Commentary

Prospects put a lot of effort into prep

Players must move forward from the NCAA tourney and focus on draft-day mindset

Originally Published: April 11, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Jantel Lavender was patient, looking around with her sister to get just want she wanted. There was a time when a 6-foot-4 woman usually despaired of finding dress clothes she liked that would fit -- unless she had them personally made.

But Lavender, the Ohio State senior post player who was searching for just the right thing to wear to Monday's WNBA draft (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET), says things have gotten much better for tall women when it comes to fashion.

[+] EnlargeJantel Lavender
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comOhio State's Jantel Lavender, the four-time Big Ten Player of the Year, averaged 22.8 points and 10.9 rebounds this past season.

"Most definitely. I can find clothes my size at the mall. But a lot of jackets don't fit my arms because I lift weights," said Lavender of the muscles that allow her to mix it as needed on the low block. "One place had the suit that I wanted for the draft. It's a purple suit: Lavender in lavender. Cute, right? I just had to order it online and get a bigger jacket. It's fabulous. I love it."

The NCAA tournament ended with Texas A&M's triumph last Tuesday. Just short of a week later, Lavender and the other college seniors of the Class of 2011 find out which ones will be picked to have a shot at making a WNBA roster.

Getting selected in the draft is just the first step in the process. There are just 11 spots on 12 teams, so the math gets pretty cruel. You have to battle to make the team, then continue to fight to stay there.

There are no guarantees; even first-round picks have not survived the cut some seasons.

"I'm not counting on anything," said Stanford senior Kayla Pedersen, voicing the kind of pragmatism that might seem as if it would prevent her from enjoying draft day. But it won't. Pedersen isn't being a pessimist. She's just being practical and prepared.

There might be some real future stars drafted Monday, but there will also be some who come out on the wrong side of the 12 x 11 equation. However, even that doesn't mean the end of their hoops careers. They can go overseas, improve their games and perhaps make their way back to the WNBA another season. It does happen.

The draft is all about potential: something ethereal that at times pans out and at others doesn't. At the very least, though, there's this: If your name gets called Monday and you're here at the ESPN headquarters -- which for the first time is hosting the WNBA draft -- you get to go up and pose with a pro jersey.

Whether you actually will ever wear that jersey in a game this or any other season, you don't know yet. But you get this moment. And dressing for the occasion really matters to some of the players. Sure, there are some who really couldn't care less, too, but all will go through the process.

WNBATony Spinelli/ESPN.comThe draft prospects spent several hours on ESPN's campus on Sunday.

'A good crazy'

On Sunday, the invited players who took part in the draft festivities were wearing blue warm-up suits and being shown around the compound. They gave a clinic to kids and signed autographs at an outdoor basketball court, where it was a bit chilly to some and no big deal to others.

"Whew, I can't take the cold," said newly crowned national champion Danielle Adams of Texas A&M. It's a rather odd statement coming from someone who grew up in suburban Kansas City, which has plenty of winter. But two years of living in Texas have thinned her blood. She shivers at the suggestion of going to play someplace like Minnesota, where rumor has it that true summer comes for only a couple of days in July.

OK, just kidding, it's not that bad. But the mystery of where they'll go is what most intrigues those who can feel relatively certain that they'll be selected. For others, just getting picked is the main concern; by whom is a far secondary concern.

One person who can feel as sure as anybody of where and when she'll go is UConn's Maya Moore, who -- unless the Lynx pull one of the surprises of all time -- is headed to Minnesota with the No. 1 pick.

On Sunday afternoon, the potential draftees were being given instructions on protocol the next day. They were told they didn't have to wear their draft outfit to the ESPN campus in the morning. They could wear "business casual" to their pre-draft activities there and then change before the show.

Or they could wear a portion of their draft clothes -- perhaps the more comfortable aspect of it -- for the early part of the day and then complete the ensemble later before the cameras come on.

This is all pretty routine stuff, except the guide sort of misspoke on the latter part and referred to it as "you can come partially dressed."

Some players are listening more carefully than others. Moore, who doesn't miss anything, smirked along with the others who were chuckling.

"Everybody better come fully dressed," Moore whispered to no one in particular.

Later she said of the whirlwind that she's already entered as the expected No. 1 pick: "I knew it was going to be crazy. But it's a good crazy."

Quick turnaround after NCAA tournament

Moore said she had some help from her mom and others with her draft-day ensemble, which she picked out while in Los Angeles for the Wooden Award ceremonies.

"Thursday was when the final decision was made," Moore said. "I hope people like it."

Moore had some extra time to think about all this -- time she didn't want to have. Her Huskies, who had won the past two NCAA titles, lost in the national semifinals this year in Indianapolis.

"Those first couple of days afterward were really hard," Moore said. "I think I was forced to come out of it quicker because I had business to take care of. I had to move on and prepare to face this next part of my life.

"I remember my freshman year [when UConn lost to Stanford in the national semifinals], it was at least a couple of weeks before I kind of snapped out of it. But I kind of had to by Wednesday this last week."

Pedersen and Cardinal teammate Jeanette Pohlen know that feeling well. They lost to Texas A&M in the national semifinals. And in the locker room after the game, both acknowledged they were in a kind of shocked, disbelieving state.

"I kept thinking somehow we were going to play again next weekend, even though I knew we weren't," Pohlen said.

If reality hadn't sunk in late last Sunday night for Pedersen, it definitely started to when around 2 a.m., she was at the 24-hour Steak 'n Shake on a busy corner of downtown Indianapolis that practically everyone at the Final Four ended up visiting at one point or another. And who should walk in then but the Texas A&M team. Oh, hi guys.

"Now, though, we've talked a lot to Danielle and Sydney [Colson] here," Pedersen said, with the loss a week behind her. "It seems weird we were just playing them in the Final Four, and now we're here together for the draft. They're really nice."

And they'll surely forgive Pedersen for not watching their championship-game victory over Notre Dame. She just couldn't put herself through that.

"I went and got ice cream," she said.

About two hours' worth.

Maya MooreTony Spinelli/ESPN.comEveryone expects UConn senior Maya Moore to go first overall to Minnesota.

Searching for the right fit

The college allegiances will never totally be left behind, but it will soon be time for those draftees fortunate enough to make rosters to bond with new teammates and adjust to different coaching styles.

Lavender, one of the more coveted post players in this draft, said that after her Buckeyes fell in the Sweet 16 to Tennessee, she allowed herself to start going over the various draft possibilities.

"I definitely have thought about it a lot," Lavender said. "It's kind of nerve-racking, because you don't know for sure. But I have some ideas of where I might fit in the draft, and what I could do for each of those teams. It's exciting to see your name float around in the mock drafts, so you can get an idea in your head of where you may go."

To Lavender, being prepared to say something meaningful and knowledgeable about her new team is as just important as getting the right suit and shoes.

"You should enjoy the excitement and anxiety of not knowing yet where you're going," she said. "And then take it from there once you find out."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.