Professional Basketball

Practice is over. Bring on the All Star Game.

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MINNEAPOLIS – The official practice for the 2018 WNBA All Star Game was held Friday afternoon in front of an estimated crowd of 3,000 at Target Center.

Though the practice itself was not too spectacular as both teams ran a series of drills for most of their allotted time, there were some moments that gave fans something to cheer about.

Half-Court Shot

Team Delle Donne was the first to take to the court for their practice session. As practice was winding down, Seattle Storm head coach Dan Hughes, who is coaching Team Delle Donne, issued a challenge. He would personally donate $1,000 to the WNBA’s breast health awareness campaign in the name of the player who won the half-court shot contest.

Delle Donne High Five: Washington Mystics forward and Team Captain Elena Delle Donne receives high five’s from her teammates after making a half-court shot during Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

“My wife and I were talking about the fact that since I’ve been in the WNBA, teams love ending practice with a half-court shot contest,” said Hughes. “I wanted to do something meaningful with this because it is the one cause that both my wife and I have always cherished. Everybody has a story that they can relate to. I asked her about what she thought if we just donate $1,000 in the name of whoever makes the shot.”

After Hughes issued his challenge, the intensity of the players and fans increased.

The first to make a half-court shot was Las Vegas Aces guard Kayla McBride. However, just as it looked like she was going to win it outright, Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, the team captain, hit a shot. This forced a shoot-off which Delle Donne won after five additional shots.

“Most of the time I don’t even watch the half-court shot since it’s not quite a coach’s thing,” said Hughes. “I knew it would make it enjoyable and we get a chance to support the player and the cause.”

When congratulated on making the shot, Delle Donne smiled.

“I was happy because I was tired of shooting them. I just wanted one to go in. But it’s awesome that coach put up the money to go to breast health awareness, so it’s real special that he did that,” she said.

Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello put the rival Team Parker through more organized drills when they took the court, but by the end, the shooting contest wasn’t just from half court. It was from all over the court, including Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore taking several shot attempts while standing on top of the scorer’s table. Though she didn’t make a single shot from that position, many of her shots came close to entering the rim.

Dance Off

Practices for both teams ended with a dance off. For Lynx players Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, it turned into a friendly competition. Not only are they teammates in the WNBA, but they were teammates in college at Louisiana State University.

Augustus: Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus waves at the crowd during introductions at Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

“Yeah, that was kind of crazy,” said Fowles. “It just set the tone and [Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner] had to bring everybody in. We were just trying to make it interesting.”

When asked who the better dancer was, Fowles gave a sheepish grin and said, “Me, of course. Hands down. Tell her I said it too.”

Augustus disagreed with her teammate’s assessment. “I hadn’t even begun to put on my moves yet,” she laughed.

Team Selections

With this being the first year of having the WNBA captains select the roster, both captains were asked about their feelings on having the honors.

“It’s awesome. I love it,” said Delle Donne. “It’s humbling that the fans came out and voted and wanted me to be in that position. It was really fun and I had a good time with it. Now that’s we’re all hanging out together, this is what it’s all about.”

“I wanted to get versatile players that can kind of do it all. Because you know, with the All-Star game it is kind of who can handle it, who can shoot it. So just trying to get players like that,” she added. “I definitely wanted to get some Lynx players because we need to get the home crowd behind us. Also, players that have great relationships with friends and have a good rapport. You get like one 30-minute practice so you just kind of have to know each other’s games.”

Parker Out of Bounds: Los Angeles Sparks forward and All-Star Team Captain Candace Parker attempts to save a ball from going out of bounds during Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker said, “It means a lot, especially when you get to represent the WNBA in the new format. How I grew up was by picking teams, so it was a fun experience to be a part of.”

“It was really fun for me. I think it was kind of like a park atmosphere in terms of you pick the teams and things like that. For me, as with Elena [Delle Donne], there’s no bad pick. You’re picking All-Stars here. So forming a team was easy for me. Obviously, I wanted to make sure that I had my two teammates on my side because I don’t want to play against them. And then from there, I went with that,” said Parker.

Both captains were asked about their expectations and strategies for tomorrow’s All-Star Game.

“Get buckets. Shoot your shot. Put up a lot of points and have fun,” said Delle Donne.

“Win,” laughed Parker. “I’m sure her strategy is also to win. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Fans

Open practices in front of fans is not an everyday occurrence for WNBA players, so having nearly 3,000 fans enjoy the experience was a different feeling.

