Making an appearance at the first week of Phoenix Merucry training camp is Ify Ibekwe, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 and played in three games that year for the Seattle Storm.
For the Wildcats, the 6-foot-2 Ibekwe was named Pacific-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and a senior and was a three-time all-league center. The Storm selected her 24th overall, and she has been playing professionally in Belgium and Spain during the winters.
“I was really nervous, but to be on the court with a lot of veterans and amazing players, you want to meet their expectations every day, so since it has been since Monday, it has felt comfortable,” Ibekwe said at Media Day Friday.
Last month, Ibekwe’s teammate for two years with Arizona, Davellyn Whyte, was selected 16th overall by the San Antonio Silver Stars, after scoring the second-most points in a Wildcat uniform.
“It would be so cool, if we played each other,” Ibekwe said. “I’m pulling for her, I hope she makes the team. I’m here giving my all so if we do meet up, it will be big because she’s from here.”
Erin Thorn came two wins shy of winning the WNBA championship with the favored Minnesota Lynx last season, but after being signed by the Mercury over the offseason, she joins another talent-loaded team focused on one goal.
The 5-foot-9 guard spent her first six seasons with the New York Liberty and three with the Chicago Sky before joining the Lynx in 2012. Her best season came in 2007 when she averaged 9.7 points, three rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Liberty.
She was thrust onto the defending champion Lynx, who boasted three players who won gold last summer in London – Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen – but Minnesota fell in four games to Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever in the Finals.
“I think it’s very different, the style of play, the personnel, it’s a different team, but it’s the same nature, the same expectations,” Thorn said of the Mercury. “Minnesota had the championship expectations, I think this team has that same expectation. We work hard to get to where we are. There are a lot of similarities, obviously different in styles of play, but once you get to where you’re at that championship level, the expectations are similar no matter where you are.”
As one of the veterans, Thorn will be one of the players rookie phenom Brittney Griner will turn to for guidance.
“She’s coming in, not with a lot of experience at the WNBA level, but she has plenty at the USA Basketball level,” Thorn said. “Everybody knows the expectations are high, and it’s just day-in and day-out work hard. It’s about the things you do in practice, if you talk to the coaches, that are what benefit teams in the end.”
The Mercury will host the Japanese national team at 3 p.m. May 19 and open the regular season versus the Chicago Sky at 2 p.m. May 27 at US Airways Center.