With her thesis finished and the WNBA draft over, Princeton senior Blake Dietrick can now focus solely on being ready for training camp.
Dietrick, the star and leader of the 31-1 Princeton women’s basketball team, will be traveling to the capital for the Washington Mystics’ training camp. Her job will be to convince the Mystics’ front office to sign her for one of the team’s 12 spots on the season roster.
Draft night was a rollercoaster for Dietrick. While projected to be a second- or third-round pick when she first declared, she spent draft night watching pick after pick go by.
However, during the third and final round, a call from the Mystics’ coach Mike Thibault would change the entire night.
“[Thibault] called my coach [Courtney Banghart] and said ‘We’re drafting this girl [Marica Gajic], we’re not drafting Blake, but we want her to come to training camp,' " Dietrick said.
While Gajic is a European prospect whom the team may decide to not bring over yet, Dietrick is a proven winner who can contribute immediately. She expressed an eagerness for the Mystics in part because of the team’s high-tempo offense, a system similar to the one she played in under Banghart.
Banghart emphasized the unique chance Dietrick has been given.
“You only get 15 spots in WNBA training camp. Being invited to training camp is a bigger deal then being drafted,” Banghart explained. “She has an opportunity in front of her.”
However, Dietrick still acknowledges the road ahead will be hard. She understands that the focus has to be less on connecting with her potential teammates and more on looking out for herself.
“While training camp is going on, I’m still not signed, fighting for a job, doing everything I can to get that spot,” Dietrick said. “[O]nce I do, I’ll worry about being friends with everybody.”
Both Dietrick and Banghart reiterated the importance of the shift from a team-first to a me-first perspective.
“When you come from such a successful team, you’ve gotten there because its been a team,” Banghart said. “For a pro game, it’s about your job, and everyone else is fighting for your job.”
The difference is all the more notable given that the success of the Princeton program has built on a culture of camaraderie between its players.
“[In a successful program], your piece in the team mentality is critical,” Banghart said. “If you’re not coming from a successful program, there’s not as much emphasis on team."
Of course, one of the biggest differences between collegiate and professional basketball is money. Dietrick knows that she isn’t just playing for the pride and glory of a program anymore — bad play comes attached with detriments to her life outside of sports.
“The thing everyone’s really stressed is that it’s a profession, it’s not college basketball anymore, livelihoods are on the line. It’s just much more serious when you’re on the court,” Dietrick said. “It’s real life. I am a pleaser, trying to make everyone happy. Coach Banghart told me ‘You need to be focused on you.’ That’ll mean distributing when you need to distribute, but shooting when you need to shoot.”
Another adjustment will, of course, be Dietrick’s role in her potential new team. She has to go from being the clear leader to a newbie to the squad.
“It’s a different atmosphere. I was the leader of a team, and I’m going back to being the rookie, the newbie, the kid who doesn’t know any of the plays. Hopefully I can learn really quickly and figure everything out. It’s a different dynamic,” Dietrick said. “Figuring out how to try and be as much of a leader as I can while being a first-year player is definitely going to be really tricky.”
Dietrick still preparing with and receiving support from Princeton community
In order to pursue her dream, Dietrick will logically be spending the majority of her time on basketball. While she took some time off as she finished her thesis, she is now going through rigorous training to be ready for camp in May.
Dietrick will do her training with people both in and out of Princeton to get ready for this opportunity. She intends to work both with Banghart and the Mystics’ positional coach, Eric Thibault.
Her potential position with the Mystics is still up in the air. At Princeton, Dietrick evolved into a ball-dominant guard, who could create plays for her entire team and still get her own shot. According to Banghart, head coach Thibault sees potential for Dietrick to continue that role and to be more of a catch-and-shoot player.
“Thibault said she can be used as a combo guard and a lead guard, initiating with the ball or receiving the ball,” Banghart added. “We need to make sure she’s that versatile come training camp. Part of [her appeal] is her ability to shoot the ball."
As Dietrick works out some of the more technical details of joining the Mystics, she is also continuing to work with her Princeton teammates in their spring training.
Fellow star on the 2014-2015 team, junior forward Annie Tarakchian, said that Blake’s drive to get the WNBA appears just as strong as her desire to win a championship. Like with many in the Princeton community, Tarakchian’s faith in Dietrick is unwavering.
“We all have utmost confidence … She’s a rock star on the court," Tarakchian said. “If they see her play, and the competitive edge and versatility she has, they can’t say no.”
As she works with Dietrick, Tarakchian herself has a training camp to prepare for that’s coming up shortly. A strong scorer and Princeton’s leading rebounder, she is heading to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the junior national team tryouts May 14-17.
Tarakchian’s preparation for success can only be aided by working with Dietrick, an elite player and a fierce competitor.
“[Dietrick] does not need to be pushed. She is so competitive. She knows what to do; she’ll go after it every day with everybody,” Tarakchian said. "[There’s no] forcing her to do anything. When she has her eye set on something, you have to back off.”
It is this competitiveness that Banghart expects Dietrick to maintain throughout her professional career.
“She’s an elite competitor. [The Mystics front office members] were talking, ‘[She] doesn’t sound that nervous,” Banghart said. “Blake competes. She’ll know on that very first session of training camp, she’s competing with everyone else. She was really competitive when she was a starter. That’s gonna come with her.”
When speaking with Dietrick, her desire to push herself to the highest level is always evident. Her enthusiasm for top-level competition can be just as valuable as her skills on the court itself.
“[The WNBA] is the opportunity to play basketball at the highest level,” Dietrick said, and she looks forward to the chance to be “playing against the best players in the world.”