Benningfield invited to WNBA pre-draft camp

Jenni Benningfield's Vanderbilt career ended March 28 when Stanford eliminated the Commodores in the NCAA Sweet 16. But this week Benningfield was back on the court at the WNBA's invitation-only pre-draft training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y. She talked Wednesday about her experiences on Day One of the two-day camp.


VandyMania: Tell us all about it, starting with how you got there.

Jenni Benningfield: Well, I woke up about 5:30 this morning and headed to the airport for a 7:23 flight to New York LaGuardia airport, then I took a cab from there to the hotel in Tarrytown, which was about 45 minutes away.

When we got there, we had registration and paperwork and got all of our gear, which we get to keep, like jerseys, shorts, shirts, socks, that kind of thing and stuff for us to practice in. Then after that we got photos done and did some interviews, and then I had basically four or five hours to kill in the hotel. I met a lot of the players, some I already knew because I'd played with them, so I hung out with them, ate some lunch and took a nap.

About 4:30 we headed over to the gym and got taped, got stretched, shot a little bit. Our session started at 6. The first 30 or 45 minutes we did a lot of full-court drills to warm up and get us going. We broke down into positions-- there were posts, perimeter players and point guards. I was obviously with the posts. We did some one-on-one moves and competition drills and that kind of thing.

Then we split up into four different teams. We're in the New York Liberty's training facility, so they have two practice courts. There were four teams, so each team took half a court, and we learned the halfcourt offenses, out-of-bounds, sideline. We went over that and then played against a team halfcourt to get some repetitions for us to understand the offenses.

Then we played two fullcourt games against different teams. We played on the same teams tonight, and they're going to switch up the teams tomorrow so we'll be playing with and against different people. That's about it. We just got done. It went really well, though. It was very very competitive. It was fun. I had fun out there.

VandyMania: How did it come about that you are there? Was it by invitation, or did you have to apply?

Jenni: It's by invitation only. It's 30 of the top players. Some of the top players that are going to be in the draft like Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard aren't here, because they really don't need to be here. Teams already know where they're going to go. It gives other people the opportunity to show what they can do. All the coaches and general managers for the 13 WNBA teams are here, even some assistant coaches from the WNBA teams. There are some college coaches here watching, and they also have some officials who are trying out to be WNBA officials, so there are a lot of people in the gym watching. It's an awesome facility. We got to hang out in the Liberty's locker room and that kind of thing, so it's been cool hanging out with everybody and playing.

VandyMania: How is this similar to, and how's it's different from the tryouts at USA Basketball last spring when you were selected to the Pan Am team?

Jenni: Honestly, it's very, very similar in the fact that you're competing against everybody in different drills, different games and that kind of thing for several days. The only difference is there are only 30 people compared to 60 or so. So you're getting a lot of reps in. You're going up and down the floor, and it's testing your mentality just because it shows what you do when you get tired -- Can you get through it, or do you make mistakes? How do you react to it? It's very physical. The USA trials kind of gave me confidence coming in here just because I knew what to expect in certain areas.

VandyMania: What's your focus for these couple of days?

Jenni: Really, my focus is just to be myself and give everything I've got. I'm going to give everything I've got, do the little things, but really just play hard. I want to have fun. I want the opportunity to meet a lot of people and play against some great players and teams and give me an idea of where my game's at and give me an understanding of what I need to get better at. I'm not nervous about this; I'm excited about the opportunity to try out, and I'm just trying to keep the mindset of being relaxed and doing the things that I know how to do, because obviously, that's what got me here.

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