Commentary

3 To See ready for WNBA debuts

Monday's ESPN2 doubleheader: Mystics-Shock at 3 ET, then Sky-Mercury

Originally Published: May 24, 2013
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

Their teams hope they can emulate the likes of Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings, Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi -- players who became iconic figures for their WNBA franchises.

So, hey, rookies, no pressure! All you have to do is be legendary.

Seriously, is it realistic to expect long, successful WNBA careers -- in just one place, no less -- for Phoenix's Brittney Griner, Chicago's Elena Delle Donne and Tulsa's Skylar Diggins?

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrittney Griner had 18 points and eight rebounds in a preseason win against the Japanese national team.

This is a trio -- picked 1-2-3 in April's draft -- to whom the highest of hopes have been attached. Maybe we will be talking about them years from now as singularly identifiable, at least WNBA-wise, with the Mercury, Sky and Shock.

Maybe each will end up with a WNBA title. Perhaps they'll be USA Basketball teammates. One day, they might be the celebrated veterans reflecting on what it's like to see youngsters entering the league with such promise.

Right now, though, it's all just beginning. Diggins will be the first of the "3 to See" to play an official WNBA game, as she and the Shock open at Atlanta on Saturday.

On Memorial Day, though, all three plus No. 4 pick Tayler Hill will be in action on ESPN2. The doubleheader starts at 3 p.m. ET, with Hill's Washington Mystics visiting Tulsa. Then, at 5 p.m. ET, the Sky take on the Mercury in Phoenix.

"Probably the biggest adjustment will be the speed of the game," Delle Donne said in regard to making the transition to the WNBA. "I noticed that from the first practice, and literally every practice; it's 100 percent going extremely hard.

"I'm thrilled about our first game. I think it's going to be a great matchup, and a really exciting game to watch. And it's going to draw a lot of attention to the league, which is awesome."

[+] EnlargeElena Delle Donne
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesElena Delle Donne shot 6-of-9 from the field in her exhibition debut.

Delle Donne, Diggins and Griner were already getting a lot of attention even before their pro debuts. Delle Donne has thrown out the first pitch at a Cubs game; hopefully their near-perpetual bad mojo didn't rub off on her.

Diggins got a new Mercedes Benz for graduation from her Jay-Z-owned management company, making every other grad's gift certificates look a bit puny in comparison.

And Griner has embraced a role as an advocate for anti-bullying campaigns, with a particular interest in helping LGBT youth navigate the rough waters so many of them face.

"The off-court stuff -- they're pulling her in every direction," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. "But she's taking it a good way and handling it well."

Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins have accepted that they will have a lot of responsibilities off the court. Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Diggins was scheduled to meet with several top business leaders in Tulsa, but that was postponed after the previous day's tragic tornado to the south in Moore, Okla. The Shock are helping with the relief efforts.

Diggins will, no doubt, soon make those connections with the movers and shakers in Tulsa. Diggins' popularity soared when Notre Dame went to the Women's Final Four her sophomore year. A less-prepared college athlete might have been overwhelmed by that, or lost her focus on the sport. That didn't happen to Diggins, who has shown a keen, wise-beyond-her-years understanding of marketing and the big picture for an athlete.

[+] EnlargeSkylar Diggins, Shekinna Stricklen
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty ImagesSkylar Diggins averaged 6.5 points and 2.0 assists in two preseason games.

"I think it's super-important to be visible, especially because I'm new here," Diggins said of Tulsa. "It's important for me to be out and involved with the fans. I think it's great to get to know the city, and the city to know me."

All three rookies are settling into new places after spending their college careers at or close to home. Diggins, the South Bend, Ind., native, must adjust to Oklahoma. Griner, who grew up in Houston, is out of Texas and now needs to acclimate herself to Arizona. And Delle Donne, who brought unprecedented attention to women's basketball in her home state of Delaware, is a resident in the Windy City.

"After coming from Delaware -- basically, if I wanted to do something fun, I had to leave the state and drive to New York, Philly or somewhere else," Delle Donne said. "So it's nice to be here and just have so much to do.

"The Cubs game was incredible; the character of Wrigley Field was absolutely amazing. So I can't wait to continue to explore this city."

Delle Donne likely didn't mean to suggest that Delaware itself is, well, boring. But it is nice to see her enjoying her first extended time away from home and looking forward to establishing herself as a pro.

Delle Donne said that along with the speed at this level, learning some new terminology and different rules will be adjustments for all the rookies. Even top pick Griner will have a few growing pains.

[+] EnlargeTayler Hill
Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty ImagesTayler Hill started two preseason games, averaging 6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.0 assists.

"She respects the game, comes into camp, wants to learn," Gaines said of Griner. "She knows it's a big learning curve for her because it's a lot of things she hasn't done before.

"I have her running up and down the court full-speed. She came here never setting pick-and-rolls before; she's setting pick-and-rolls now."

Ultimately, the on-court results are how all three will be judged. But there don't seem to be any early doubters. Other teams are even capitalizing on the "3 to See" theme by selling ticket packages for games in which they visit.

"When you get a class like these three, it definitely kind of opens up the eyes of people who have doubted the league and brings more attention in," said Seattle's Tina Thompson, who is in her 17th year in the league. "I think [observers] are a little bit more curious."

Thompson was very gracious in her comments. After all, she has won four WNBA titles and started her pro career when these rookies were starting elementary school. She could have been miffed to be asked questions about the "kids." But Thompson, like other WNBA veterans, knows very well that if the younger players bring in more fans, that's good for everybody.

In pro sports, it's all about performance. That will be the bottom line for the "3 to See," and all the other rookies who made WNBA rosters and are about to embark on the next phase in their lives.

Their predecessors have set the bar very high. But that seems to be how Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins like it.

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

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