Just minutes. That was all it took in her first practice with the Tulsa Shock. One entry pass to Courtney Parris, one post move and Amanda Zahui B. knew:
This wasn’t college basketball.
“It’s different not being the strongest,” Zahui said by phone Wednesday. Her recollection of that first practice was a strong move by the very strong Paris, of being pushed aside on Paris’ way to the hoop. This, of course, is something Zahui did regularly to opponents as a star for the Gophers.
Welcome to the WNBA.
“I’m used to being the strongest,” she said. “Not anymore.”
Give it time.
Fresh off a monster season where she helped lead the Gophers to the NCAA tournament, averaged 18.8 points and 12.9 rebounds and was named first-team All America by the Associated Press, the second player taken in April’s WNBA draft will make her league debut Friday in her adopted hometown when the Shock opens the season against the Lynx at Target Center.
“It is kind of cool,” said Zahui, a native of Sweden who opted to enter the WNBA early. “Minneapolis became my home over the last few years. So this is like going back home.”
She is part of a young, talented, high-scoring team looking to make the WNBA playoffs for the first time since the franchise moved to Tulsa from Detroit in 2010.
As a rookie, Zahui is learning the ropes from both the coaching staff and from mentors Paris and Plenette Pierson, the Shock’s starting power forward. If her first memory of practice was Paris’ post move, her second might have been watching as Pierson blew past her to the hoop. The power and speed of the game have taken an adjustment, but she appears to be catching on fast.
“This is a player who is going to have a great career,” Shock coach Fred Williams said. “She has shown strength inside and has shown some range in her shooting as well. It will take some time to adjust, like any rookie player. It will take 10 games, maybe a half-season, for everything to kick in. But she is going to help us.”
For the first time in a long time Zahui is coming off the bench, primarily as a backup for Paris. But she could see some time at power forward as well; she will get more opportunity while the Shock waits for Glory Johnson to serve her seven-game suspension.
Zahui may not be the strongest player on her team, but she’s still one of the stronger players in the league, and Williams expects her to be a force on the boards from the start. In two preseason games she played a total of 39 minutes, hitting half of her 12 shots and scoring 14 points with 12 rebounds.
She is getting up to speed quickly, with help.
“You hear a lot of stories about vets being really hard, almost mean, with the rookies,” Zahui said. “Here it’s the opposite. Everyone wants to do well. They’re helping.”
Zahui knew she’d be making her debut in Minnesota when she was drafted. But, as it approaches, her excitement grows. Many of her former Gophers teammates will be at the game, and they will cheer her on like she cheered on the Lynx more than a few times the past few years.
“I miss the people I spent every single day with the last three years, my teammates,” she said.
But playing pro ball has been a dream since she started playing the game.
“I’m excited for this change,” she said.