Commentary

No Shock: Draft day good for Tulsa

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

BRISTOL, Conn. -- There are times when Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson says things that make a lot of sense. Such as that No. 2 WNBA draft pick Liz Cambage is an instant game-changer for the Shock and that No. 7 selection Kayla Pedersen is a Larry Bird-type who does everything well.

But then he also says goofy things, such as that women don't really play pickup basketball, which was why so many players seemed to struggle with his system in Tulsa last year.

Which is just pure malarkey. Every player in women's basketball plays pickup, and usually quite a lot of it, often with men. "Playing with the guys" is something virtually all women will tell you has greatly helped them improve their games.

If what Richardson meant was that the Shock players had trouble with total chaos and the team's revolving door last season … that's another matter entirely. What the Shock need in the team's second season in Oklahoma is stability -- and a little more structure offensively might help, too.

Even Pedersen's calm, unflappable nature might be put to the test, going from such a detailed system playing for Stanford's Tara VanDerveer to Richardson's "40 Minutes of Whatever-the-Hell-You-Call-It."

But … Richardson has won a lot of basketball games and an NCAA title, albeit on the men's side. The fact that he is as enamored with Pedersen's versatility and basketball smarts as he is -- he called her a "fix-it" player who can fix whatever breaks down -- that's at least a very positive sign.

And speaking of being enamored … the Tulsa fans should like the more flamboyant Cambage of Australia quite a lot. It would be very hard not to. Her engaging and friendly nature will go over well in Oklahoma, Will Rogers' home state.

"I think with Liz's personality, people are going to fall in love with her," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said of Cambage, who at 19 is one of the youngest players ever to be drafted in the WNBA. "They'll attach themselves to her and adopt her readily. While we haven't had a lot of foreign kids at Oklahoma, every time we have, our fans have been so ready to embrace them."

Coale attended the draft with Sooners guard Danielle Robinson, who was selected by San Antonio just before the Shock took Pedersen at No. 7. Coale's team faced Pedersen and Stanford in the 2010 Final Four.

"They'll look very different," Coale said of the Shock. "I actually have a hard time envisioning them playing the style that Nolan wants, but maybe he'll morph his style a bit to fit their strengths better."

[+] EnlargeKayla Pedersen
AP Photo/Jessica HillStanford's Kayla Pedersen, who has the versatility to play all five positions on the floor, was drafted seventh overall.

Maybe … although Richardson insisted Monday that speed is not the paramount quality to playing his trapping, pressing defense and the offense that, ideally, springs from that.

"I think the most important thing is IQ of basketball," he said. "If you know how to cut the angles … that's what I see in Pedersen."

Cambage, at 6 feet, 8 inches, said she is comfortable running the court and actually looks forward to the more physical nature of the game in the WNBA.

UConn's Geno Auriemma believes that. He has faced Cambage and the Australian national team in his duties as Team USA coach. He also has faced Baylor 6-8 junior-to-be center Brittney Griner twice in her college career.

"With Griner, because of her build and the way she can move all over the floor defensively, it makes her a unique player," Auriemma said. "Elizabeth is so big and strong, and she has such an attitude about how badly she wants to score on you -- I think playing professionally has made her grow up quicker than Brittney has at this point.

"And [Cambage's] body type is such that you can't move her. Brittney's build sometimes -- she still gets knocked around a bit. And she's young. Cambage, even though she's young, too, she's a pro. When she gets the ball, she's going to score. She will knock you on your [tail]."

Cambage said her previous comments about not wanting to go to Tulsa were misconstrued and that she's excited to be joining the Shock.

"I want to go," Cambage said. "I'm so happy my name's been called out."

However, she also indicated she won't play in Tulsa for the 2012 WNBA season but instead will train with the Australian national team in preparation for the London Olympics.

"Our national team does want us to stay and train in Australia after the WNBL or Europe season next year," Cambage said. "And I'm going to stay; I think it's the best decision for me."

When asked about how he'll deal with that, Richardson said, wisely, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Indeed, Cambage hasn't even played in the WNBA yet. Who knows exactly how she'll feel after this season? And she would appear to be in a position of strength when it comes to dealing with the Aussie national team, despite her youth.

For now, though, Cambage's focus -- like Pedersen's -- will be on pulling Tulsa out of the Western Conference basement. As the saying goes, there's nowhere to go but up for a franchise that won six games last season.

The Shock recently signed Sheryl Swoopes, who turned 40 in March, with the hope that she still has enough in the tank to be a veteran presence for Tulsa. We'll see whether that works. She is old enough to be Cambage's mom and certainly could impart some good lessons about hoops.

How the Shock's 2011 season will go is still a big question mark. But this draft day was very good for Tulsa.

"They got some 'presence' players," Coale said. "And that's probably what they needed as much as anything."

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.