Post duo integral part of Monarchs' title run
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- You could say the stars realigned for Sacramento's Rebecca Brunson in the WNBA. She went to college at Georgetown -- a place where, certainly, she got a fine education but never played in an NCAA Tournament.
That made her less of a recognized figure in the senior class of 2004, loaded as it was by stars such as Diana Taurasi, Alana Beard, Nicole Powell, Lindsay Whalen, Shameka Christon, Nicole Ohlde, Vanessa Hayden, Chandi Jones and Ebony Hoffman.
All of them were taken in the 2004 draft ahead of No. 10 pick Brunson; all except Brunson and Hoffman made at least one NCAA Tournament appearance in their careers. Taurasi, in fact, did pretty well in that thing.
And Taurasi could have told you, having played in the Big East, that Brunson was likely to blossom in the pro league. But Brunson's situation has turned out even better than any young post player might hope for. She already has one WNBA championship ring and hopes for another as the Monarchs face the Detroit Shock in the league finals, which continue Wednesday in Game 4 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).
Plus, she gets to learn from two crafty, talented post players who have been pivotal performers for Sacramento: Yolanda Griffith and DeMya Walker.
"They work with us younger players," Brunson said. "Yo is one of the veterans in the league who really takes young players under her wing and tries to teach them as much as possible.
"DeMya is just like Yo, trying to do what she can to help. I think she's still learning herself; every year she gets a little better. She's not going to be as vocal as Yo, but she's going to show you how it's done with her actions."
Perhaps Brunson really meant that Walker isn't vocal the same way as Griffith. They both have plenty to say, but tend to get their messages across in different ways.
"Yo is the tell-you-like-it-is type," Walker said. "Sometimes it might hurt your feelings or you don't really know, 'Is she serious?' And I'm kind of the one who runs back behind that to calm you down and make you see it a little clearer.
"Yo is just more, 'Get it done; this is what we need to do.' I'm telling them, 'You know she was telling you that because this needs to happen.' "
Just as Griffith and Walker work well with a youngster such as Brunson, they also have figured out how to work well together. And good basketball teams must have that: post duos who really know and understand each other.
"It's extremely important," Walker said. "Part of that is just our ability to communicate with each other. Yo can yell at me and I can yell at her, and we know exactly what each other really meant.
"She knows I'm going to get it done, whatever she asked me to do. And I can say, 'You know what I need you to do?' And she'll be like, 'Yeah.' I think that's how our young players learn -- they realize you can communicate any way you need to. We've built that on-court relationship. If we can talk, we can make adjustments."
However, there are some things that a post player really can't "teach." It seems like at least once a game, Walker will put up a shot where you think: A) only DeMya would try that, and; B) only DeMya would make that.
Walker sees or senses openings that a lot of players don't. Now, sometimes it doesn't work but often, it does. Her creative ability in the post makes her unpredictable and hard to guard.
Griffith, of course, is just one of the best workhorse post players in the history of women's basketball. Wiry strong, she has that innate sense of where the ball is going to be on a rebound and the fierce hunger to always try to get it. At 36, she's the oldest player in the finals and the many years of battling in the post have taken a toll physically.
It's interesting, seeing tennis star Andre Agassi at the same age -- he was born in April 1970, Griffith in March of that year -- fighting both an aching back and far younger opponents in his final event, the U.S. Open, while Griffith is battling her way through the WNBA Finals.
It was thought that this might be Griffith's last season, although she has indicated she thinks she can go at least one more. It will be lucky for the Monarchs -- and especially Brunson -- if she can.
"Me and Bekky do a lot in practice together and we watch tape together," Griffith said. "We need her, and we're trying to get her to not put so much pressure on herself because she's still young.
"We're different players -- I try to use my smarts against other post players, and all she has to do is jump over them."
That's funny but there was a day when Griffith was so physically superior to most of her competitors that she could do that, too. Athletes have to make some concessions to age, but the best of them figure out a way to compensate as long as they can.
Part of that is trying to outthink your opponent, and what Griffith has learned about doing that in the paint is akin to a gold mine of information for Brunson.
"You can talk to players 24/7, but I'm not trying to get in anybody's head," Griffith said. "I'm just trying to make her realize at times something different she could have done. I'm the captain of this team; I'm the leader of a lot of young players.
"I'm not trying to 'coach' them, because we have a great coaching staff. I'm just trying to give them a different decision they could make and tell them to always pay attention to the opponent, to study the opponent."
Brunson, you can be sure, is listening.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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