From New York To Israel
Lior Klinger ,01/29/2005
This week, Israel got a visit from a legendary coach who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on April 27th 2002 - Marianne Stanley, now an assistant coach with the WNBA’s New York Liberty. The Liberty has four players playing in Israel this season, but Stanley took some time off her busy schedule for a chat with ‘Safsal’.

Stanley won two championships as a star point guard at Immaculata College in Pennsylvania, and immediately moved on to coaching. She was named ODU’s head coach after just one year as an assistant. At the age of 24, Stanley became the youngest NCAA Division I women's basketball coach to win a national championship. She captured two Championships in her first three seasons out of ten as head coach at ODU. As one of the most successful coaches in women’s college basketball, Stanley earned 4 conference coach of the year and two national coach of the year honors, took her teams to 9 NCAA tournament appearances, six Final Fours and 3 championships. Stanley also served as a member of the US National Team coaching staff from 1981-1993 and was an assistant with the L.A Sparks, the Washington Mystics and later the head coach of the Mystics before joining the Liberty.

So what was the purpose of this trip to Israel? “To support our players here in the Israeli league, DeTrina White, Crystal Robinson, Shameka Christon and K.B Sharp. To see how they’re progressing and give them support.” During her visit, Stanley attended White’s Raanana Herzeliya’s win at Ramat Hasharon, watched Robinson and Christon’s Ramla’s win over Ramat Hasharon and Sharp’s Hapoel Tel Aviv’s win over Ashdod. This is indeed the first time the Liberty had four players together in Israel at the same time, but over the years plenty of New Yorkers passed through the land of milk & honey. Out of New York’s current roster of 12, eight players played in Israel at one point or another: The four that are currently here, Elena Baranova, La’Keshia Frett, Erin Thorn and of course Vickie Johnson.

I asked Stanley whether she thinks it’s important for WNBA players to play overseas during the off-season: “I think in many cases it is, I think it’s important for players to continue to work in the off-season whether it be here in Israel, Europe or even some stay home and work out but off-season development is really important”.

Crystal Robinson came to Israel after what was probably her best season in the WNBA. Robinson recorded her highest point average of her six year career with the Liberty at 12.1 PPG, while shooting 49.6% from the 2, 38.2% from the 3 and 93% from the line. She also ranked 7th in the league in assist to turnover ratio with 1.76. This being Stanley’s first season with New York, she couldn’t quite say whether this really was Robinson’s best season but she did say this: “Crystal has been an outstanding performer in the league for a number of years so I think she’s one of those people that in my mind is an All Star caliber player. There are those that are named All Stars, and there are those who are just as good and compete at an All Star level, she is one of those players, a true professional and I enjoy coaching her.”

In Ramla, Robinson’s numbers have been nearly identical to her WNBA numbers, with 14.2 PPG on 49.3% from the 2, 39.2% from 3, 87.5% from the line and 2 assists per turnover, which rank her 2nd in the league. In the last five games, Robinson has been tarring it up with 20.4 PPG on even better shooting (51.5% from 2, 46% from 3, 94.4% from the line). That streak helped quiet down some of those who weren’t too impressed to say the least with Robinson earlier in the year. People seem to overlook Robinson’s contribution, especially on the defensive end, but that’s really not a good idea. “To underestimate Crystal Robinson is a kiss of death”, said Stanley with a laugh. “You can do that at your own risk, the fans can have any opinion they want, but smart players know better”.

From Robinson we moved on to Shameka Christon, New York’s 5th overall draft pick in 2004. Anyone who has watched her play has seen just how madly talented she is, definitely one of the most gifted players to ever play in Israel. Stanley talked about Christon’s rookie season in the WNBA: “I think the first year was very much a learning experience for Shameka, I think we saw the great promise that she has at times, in several games she was a difference maker for us and I think that as the season progressed she improved and learned”, said Stanley and most folks in Ramla could probably say the same thing about Christon in Israel. She is currently averaging 17.9 points (8th in the league, 5th best in 2PT% with 59.8%) and 7.1 rebounds per game in Ramla. “We’re looking for great things from her in her 2nd year”, she continued. “I think a lot of expectations were put on this past rookie class, Diana Taruasi, Alana Beard, Shameka Christon, they were all expected to do great things and they are all very talented, very promising young prospects. We have very high hopes for what we know Shameka can do for New York and in her career in the WNBA”.

