Nykesha Sales Q&A – Orlando Miracle
Orlando Miracle forward Nykesha Sales had another solid season in 2001, averaging 13.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.19 steals per game. Her efforts, earned the 1998 Connecticut grad a third straight trip to the All-Star game. During the off season, Sales. a Connecticut native, is splitting her time between Florida and her home state.
WB: How do your off-season goals this year differ from last season?
NS: I just want o get the little things done. There were a couple situations last year where I felt like I could have done more, and for some reason it just wasn’t happening. I think I have a pattern in the second half of the season to not do as much as in the beginning of the season. It’s not necessary scoring points or any of those individual statistics, I think it’s just being there and being 100% for the first half and the second half of the season.
WB: You’ve been up in Storrs playing against the UConn women. What’s it like being on your old court?
NS: It’s a lot of fun, and it brings back a lot of memories. The personalities of the players are great. They’re definitely a tough team to play against. [UConn’s] starting five, maybe their top eight – they’re unbelievable.
WB: Do see a big difference between the current players and you at that age?
NS: You know, I try to think back to how my game was in college — it’s so many years ago since you played – sometimes I find myself going back and looking at some tape to see if I was as good as they are. Especially coming in and watching Svetlana Abrosimova and Diana Taurasi, how Sue Bird has developed. Swin [Cash], as far as athletic post players – usually we just have really tall players with basic skills, but Swin is very athletic. People always compare our ’95 team to this team and ask, ‘What’s the big difference?’ I just think it’s the height – our post players and their height. The talent in these young players is definitely a lot higher than ours.
WB: How has your perspective of basketball changed from college to the pros?
NS: I had more fun in college, if that’s what you’re asking. It didn’t seem like a job. You just went out there and played and had fun. I think our coaching staff was really cool. They knew how to get you to play, but when there was no practice or games, they were just fun to be around. You still had school, life and other people around you besides basketball. A lot of [WNBA] players, when they’re in these different cities to play ball, don’t really know anybody but their teammates, so you just get caught up in all basketball. In college you had other people who were not in basketball. I went to UConn so I was right down the street from all my family, so it was definitely a lot different. But, now I’m in the real world too (Laughs), you know what I’m saying? You just have to learn how to deal with it. I think you just have to be adult about it, not whine about it, just get it done and have fun – as much fun as you can.
WB: How would you compare the coaching styles of Uconn’s Auriemma and Orlando’s Peck?
NS: It’s tough because coach Auriemma definitely had a lot more time with his players than Coach Peck. You really can’t get the full effect of Coach Peck like I did with Coach Auriemma. I was around Coach Auriemma for eight months – playing and when I was at school. With Coach Peck it’s maybe three or four months. Two weeks of training camp and then you play three months. I think Coach Auriemma had the opportunity to understand me a little more and really knew how to break down my game. With Coach Peck you’ve got to work out a lot of things within those two weeks and learn how to be with everybody in a short amount of time. It’s hard to compare them because it’s not fair, in a sense, because of the short period of time.
WB: Does Orlando feel like your basketball home?
NS: No. (Laughs) No, no, no. I know Connecticut is my basketball home. Right now I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Just from growing up and playing pick up with my friends and stuff, and then having some of my best basketball experiences in Connecticut. I don’t think that will ever change.
WB: What was your reaction to the Michael Strahan/Brett Favre “arranged” play that enabled Strahan to break the NFL sack record?
NS: Everything sparked back up after that happened. My mom – I’m in Florida and my mom’s in Connecticut – she said all over the radio and TV they were talking about my basket again. It hasn’t died yet. I was thinking by now it would have been all done with – but it still comes up on occasion.
WB: What goes through you when it comes up?
NS: Well, you know, it’s something that’s done and I’ve moved on. I just smile when they talk about it – it doesn’t bring me down at all. I just remember what happened. It was something Coach Auriemma asked me to do, and it was for the people of Connecticut. You heard it from him – I’m very unselfish. I know and he knows that it’s not about that individual statistics stuff – it was just something for the people of our state and our Husky fans. He was getting so many emails a day – and he said if it wasn’t meant to be then it wouldn’t be one last game, the team played against was his best friend in the whole Big East League. And it was only one point – it wasn’t like I had to make a three-pointer. He said everything was sort of clicking, so he went with his instinct and did it.
WB: Auriemma is known for his emphasis on team play – what kind of player would you be if you hadn’t learned that philosophy?
NS: (Laughs) I don’t think I would understand the game as well as I do. I think I’d be more on the wild side. When I first came in, you know I was – well, I wasn’t selfish, but I really didn’t’ understand how to play with other players, In High School I just basically played with myself. My senior year I averaged 36 points – I just did everything. But coming into the (UConn) program I had to learn how to be a team player. Coach taught me that, but, in a way, he didn’t want me to be too unselfish. I think I got to the point where I was being so much of a team player that I wasn’t really being productive enough for him. By my junior year he tried to get me out of that a little bit because (laughs) he said, “OK, listen, you’ve had two years. I know you understand it, now pick it up a little bit.”
WB: I understand you’re coaching 5th to 9th graders.
NS: I’m sort of an assistant coach (laughs). I didn’t know if I really wanted to be the head coach, and in charge. But I definitely could give a lot of knowledge about the game. I find myself being in the background a lot – I’m kind of shy. I like to just be there for questions and answer anything need be. And just show by example. They can’t have any home games because their court is outside. (Laughs) We’re always on the road – there’s no home-court advantage, and it’s tough. I tell you, it is tough! (Laughs)
WB: The kids must give you an interesting perspective.
NS: Right. Their things that are important are totally different from what I think is important. The things they talk about… they’re just learning. This one girl just said, “do you mind if I just watch, because I’m just not understanding this basketball thing.” So we had a game where she didn’t want to play. “Not understanding…” (Laughs) I think she’s just happy to be on the team, really. I think if she didn’t play she wouldn’t mind at all. She just likes to get dressed and be there – a part of something. That’s cool, too.
WB: Your major was Business Management – where’s that in your life?
NS: I don’t want to finish basketball and then decide, “Okay, now what am I going to do?” There’s nothing that’s caught my eye, but I definitely want to be my own boss. The biggest idea – and I tell everybody in interviews – is open up a shoe store for women with big feet. (Laughs) You know, cute shoes. No gaudy men’s shoes. Something cute for women – I find that a lot with players in the League. They’re pretty tall, and have pretty big feet, and you know, it’s hard to find shoes. So that’s what on my mind now. And I know I have a lot of “connect” now (Laughs) so if I do, you know I could just pass out cards and I’d be straight. (Laughs)