Yes I Ball Sports had a chance to talk to a few female ball players at every level of the sport – from collegiate, to overseas to the WNBA. We spoke to Nneka Ogwumike (WNBA Los Angeles Sparks ) , Kennedy Leonard (Colorado Buffaloes ) , Kristina King (Richmond Spiders and Overseas/ Chabibeh Sporting Club), Shakyla Hill (Grambling Tigers) and Nicea Eliely (Nebraska Huskers) to help younger hoopers get some insight on what it took for these ballers to get to the level they are on and to see what drills helped them along the way.
At what moment did you know that basketball was for you?
Nneka Ogwumike – I knew basketball was for truly for me my senior year at Stanford after playing Tennessee at home and scoring 42 points. Now I 100% understand that not everyone can relate and upon hearing my response many young, aspiring hoopers may feel they haven’t yet reached this level of play. But what I want young dreamers to understand is that everyone’s story is different. Some people start young and some people don’t fall in love with the game much later. Either way you must always stay true to yourself and what drives you. Everyone is different, and we must all understand that, especially ourselves. We can’t focus on being someone else’s version of success. It will never come from outside, you must tap into it inside your heart and from there you can know the when’s, why’s, and how’s of our basketball path.
Kennedy Leonard – When I was really little and I went to the gym and watched my dad play and couldn’t go a day without thinking about it, or a day without wanting to play it. I wasn’t always the best but I knew that hard work pays off and if I worked hard I could do good things.
Kristina King – Good question. I guess I always wanted to travel the world and hoop since I was like 6 years old. For most kids, they say WNBA is the goal. But for some reason with me, I always wanted to travel. I made up my mind from a young age that it was what I was going to do. Don’t get me wrong if I can get back into training camp, I definitely want to. But, I love being overseas and experiencing different cultures. As far as knowing when basketball was for me? I grew up in a basketball family. My dad played, my mom played, and I grew up going to all my aunt’s games when she was playing at the University of Louisville. So being around it 24/7 I developed a passion for it that stuck with me throughout my whole career.
Nicea Eliely – The moment I knew basketball was for me was kind of late, the end of my sophomore year/beginning of my junior year I got letters from school and eventually started getting calls and that’s when I knew I could go to the next level.
Is there a key to staying focused?
Shakyla Hill – Staying focused in my opinion is eliminating all distractions that may cause you not to reach your highest potential. I believe the key is to observe your surroundings and make sure you have the people in your life that are trying to help you succeed and not the negative people who are trying to bring you down. For me to stay focused I stay away from the negativity, and keep god first. If I know I shouldn’t be doing something then I have the right mind to be like I’m not going to do something because I don’t want to see the ending results.
Kennedy Leonard – I always try to have a goal or something tangible that I can reach or try to reach. I also love basketball with everything that I am so it makes it really easy for me to put my whole heart and whole soul into it.
Kristina King – I think just always keeping in mind that there’s another step to be reached. Playing on a Eurocup team is the next step. Getting back into WNBA training camp is the next step. There is always work to be done and more that can be perfected with your craft. I had a really good friend tell me — never get too high and never get too low. That way you never get too cocky and forget where you came from, but you never get too low because you have come so far. I am always pushing myself to be better and know there are others out there wishing they could be where I’m at. It would be a disservice if I didn’t maximize and try to be better each and every day.
How do you handle a bad personal and/or team game?
Nicea Eliely – Bad personal or team games are tough to handle. The only thing you can do is strive to be better personally, which means getting in the gym or even bringing one of your teammates with you so you both become better. I don’t ever think it is a good idea to hang your head about anything, but it can be a good motivation for you.
At what age did you start looking at colleges?
Nneka Ogwumike – I wasn’t seriously looking at universities until about my sophomore year of high school. I started playing quite late (11 y/o) and didn’t fully comprehend the doors basketball could open until later. And even as schools sent letters and I expired this new world of NCAA, I was still very much learning the fundamentals of the game. I never stopped working. I was a student of the game that quickly realized I could also become a student athlete at a prestigious academic institution.
Kennedy Leonard – When I was in around 8th grade, but I continued to look at them all the way through when I committed to Colorado.
Kristina King – I think when I got into junior high. I loved watching UCONN and Stanford play growing up. Geno is an amazing coach and I loved Stanford’s system and competitiveness. Coach Tara and staff came to a few of my games and I was like Stanford is my dream school! It had the perfect combination of competitive basketball and academics. Then I moved from Washington State to Georgia and got a taste of the East Coast. After going to Richmond on an official, it was clear. I felt at home and similar to Stanford, had the perfect combination of competitive athletics with top notch academics.
