Making an WNBA team is nerve-wracking work for a second-round draft pick.
You go to training camp unsure of your role. You worry that every mistake, every missed shot, every play that somebody else makes is the one coaches will remember.
On Monday, former Wichita State star Alex Harden sent a picture of herself wearing a Phoenix Mercury No. 12 jersey on her Twitter account. All that work paid off when coach Sandy Brondello told her she made the team after last week’s preseason game. On Monday, Harden took part in the team’s media day, filming promos for the video board, taking pictures and answering questions.
“It’s like a weight lifted off,” Harden said. “I’m going to come in and do my defensive role, do the little things, guard the best players.”
Phoenix drafted Harden in the second round in April. She wasn’t expecting to get drafted and she wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the roster of the defending WNBA champions. When she got the news, her first call went to her parents.
“They were excited for me,” she said. “They were nervous because they knew it was coming down to those final days.”
A little over a month later, she will be on the roster when the Mercury open the season against the San Antonio Stars on Friday.
“(Harden) going to be someone who really will surprise people,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said at Monday’s media day.
The adjustment to the professional game started last month in training camp. The Mercury, even without star Diana Taurasi, is expected to be one of the WNBA’s top teams. Center Brittney Griner will miss the first seven games with a suspension. Harden said the veterans are willing mentors, patient with the newcomers.
On the court, however, playing defense against them is dramatically different from college.
“They’re stronger, faster, more experienced,” she said. “You think you have them stopped, like you might stop someone in college, and they have another move or a high finish over the rim.”
Harden, a 6-foot guard, earned Associated Press honorable mention All-American honors and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors in 2015. She is WSU’s career scoring leader with 1,708 points.