Women’s Basketball: Zellous shines as spot starter for Shock in playoffs

By Lauren Kirschman

When back pain sidelined the Detroit Shock’s Katie Smith for the WNBA playoffs, former Pitt… When back pain sidelined the Detroit Shock’s Katie Smith for the WNBA playoffs, former Pitt basketball star Shavonte Zellous knew she had to step up for the team.

Zellous averaged 15.6 points per game during the postseason, improving upon her 11.9 average during the regular season. Smith was second on the Shock this season, with 13.7 points per game, and is the WNBA’s third all-time leading scorer behind Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson with a career 5,446 points.

Zellous also grabbed two more rebounds per game and reduced her turnovers from 2.26 to 1.4 per game.

“My teammates told me, ‘You aren’t a rookie anymore,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, I am!’” Zellous said. “I didn’t play like a rookie on the floor [though].”

Zellous found herself with an increased role in the playoffs because of the Shock’s depleted roster. Besides Smith, the Shock were also without forward Plenette Pierson, who averaged a little less than 10 points per game the previous season, when the Shock won their third WNBA title in the past six years. She said she felt like she needed to increase her scoring, because such a big part of the offense was missing. However, Zellous made sure to credit guard Deanna Nolan for leading the team to the Eastern Conference finals.

Zellous, the No. 11 overall draft pick, was the lowest draft selection to be named to the WNBA’s all-rookie team. During the regular season, Zellous was second among rookies in points per game, finishing behind Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry’s 12.8 points a game.

“I put the expectations high for myself,” Zellous said. “I wanted to be on the all-rookie team, or even to get Rookie of the Year. It’s a great honor.”

After becoming the first rookie to start for Detroit since 2003, Zellous hit her stride when she was moved to a reserve position about two weeks into the season. She hasn’t played much like a rookie since.

In her first game off the bench, Zellous netted 13 points against Indiana. In the next game, she scored a season-high 25 against Atlanta.

“The first two games I started ,and they kind of threw me into the fire,” Zellous said. “I was kind of nervous going in. It was my first year and this was a championship team. Then I saw how it was, and I thought, ‘I can manage this and hang with the big dogs.’”

In the postseason, she scored 21 and 23 points in consecutive wins to close out a first-round series against Atlanta and then opened the conference finals against Indiana. She followed those games with a 19-point performance in a loss to the Indiana Fever, who would win the next game to eliminate Detroit.

“I learned a lot with the Shock. They have a lot of veteran players who just lead by example,” Zellous said. “The playoffs are something every player dreams of, and I think we did a good job getting to the Eastern Conference championship without two key players.”

Throughout the season, Zellous used her aggressive play to get to the free throw line. She was among the league leaders in free throws attempted and free throws made, making 85.6 percent.

“I think I grew as a person after leaving college, especially maturity wise,” Zellous said. “On the court, I grow every year. This year, I was scoring and attacking the basket.”

Zellous said her energy as a reserve is the most important quality she brought to the Shock. At Pitt, a spark off the bench proved important, Zellous said, so she wanted to be the one to provide that enthusiasm for Detroit.

“My teammates loved my excitement and my energy. They looked for me to come off the bench and keep things rolling,” Zellous said. “I would come in and take care of business.”

She said she wants to continue her rookie success next season, especially because she’s been told that many players drop off during their second year in the league.

“I’m not looking to do that,” Zellous said. “I want to keep progressing, and I want to do something extra, whether that’s ball handling or my 3-point shot. Those are things I really want to work on.”

Zellous said she had a lot of fun during her first WNBA season, which shouldn’t be a surprise for Pitt fans who witnessed her infectious personality for four years.

“Every time I got an and-one, I did a dance,” Zellous said. “Before the game started, we did a dance. The dancing was one of the biggest things I’ll remember.”