Interview: Jenni Benningfield

It's been a busy year for former Vanderbilt star Jenni Benningfield. After a few weeks with the WNBA's Indiana Fever last summer, she played in Spain during the winter, then returned to the Fever for the WNBA's summer season. VandyMania's Whitney D caught up with her after practice on Sunday as the team was preparing to begin their playoff run. Here's what she had to say.

VM: Just about a year ago you got the phone call from the Fever. Since then, it's been pretty much non-stop basketball. How has that been?

JB: It's been a great experience. It's been something I've wanted for so long. It's gone by fast, that's for sure. Last year coming in here it was a little bit different than my experience this year being on the Fever team. Last year obviously my role was just to come in and practice hard and make everybody better, and I knew I wasn't going to see any playing time.

This year it's the same type of role, to work hard and make everybody else better and just be ready for any type of situation that the team might need me to go into the game for. It's been different, seeing a different side of the game, a lot of time watching from the bench. But it's all about how you react to the situation. I'm not going to sit there and pout about not playing a lot. I'm lucky to be on a team like this. Not many people can say they've been on a professional team.

And I'm going to take whatever they give me and just try to learn as much as I can watching the game and focus on how to get better. So it's been a great year. When I went to Spain, I got a lot more experience. I was able to use what I learned here in Indiana last year going into Spain knowing what I needed to work on and what part of my game I needed to work on to come back and make the team, and that was the case. So I just want to continue to keep learning and learning and learning from the veterans and everyday just try to get better to prepare for Spain - the next adventure, I guess. (Smiles.)

VM: You told me earlier in the summer that you'll be able to take a little break before you go to Spain this year even if you go all the way in the playoffs.

JB: Yeah, well, not the type of break that I really want. I'm not sure if I told you, but I'm having knee surgery. I'm having knee surgery again on my right knee.

VM: What are they going to do?

JB: I chipped a bone off the back of my knee cap, my patella, that's floating around. And I have chondral defect, which basically means the ends of my bones are just really rough and it's bone on bone. It's been the case, it just has gotten worse. They're just going to scope it and clean it out, so it's like 4 to 8 weeks, that'll give me a little bit of a break to rehab and get back and then I'll head to Spain, so I don't know exactly for sure when I'll be heading to Spain. As soon as we're done [with the playoffs], I'm going to have surgery and get back rehabbing and stuff, so it should be fine.

VM: Looking at your team during a game, it looks like you enjoy being with each other. As someone looking at the team from the outside,, it looks like Tully Bevilaqua, the point guard from Australia, has really added to that dimension of the team, aside from her skill as a point guard.

JB: She's just an incredible person. She makes everybody around her better with her work ethic, and her leadership both on and off the court is just unbelievable. She brings everybody together. She's just been one of the most incredible people I've ever met. She's one of those people that you always want to be around. She's just fun. She makes the best out of every situation. And she's so unselfish. She's always caring about how everybody else is doing on the team and makes sure everybody else is doing well and that kind of thing. She's definitely added a lot to this team, and not just because of her basketball ability, but just the type of person that she is. And I think everybody who's been a part of this program understands that and understands how vital she is to this team. She's added so much.

VM: Coming down the stretch in the playoff run with the grueling schedule that the WNBA plays, I would think that having that kind of person around would be important.

JB: Yeah. It's not only her, but our whole team gets along great, and not many teams in this league can say that, where everybody gets along. We go out together, we have dinners together. It's great. It makes things so much easier on the court, to compete against each other. We're friends, but when we get on the court we're competitive and we're all competing for the same goal. We want to win, and we've set ourselves in this situation.

Yeah, we're happy we're in the playoffs, that was our goal, but now we realize not many people get this opportunity to play in the playoffs, for one, and for two, to have a good shot at it. We have a great shot at it. Every day we get better. We make it a point to get better. We don't lose a day. That's how we got here till today, and so now we've just take it, regardless of what kind of schedule we have, we know we're going to help each other out, regardless of whether somebody's having a good game or not, or somebody's down, we're going to pick them up, and that's been the case all season long. That's how we've gotten here, and that's what we're going to keep on doing.

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Jenni with Fever teammates Tully Bevilaqua, Coretta Brown, and Natalie Williams.

Photos copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for Top Stories