New season, big changes for WNBA’s Dream

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Dream enter their 2013 campaign in search of a point guard. That’s the reality after losing Lindsey Harding, via free agency.

One of the players they could be counting on to fill that role is rookie Alex Bentley, the top draft pick from this year’s WNBA draft. Bentley was the first pick of the second round (Penn State).

At 5-foot-7, Bentley averaged at least 14.1 points per game over her final three seasons, while averaging 4.3 assists for her career. She also finished college as a 43-percent shooter.

Coach/general manager Fred Williams knew the Dream’s quest to find a new point guard was going well when he saw the WNBA promoting a slew of Bentley’s highlights.

“For her, she’s a first-round pick for us because we had the second-round (pick); but she was really voted in as one of those top eight players in the first round and she slipped down to us at 13,” Williams said. “I know she has the confidence and the swagger to come in and to compete for minutes at that point position.”

In helping to fill the point-guard role, Williams also cited the play of Jasmine Thomas, who played her first two years in the league with Washington.

“Jasmine Thomas is doing a fine job of getting her rhythm in our style of play,” Williams said. “She’ s a real fast point guard with the basketball and with us in transition and our game, she’ll fit right in. It’s going to take them a little balance there, starting off the season, but I give them about four or five games to get in rhythm.”

The WNBA allows teams to carry a maximum of 11 players, and right now, the Dream is carrying 13. So, they’ll have to make two cuts before the May 25 season opener.

Williams said he expects Bentley to make the team.

“To be honest with you, she’s really shown that (she deserves to be on the team) the last few days and shown that in preseason play and the confidence level of her,” Williams said. “She’s got young legs. She’s going to make a lot of things happen for us.”

In Monday’s 97-47 preseason victory over the Brazilian national team, Bentley made 5 of 6 field goals in 11:28, finishing with 10 points, two steals and one assist.

Bentley talked about the adjustment between college and the WNBA.

“The girls are definitely taller,” she said. “They’re definitely stronger and quicker, so it’s an adjustment. It’s been fun making it.”

As quick as she is on the court, Bentley showed a quick wit off of it. The 22-year-old Indianapolis native was asked if she knew Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague, a 24-year-old Indy native, as well. She said they know of each other and have spoken. Asked if she had ever played against Teague, Bentley responded, “No, he probably can’t handle me.”

Not bad for someone who is finishing up her degree in broadcast journalism. That could come in handy someday.

Williams finds fresh blood

At the team’s media day at Philips Arena, Angel McCoughtry, the league’s leading scorer last year, praised Williams for the job he has done in recruiting new players.

McCoughtry, who participated in her first practice on Wednesday, thought the Dream would have a deeper bench this season.

“I think he did a great job recruiting some players that I think no one really knows yet some underrated players that I think will come in and do some great things in the WNBA,” she said.

Williams was asked what his strategies are. He said he attends plenty of games. If he’s interested in a certain player, he makes sure to watch her four or five times as a college senior. He even attends high school games, knowing those players might not be available until eight or 10 years down the road.

He also said he reviews film of players who are recommended to him and that he attends a camp that is held during the women’s Final Four.

“My staff, we all get together and make that happen in the offseason,” Williams said, “doing our homework on a lot of players.”

Among those finds could be Courtney Clements, an undrafted free agent who had a team-high 18 points (and five rebounds) in Monday’s preseason game. The 6-foot rookie guard (San Diego State) also had 18 points last Thursday against the Tulsa Shock. She has made 61.9 percent of her shots, to date.

Roster issues

Two weeks into camp, Williams said the Dream has all of their players finally in town — with one exception. Center Yelena Leuchanka, who started five games last season, remains with the Belarus national team.

The 6-foot-5 Leuchanka played only 19 games for the Dream last season because of national team commitments. Williams said teams must accommodate such players or risk losing them to others.

“It’s just a commitment between us and the league and FIBA (basketball’s world governing body),” he said. “Those players are really committed to their countries, as far as playing basketball. Whatever I can have to get their games in, if it’s 25 games, if it’s 20, their caliber you want to have that because if I don’t get it someone else is going to take it and do it.”