Unlike many recent college graduates intent on easing into the workforce after a relaxing summer, Olayinka Sanni hasn't had such a luxury.
The Homewood-Flossmoor product's already was at work weeks before she received her diploma, as she was chosen by the Detroit Shock in the second round of the 2008 WNBA Draft in early-April. By the time the school year ended at West Virginia, Sanni was already logging meaningful minutes in the squad's rotation. She has started seven of the Shock's nine games at center while averaging 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest.
"It's been a quick transition [from] playing in college, to graduating to playing in Detroit," said the 6-foot-2-inch Sanni. "But I love everything about my team so far, and I have a passion for playing."
That she's doing something she loves helps, but Sanni approaches her occupation in the same manner everyone else.
"It's just like I'm working downtown as a lawyer or an accountant -- I'm just wearing a basketball uniform," said Sanni, who was a first-team All-Big East selection her last two seasons at West Virginia. "There's so much you can learn. There are a lot more different moves than I used in college -- different techniques I never was exposed to."
The quick start to her career is even more impressive, given that she's competing on one of the league's best teams, as the Shock (7-2) won league titles in 2003 and 2006 are coming off a second consecutive trip to the WNBA Finals last summer.
Playing a prominent role in Sanni's on-court tutelage is former Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, the Shock's head coach. Despite his "Bad Boy" image, he's become a respected tactician in WNBA circles who has already helped make Sanni a better player.
"He's a really good coach who really knows post moves inside and out," said Sanni of Laimbeer, who also has former Piston teammate, Rick Mahorn on staff. "To learn from someone who's won championships is great. Sometimes I'll end up thinking, 'I can't believe that works.'"
Despite a relatively smooth acclimation, Sanni is aware that she's still just a rookie getting used to the pro game.
"It's definitely more of a business," Sanni said of the daily pressure that exists in the WNBA. "In college, you played more to have fun and you had a lot of other things to take care of, like studying. Here, it's all basketball. You get into the gym, you get your work done and you go home."
Sanni follows the examples set by some of her more experienced teammates. She's made a effort to blend into the background, as opposed to taking the leadership role she had at West Virginia.
"You have to earn the respect you're given, and you're not given anything as a rookie," she said. "I'm open-minded and willing to learn. I have to try to prove to the veterans that they can count on me."
Her teammates at West Virginia could always count on Sanni, as she left Morgantown as one of the program's most productive players ever.
She owns all-time program marks in single game, single season and career field goal percentage, in addition to ranking in the Top 10 in points (1,602, seventh), rebounds (773, sixth) and games played (129, second). As a senior, Sanni led the Mountaineers in scoring (16.2 points per game), rebounding (7.1 rebounds per game) and tied for second in steals (50).
West Virginia played in the NCAA Tournament only once during Sanni's career, falling in the second round to LSU in 2007. However, the rigors of Big East competition exposed her to tough battles against many of the nation's top post players.
"I'd always looked up to players like (Shock teammates) Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford," said Sanni, who's younger brother, Supo, was a two-sport standout at H-F who will play football for Illinois this fall. "They're big role models and now I'm amongst them. Every day I'm here, I see things done that are very impressive."
As Sanni's game continues to develop, she hopes that someday young players look up to her. For now she's left to enjoy the present.
"Not a lot of rookies get a lot of minutes, so it's an honor to be playing as much as I am," she said. "I'm not here to be an All-Star. I'm just here to work hard and do the little things, like rebounding and getting loose balls. If I keep doing that, everything else will fall into place."
An extensive list of current college baseball players with Chicago-area ties were among those selected in this year's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, held over 60 rounds last Thursday and Friday.
Besides Eastern Kentucky starting pitcher Christian Friedrich going to Colorado Rockies in the first round pick and Howard College shortstop Tyler Ladendorf going in the second round to Minnesota, five other college players -- Arizona State outfielder Jason Kipnis (Glenbrook North), Western Michigan starting pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth (Plainfield South), Purdue first baseman/outfielder Ryne White (St. Rita), Missouri pitcher Rick Zagone (Prairie Ridge) and Wichita State outfielder Kenny Williams, Jr. (Plainfield South) -- were also picked on the first day, which covered six rounds.
Kipnis, a fourth-round pick of the San Diego Padres, transferred from Kentucky to Arizona State this year and was named the Pacific 10 Newcomer of the Year and to the All-Pac 10 team. He and Cardinals' first-round pick, Brett Wallace, are the only Sun Devils to start every game this year and Kipnis entered Monday's loss to Fresno State hitting .371 with 14 home runs, 71 RBIs and a team-high six triples.
