ATLANTA - Just a few hours prior to Tuesday's road game in Atlanta, the Tulsa Shock learned that star center Liz Cambage had decided not to return to the team for the 2012 season.
After helping her country to a bronze medal in London, the second pick in the 2011 WNBA draft was supposed to rejoin the Shock on Aug. 27, but she conveniently missed her flight, and despite attempts by the Shock staff to re-book the flight, the word eventually came via a statement from her agent that Cambage in fact was not coming, a move that has left her teammates stunned.
“It’s a little frustrating,” said guard Ivory Latta, who is in her third season with the Shock. “I can’t sit here and judge her because I don’t know her situation but she would have definitely been a good addition to the team and would have made a big presence in the paint.”
Latta says she spoke with Cambage several times a week throughout the Olympics and was very excited about the improvement she saw in the 6-8 post player's game while playing in London, and the excitement she generated after putting down the first dunk in Olympic women's basketball history.
“My impression was that she was coming back, and I joked with her that she needed to play like that when she got back to Tulsa," said Latta, "so I’m a little heart broken -- and I know the fans are totally disappointed about it.”
Veteran Temeka Johnson had a more businesslike reaction to the news. “We can’t focus on the things we don’t have. Liz made a decision that was best for her, I’m not really sure what went into it, but we still have a season to play. For right now, the group we have and the chemistry we have is working well. “
“I think she’s overwhelmed with everything surrounding the Olympics,” said first year Tulsa head coach Gary Kloppenburg, who admits he is disappointed. “It’s not that she doesn’t want to play in this league -- I think she really does want to play in the WNBA -- but she’s young, she’s like a sophomore in college, and the expectations people put on her are much higher than the expectations you’d put on a kid who is a sophomore.”
It’s been a school of hard knocks for Tulsa ever since the team was moved from Detroit in 2009, where the Shock won three WNBA championships under coach Bill Lambeer. After three years in Tulsa, they’ve had three different head coaches and have gone 14-78. But Kloppenburg says don’t look at this year's win-loss column to judge the progress that's been made.
“We like our team as it is composed right now," he said, "so the upside is we don’t have to disrupt things and we can keep working with the players we have. My outlook is, it’s hard to get it done in one year; this is really like an expansion team. We’ve come in and tried to change the culture of what we are doing and create a positive hard working atmosphere.“
The “change in culture” was evident Tuesday night as the Shock got their first road win of the season, coming from nine points down to defeat Atlanta 84-80.
“Tonight taught us a valuable lesson,” said veteran wing Roneeka Hodges. “It taught us that no matter how much we are down we can get back into a game.”
The good news for Tulsa is since Cambage won’t play this year, her contract will roll over for another season, giving the Shock the rights to the Aussie through 2014, and with the playoffs out of reach, the team will have an opportunity, if the lotto balls bounce their way, to add some more elite talent to their roster. The thought of 6-8 Brittney Griner and the 6-8 Cambage as Tulsa's twin towers is a scary one for the rest of the league, but the addition of 6-5 shooter Elena Delle Donne or Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins would also push the Shock into playoff contention -- especially if they continue to improve the rest of this season.
- Cambage bails on Tulsa for remainder of 2012
- Cambage dunk makes Olympic history as Australia edges Russia, 70-66
- Australia's veterans deliver, sealing bronze with 83-74 victory over Russia