Interview: Carla Thomas

Even though graduation is still two weeks away, Vanderbilt senior Carla Thomas's professional basketball career has already begun. Drafted by the Chicago Sky in the first round of the WNBA draft earlier this month, Thomas reported to training camp last weekend. During the team's Media Day on Monday, she talked with Whitney D about her first days as a professional athlete.

VM: When you arrived at Vanderbilt four years ago, were you already thinking that you'd want to play professionally some day?

CT: Definitely. Going in, that was one of the things that I talked about with Coach Balcomb, what my goals were. Winning a championship was definitely one of them, and we did that, but also what happens after college. She said, "At Vanderbilt we're going to prepare you for life after college, whether it's playing some more, or playing in the WNBA, or playing overseas, or finding a job. We're going to prepare you for the real world, and basketball is an outlet for that."

VM: For a college senior like you going into the pros, this semester, your last college semester, must be crazy, because you've got the SEC season, SEC tournament, NCAA tournament,then the WNBA predraft camp, draft and training camp before the semester's even over. How do you do that?

CT: It's difficult. Some people have a harder transition than others. Vanderbilt University has been really accommodating about giving us opportunities to get everything done and traveling with our teams and things like that. The professors have been really accommodating. As far as the predraft camp and all this stuff, it's just getting work done on the road and finding time to get it done and speaking with professors and deans and making sure that everything will be okay for me to graduate on time.

VM: Are all your ducks in a row?

CT: They are, but I still have to turn in three papers. I took a final before I left, and I have paper due [Tuesday] , one due Thursday, and one on the first of May.

VM: And then you're done?

CT: And then I am completely finished! But it was sort of weird because I took my final, and I was like, "This was my last college class ever!", and I didn't really have time to sit back and enjoy it because I had to go catch a flight.

VM: You've been very busy the past few weeks. After the pre-draft camp, you went to the draft and heard them call your name. How did that feel?

CT: It was a relief, to just know where I was going to end up. Okay, here's something tangible, a destination. Before, you don't really know exactly where you're going to go, or what round you're going to go in or who's going to end up wanting to pick you. Both Dee and I had done pretty well as far as the predraft camp, but you hear a lot of different things, and you just have to wait and see what the final results are.

VM: After the draft, you went back to Nashville for school and had a banquet.

CT: Yes, had a banquet. Had some tears, said goodbye, packed up all my stuff - yes, including ALF - and got on a plane.

VM: What have you done since you've been in Chicago? Could you tell me in about rookie orientation, and what things really made an impression on you?

CT: First and foremost, when you walk in there, you realize that this is now a business. They make it very clear that this is a business, and you're a professional athlete, and you have to carry and conduct yourself in that manner. There are so many things that go along with that, as far as how you handle your finances, your appearance, your image, what you want to project to the media and the people around you because you are in the spotlight all the time. We talked about etiquette, business attire, what you want to do after your career is over, what you want to do as far as your plans are as graduate school or internships or that type of thing, because this is an opportunity that opens a lot of doors for you, and you have to take advantage of it, and they make every opportunity available for you.

VM: This was the entire draft class, everybody?

CT: Yes, it was all the rookies, all 39 of us. They brought us in and said, "Congratulations, you've made it this far and now you have to go on with the business of making that team and what comes with it." So it was a wakeup check, but it was also a lot of useful information.

VM: Can you describe the setting?

CT: We stayed at the Hilton by the airport. Basically there was a long hallway with different types of conference rooms, and we had to go from one to the next, meeting to meeting, 7 am to 7 pm, all day Friday and Saturday.

VM: Of all the sessions, which ones surprised you, make you think, or otherwise made the biggest impression on you?

CT: The paperwork, like all the 401K plans and things that you don't really think about. That was eye-opening. It was like, okay, this is my job, and I have to plan taxes and have mutual funds and all types of stuff. It was things I knew that I had to know, and I realized exactly how much I did not know.

VM: Have you had your first training camp session yet?

CT: Today is the first day, at 2 o'clock this afternoon.

VM: It's kind of a different situation here, isn't it, because the other players will be your teammates, but you're also competing against them for a roster spot.

CT: It is. We had a team meeting, and basically that's the idea. We're going into this, all of us teammates. And we're competing for a limited amount of spots, but at the end of the day, we're going to be teammates.

VM: Are you nervous or excited?

CT: I was a little bit nervous. Now I'm just excited. I'm ready to start. It's been a pretty hectic day as far as media and everything, but it's time to get on the court and see what we have.

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