Benningfield and Earley hope to make mark in WNBA

Training camps for WNBA teams began on Sunday. In Indianapolis, Monday was Media Day, a time when the media is invited in, and all the players, including former Vanderbilt players Jenni Benningfield and Ashley Earley, are available for interviews and photos.

Conseco Fieldhouse is home to both the Indiana Pacers and the Indiana Fever. Since it's privately owned, it's available to the Fever for training camp, a benefit that some WNBA franchises don't enjoy. Scheduling, however, does have to take into consideration the schedule of the Pacers, who are currently playing in the NBA playoffs.

Media Day activities took place on the practice court inside the Fieldhouse. One end of the court became an improvised photography studio with two stations set up for photography for official team photos.

At one station, Edneisha Curry, who was recently signed by the Fever, showed off her ball handling skills while the photographer snapped action shots.

At the same time at the other station, former Georgia star Kelly Miller posed for a variety of different still shots.

The make-up artist at the photography shoot provided a mirror for former Mississippi State star Tan White to check her make-up before taking her turn in front of the camera.

At the other end of the practice court, tables were set up to allow sit-down interviews. Players congregated in informal groups until they were summoned for interviews.

The training camp roster was prominently displayed on one of the walls. As of Monday, there were 17 players in camp, with three players expected after their seasons in Europe come to an end. By opening day, the roster must be trimmed to no more than 11 players on the active roster with a maximum of two players on the injured reserve list.

The two most familiar names to Vanderbilt fans on that roster are "Benningfield" and "Earley".

Jenni Benningfield (right), a 2004 Vanderbilt graduate, returned to the United States last week after a successful season in Madrid, Spain.

Ashley Earley (left) will graduate from Vanderbilt in May, although training camp will probably prevent her from actually participating in the formal graduation ceremonies.

Yolanda Paige (left), the 16th overall pick in the 2005 WNBA draft, led the NCAA in assists during the 2004-05 season. Ashley Earley (right), the 29th overall pick, was a 1st team All-SEC selection in 2005. Tan White, another 1st team All-SEC selection, was the 2nd overall draft pick.

The three rookies attended the WNBA's Rookie Orientation over the weekend in Chicago, where they dressed in business clothes and attended seminars focusing on the transition from college life to the life of a professional athlete.

The topics ranged from 401K plans to the image they present in the community to nutrition. With no more training tables, no more pre-game meals, no more full scholarships, it's a whole new ball game.

Tully Bevilaqua, an Australian pro and a WNBA veteran, was signed by the Fever to bolster the point guard position. One of the local sportswriters took the opportunity to get acquainted..

Tamika Catchings, a 2001 graduate of the University of Tennessee, is the Fever's superstar, so naturally she attracted a lot of attention from the reporters in attendance.

The Fever hopes that White, the NCAA's leading scorer in 2005, will provide a scoring punch in the backcourt to complement Catchings. As the #2 overall pick, she was also a favorite target of the sportswriters.

As Media Day activities were winding down and the players drifted out to watch film before the afternoon's practice, Catchings posed for one last photo. Catchings said she spent the off-season completing a master's degree at the University of Tennessee in Sports Studies. "I want to be a GM!", she said with a smile.

Head Coach Brian Winters stayed until the very end, talking with TV crews before heading out for Monday afternoon's practice.

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Photographs copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for

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