Zolman aims to make most of shot at WNBA career

BOSTON -- From rural baskets that baby-sat burgeoning stars like Larry Bird and Steve Alford, to city rims that watched over Oscar Robertson and Glenn Robinson, basketball has long reigned supreme in Indiana.

It's a place where kids really do fire off jump shots at baskets moored on barns until long past dusk on dusty dirt courts, and a place where whole towns still shut down on weekend nights to fill gyms like the one used in "Hoosiers" as the home of the fictional Hickory High School.

Shanna Zolman, a sweet-shooting guard from tiny Syracuse, Ind. (a Hickory-esque town with just more than 3,000 residents), lived the myth, earning Miss Basketball honors in high school before moving on to an illustrious career at the University of Tennessee. Unquestionably, she fits snugly into the stereotype of Hoosiers bred from birth to shoot the ball.

In fact, as Zolman embarks on her professional career after the San Antonio Silver Stars made her the second pick of the second round (16th overall selection) in Wednesday's draft, she fits all of the familiar assumptions a little too well for her own liking.

"The thing that shooters are associated with -- and I remember J.J. Redick saying this as well -- shooters are known for shooting the ball and only shooting the ball," Zolman said after Monday's WNBA predraft camp at Emmanuel College in Boston. "So you don't ever get credit for passing, you don't ever get credit for defensive work at all. It's more like we're out there to shoot the ball and that's it. As much as that is the biggest part of my game, that's not even what I work and concentrate the most on."

Zolman spoke at the end of a grueling day for WNBA hopefuls, as coaches and general managers looked on while players, beginning at 7:30 a.m. and not finishing until nearly 10 p.m., went through a variety of drills and scrimmages. For Zolman, it was a final opportunity to show that's she more than a walking, talking jump shot and is capable of playing a significant role at the next level.

It's something she has been working on since her first days in Knoxville and will have to continue working on as she heads to a team already loaded with guards such as Shannon Johnson, Marie Ferdinand and Dalma Ivanyi.

"Both defense and just ability to play off the dribble better," Zolman said of the areas where her game progressed the most at Tennessee. "Coming in, I was solely a spot-up shooter, and I've just constantly been working on different things on the floor -- trying to create my own shot, trying to create for others and go off the dribble more, as opposed to just solely spotting up from outside."

Of course, had it not been for starting point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood's midseason transfer and a subsequent injury to replacement Alexis Hornbuckle, all of that work might have gone largely unnoticed. But asked to play point guard during the heat of SEC play, Zolman made the most of her opportunity. After a rocky start in a game against Georgia, she provided a steady hand and leadership as the depleted Lady Vols surprised many by winning the SEC tournament.

"I think it helped tremendously, simply because you never would have been able to see the ball-handling skills and leadership skills displayed on that level, if I hadn't been forced into the point guard position," Zolman said of her position switch. "Being a two-guard, you're looking at creating shots for yourself, and also for others. But being at the point guard position, it opens your eyes to see the floor a lot better and pass a lot better. It's getting your team into the offense, leading, and knowing where the ball needs to go in game situations."

Nobody, including Zolman herself, expects she'll earn a living at the next level as a full-time point guard, but she sounded slightly defiant talking about what the experience this season meant to her.

"I think that has helped tremendously," she said. "Whether or not they see that, I feel like I've become more of a complete player."

Of course, there is that jumper that caught everyone's attention in the first place.

Zolman hit a Tennessee career-record 269 3-pointers during her four years in Knoxville, including a school single-season record 103 on 43 percent shooting from behind the arc as a senior. All of the shots were the product of a shooting stroke that could turn her college highlights into an instructional video. And as much credit as Pat Summitt deserves for Zolman's maturation on the court, she came with one skill already well developed.

"My dad," Zolman said, her eyes lighting up, as she talked about the person most responsible for her stroke. "He's always been a coach, and he's always been the one that has helped me out the most, as far as being in the gym. Helping me with the fundamentals of it, and all aspects of the game, but especially my shot.

"And he's never forced me, never forced me to get in the gym and work, never forced me to do anything I didn't want to do. But he was always there to help, always there to rebound. He was always there to help improve my shot. He's definitely someone who is solely responsible for the foundation of my shot."

It's a foundation that has Zolman on the verge of a pro career that she has dreamed about for a decade, something no previous group of women's players has ever been able to say. As the WNBA enters its 10th season, players like Zolman are proof that the league is having an impact on young players.

"I follow the opportunity, I guess, if that makes sense," she said about the league that launched when she was just 12 years old. "I don't necessarily watch it a lot, but ever since probably late middle school years, I started thinking about that, because it's an opportunity women have to play professionally beyond your collegiate years and not have to go overseas to do it.

"A lot of us, we have a lot of talent, and being able to get paid for something, like the men are able to do, that you love to do, it's a complete blessing."

Critics will say Zolman is a step too slow on defense, or a shooting guard in a point guard's body at the WNBA level. She's heard it all before, just like so many great shooters before her.

All that matters to her now, after all those hours in the gym with her dad and all those years learning from Summitt, is that someone is giving her a shot.

And nobody knocks down a shot quite like Shanna Zolman.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.