Ruth Riley – Detroit Shock

Ruth Riley was playing basketball in Valencia, Spain when she got the phone call: her team of two years, the Miami Sol, was folding. “I was very disappointed,” admitted Riley. “I loved that team. I definitely thought they’d give us another year to prove ourselves.”

Instead, as the first selection overall in 2003 WNBA Dispersal Draft, Riley will start anew in Detroit playing for the Shock. “I’ve had some time to prepare,” said the 6’5″ center. “I talked to coach [Bill] Lamibeer and got an idea of some of the things he expect of me.” Playing in Michigan offers an added bonus to the ’01 Notre Dame graduate. “I feel right at home in the mid-west,” Riley said with a smile. “A lot of my family lives in Indiana, so it’s good to be back where they can come and see me play.”

Getting to know her new teammates – including former UConn standout and Big East rival Swin Cash – has had an almost college reunion feel because of the youth of the Shock. “I think Swin and I played each other every other game in college,” laughed Riley. As for the rookies, though she hadn’t see most of them play in college, “it doesn’t take long,” said Riley appreciatively, “to learn that Cheryl [Ford] is a monster on the boards. To have her down low with me…” said Riley, her voice drifting off, as if silently tabulating the future rebounding possibilities.

Playing overseas seemed to have energized the 6’5″ center. “It’s hard for American’s to adjust to playing overseas,” admitted Riley. “You have to be really open minded about the situation you’re going in to.” In Riley’s case, language wasn’t a particular problem. The Spanish she had studied in college quickly improved (“by default” noted Riley with a laugh.). The length of the season, though, would be something she’d be willingly change. “Eight months is a REALLY long time,” she said, feelingly. “I could do with cutting it to six.”

While the actual structure of the international game – a shorter shot clock and a wider paint – were technical adjustments she quickly got used to, Riley found the playing international post players a welcome challenge. “They’re much more versatile,” said Riley. “In the States, it’s a power game, a physical game. It’ll be good when I play [international] players in the WNBA,” she added. “I’ll have a feel for how they play the game.”

Riley used her time in Spain to focus on her rebounding skills as well as her overall on-court aggressiveness. “Off the court,” said Riley, “I’m really easy going and laid back. Some of my coaches have told me, ‘Ruth, on the court you don’t need to be nice You need to be strong physical and aggressive – everything that it takes to battle down in the paint.’ For me, it’s an ongoing process,” Riley admitted, “stepping in to a different character when I’m on the court. It’s something I have had to overcome, and still need to a bit.”

With the teams folding and fewer roster spots unavailable, Riley knows her third season is going to be a lot more competitive. “It will just add to the pressure of doing your job and doing it well.” Looking into the future, she sees more of the same. “These young players are getting so good. The next year’s [graduating class] is going to be really competitive. It’s going to make it exciting. It going to make our product even more desirable for people to come out and watch.”

But for now, Riley is content to revel in the fact that she’s healthy and ready to play 40 minutes for her team. After a 2002 season that saw her effectiveness and playing time hindered by nagging injuries, Riley is looking forward to a fresh start. “I’m still a young player,” said Riley. “Hopefully I’ll be playing in this league 5-10 years from now. I can only do what I can do to get better at what I’m able to do.”

“It’s a new beginning this year,” Riley continued. “I’m on a new team and in a new situation. But at the same time, I have two years experience and that’s invaluable in this league.”

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