By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
PUMPED UP: Shock team President Steve Swetoha, left, and Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg are happy with the WNBA draft in a celebration at Charlie Mitchell’s.
MATT WANSLEY for GTR Newspapers
New Tulsa Shock Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg has a major challenge entering the 2012 season. All the veteran assistant has to do is take a team that finished 3-31 a year ago and transform it into a postseason contender.
Kloppenburg said he’s up to the task and his new-look Shock will be vastly improved over the team that couldn’t shoot straight in 2011. He said a strong draft and the return of key players will combine into a more enjoyable season when San Antonio visits the Center for the opener on May 19.
“There’s nowhere to go but up,’’ says Kloppenburg, who has coached collegiately, in the , the and internationally. “We’re trying to be very aggressive in improving our roster and we want to create a winning, positive atmosphere.
“We had a good draft, we made some trades and we’ve got some good free agents coming in. We want to try and make the playoffs and as a coach, you don’t want to settle. We want to put a team out there that can compete every night and play hard. If we do that, wins will come and good things will happen.’’
Kloppenburg said leading scorer Tiffany Jackson (12.4 points per game) will return along with Ivory Latta (12.2) and 6-foot-8 center Elizabeth Cambage, following her stint with the Australian Olympic team. Joining them will be draft pick Glory Johnson, the fourth overall selection, and her Tennessee teammate Vicki Baugh. Guard Piquna Williams and Lynette Kizer rounded out the draft.
“We took the best player that was available,’’ said Kloppenbug, referring to the 6-3 Johnson. “She was rated very high on our list and she’s an athlete who plays with relentlessness. She’s tough and a great rebounder. Baugh fell into the third round and we had her rated higher. She’s a mobile five (post player) who has a good outside shot and skill around the rim. I’m also happy with Williams. She’s a good scoring guard and we will have a good camp lineup.’’
Point guard Temeka Johnson comes on board via trade along with wing player and “strong athletic defender’’ Shcholanda Robinson.
Kloppenburg, making his head coaching debut following stints in Phoenix and Indiana, is known for his teams’ aggressive defensive play. He said to expect more of the same in Tulsa, along with improved shooting and offensive production.
“Improving our shooting is our major focus,’’ Kloppenburg said. “We’ve added a couple of players who can shoot and we will put time in on that. We have to execute and get players good shots. We need scoring consistency and then hope our defense will lead to easy baskets. We want to lower our turnovers and just shoot better inside and outside.
“We have a corps coming back who came from winning programs. They just went through a tough period, but they all know how to win. With adding to the talent in camp, our kids our solid and they will bring back a different mindset. On paper, will be an exciting team.”