Commentary

Redemption is common thread

Shock, 9-59 the past two seasons, and some draft picks after the same thing

Originally Published: April 16, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Miami's Riquna Williams breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude when she heard her name called. Her wait was over, and she hopes a fresh start is ahead.

"I definitely got teary," Williams said.

At Monday's WNBA draft, Williams was one of the 15 players invited to take part at ESPN's studio. Considering how her Miami career ended -- she was not taken to the team's early-round NCAA tournament games at Gonzaga, where the Hurricanes lost in the second round -- Williams knew doubts had surrounded her.

So when Tulsa selected her in the second round with the 17th pick overall, Williams was extremely happy to be moving forward. She was one of the players who sees the WNBA as a chance for redemption of sorts, a way to perhaps prove something about themselves. A second chance.

"After what happened at the end of the season in my collegiate career, I wasn't expecting to go anywhere in the first round," said Williams, a 5-foot-7 guard who averaged 17.2 points in her Miami career. "It's a mistake I made. And it's something I have to deal with, the outcome.

"I think with Tulsa picking me, it's a great honor for them to believe in me and know that one situation doesn't determine who I am."

Neither Williams nor Miami coach Katie Meier have said exactly what happened, but apparently it wasn't a concern for Tulsa. The Shock, under first-year coach Gary Kloppenburg, have holes to fill and a new philosophy to embrace.

You could say the entire Shock franchise -- which relocated to Tulsa from Detroit in 2010 and has gone 9-59 in two seasons in Oklahoma -- is seeking redemption as well. The Shock started last season under coach Nolan Richardson, who resigned in July and was replaced by Teresa Edwards.

Now Kloppenburg will try to make Tulsa a competitive franchise. He's well-traveled, having coached at the college level, internationally, in the NBA and the WNBA. Most recently, he was Lin Dunn's assistant for the WNBA's Indiana Fever.

[+] EnlargeRiquna Williams
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesMiami's Riquna Williams, the 17th overall pick, is looking for a fresh start with Tulsa.

Last year, Tulsa took Australian center Liz Cambage and Stanford forward Kayla Pedersen in the first round. This summer, Cambage will be away with her national team through the Olympics, so the Shock might need some help in the paint.

To that end, Tulsa took 6-3 Tennessee forward Glory Johnson with the fourth pick overall. Then after selecting Williams for perimeter depth in the second round, the Shock took Johnson's Lady Vols teammate, Vicki Baugh, and Maryland's Lynetta Kizer in the third round. Both are 6-4 centers who have some "baggage," if you will.

Baugh dealt with serious knee injuries during her five years at Tennessee, but she was a solid leader who averaged a career-high 21.4 minutes over 35 games this season.

Kizer played in 33 games this season for the Terps, but she did sit out at the start after being suspended for a violation of team rules. She was named the ACC's sixth player of the year after averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.

The odds of third-round picks making an 11-player roster in the WNBA are never very favorable. But considering Tulsa's needs with Cambage away, it's perhaps a little bit more favorable for Baugh or Kizer to stick.

"This season," Baugh said of her last year at Tennessee, "I kind of had to prove to everyone that I can still be Vicki Baugh. I finally got a chance to get in the gym and get better, instead of just trying to get back to being me. I look forward to being able to show people I am healthy and I do belong here."

Johnson, meanwhile, wants to show that there is more to her game than people might think. She played mostly power forward at Tennessee, but she's ready to branch out if needed.

"I'm excited to change up my game a little," Johnson said. "I'm used to being in the paint, but I'm not going to be one of the bigger people out there in the WNBA. I know that my coach is going to be expecting me to be outside and drive a little bit more, which I love to do. I love putting the ball on the floor and working on my ballhandling and outside shots.

"I think they'll probably play me as a 3 [small forward] and 4 [power forward]. I wouldn't mind the 3 … as a freshman, when there was Kelley, Vicki Baugh and Alex Fuller at Tennessee, I did that sometimes."

The "Kelley" she refers to is Cain, Johnson's former Lady Vols teammate. Cain bypassed her final year of eligibility in Knoxville this season after battling multiple knee injuries. In the time since, she has played overseas but was a surprise pick -- to say the least -- by New York at No. 7 in the first round Monday.

Consider that Cain told Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Dan Fleser just last June: "When I'm on an off day and I can barely walk, or when I'm constantly in pain and I'm not doing anything, that's like a dead giveaway. I want my quality of life after basketball to be good. I want to be able to walk when I'm like 25 or 26."

Yet if Cain is somehow able to become a viable WNBA center after all that, then she'll have had some redemption, too.

What about Ohio State point guard Samantha Prahalis? She said she was sick to her stomach after the Buckeyes' NCAA tournament first-round loss. So she recalibrates for the future, too, after being taken by Phoenix with the No. 6 pick.

"I thought over my four years, we had a good enough team to go to the Final Four," Prahalis said. "It really bothers me that we didn't get there. Now it's a clean slate; I'm going to a team that has won [WNBA] championships before."

Other than Cain, none of the first-round picks won an NCAA title in their careers. Top selection Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles) made four trips to the Final Four with Stanford, and Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters (No. 3 to Minnesota) and Natalie Novosel (No. 8 to Washington) went to the national championship game twice. But all of them still have a title "hunger" that's unfulfilled.

"We didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish in college," Johnson said of herself, Baugh and Shekinna Stricklen, whom Seattle took No. 2 out of Tennessee. "But we got where we needed to get to."

Miami's Williams did, too, even though she understands that some folks in Tulsa might have a pre-formed view of her.

"I'm a rookie, and I have to know my place," Williams said. "I want to let the fans know I have a lot to bring to Tulsa. I look forward to meeting different people. I want to go in the mindset of being open to learning things and coming out of my shell."

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