What advice would you give to a student about transitioning from high school basketball to college basketball?
Kennedy Leonard – It is hard and it is a lot different. But, don’t let the learning curve or the speed of the game derail you or take your confidence away. When things get tough, lean on your teammates, and your family, even if its from afar.
Nicea Eliely – It is very different in a sense where you dedicate much more of your time to basketball and it is a tough thing to be a student and basketball. But a piece of advice I have it has to be something you want to do for you, not for anyone else. Work hard and make a special effort to improve your game in any way possible.
What is your favorite drill or what is a drill that younger hoopers should do daily?
Nneka Ogwumike – It’s so difficult to pick just one but this very simple drill helped me. After, of course, I’ve warmed up with form shooting I shoot from 7 spots:
Top of the key
You simply make 10 shots at each spot but, of course, there’s a catch lol: you make 10 nothing but net.
No cheating! You can shoot with a partner who rebounds and monitors rim checks. I love this drill because it really helps with form and percentage!
Shakyla Hill – I believe that it is multiple drills that a younger hoopers should do every day such as the basics of dribbling right hand left hand around the perimeter of the court, form shooting not having to involve a goal lay on your back placing your hands in the right position an shooting up and down elbow tucked in, passing with two hands chest, bounce and also, defense moving your feet from side line to side line.
Kristina King – I would say that at a young age they should spend some of their time doing ball handling and coordination drills, some shooting, and then other on footwork. GET A LADDER. It will help with your footwork and speed. Do full court ball handling. It sucks but it gets you in shape and works on speed/agility and coordination. And lastly, do form shooting. It is boring BUT it helps you develop a good shot. Everyone always wants to come into the gym and start shooting 3’s. I’m a pro and I HATE shooting 3’s. Doesn’t mean I can’t but I would rather shoot a jumper or score a layup. The younger generation needs to have more of a focus on the fundamentals then what they gather from TV. It’s just not realistic.
What advice would you give younger hoopers to help them get to the stage where you are?
Shakyla Hill – As a player on the collegiate level, I didn’t have that person to look up to such as a brother/sister, or cousin that would push me or see them in that aspect of playing college ball. This is where I had to really take control do things on my own, so from my knowledge and what I have been through my number one advice for the younger children is to stay in them books. Yes I understand that you as a younger person believe that you going to play basketball all your life or whatever sport you desire but you never know what god has in plan for you. Coming up as a younger hooper myself I got the chance to play AAU basketball where you go and portray your talents to college coaches that may be at that tournament. By you being there yes they see you but are you also putting in that extra time to reaching out to these colleges so that can be this person is really interested in attending there where they can also see your skills and start showing you interest.
Being at the stage I am now someone is always looking at you so my advice to the younger hoopers is to learn to listen, take criticism without taking it to heart knowing that the next person is just trying to help you, don’t have a bad attitude, show that one thing that you have is heart, an no matter the circumstances your work ethic. Another thing of advice I would tell the younger hoopers is that if you want to be a Maya Moore, LeBron James or anybody that you look up to you have to put that type of work in, in order for you to achieve the goal that you set forth yourself. One final thing I would also tell them is have fun because you are doing something that you love and not everyone gets that opportunity.
Kennedy Leonard – To never give up and to work as hard as possible. Things are going to get repetitive and monotonous but you can never be good at anything until you are excellent in the details and the little things. When you think that you can’t keep going, keep going. Things always are tough before they get easy or better.
Kristina King – Watching basketball is great, don’t get me wrong. But people tend to forget how many hours those professionals put into perfecting their craft. They didn’t just walk out there and say, “Hey, I think I am going to dribble behind my back 50 times and then shoot a fade-away 3 pointer”. No, Steph Curry and numerous others have been in the gym every day for hours working on their game. You have to develop the fundamentals before you can do the tricks. Just like a baby has to learn how to crawl before they can walk. For some reason, with basketball, everyone thinks they can just pick up the ball and be good. It takes hours of dedication and time in the gym. And not just oh I went to the gym for 5 hours today — no this has to be quality work and time in the gym. I can get a great shooting workout done in 45 minutes. I’m focused and know what I want to get out of my time every time I walk in the gym.
So I guess long story short, get in the gym and work on your game to develop the fundamentals.
Nicea Eliely – The advice I would give is you can never have good enough handles; meaning ball handling will always be something that can take your game to the next level. Working hard on your weaknesses and improving them, soon they won’t be weaknesses anymore. Coaches will notice the things you improve on as the years go by and it looks good on you if a coach notices a part of your game has improved tremendously than where it was before.