As two of the best players in Temple women’s basketball history, Candice Dupree and Kamesha Hairston both enjoyed individual and team success during their time in Cherry and White.
The duo is playing in the WNBA, but each has experienced significantly different 2007 seasons.
In her first season for the Connecticut Sun, Hairston averaged 1.9 points per game while averaging 8.7 minutes a game, a far cry from the 18.9 points and 34.3 minutes she averaged at Temple last season.
To make matters worse, Hairston sprained her wrist, which caused her to miss most of the season’s second half.
Still, she understands that battling through inconsistent playing time, coming off the bench and nagging injuries is all a part of being a rookie in professional sports.
“It was a learning experience,” Hairston said of her first season. “I had the opportunity [to get] playing time, [learn] from all-pro players, learn the style of the WNBA and learn how professional sports works. So it was a great opportunity.”
But Hairston was still realistic about what she wanted to do – play.
Accustomed to starting every game and being the go-to player, she suddenly was behind accomplished veterans like Nykesha Sales, Katie Douglas and Asjha Jones in the Sun rotation. Coming off the bench was a role Hairston simply had to get used to.
“It was definitely frustrating,” she said. “Yeah, it was hard, but I did understand once I adjusted to the team, that it would be like that. I knew it was going to be a learning year regardless.”
For Dupree, well, things just continue to get better.
Coming off a rookie season in which she started all but three games and averaged 13.7 PPG, Dupree averaged 16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and started every game for the Chicago Sky.
The improvements in her play, she said, came from the fact that she was taking on a larger role on the team, which caused her to see more double-team coverage than in her rookie season.
“I think the biggest thing was being more aggressive and asserting myself more on the court,” Dupree said. “[I was] shooting the ball more than I was my first season. I also worked on stepping off the block a little bit more, because it’s tough being double-teamed all the time and trying to make post moves.”
When Dupree made her transition from college to the pros, she had her coach at Temple, Dawn Staley, ready her for the challenges of playing basketball in the WNBA. A league veteran herself, Staley knew the ins-and-outs of the game. Dupree credits her teachings as a key reason for her stand-out play.
“She told me what to expect, what the transition would be like, the physicality of the game,” Dupree said. “So hearing all that from her [helped].”
While Staley is considered one of the top coaches in college basketball, there is only so much she can do to prepare her players for the next level. What hit both Dupree and Hairston as the biggest difference between the two levels was the physicality and size of their opponents.
“The players are a lot bigger, stronger, [and] older,” Dupree said. “Their basketball IQ is a little bit higher. Another adjustment is probably the travel. You play back-to-back games, which you definitely don’t do in college. So some of the stuff is definitely a little different.”
“It’s very physical,” added Hairston, who was asked by her team to gain 8-10 pounds during the offseason. “These are grown women. They’re much stronger than [at] the collegiate level.”
After suiting up together for three years at Temple, the duo said it was a little weird to see each other on opposite ends of the court when their teams met for a May 31 showdown in Chicago.
In that contest, they both hit season highs: Hairston in minutes with 29 and Dupree in points with 29.
Still, despite now being opponents, the two will always be rooting for the other to succeed.
“I’m pushing for her at all times and she’s pushing for me at all times,” Hariston said. “It was fun to be on the court with her again.”
“We were both pretty excited to see each other,” Dupree added. “I was happy for her, happy to see her get some playing time. I was excited for her.”
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.