After years of traveling around the globe, a pair of former Georgia athletes now in the WNBA said there‚Äôs something to be said about getting to see the familiar Atlanta skyline and the prospect of hearing a few ‚ÄúGo Dogs.‚Äù
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always good to come back to Georgia and play where we went to college,‚Äù said Kara Braxton, who along with fellow New York Liberty teammate and Georgia alumna Kelly Miller will play the Dream on Tuesday in Atlanta. ‚ÄúWe get to see some family, and the fan support is still there from when I was in college.‚Äù
It will be a brief respite to a familiar destination for them as they spend much of their time as globe-trotters.
Between the WNBA season, which runs from May through September, and stints in overseas professional leagues, many of the world‚Äôs premier players get little downtime. Braxton estimated she had less than a month‚Äôs worth of offseason spread throughout the year, and Miller‚Äôs schedule is roughly the same.
It‚Äôs a demanding schedule that breaks down the body and wears on the mind, they said, but one that offers plenty of rewards.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a huge, huge plus for us that, because we do play, we‚Äôre able to go across the world to places you‚Äôd normally only see in books and in movies, places that you‚Äôve just heard about,‚Äù said Miller, who played at Georgia from 1997-01. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a blessing because most regular people won‚Äôt ever be able to travel to most of these places. We do it almost normally, like it‚Äôs almost not a big deal because we get so used to it.‚Äù
Miller‚Äôs time at Georgia was decorated. She and her twin sister, Coco, won the James E. Sullivan Award as the nation‚Äôs top amateur athletes in 1999, and Miller ranked second all-time at Georgia in points (2,177) and assists (639) when she graduated. Since turning pro in 2001, she has played in Turkey, South Korea, France, Russia and China, not to mention her 12 seasons in the WNBA after being selected second overall in the 2001 draft.
Braxton, who played three seasons through 2004 at Georgia and joined the WNBA in 2005, has made stops in Poland, China and Turkey.
The current center of the universe for Miller and Braxton is the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the Liberty‚Äôs home while a three-year renovation is under way at Madison Square Garden.
The Liberty opened the season with a rocky stretch, dropping its first five regular-season games against what Miller described as a slate of some of the league‚Äôs best teams. But New York rebounded with three consecutive wins before falling to Chicago on Sunday and enters tonight‚Äôs game at Connecticut with a 3-6 record.
‚ÄúI think we had a hard schedule and started off with a couple of really tough teams back to back to back, so that was rough,‚Äù Miller said. ‚ÄúBut we‚Äôre finally kind of hitting the rhythm now.‚Äù
Part of the Liberty‚Äôs potential lies in its team chemistry, Miller said. And with the college connections, it‚Äôs an easy area to build upon.
Miller and her twin sister, Coco, played at Georgia through 2001. Braxton and her twin sister, Kim, joined the program the season following the Millers‚Äô graduation.
The sets of twins may have missed one another by a season, but between their shared experiences in Athens and their background in long-time Lady Dogs coach Andy Landers‚Äô system, they have a common bond.
‚ÄúI think we do share something because we came out of the same college, we were taught similar things, learned similar principles,‚Äù Miller said. ‚ÄúI think that always helps you when you‚Äôre getting to know someone and learning to play with them.‚Äù
Finding some common ground with teammates has never been much of an issue in the tightly knit women‚Äôs professional basketball circuit, Braxton said.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a close community, and some of these girls I‚Äôve been playing with since I was 10 or 11 years old between Nike camps, Reebok camps and AAU,‚Äù she said. ‚ÄúThere are so many tournaments when you‚Äôre young, and so we‚Äôve been around each other forever to where it‚Äôs like a real sisterhood. We‚Äôve known each other forever, we see each other all over throughout the year, and now we‚Äôre all in the WNBA, which doesn‚Äôt have a lot of teams, so it feels like we‚Äôre never away.‚Äù
And if all else fails, there are always some old college rivalries to fall back on. The Liberty roster has three former Rutgers players ‚Äî Essence Carson, Cappie Pondexter and Kia Vaughn ‚Äî as well as former Georgia Tech player Alex Montgomery, and it leads to some frequent but good-natured barbs.
‚ÄúOf course, we‚Äôre always going back and forth with the girls from the Rutgers team, talking about the Bulldogs,‚Äù said Braxton, who along with Miller went a combined 2-1 against Rutgers while in college. ‚ÄúWe just like to give everyone a little trouble with that one.‚Äù