May 12, 2010
SEATTLE - The experience of professional basketball can be dizzying for student-athletes just out of college. This is what Sami Whitcomb experienced when she was offered a training camp invite to the Chicago Sky of the WNBA after her career ended with the Huskies. Whitcomb played in three exhibition games for the Sky before she was cut, but said the experience was one of those "once in a lifetime" moments she'll never forget. Her time in Chicago also provided Whitcomb with the itch to play basketball abroad, an idea she had previously been lukewarm about. Now she's hired an agent and will begin the long process of fielding through offers and suggestions, but in the meantime she'll continue to intern with the Huskies women's basketball team. In fact, before she met up with GoHuskies.com, Whitcomb was cutting up video from practices from during the regular season.
GoHuskies.com: What was the biggest takeaway for you from this experience?
A: You have to have that mental sharpness, always being in tune and there's very little room for errors. Those were the most significant things that stood out.
GH: Little room for error? How so?
A: You had to know everything. What the defense was? What's the offense we're running? Plus everyone is so good and so quick and so smart; if you mess up or weren't prepared or not thinking ahead (snaps fingers) it was going to hurt you. Everything was just faster. You have to really be able to think on your toes, because the defenses there are bigger, faster and stronger than anything we experience here (in college basketball).
GH: So the strength difference was quite noticeable?
A: That was one of the most important things the team told me when I left. I went to the coach and said, `Look, what do I need to do?' And he said strength, for sure. You have to be able to withstand the hits and you have to be able to get open against fast defenders. They devote themselves to the sport. Their bodies are their temples. They're strong and fit, so you have to be able to withstand the punishment if you want to be an effective scorer, defender, etc.
GH: So now that you had the experience, do you have the itch to try and play overseas?
A: Yeah, if nothing else from this experience I gained a lot. I understand what it takes to make it as a professional player at that level. I think the biggest thing for me personally, what really opened my eyes, is that I still want to play. If that means pursuing it overseas, I feel like I have unfinished business with basketball. There's still so much for me to learn and so many areas for me to grow. I'm not done and I don't want to regret not playing later. I have a great opportunity to do it now. Coaching will always be there and it's always going to be a passion of mine, but I really feel like I could learn a lot from playing professionally and ultimately I feel that will help me become a better coach. I gained a new perspective on a lot of things.
GH: Did you talk with the Sky players about their experiences overseas (Note: most WNBA players spend time professionally overseas during the league's offseason)
A: Oh yeah, I talked with almost all of them. I know players like (former Huskies) Cameo Hicks, Breanne Watson and those girls who did it and ended up loving it, but it was good to get other perspectives too, because there are so many leagues and so many countries you can play in. There's the good and the bad, and I got really good balance in terms of experiences. It gave me a broad look ... look, if you go into Europe with an open mind, you'll enjoy it. If you're the person who gets homesick and don't like to do things on your own, it would be tough. But it seems like something that I would thrive in. I love adventures and I love travel, and it's no secret I love basketball. I like being on my own, so I think it would be really cool to experience different cultures. Who doesn't want to be a pro in what they love? I do feel I would be remised if I didn't take this opportunity.
GH: Tell about the experience of putting on a pro jersey and playing in exhibition games?
A: Putting on a jersey when you think you're done, it's exhilarating. It's what you dream of - when you put on your first jersey as a kid, you dream about the day you can put on a professional one and read the team's name across the chest. It was really exciting to be able to do that, even if it was for just exhibition - slash - preseason games. It was really cool and something I'll have with me my entire life. If I never make it back to the WNBA, I'll always have that experience. I think I needed that opportunity to remind me that I'm not done playing. I want to wear a jersey again. Got me greedy, that's for sure. You put on that jersey and you don't want to let it go.
GH: What was it like living in Chicago? I know you had been there once before (Note: the UW team stopped in Chicago during Whitcomb's freshman season after a game at Marquette)
A: My first time there I think we just shopped and I'm not a big shopper. But I fell in love with the city. Just the experience itself; the fact that I was living in Chicago and I got to experience that big city. I went out my roommate Larrissa (Williams) from Tulsa and Abi Olajuwon from Oklahoma. The three of us did a lot together because obviously we were the three coming out of college and so we hung out a lot. We would take a cab and go downtown and to the different parts of the city. Chicago's such a big place and none of us had really experienced anything like that. We would go to Michigan Avenue, State Street. It was really fun getting lost and figuring out the city that way. I love that big city feel. You just think there's something for everybody there.
GH: You're back in Seattle now. What types of things are you doing to improve your game?
A: I play a lot of open gyms with the team now, if they need me. I go to the IMA with friends (and play pickup) and I do my own workouts in terms of weights and conditioning. I'll do that until I get an idea on when and where if I'm going somewhere. But I'm definitely keeping up with my game.