By Nicole Boyett – OGGOA Student Correspondent
The WNBA may not be a professional sport followed by many Florida Gators fans, but it is time for them to start taking notice if they haven’t already as the only woman representing the Orange & Blue in the league, DeLisha Milton-Jones, has been nominated as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time.
During her time at Florida, Milton-Jones led the Gators to four NCAA Tournament appearances (including the 1997 Elite Eight) while earning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Associated Press All-American honors her senior year. She followed up her stellar collegiate career by playing in the ABL for two years before being was drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. Now in her 13th WNBA season, Milton-Jones is one of the most accomplished players to step on the hardwood.
She has won two Olympic gold medals for Team USA (2000, 2008), back-to-back WNBA titles with Los Angeles (2001, 2002) and a pair of Euroleague Championships (2003, 2006) while also having been named a WNBA All-Star twice (2000, 2007).
At of the end of the 2010 season, she was 11th in the WNBA in total points, 10th in total rebounds, ninth in field goals made, 14th in free throws made, sixth in total steals, 13th in total blocks, 11th in minutes per game, and seventh in total minutes played. Despite her impressive career and overwhelming talent on the court, Milton-Jones continues to be overlooked as one of the greatest female basketball players to ever lace up her shoes. The hope is that her talent is recognized on July 23 when the WNBA announces the league’s all-time Top 15 players at the 15th annual All-Star Game in San Antonio, TX.
Milton-Jones sat down with OGGOA’s Nicole Boyett for an exclusive interview just a handful of games into her 13th WNBA season. Averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, she continues to lead the Sparks and hopes to be recognized for the impact she has made on women’s basketball in the United States.
NICOLE BOYETT: What does it mean to you to be the only Gator in the WNBA and to have had such a long and successful career?
DELISHA MILTON-JONES: “I am proud that I’m the lone standing Gator in the league, but I’m also sad because I feel like there should definitely be more of us in the league. When [former Florida star] Murriel Page* decided to leave after her achilles injury, that was pretty much it for us, and I think that her and I both did a great job of representing the Gators all these years.”
*Page was selected No. 3 overall in the 1998 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics. She is now an assistant coach under Amanda Butler at UF.
NB: As a Gator, you won SEC Player of the Year, were an All-American and went to the NCAA Tournament every year. With all of your accomplishments at Florida, do you get the opportunity to come back and talk to the team or head coach Amanda Butler?
DMJ: “It is difficult to support the team the way I would like to because, in the off-season during their season, is when I leave for Europe. After the WNBA season, I usually have a week, maybe less, to prepare myself for the next eight months in Europe, so there’s really no downtime for me. For the past 11 years, I’ve been playing in Europe as well as the WNBA year-round, so it is very difficult to get back. I wasn’t even able to come back when I was inducted into the WNBA Hall of Fame because it was during an important time in the season in Europe and the team wouldn’t allow me to come back, so I had to miss it. My mother had to go in my place. I’m hoping that – when it’s all said and done and I decide to retire – that they allow me to come back and be able to participate in the ceremony in a different way.”
NB: You’ve won two gold medals with Team USA, two WNBA Championships and two Euroleague titles. How do those compare to each other and how does winning a gold medal compare to winning a championship?
DMJ: “A championship is a championship, but they all feel good. I think the difference is that the gold medals probably have more value to me because it’s on the largest stage possible and I won. I consider myself to be so blessed, lucky, and privileged to have been a participant in several Olympics. That’s just a dream come true and it lets you know that you are in a category that many people would give their arm for just to be able to participate in. To be able to walk into the opening ceremonies and participate in the game is something that was so special that if I hadn’t gotten the gold medal, it wouldn’t matter because the memories will last a lifetime. Any time I think of that feeling, it just sends chills down my spine.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Milton-Jones…after the break!
NB: Have you had any especially unique experiences during your time playing professionally? I know you coached the L.A. Stars at one point…
DMJ: “The Stars are a men’s team in Los Angeles in the American Basketball Association. My husband was a member of the team when their coach left for that season, and they asked me to coach the team. I coached the team because I was actually here [in L.A.] doing rehab at the time because I had torn my ACL right before the Greece Olympics. I wasn’t able to participate in the Olympics, so I just decided to coach the team for a while, do my rehab, and prepare myself for the European season.”
NB: Was it difficult to coach your husband and his teammates?
DMJ: “No, the guys really showed a lot of respect because they knew that I know the game and they knew the level that I play on. That in and of itself created a certain level of respect. There was a weird moment: I had to call my husband out in practice in front of everyone. I told him he needs to get in shape and I got on him pretty hard. I think when the guys saw me do that, it showed them, ‘She’s not showing favoritism. She’s really serious about this and we are actually learning something from her in this experience.’”
NB: You are an extremely accomplished player in the WNBA. What are some goals you have for this season and your future career?
DMJ: “My goal for this season: I would love to participate in the All-Star game or even make the All-WNBA first or second team. That’s something that hasn’t happened in my career. I think I’ve done a great job of winning a lot of team-oriented accolades, but now it’s time for me to solidify myself as an individual in this league. It’s kind of tough to do that especially when you’ve played on the types of teams that I’ve played on where you have five out of the 10 players on the team who are all perennial All-Stars or first- or second-team All-WNBA and even Olympians. It’s kind of hard to achieve individual accolades when you’re in a situation like that, so that’s something that I have my sights set on and I hope and pray to God that’s something that can happen.”
NB: Do you also have your sights set on a championship this year?
DMJ: “What’s the point in playing if you’re not playing for a championship?”
NB: That’s what we like to hear. Do you think Florida has that mentality?
DMJ: “People love winners, so if we put together a great season then the people will come. I’ve had a few conversations with Coach Butler and we’ve played together. I wrote a letter to the girls to try and encourage them for this upcoming season, and we follow each other on Twitter (@DeLishaMJones) and say hi every now and then, but I know she’s just as busy as I am. I wish them well and I hope that I’m able to play against some of them someday soon in the league or in Europe and I hope that they continue to wear their Orange & Blue with a lot of pride and passion.”
NB: Is there anything you would like to tell Gator Nation?
DMJ: “Support the women’s team there because if you are a Gator, that means you are solidified as a great athlete. You can follow me on Twitter to get an intimate viewpoint into my life and support the lone Gator that’s still in the league. Vote for me to be in the All-Star game this season online or through text message. I’d love to have Gator Nation stand up for me so I can represent the Gators in the game!”
You can VOTE DeLisha Milton-Jones into the WNBA All-Star Game (airing live on ABC on July 23 at 3:30 p.m.) by CLICKING HERE or TEXTING “Milton-Jones” to 69622. Also help her become known as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All-Time by casting your VOTE by CLICKING HERE.
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