Alumni Update: Carla Thomas

Former Vanderbilt star Carla Thomas is in training camp with the WNBA's newest team, the Atlanta Dream. Last week she talked with VandyMania's Whitney D about her experiences since graduating from Vanderbilt in 2007.

After Carla Thomas finished her Vanderbilt career in the spring of 2007, her professional career began in Chicago with the WNBA's Chicago Sky. At the end of her rookie season, she traveled across the Atlantic to Arras, France, for her first season of international basketball

During her first season overseas, she averaged 14.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. While she was abroad, her career took another turn, when she was drafted in an expansion draft by the WNBA's newest franchise, the Atlanta Dream.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Carla returned to the USA for training camp with her new team. In addition to practices, training camp also includes public appearances in the Altanta community. On Wednesday, the team went on a field trip to the Atlanta Zoo for the debut of the team's mascot (photos below). After the unveiling of the mascot and an autograph session, Carla talked with VandyMania's Whitney D. Here's what she had to say.

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VM: The last time we talked, you were in Chicago. Can you fill us in on your year since then?

Carla: It's been a busy time. After the season was over and we were one game short of making the playoffs, I went to France, and I just got back this past week. I was there for six months - and, no, I don't speak any French, but I understand it, though. I went over there not knowing anything about it and not knowing what to expect my first time overseas, and I left liking cheese, which is a new thing for me. I used to hate cheese, but they got me on it, they got me hooked. So now I'm speaking a little bit of French and understanding a lot.

VM: Within your team, how did they handle the language?

Carla: The assistant coach spoke English; the head coach didn't speak a word of English, so that was interesting, having someone translate the whole time. English is a pretty basic language that's pretty much known around the world - so there were a handful of my teammates, maybe three or four, who spoke English pretty well.

VM: When you're out on the court, and you're communicating to your teammates that there's a screen, or a shot, things like that, do you do that all in French?

Carla: I learned how to do it in French. At first, when they say it in the heat of the moment, I know what it means, so that helps, but I still say it in English when I play.

VM: Having had one year of overseas experience, do you think you'll do again?

Carla: Yeah. I want to see as much as possible. When I was there, it's like a 3-hour drive, and you're in another country. That was fun.

VM: Where did you go?

Carla: Where did I go? Belgium, England - London was awesome, the Netherlands. I was in Amsterdam.

VM: Had you been to Europe before?

Carla: No, this was my first time going outside the country at all.

VM: Did you end up doing most of your traveling on your own?

Carla: Yeah. The team that I was playing on didn't travel outside the French league, so weekends if I had a break, any time I had off, I'd try to see as much as I could.

VM: What was your town like?

Carla: My town was small. There was one McDonald's, and everything shut down around 7 o'clock when it got dark. It wasn't like Paris, but it was only an hour and a half away from there.

VM: What did you enjoy the most about the French culture and experience?

Carla: The hospitality. Once they get to know you, especially in the small towns, they try to help out as much as they can. They know you don't speak the language well, and they go out of their way to help you out.

VM: While you were over there, Atlanta chose you in expansion draft. Tell me about that.

Carla: Well, I got a call one morning, like, "Hey, how do you feel about playing in Atlanta?" I was like, "That sounds great; it's closer to Nashville, it seems like a good fit," so that's pretty much how it went. It seemed like a good fit. They asked how I felt about it, and I spoke with the coach, and it just seemed to work out well.

VM: When did you arrive back in the USA?

Carla: I got into the country on the 23rd, and I went straight to Pennsylvania to Atlanta on the 24th.

VM: Have you had time to see Atlanta?

Carla: I"ve tried driving around after practice when we get a little bit of time. I've seen Buckhead and a little bit of downtown. I want to try to see everything. The houses here are amazing. I could see myself getting some real estate here, because it's really beautiful.

VM: Are you starting to get a feel yet for how the style of play of the team is going to shape up?

Carla: Yeah, I think we're starting to learn each other and feel each other out a little bit. Once the rest of the players get here, it's going to be another adjustment. But I think we're starting to figure each other out.

VM: In terms of your own personal game over the past year, what have you focused on?

Carla: Defense. Chicago, my first year, was a learning experience, and I wanted to walk away from that knowing what I could get better at and what I needed to work on to play at this level. So when I got to France, that was pretty much what I wanted to focus on. Defense, working on screens, shooting, and just increasing my skill level outside.

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Photos from the Dream's appearance at the Atlanta Zoo:

The players on the team (in the blue t-shirts near the front) were joined in the Wildlife Theater by visitors to the Zoo. On a beautiful day in April, there were lots of school children and young families who took advantage of the opportunity to see a "keeper show" with some of the zookeepers and to greet the Dream at the same time.

First, the keepers and some of their favorite feathered friends put on a show that was both educational and very entertaining.

Then, with the cameras rolling, the team's mascot walked onto a public stage for the first time.

"Star", whose nickname was chosen from suggestions made by school children in the Atlanta area, was an immediate hit with the children in attendance.

After the show was over, the players in camp signed autographs and posed for photos. Kristin Haynie (left) was the point guard on the Michigan State Spartans when they ended Carla's sophomore season in the NCAA Sweet 16 in Kansas City, but now they're teammates.

Carla and Star

In the Dream's first preseason game on Saturday, Carla scored 15 points with four rebounds. The team plays one more preseason game on Sunday, May 11, before the first regular season game on Saturday, May 17, at Connecticut. Then the team's home opener will tip off at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, May 23, in Phillips Arena in downtown Atlanta.

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Photos copyright 2008 by WhitneyD for

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