Pro hopefuls showcased their skills in front of WNBA coaches and execs during Final Four
Photos © Sue Favor
DENVER, Colo. — For the 15th consecutive year, during Final Four weekend in Denver, pro prospects showcased their skills for WNBA coaches at Merit Management Group’s free agent camp.
The event attracted 67 players of varying backgrounds including some who played in the league before, overseas veterans and recent graduates. They played in a series of scrimmages all day Sunday as WNBA coaches, assistants and team administrators watched and took notes.
Merit Management President Stephanie Stanley said it is a chance for good players to be seen and for pro coaches to see talent they might otherwise miss.
“That’s the reason I began doing this, to create a platform for players who may not get a lot of exposure, who might not have the money or the means,” Stanley said. “I don’t profit from this event.”
Some of the camp attendees are clients of Stanley, who is an agent for several professional basketball players. Most are athletes Stanley knows herself, through her clients or through associates. All get equal opportunity to shine in front of WNBA coaches.
UNLV graduate Sequoia Holmes, who played for the Houston Comets in 2008 and the Phoenix Mercury in 2010, was a camp participant. She said she relished the high level of competition there, and a chance to make her case for getting back into the pros.
“I try to focus on getting the intangibles done when I’m on the floor,” Holmes said. “Those are the things teams are looking for, because they usually already have people who can score.”
Lorin Dixon is a 2010 Connecticut graduate who refuses to give up on her dream to play in the WNBA. She said she felt good about her showing during camp.
“I really want to play in the W,” she said, “so I’m going to just keep banging.”
Coaches say they appreciate the chance to find talent. Making correct personnel choices is crucial with only 11 players allowed on a roster, as per league rules.
“The reality is you have to be ready with 11 players,” said Chicago Sky assistant coach Jeff House. “With the players that are left off of small rosters, you could have at least two more teams.”
Both House and San Antonio Silver Stars Coach Dan Hughes have attended the Merit camp for many years. House said Stanley does a good job of finding quality prospects.
“There’s always been a very good mix, from those who have played a lot of years and new talent,” he said.
Hughes said he also appreciates the variety.
“Sometimes I’ll get here and see those I’ve already seen in the past,” he said, “and sometimes there are kids I haven’t seen.”
Washington Mystics Coach Trudi Lacey attended camp this year for the second in a row, and said she liked what she saw.
“I’m looking to see if anybody out there fits our roster,” she said. “We’re always looking to get better.”
Seattle Storm CEO Karen Bryant, Los Angeles Sparks Coach Carol Ross and Tulsa Shock Coach Gary Kloppenburg also attended the camp.
On the staffing side, the camp is also a place for prospective coaches to gain experience. Stanley relies on a network of associates to act as coaches during the day-long camp. This year one of those coaches was TJ Walker, the father of former Cal Bear and Seattle Storm forward Ashley Walker. The elder Walker said he had a positive inaugural experience.
“This is a great opportunity to help out some young ladies, and get exposure to running camps,” he said. “It’s fun and I’m having a ball with it.”
To date, 36 players have signed with a WNBA team as a result of participation in the Merit camp, and another signing is scheduled to be announced this week.
After 15 years Stanley’s enthusiasm for the camp remains high.
“We are excited to do this work.”