Fan sign: A fan sends a message to other fans on how to increase exposure to the WNBA during Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

“The energy in the building is crazy, but to see young girls and boys here and they’re celebrating the WNBA players they can get excited about is great,” said Augustus. “When we get to interact with the fans and everything is fun. There is so much energy and excitement from the fans. We were just warming up and they were cheering on the layups that we made.”

“For as much as I hate the Lynx,” Phoenix Mercury forward chuckled in jest. “They have such wonderful fans. They’re so loyal. They come to the games and they come to compete too. You can appreciate it as a player when you walk into a building and the fans are so passionate. That’s what every franchise and every team strives to get to. I know in Phoenix we have it. Minnesota has it. Other teams are getting there. They [Lynx and Mercury fans] set the bar, too, as far as fans of the league.”

Taurasi added, “It gives an opportunity for a fan to enjoy another player and not feel guilty about it. Can I be a Lynx fan and enjoy watching DeWanna Bonner and Kristi Toliver when they’re not wearing a Washington or Phoenix jersey? Can I come here and follow A’ja Wilson and not cheer against her? This is a good thing for the league.”

Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins said, “We did the [youth clinic] yesterday. It was cool being around the young kids. [The Minnesota Lynx] had a great crowd when we come out and compete here, and I don’t expect anything different tomorrow.”

League Leader Get-Together

Bird_Hudoba: Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird is interviewed by Minnesota Lynx in-stadium announcer Jason Hudoba during Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

Three players who lead the league all-time in various statistical categories got together for a brief moment in between practices.

Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird is the all-time leader in assists (2,785), games played (501) and All-Star appearances (11) and will play on Team Delle Donne. Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson is the all-time leader in rebounds (3,349) and will play on Team Parker. Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi is the all-time leader in points (8,375), field goals made (2,672) and will play for Team Delle Donne.

Favorite All-Star Moments

Both WNBA All-Star teams are filled with veterans of All-Star games past, with Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson being the only rookie. Therefore, some of the veterans were asked to share their favorite moment of the All-Star Weekend.

“There’s no fancy story about it. It’s not some, in my mind, great accomplishment. At times, mostly when I’m asked questions about it, I do take a step back and I’m like ‘Okay. I’ve played in 500 games which recently broke the record. Why haven’t other people done that?’” said Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird when asked what makes this All-Star Game special. “I’m in my 11th All-Star Game. Why had nobody done that before? So while I’m doing it, I don’t really necessarily think I’m doing anything special. I’m just kind of trying to stay as healthy as I can so I can play as long as I can. In those moments of retrospect, I guess it is pretty unique and cool that I am the first to play in eleven.”

Diggins-Smith and Quigley: Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith and Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley share a laugh during Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

Parker said, “I think just seeing people in a different light. You spend so much time competing against everybody and going about it that way, now you get a chance to kind of see the other side of people, turn off the competitive edge and just have fun. This is a weekend for the fans.”

Diggins said that her favorite part of the weekend’s activities is playing with the players that she competes against.

“I’ll never get to play with Candace Parker again, so to play with her here is pretty awesome. There’s so much talent around here. It’s a different environment and during the season you never get that time to be able to spend with each other. It’s also fun being able to let your hair down a little bit.”

Similarly, Delle Donne and Fowles both stressed bonding with fellow players as being their highlights of the weekend.

“A lot of us are friends and during the season its tough trying to catch up, especially with our schedule this year. It feels good to let your guard down and get caught up on things that you probably miss from the beginning of the season until now. We all have some incredible stories to tell. It feels good to catch up. That’s the most important part,” said Fowles.

Head coach Dan Hughes has a similar take but from a coach’s perspective.

Los Angeles Sparks forward and All-Star Team Captain Candace Parker signs a practice jersey for a fan following Friday’s All-Star practice at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III / Sports Page Magazine

“It’s getting to know the players a little better,” said Hughes, who is coaching his second All-Star game. “It’s getting moments with them that are not just of a competitive nature when I see them before or after the game, but getting to share an experience that we are involved with in the WNBA. I’ve come away celebrating the people who are these great players in our league.”

And for Taurasi, it’s still about the game.

“Right before you go on the court, there’s this electricity in the building,” said Taurasi. “It almost has a playoff intensity but obviously is more light hearted. You feel that energy and intensity. I’ve always loved that moment right before tipoff.”

Tipoff for the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game held at Target Center in Minneapolis is at 2:30 p.m. CT this afternoon. The three-point shot contest will be held at halftime. Attendance is expected to exceed 15,000. If this happens, it will be the first ever sell-out crowd for a WNBA All-Star Game.

 

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