Can Benningfield stick with the WNBA's Sting?

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Though graduation is almost two weeks away, Jenni Benningfield has already begun her new job. Drafted in the second round by the WNBA's Charlotte Sting, Benningfield is working diligently in the Sting's training camp, hoping to land a permanent spot on the roster. She shared her thoughts Saturday regarding her transition to the brave new world of women's professional basketball.

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VandyMania: Let's pick things up at the end of the NCAA tournament, after the heartbreaking loss to Stanford. Tell us what life has been like for you since then.

Jenni: Well, after the end of the season, I got back to the "real life" of a student, really focusing on academics. The first day after we came back from Oklahoma, I woke up feeling like I had to go to practice, then I remembered-- I'm done! I guess I had all kinds of emotions, I didn't know how to feel. I felt very, very empty, because I was so used to having something to work for and things were known. I didn't know what was going to happen with the WNBA, so it was kind of nerve-wracking. I guess my focus was trying to take a couple of days off, then get back into the gym and work because I wanted to be ready for the WNBA, whatever opportunity I might have.

VandyMania: When did you hear that you were going to the pre-draft camp that was held in New York?

Jenni: It was right after the game, so I wanted to get myself in shape for that. I knew I needed to have a good tryout, because I had been hurt, so a lot of teams didn't get to see me during conference play. I think some of them might have lost interest in me, because they didn't know how I'd respond, and if I was healthy, and that kind of thing. So it was a week and a half until the tryouts, and I played pickup with the team, lifted on my own, worked out with Hillary, and shot to get myself mentally and physically prepared.

When I went up there, it was cool because I got to see a lot of people I'd played against or played with, some old friends. We went up to New York City to the New York Liberty's training facility, where the New York Knicks also train. It was a real nice facility, we were there for two days, had three sessions. It was intense. All the coaches from the WNBA teams and their GM's were there. You're playing on two courts with everybody staring at you. It was fun just because it gave you another opportunity to see where your game was at, see what you can do against some of the players you might not have gotten a chance to play against. It was big opportunity. I was going to have fun with it.

VandyMania:Did you get any feedback while you were there?

Jenni: I had signed with an agent before I went to tryouts. His name's Eric Wiesel [pronounced "Why-zul"], a real nice guy. He kept talking to the coaches before, trying to get what they wanted, what they expected, what they needed to see from me, and I really kind of took that to heart. I just wanted to be myself, really, honestly, when I went up there, I was like, I'm going to play like I know how to play because obviously I'm not going to try to be something I'm not.

I ended up having really good trials. The agents can't be there, but he got a lot of feedback from the coaches, and they thought I did really well, and I really kind of upped my status. So I was really excited about that.

The day of the draft, I went home to Louisville to be with some family and friends, and my mom fixed a home-cooked meal. We had a little party, watched the first round on the TV and then went down to the basement and listened to the second round. I was told I was going to be picked in the second round, so we were just sitting there and just kind of looking at each other.

I was not nervous, I was so excited until Saturday came, and then I was like, wow, my life could change for the rest of my life. It's a huge opportunity for the dream I've always had, and today's the day I find out. When they called my name to go to Charlotte, I was so excited. Everyone was jumping up and down and hugging. It was the best day ever, just staying at home and being with my family. It was the best, just because I wanted them to be a part of it, too.

And then after that, I left on Thursday to go up to Chicago. We stayed at the O'Hare Airport Hotel right next to the airport. It was mandatory for all the people who were to go. It was an orientation to teach you everything outside of basketball-- nutrition, learning how to hydrate yourself, the mental side of it, the money, just every aspect except for playing on the court.

So that was really neat, getting to be with everybody. It was business casual, so we were dressed up and went to meetings all day long. It kind of hit you, like wow-- it is a business now, it's not like college. I started to get the hint there that was it was going to be completely different.

So then after Chicago, Kelly [Mazzante], Nicole [Powell], and I left straight from there to go to Charlotte. We got into Charlotte Saturday night, and then Sunday morning we had physicals to make sure we were cleared to play, then we had two-a-days on Sunday. Then we had two-a-days every day this week except for Friday and Saturday. We have Sunday off, so that's really nice.

I didn't really know what to expect. Like I said, I was just going to be myself and work as hard as I can and see what happens. This an opportunity of a lifetime, and there's no guarantee for anyone who's out here that they're going to make the team. I just know that I can walk away knowing that I gave it my all, and so far I feel like I've done that. Everybody's told me I've done that.

I feel like I'm in the best shape I've ever been in in my entire life. It's a whole other level here. It's more intense, more competitive, quicker, faster. You have to be smarter. You have to be able to do things sharp, and everything has got to be on the point. You can't have any hesitation or anything. All the veterans and everybody have really welcomed us. They've been great, explaining to us what the coaches want, what things mean, and how to do this and that, just little things.

I haven't really gotten to see the city too much, I'm hoping to do that on Sunday, our first day off. I haven't really been doing anything but eat, sleep, and play basketball. It's been fun. It's been intense. I've been as sore as I can ever imagine being sore, but I feel like I've gotten better in the last week. It's amazing how much of a difference there is; it's not like college at all, because as soon as you walk across floor, it's serious. Everybody comes in here to work hard, to get a win, to have a winning season, to win a championship. You don't have one person that's keeping you down in drills. You go 100% every single time you step across the line, and that's awesome because it makes everybody better.



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Photo by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com.


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