|Sunday, April 11
Updated: April 13, 12:06 AM ET
GW's Joens hopes to take game to WNBA
By Graham Hays
TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- She's a sweet-shooting Californian with the size and tenacity to venture into the land of giants in search of rebounds. And after spending four seasons leading an East Coast college powerhouse to new heights, she's ready to give the WNBA a try.
You were thinking of someone else?
If Diana Taurasi is the future face of women's professional basketball, Joens and those like her are the legs that will keep pushing the game ever forward.
As Taurasi headed off to train with the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado and other top seniors rested up for the April 17 WNBA draft, Joens and 29 other hopefuls spent two days at the Madison Square Garden training facility here for the WNBA's official pre-draft camp April 7-8.
Joens earned her invite after four stellar seasons at George Washington. A three-year member of the Atlantic 10 First Team and two-time Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year, Joens scored 1,791 points in 122 career games. The 2004 Steitz Award winner as the nation's top 3-point shooter, Joens finished her college career with 288 3-pointers on 41.3 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Those accolades got her in the door in Tarrytown, the first step on the road to professional basketball. Even so, a tight job market has Joens and many of her college classmates scrambling for work. Not only is she part of arguably the deepest senior class in the eight-year history of the WNBA, she and every other rookie will be fighting veterans for roster space in a league with 13 teams -- the fewest in four years.
As scrimmages began on the second day of camp, there were no cameras in the cavernous gym, and the only buzz in the media room came from the overhead lights. Still, Joens and the other seniors were playing in front of the only crowd that mattered: coaches and executives from each of the league's teams. But the Irvine, Calif., native wasn't about to let herself get distracted by Pat Summitt's intense stare or Bill Laimbeer's hulking form.
"It feels like AAU, just playing games," said Joens during the mid-day lunch break. "There are people around you who you know are watching, but when you're playing, you don't really think about it. When you say hi to people here or there, you notice it. But you don't really notice it too much while you're actually playing."
And while she wasn't distracted by the big names camped out on folding chairs around the court, Joens had a plan for what amounted to a two-day job interview.
"I'm not really trying to show them a different game, just show them that I can still hit the outside shot and stretch the defense," Joens said. "Other than the little things, ball-handling, you want to do what you're good at. That's what I'm trying to focus on right now, just play the whole game, the all-around game."
And she meant it.
With time running out in the first half of a morning scrimmage, Joens found herself open for a 3-pointer on the right wing. Without hesitation, she made a picture-perfect entry pass to a teammate for a layup. Wasn't there a temptation to catch someone's eye with another long-range hit?
"You need to do what you do, but you also need to share the ball," Joens said. "Every other player out here is in the same position I am. Everyone is a great player.
"So obviously a layup is a better percentage shot for some people than me shooting a 3."
While not exactly the cutthroat mentality you'd expect in a setting where perhaps as few as four or five of the assembled players will end up making a WNBA roster, it's what you'd expect after talking to Joens for even a few minutes.
The second eldest of eight children -- "It's just an experience living with that many people all the time, " Joens said -- she journeyed across the country for college in search of the right mix of basketball and academics. But after a successful freshman season that left her itching for even greater things, she suffered a torn ACL on the first day of offseason workouts back home in California.
Missing a year was as painful mentally as the torn ligament was physically, but it wasn't enough to break her spirit. In fact, Joens says the opportunity to sit back and watch her teammates and coaches gave her a different perspective on the game.
Not that perspective has been lacking in Joens' life. An exercise science major who graduated last year and spent this year working toward a Master's in public health, Joens plans to attend medical school.
Critics blast the WNBA for offering boring basketball and surviving only on the largesse of its NBA big brother -- as they simultaneously bemoan both the declining academic standards and fundamentals in the men's game -- but Joens and the other players in Tarrytown see the league and this opportunity in a much different light.
"It's great for those of us who love the game to be able to play for five or six more years before you start a family or have to get a job," Joens said. "It's a great opportunity for everyone here."
In more ways than one.
"It enables children to understand you can play sports and still be a woman or a little girl," Joens said of the WNBA. "That's important for them. It's also important to see people be able to do this for a living. It's a little different from the NBA, we can't make as much as they can. But it's good for little girls growing up to know they have this option."
And as the day's final scrimmage winds to a close with Joens standing off to the side in sweatpants and a sweatshirt -- having played well in the afternoon's first scrimmage -- it's easy to see that Joens' opportunity to chase her dream means more than whether she ends up wearing a Connecticut Sun or Seattle Storm jersey this season.
"If it doesn't happen, I have other things I can fall back on," Joens said. "I've still got two more classes of school; I want to go to medical school, I still have overseas.
"If it does (happen), it would be wonderful. I would love to play here in the states, play with all the great players here. Either way, it will work out."
Fantasy Games Editor Graham Hays writes "Out of the Box" five days a week and also is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's Page 2. He can be reached at email@example.com.
2004 draft coverage