Copper Shining Early in Camp
One week into Mystics camp and first round pick Kahleah Copper has already caught the eye of head coach Mike Thibault.
“The thing that has stood out the most has been Kahleah Copper. She’s been everything we wanted her to be, and maybe even a little better in some areas. She’s a sponge, she picks up stuff, she asks questions, she has a good pro mentality, that’s been the most impressive thing,” said Thibault following the team’s practice on Tuesday.
Copper, a 6’1 forward out of Rutgers, was selected seventh overall in this year’s draft and now has a chance to make an immediate impact on her first professional team.
“Her athleticism is already at a pro level. There have been days where she’s been one of the best players in the gym, and that’s a real good sign for a young player,” marveled Thibault.
Watch one drill or one scrimmage and even to the untrained eye, it’s not hard to see what makes Copper so appealing. Her quickness, athleticism, and tenacity has been on display in every practice, and she has a lot of natural ability that can’t be taught. She’s looked fluid on the court and has shown all the tools you want to see in a young player. Even when her side loses a drill and the group is forced to sprint, her speed puts her in the front of the pack.
“I’m a pretty quick player, I love to get up and down so that’s been pretty good, it’s just the physicality and I’ve been adjusting to that,” Copper explained.
She knows she has a lot to learn at the pro level, but realizes that she’s in a great spot to soak in as much as possible.
“Coach is always challenging me, I can appreciate that as a player because it’s only making me grow. Today he put me at point, something I’m not comfortable with, something he knows, but it’s given me confidence to handle the ball and setting other people up to get better shots.”
And just a few years ago, it was rookies Tayler Hill and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt who were the young wings looking for mentorship from the vets, but now their roles have flipped.
“TRP and Tayler have been great for me, whether I’m forgetting a play or whatever it is on the sideline, they are always talking to me and in my ear, letting me know what to do, where to go and how to do it, so I can appreciate the older players for helping me all the time,” said the rookie from Rutgers .
Combine Copper’s natural athleticism with basketball ability, a positive attitude and a willingness to learn and the Mystics may have a real gem in this rookie.
Copper will get to suit up for the first time in Friday’s exhibition game against Indiana (11:30 AM).
“I’m excited, my first game as a pro, I’m excited to play extremely hard and make an impact.”
“A little disjointed”
Like with nearly all WNBA teams during an Olympic year, the Mystics were forced to open camp with many of their regulars missing. Emma Meesseman, Kia Vaughn, Bria Hartley, LaToya Sanders, and Tianna Hawkins, five players who logged significant minutes over the last two seasons, had overseas obligations to finish before joining their WNBA team. While most have now made their way back stateside, the full squad won’t likely practice together for the first time until next week, giving coach Thibault little time to put everything in place.
They also have been without their veteran leader, point guard Ivory Latta, who the team announced on April 20th would miss four to six weeks after a knee procedure. Natasha Cloud also had an offseason procedure and has been going through rehab for parts of camp, Tayler Hill and Ally Malott suffered injuries early in camp, though neither should keep them out long term. But, that has made things difficult for coach Thibault over the first portion of training camp. However, with many of the regulars from the past two years sidelined, it has allowed the rookies and invitees a chance to see a lot of reps.
“The good part of it has been the young players have had a lot of reps, the bad part is I’m going to feel behind with the group that’s probably going to do the most playing. And having injuries with Ally, and Tayler, and some degree ‘Tash in the middle of her rehab stuff, and then Bria coming back wondering when she can play, it just feels disjointed, but we’ll figure it out,” said Thibault.
Tianna Hawkins returned to the team this week after playing 16 games for Toulouse Metropole in the French league. She averaged 16.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in France and after missing last season due to the birth of her son, coach Thibault was enthused with how she came into camp this season.
“Going over to France really helped her confidence wise, conditioning wise, she’s in really good shape and I think just getting back to playing for three or four months was a really good thing for her.”
Hawkins will join a crowded front court, that consists of returning starters and all-stars Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman, along with valuable contributors in Kia Vaughn and LaToya Sanders, but if Hawkns has a good camp, she could certainly make a case to earn playing time.