard. Coach (Michael) Cooper from the Atlanta Dream said he is looking for a person who can screen, rebound, and make the hustle plays.”
“The coach from the Atlanta Dream told me that he wanted to see my shoot it more,” Roy said. “So I knew he was really watching me. It didn’t make me nervous. I’m capable of putting the ball in the basket. I also need to keep working on my defense. That’s something the coaches there talked about. They told us that they knew we could score, but they wanted to see other things such as communicating, setting good screens, playing defense, and just working hard.”
“They were really interested in what I was doing,” Imovbioh said. “One thing I know I need to improve on is shooting the fifteen-foot shot with more confidence. They gave some really good advice. They told me what they liked about me, and what they want me to improve on.”
It’s not going to be easy to play professionally. I think Coach Staley prepared us.
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley is excited for each of them to follow their dreams of playing professional basketball.
“As coaches, we’re dream merchants,” Staley said. “We want them to be able to live out their dreams. We have been very successful as a team, and individuals come together to make up that team. So here’s an opportunity for them to display their individual talents.”
Playing professionally in the United States wasn’t always an option for players such as Staley as the WNBA didn’t begin play until 1997, five years after she graduated from Virginia. Although she later went on to star in the league, she is thankful there are more opportunities for women now.
“They didn’t have the sort of combines that they have now when I was playing,” Staley said. “They work with all of the personnel from the WNBA teams. I think it’s a great opportunity for the people who aren’t as well known as the greats in our game, so they can get a chance to play in front of the WNBA personnel.”
In addition to what was happening on the court, coaches, and current and former professional players were on hand to speak to the student-athletes about what to expect off the court.
“We went to a seminar where they had WNBA players speak to us,” Imovbioh said. “They really walked us through what to expect as professionals. They talked a lot about how we need to manage our money, especially as a rookie. They talked a lot about how you have to manage your time and be disciplined. It’s different than college basketball because you are on your own. There’s not going to be anybody to remind you about what time practice is and things like that. I had a chance to talk to people about how to file taxes and how all of that works. I learned a lot from that.”
“Their advice was that at some point, you’re going to fail,” Sessions said. “It’s how you respond to failure that matters. There are only 12 WNBA teams with 12 people on a team. So there could be only one or maybe two spots open on each team. That one spot may be guaranteed to someone drafted in the first round. So if you hear ‘no,’ then you try to get yourself into a training camp or go overseas and put some numbers up. Don’t get down. Sometimes you have to take different paths to get where you want to be. I believe in God and my work ethic. I believe if you keep working and believing, your time is going to come eventually.”
For Imovbioh, Roy, and Sessions, they feel their time at South Carolina playing for Staley has prepared them for the next level.
“Playing here definitely helped me,” Imovbioh said. “Just being a part of a winning culture and being able to have that mentality really helped.”
“Playing on a high level team such as South Carolina, it was great for all of us,” Sessions said. “Some people may not have been looked at or had much TV time because they didn’t play the other top teams. We did that. We competed with other people who are already playing in the WNBA. So that put us in situations where we might get more looks than someone who played somewhere else.”
“It’s not going to be easy to play professionally,” Roy said. “I think Coach Staley prepared us for the rough times and how you always just have to push through it. It’s tough to play in the SEC, so you’re used to playing in tough environments.”
Whether it is playing professionally in the United States or overseas, all of the seniors are eager for the opportunity to keep playing.
“Everyone’s journey is different,” Roy said. “Hopefully I’ve set myself up for something good. I’m a firm believer in what God has for you is meant for you. You might get an opportunity overseas. You might get a chance in the WNBA. Whatever door opens for me, I’m willing to step in.”
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