June 3, 2011
MALIBU, Calif. – When the WNBA’s 15th season gets underway this weekend, the Pepperdine women’s basketball program will be represented by two of its marquee alumnae Miranda Ayim and Jen Lacy, both of whom are with the Tulsa Shock.
A six-year professional, Lacy was the first player from the West Coast Conference to make a WNBA roster after signing with the Phoenix Mercury in 2006. Ayim, meanwhile, made the club just last week after receiving a season’s worth of experience in Turkey followed by a rigorous training camp overseen by Shock head coach Nolan Richardson, who won the 1994 NCAA title at Arkansas.
“I spent almost all of camp holding my breath and now I can exhale a little bit knowing I made the team, which feels great,” Ayim said. “Coming into this environment as a rookie all I’ve been trying to do is work as hard as I can to improve myself. I’m here to do whatever the coaches ask of me.”
Lacy’s and Ayim’s paths didn’t cross during their years at Pepperdine with the exception of a few pick-up games at Firestone Fieldhouse, but they do share a common friend and mentor in head coach Julie Rousseau who couldn’t be more excited to see her former players competing together at such a high level.
“I give praise to God for blessing our program with these two young women whose hard work has paid off,” said Rousseau, who coached the Los Angeles Sparks during the WNBA’s first two seasons in 1997 and 1998.
“The passion and love they have for our sport has been exemplified from their time here all the way until now and I’m honored to have played a small role in who they’ve become. I know what it takes to become a success in the WNBA and I’m proud of the fact that they’re both representing our program while on the same team.”
For Ayim, the differences between Rousseau’s and Richardson’s coaching styles are minimal and there hasn’t been much of a learning curve for her to overcome. Both coaches employ an up-tempo game plan that translates opponents’ turnovers into points on offense, only Richardson’s system, however, carries the distinct title ’40 minutes of hell.’
“It’s a well-known name throughout basketball and it’s what we want to put our opponents though whether it’s in games or practices,” Ayim said, adding, “I know coach’s style is a lot of running, a lot of pressure … I’m definitely a runner. I like to get out on offense and defense and I like to bring that athletic quick style of play and I feel that’s a pretty good fit for the system.”
Lacy is entering her second year as a member of the Shock, which finished its first season in Tulsa with a disappointing 6-28 record. But despite those struggles, Lacy says expectations are high entering this Saturday’s season opener at San Antonio as the team brings back a number of veteran all-stars including Ivory Latta and Sheryl Swoopes.
“We’ve been working and playing hard together every day and as long as we all keep buying into Coach Richardson’s system, I believe the sky’s the limit,” she said. “The only thing holding us back is us.”
As for Ayim’s addition to the team, Lacy said, “It’s awesome that she’s here, and her making the team is a testament to both the women’s basketball program at Pepperdine and competitiveness of the West Coast Conference – I think the WNBA recognizes and respects what that league offers in terms of talent.
“And Miranda’s done nothing but come in and work hard from day one. She’s a great person to have around and possesses a number of intangibles; from rebounding to picking up loose balls … Pepperdine basketball raises them well.”
Both Ayim and Lacy wore No. 21 as Waves, but with Lacy being the elder of the two, Ayim’s been bumped up to No. 24. But the former Canadian national team member doesn’t seem to mind too much.
“People around here have been calling me ‘Little Jen,’” Ayim said. “Not only did we wear the same number, but we also play similarly and we kind of look alike too.”
Ayim averaged 11.6 points and 6.2 games in 119 games (100 starts) for Pepperdine and led the Waves with 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds during the 2009-10 season. She left the school ranked fourth in blocks-per-game (1.5), fifth in field goals made (581), sixth in games played (119), sixth in minutes (3,334) and seventh in fields goals attempted (1,201).
A first team All-WCC selection as a senior, Lacy led team in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg) during her final season in Malibu and was part of two NCAA Tournament teams in 2002 and 2003.
Tulsa plays the Sparks several times during the season but won’t visit the Staples Center until Aug. 9. Return dates for the Shock include Aug. 26 and Sept. 9 with all games tipping off at 7:30 p.m. PT.