LAS VEGAS – As Lexie Hull prepares for the final game of her WNBA rookie season, an exhale awaits.
The former Associated Press 4A Player of the Year from Central Valley High School, who went on to win a national championship at Stanford, will put a wrap on an inaugural campaign with the worst team in the WNBA.
It’s not exactly how she envisioned her start with the Indiana Fever, who are 5-30 heading into Sunday’s game at Washington, which won 82-70 in Indianapolis on Friday.
But, in true Hull fashion, she’s taking a positive outlook into the off-season after adjusting from one of the nation’s most prominent women’s college basketball programs to a squad loaded with youth that lost 24 of its games by double digits.
“It’s different when people expect you to win, versus people expect you to lose,” Hull said prior to a six-point performance in Las Vegas on July 21. “And I think it’s definitely a change in mindset and a change in focus coming into every game. I mean, I can say all day, it’s way more fun to win. And obviously, that’s our goal every time we come out on the court, but I think it’s exciting that we have so much room to grow.”
There are a handful of veterans in place to mentor their younger teammates, including Hull, while the entirety of the roster is changing the culture and changing what’s expected in Indiana.
It’s why, despite losing more games this season than she did her entire career at Stanford, Hull’s excited about where she and her teammates can take the program.
“I think for us, it’s making sure that we don’t lose focus and we don’t get used to losing and that we keep bringing the fire,” said Hull, who is averaging 3.6 points in the 25 games she’s played. “All of us came from very successful college programs. So bringing that to the pro level and making sure that we’re growing and improving every day, every game, every season.”
Hull has been grateful to play alongside veteran guards such as Tiffany Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, Kelsey Mitchell and Danielle Robinson. She’s been able to follow their leads and feed off their emotions, considering they know what is expected.
Hull said she’s had no problem in averaging 12.1 minutes per game, as she’s spent her first season growing and absorbing as much as she can.
Robinson said it’s come across as natural as she’s seen for a rookie.
“I think a lot of it is maturity,” Robinson said. “I think her basketball IQ is really high. And just her willingness to do the little things, to do the things that a lot of times don’t show up on the stat sheets. Whether that’s talking in practice, you know, things that people don’t see. Being the person on the scout team that we are going against, and just really pushing us as a team to be better. There’s a lot of things that … we recognize every day as teammates.”
UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque, who was an assistant at Stanford during part of Hull’s career, said there is nobody who will work harder.
“She prides herself on that, and I think that’s been pretty well documented,” La Rocque said. “But I think especially the last two years at Stanford, even when I wasn’t there, she had the experience of playing with really good players, even young players. And sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow. Even in college, I think that really helped her, at the next level and to stay ready.”
Fever coach Carlos Knox said Hull arrived focused and determined, which should come as no surprise after playing for the winningest coach in women’s college basketball, Tara VanDerveer.
Whether it was understanding defensive concepts or offensive systems, performing well on one-on-one defense or learning teammates’ tendencies, Hull hasn’t resembled a rookie.
“I mean, she’s just been stellar when it comes to being a sponge for the game,” Knox said. “Obviously, she’s one of the best players at being coachable. And her attitude is outstanding. She comes to work, again, first one and last one to leave. And she’s just a joy to coach. We really need her to step in and play at a high level and I think she comes in and gives us some good solid minutes.”
Hull credits VanDerveer and her coaches at Stanford for instilling the work ethic she’s brought with her to the WNBA. It’s helped blend chemistry with six other rookies who came from different programs and whose expectations and habits were so different.
“I just feel very lucky that Tara kind of prepared me for this league and taught me that you can’t take a play off, you can’t take a practice off, and just really compete every drill,” Hull said.
Kelsey Mitchell, whose season came to an unfortunate end on July 30 due to a plantar fascia tear in her left foot, said she’s become enamored with Hull for so many other reasons than her play on the court.
“I think I love Lex for so many reasons off the floor, that on the court is the icing on the cake – she’s such a great person,” Mitchell said. “On the court, I’ve never seen someone with so much energy and ability to do a little bit of everything. And I think over time that’s gonna make her stand out. She can defend it. She could shoot it, she put it on the floor. She’s just a jack of all trades.
“So it just makes for an even better person off the floor.”
W.G. Ramirez is a 35-year veteran covering sports in southern Nevada, and a resident of 50 years. He is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez
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