In Ramla, Christon is playing the 4 spot next to Robinson who’s playing the 3. Could that work in New York as well? “Well I think that when you’re on a team, you perform to the best of your abilities, you cooperate with the coaches and the other teammates to do your best”, said Stanley. “In this particular situation, Shameka is being asked to play more on the inside than on the perimeter. She can learn from that, I know she’ll be a true professional in whatever the coaches ask her to do in every second that she’s on the floor. Also, it will help in those times when we need her to post up, when we need her to play inside, but she’s a perimeter player primarily. You can always learn from a situation so I think this is a situation she is learning from and will continue to learn from, that just makes her a more well-rounded player.”

For DeTrina White, unlike her Liberty teammates, this is the 2nd season in Israel. The first time around, she wasn’t on a WNBA roster. Stanley reflected on White’s first season in New York and her future with the team: “DeTrina is a very valuable part of our team cause she’s a great rebounder, plays hard all the time, brings great energy. She’s still developing her skill level particularly as an offensive player because in the past she hasn’t been asked to be much of a scorer. In the WNBA level you have to be more of a scorer and that’s a role she’s growing into and learning, being more effective and more productive. I thought she had a real good year for us, she was a spark off the bench and we need that. I think this situation here in Israel is good, she can play a lot of minutes and work on her game. That’s part of what we asked of her in the off-season and she’s doing that”.

White is indeed doing great with Raanana Herzeliya; she is the league’s top rebounder with 10.8 boards per game, and second in offensive rebounds per game with 4.1. Her scoring is going well too, she ranks 10th in the league with 17.2 points per game and recorded 9 double doubles in 14 games this year.

The Liberty finished the 2005 season ranked 10th in the league in rebounding, something White who played 13.5 minutes per game as a rookie, does very well. Stanley however did not sound too concerned about her team’s situation on the glass. “Elena Baranova is an excellent rebounder as is Ann Wauters but she was injured and you can’t rebound while sitting on the bench in a cast. Also Shameka is proving herself to be a very good rebounder as well. I think our guards can rebound the ball well, we’re a very good 3pt shooting team so it means they have to make a particular extra effort because they’re always outside the 3pt line. Other teams use their guards a little differently, and have them closer to the basket. DeTrina is one you know is always going to be around the basket and around the boards”.

Last but certainly not least, KB Sharp. Sharp joined Hapoel Tel Aviv after the Christmas break, the team lost its last five games heading into the break. Sharp has played 4 games with her new team so far, and averaged 17 points and 3.5 assists per game as they went 2-2. After the season here ends, Sharp will head back to New York for her 3rd straight year with the Liberty. Sharp played eight minutes per game in 2004, as Becky Hammon became New York’s starting point guard after Teresa Weatherspoon left. That was a decrease in her playing time from her rookie season where she got 13 MPG. Will she finally get more playing time this upcoming season as the team’s lone true PG? “All that matters is how well she’s developed in the off-season”, said Stanley. “K.B is athletic and quick and learned the game the last two years. This is an important year for her to show that she’s ready to play more minutes. It’s up to her to show how she handles leading a team. KB has to become a more well rounded point guard. I’m here to help support her in that effort, to observe and give her feedback.”

The Liberty finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference last season with an 18-16 record. They went on to beat the defending champions Detroit Shock in the 1st round of the playoffs, but then lost to 1st seeded Connecticut Sun in the Eastern Conference finals. The Liberty’s season was a roller coaster ride plagued by injuries to key players, and making the conference finals was considered overachievement. It will be interesting to see how New York does in the upcoming season, and it’s safe to say that lots of fans here will be following Crystal, Shameka, KB and DeTrina.

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