Walker has found a home, but won't rest on laurels

Forward Ashley Walker, who was the last player cut by San Antonio (2011) and Washington (2012), played her way on to the Connecticut Sun roster this season after leading the Sun in scoring (10.3) and rebounds (5.3) during the exhibition season.
Forward Ashley Walker, who was the last player cut by San Antonio (2011) and Washington (2012), played her way on to the Connecticut Sun roster this season after leading the Sun in scoring (10.3) and rebounds (5.3) during the exhibition season. Courtesy of Connecticut Sun

Mohegan - Ashley Walker was pretty sure she'd done enough to earn a job with the Connecticut Sun, but she's learned the hard way to assume nothing.

Walker had been invited to a WNBA training camp the previous two seasons, and both times she was the last player cut.

"I don't think any of the times I've ever slept the night before (the final cuts)," Walker said. "This time I was so excited because I thought I had a really, really good chance here. I was excited-slash-nervous."

Walker got the gig as a reserve post, and she and her new team begin their regular season at home tonight at 7 (CPTV Sports) against New York at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"It feels great," Walker said. "I can take a little deep breath, but now it's back to work. What can I do? How can I help this team? What's my role? That's what I'm working on."

Walker, a forward-center, was Seattle's 2009 first-round pick (12th overall). She averaged seven minutes in 13 games due to a broken bone in her foot.

Seattle waived Walker two days before the start of the 2010 season. Tulsa signed her a few days later. She played sparingly in two games and was cut. Walker was the last player waived in San Antonio (2011) and Washington (2012), too.

"You work so hard, and you're the last person cut every year," Walker said. "It's really hard. It's hard on your self-esteem. It's hard on you mentally, physically ... everything.

"You go through that whole two weeks (of training camp), you're beat up and sore, and then nothing at the end."

Walker made the best of it (she said she enjoyed her summers off) and made her money overseas playing in Israel, Romania and Turkey.

The Sun were looking for a power forward who could stretch a defense like Asjha Jones, their starter the previous six seasons. Jones is taking this season off to rest her nagging injuries.

Connecticut knew enough about Walker to offer her a training camp contract.

"Ashley is someone that has always shot the three well," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "(Assistant) Jennifer Gillom had her in camp last year (at Washington) and spoke highly of her."

Donovan believed that Walker's height worked against her in the past - she's generously listed as 6-foot-1.

"I'm almost six-foot," Walker smiled, and then added, "I'm six-foot."

Walker led Connecticut in points (10.3), rebounds (5.3) and 3-pointers (five) in its three preseason games. She beat out undrafted rookie Latoya Williams.

"It was neck-and-neck with Ashley and Latoya," Donovan said. "Lately, Ashley had been more consistent offensively and defensively. She showed from Day 1 what she was capable of in the post. Being an undersized post, she handles herself down there very well."

Connecticut doesn't have great height (seven of its 11 players are 5-11 or shorter), and Donovan has stressed the need for better team rebounding.

Walker doesn't help the Sun's height deficit, but she's learned to compensate.

"I hold my own," Walker said. "I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I know how to use my feet. (Former Sun) Le'coe Willingham is one of the best undersized posts out there, and she uses her feet the best of anybody's ability. And she plants herself in the paint underneath the basket and cleans up all sorts of junk. That's kind of what I do. I just do it in a different way. I run around and get mine."

Donovan said, "Rebounding, it helps when you're big, but it isn't the be-all or end-all. You can be a small player and rebound, a la Dennis Rodman, and still get it done on the boards."

n.griffen@theday.com

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