By Mark Janssen
For the last month of the WNBA season, the Atlanta Dream became the Atlanta Nightmare.
"We weren't a very good basketball team the last few weeks, but we're in the playoffs and that's what it's all about," said second-year Dream point guard and ex-Wildcat Shalee Lehning. "We're just very excited about playing Washington and having a chance to advance. We're one of only eight teams still playing, so we feel very blessed."
For the majority of the season, it was Atlanta in first place in the WNBA's Eastern Division and Washington in fourth. But with the Mystics winning their last six games, and the Dream going 1-6 in the final month of the season, the two teams flip-flopped in the standings.
"We led them for the majority of the season, but they had that strong finish," said the former Wildcat sensation. "At this point of the season, I don't think there's a lot of separation. It's a deal of which team will want it more."
The WNBA playoffs between the Dream (19-15) and Mystics (22-12) begin on Wednesday at 6 p.m. (CT), with a second game on Friday at 6:30 p.m. If needed, a third game would be played on Sunday at 3 p.m. During the season, Washington won three of the four games between the two teams, which included two games in the last month of the season. All games will be televised by NBA-TV.
A year ago, Atlanta made it to the playoffs, but Lehning did not.
In the last game of the year, she collided with a Washington player and suffered a fourth-degree shoulder separation that required a five-month recovery.
"Very disappointing," Lehning said of having to watch the Dream lose two straight in the 2009 playoffs.
Of life without basketball, Lehning said of her rehab process, "It was probably good for me because I went straight from college to the WNBA, so I was playing for nine straight months. Mentally it was probably good for me to take a break."
But yes, basketball and Lehning are synonymous, and she admits, "It's interesting how dependent you are on certain things, and how once the game is taken away from you, it hurts. There was a real message that hit home about how you don't really appreciate things until their taken away from you. That five-month period was as long as I've been away from basketball since I was in the sixth grade."
Now also an assistant coach to Deb Patterson in the K-State program, Lehning adds, "I watch our girls out there and just hope they're appreciating the opportunity that they have to play. I didn't get cleared to play until February and our season started in April, so I went through a lot of stress mentally wondering if my game could return to WNBA standards."
Her scoring average went from 3.0 to 3.7 between 2009 and 2010, her rebounds from 2.3 to 2.7 and her assists from 3.7 to 4.8, which ranked seventh high in the WNBA.
Lehning gives a, "Yep," answer when asked if the game is still a passion. And while she wouldn't trade her K-State days for anything, today she says, "There's a different kind of fun with the WNBA. It's the accomplishment of a dream. It's something I worked my entire life to reach, and now to be here makes it fun and exciting."
Lehning says she will return to her "other" job of K-State assistant coach as soon as the Dream is finished with the playoffs. "It could be next week, but I sure hope not," she said with a laugh.
But for sure, being a Wildcat coach has been good for her as a Dream player.
"It's such a fun combination, and I think it's helped in the recruiting process," said Lehning. "They can associate with me at K-State, but also see what our team can provide, which is a path to get to the next level."
And she says "Coach" Lehning has made "Player" Lehning take a new perspective to the game.
"I'm a lot more analytical now. I pay more attention to detail, so it's been good for me at both ends."
Plus, she adds, "I can continue to associate with our players. I'm still playing, so I can understand the stresses that a K-State player is going through."
OHLDE NOW IN TULSA: A midseason trade sent former Kansas Stater Nicole Ohlde from Phoenix to the Tulsa franchise.
After averaging 3.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 20 non-starting games with Phoenix, the 6-5 center played the final 12 games in Tulsa, where she started nine games.
After the trade, Ohlde, a sixth-year pro, averaged 7.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and just under one blocked shot and one steal per game.
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at email@example.com, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at firstname.lastname@example.org.