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Local player goes pro feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by AgatePage, Jun 24, 2008.

  1. AgatePage

    AgatePage Active Member

    The story and I kinda fought each other the whole way, especially which pieces should be in what order. The quotes helped make up for it, at least. Any tips for the future when you have organizational issues? Or anything else you liked/disliked about this one? Thanks.

    Washington | Tamera Young says it wasn't purpose.

    She'd been No. 11 forever, through her four years at Laney High School, then four more at James Madison University. She expected to carry that number along after being the expansion Atlanta Dream's first-ever pick in the WNBA draft in April.

    But teammate Kristen Mann, a third-year player, already wore No. 11. Young's next thought went to No. 8 - she was taken eighth overall and she graduated in 2008. Too late, it belonged to veteran Iziane Castro Marques.

    Young went with the next number that popped into her head, but apparently had second thoughts. Dream vice president for media relations Tonya Alleyne said Young wanted to change the number at the last minute. Sorry, Alleyne said, the media guide is made, you're living with it.

    Young knows the comparisons will be made, but she doesn't care. There's plenty of room in this world for two professional basketball players from Laney sporting jersey No. 23.

    "Twenty-three? I don't think anyone can live up to Michael Jordan, I don't care, that's my opinion," said teammate Ivory Latta, who know her Jordan history from four years at North Carolina. "Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan.

    "She had her little fan club (a group of more than 50 James Madison University with signs that said), 'Air Young,' so I picked on her on that a couple times. But she's doing a great job."

    The learning curve

    Near the end of the Dream's Friday morning shootaround, the squad splits in half for a first-to-10 drill from seven different perimeter spots on the floor. The team that gets to 10 made shots first yells, "10!" and both sides move to the next spot. Whoever wins the most spots wins the drill.

    Each team is counting its score out loud, sometimes real, sometimes not in order to fake out the other side. Young takes her shot, grabs the rebound and runs to the back of the line, playfully sending a "10!" to the other end of the court. "No you didn't!" her teammates yell back. She gives them a wide smile and heads to the front of the line.

    "We are all out here for business to play basketball and win games, but we still have a good time," fellow rookie Chioma Nnamaka said. "She's a very lovable person, fun to be around."

    The team's 0-12 start, following Friday night's frustrating 71-60 loss at the Washington Mystics, is no laughing matter, unfortunately. Like any expansion team, there have been blowouts, but Friday's game followed a familiar script: stay close for more than three quarters, then come up short late.

    "We're all coming from winning teams, so we all have to keep each other positive because we have more games to play," Young said. "It's like back in college. You get to the championship game and lose like by four points. You'd rather get beat by 50 than lose by four points because, you know ... what could I have done to make us get those four or five extra points?"

    In college, the answer to Young's question might have come from a film session with teammates and coaches. Now, the search is more solitary.

    "Staying mentally strong, in college, it's different," she explained. "My coach was always there on me, always talking to us. Now we're all adults, and you have to make yourself stronger.

    "I guess it's a good and bad thing. Someone's not always on you and you get frustrated, but when things are down, it's good for someone to give you pointers and give you that extra boost, too.

    "You learn things better when you try it, and you mess it up and you have to correct it yourself."

    Dream coach and general manager Marynell Meadors has been in the business for more than 35 years. The Dream is her fourth WNBA franchise, and she knows all her players are going through the same thing.

    But when she speaks about Young's effect on the team and the adjustment from the college game to the pros, her slight Southern drawl is powered by conviction and emotion.

    "Sometimes she gets a little tentative because she thinks she should be a passer," Meadors said. "But I say, 'I didn't draft you because you were a passer, I drafted you because you could play defense, rebound and shoot the ball. I need you to score.'

    "I'll tell you what, Tamera Young is gonna be a star in this league."

    A new life

    For recent college graduates with good jobs, Atlanta can be one heck of a town. Trendy shopping. Great restaurants. Clubs of every shape and size to meet friends for a night of drinks and dancing.

    Young's Atlanta is a little bit smaller. Philips Arena, Lenox Mall, her apartment. And that's about it.

    "I don't really do much. I don't really know nobody except my teammates. So usually, if I'm not in the mall, I'm at the house on the Internet," said Young, adding that her new Nintendo Wii is getting plenty of use.

    It's not as if she's had time to check out the town. Graduation day from James Madison was May 3. Instead of walking with a cap and gown, Young had her "welcome to the real world" moment, battling Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker for rebounds in the Dream's first exhibition against Los Angeles.

    Those scripted-to-the-minute overnight bus trips in college? Long gone. Going out of town is now a three-day affair filled with commercial flights, nice hotels and time to rest. She and Nnamaka room together for away games, but Young could get her own room if she wanted to fork over the cash for it.

    Lights out? Forget it. Bed checks? No ma'am.

    "You're on your own time, you basically do what you want," Young said. "But you also have to prepare yourself for the game. There's no coach on you, there's no schedule, just 'Meet at 10 o'clock for shootaround."

    McDonald's rarely enters the conversation, either. Most of the Dream players live in the same apartment complex - housing is arranged and paid for by the team - so someone's cooking. Or people are going out to dinner, but no hazing the rookies. "Oh," Nnamaka said with a grin, "we pick up our own checks."

    "At the away games, she's like, 'What you want to eat? Where you goin'?'" Latta said. "So, she's like a little bug, but she's cool at the same time. I try to take care of her as much as I can, her first time in the league. Because I had someone to take care of me, so I know how it feels."

    It's still a game

    From the outset of Friday's game, Young asserts herself on both ends of the floor.

    Off the opening tip, she knocks the ball off a Mystics player for a turnover. On Atlanta's second offensive possession, she makes a tough jumper with the shot clock winding down to open the scoring. For the night, she finishes with 11 points, six rebounds, five steals and two assists - all numbers above her season averages.

    "She's a great player, man. She's so athletic, it's amazing all the things she can do for her size," said Latta, the team's starting point guard. "She's just so long, I call her 'Go-Go Gadget.'"

    Those arms were most effective on defense. Since entering the starting lineup, she's become the Dream's stopper on the perimeter. Washington's two best guards, former Duke stars Alana Beard and Monique Currie, combined for 35 points on the night.

    Only three of those came with Young between them and the ball.

    "I think I've picked my defense up," she said. "I've been finding myself on the best player on the other team, and I take pride in that now. I did it in college, but I'm looking forward to that now. I want to shut this player down."

    So much in Young's life has changed since April's WNBA draft, but not her support. Before the team huddled and left the court, she gave a wave to her JMU supporters on both sides of the arena. Coming out of the locker room, she hurried to say hello to them before the team bus took her back to the hotel.

    No longer, though, was it in Laney blue or JMU purple warmup gear. Instead, a pink sequined shirt and charcoal gray slacks were the uniform of choice.

    She looks - and feels - like a pro.

    "Everyone's been asking me how it is and how it's been going, and it's like, 'It hasn't hit me yet.' But now it's really hit me," Young said.

    "I really find myself not having anything to do except play basketball, and it's great."
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