In being picked in the fourth round by the Rockies, Hollingsworth becomes the highest WMU draft choice since 1995. He served as the No. 1 pitcher for the Broncos for the second straight year in 2008, compiling a 5-5 record and a 3.84 ERA. He fanned a team-high 77 hitters while walking only 26 batters. He was an All-MAC pick three straight years and was chosen the conference's top freshman in 2006. Hollingsworth ended the '08 campaign ranking sixth on WMU's all-time strikeouts list.
White was chosen one pick after Hollingsworth by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He won the 2007 Big Ten batting title and leaves Purdue as the school's all-time conference leader in several categories, including batting average (.402), slugging percentage (.638), on-base percentage (.486), runs scored (81), RBI (80) and total bases (208). He was a first-team All-Big Ten pick as a sophomore in 2007 and a third-team choice this spring.
Zagone, a sixth round pick by the Baltimore Orioles, won 15 games for the Tigers over the past three years, striking out 181 batters in 241 innings pitched. He split his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen in 2008, compiling a 2-3 record with a 5.25 ERA. He started nine of his 19 appearances and threw one complete game and recorded three saves.
Williams, whose father, Ken, is the White Sox' General Manager, was chosen by the same club in the sixth round. The younger Williams finished his first season at Wichita Sunday batting .317 with two home runs and 25 driven in. He started 44 of the 48 games in which he appeared and stole nine bases in ten tries. Williams played the first two years of his college career at Arizona and redshirted the '07 campaign.
The other 18 college players with local ties selected in last week's draft were: Illinois State catcher Kevin Dubler (Downers Grove South/eighth round to the Chicago White Sox), Bradley outfielder Dan Brewer (Lyons Township/eighth round to the New York Yankees), South Alabama outfielder Ray Kruml (St. Francis/11th round to the New York Yankees), Joliet Junior College shortstop Ed Koncel (Joliet/13th round to Texas), Oakton Community College outfielder Lenell McGee (Mt. Carmel/13th round to the Los Angeles Dodgers), Illinois pitcher Scott Shaw (Warren/13th round to the New York Mets), Northern Illinois shortstop Bobby Stevens (Guerin/16th round to Baltimore) and Dominican University pitcher Mike Eifel (Bremen/21st round to San Francisco). Eifel becomes the first Dominican player ever drafted.
Also picked were St. Louis University pitcher Dave Sever (Benet/21th round to the Los Angeles Dodgers), Notre Dame pitcher Brett Graffy (Joliet Catholic/24th round to the Chicago White Sox), Delta State pitcher Ken Smalley (St. Charles North/24th round to Oakland), St. Xavier pitcher David Cales (Mt. Carmel/24th round to the Chicago Cubs), Ball State shortstop Dean Anna (Lincoln-Way East/26th round to San Diego), Hill Junior College third baseman Kyle Wilson (Crystal Lake/31st round to the Chicago Cubs), Northern Illinois pitcher Trevor Feeney (Joliet Catholic/31st round to Detroit), Evansville pitcher Wade Kapteyn (40th round to Minnesota), Missouri shortstop Lee Fischer (Sandburg/46th round to the Chicago White Sox) and Bradley pitcher Rob Scahill (Willowbrook/48th round to the New York Yankees).
Among players still competing in college, three area products were named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans last Wednesday by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
Heading the trio are two players who were named their respective conference's Freshman of the Year -- Illinois State shortstop Kevin Tokarski (Downers Grove North) in the Missouri Valley and Western Michigan starting pitcher Brian Stroud (Providence) in the Mid-American Conference.
Tokarski earned the conference award on May 19, capping a year which saw him start all 52 of the Redbirds' games. He finished second on the team in hitting with a .302 average and was ISU's top hitter in conference games, hitting at a .308 clip. Tokarski's 46 runs scored on the year were only one away from tying for the team-lead and he easily topped the squad with 32 stolen bases in 41 attempts.
Stroud earned his conference accolades on May 20. During the '08 campaign, he won all six of his decisions with a 4.02 ERA, while striking out 53 and walking 32. He was particularly effective in MAC play, going 4-0 over eight starts with 36 strikeouts and holding opposing batters to a conference-low .184 average. For the year, hitters only batted .193 against Stroud, which was the 12th-best mark in Division I baseball, and managed only 15 extra-base hits.
Illinois left fielder Casey McMurray (Lyons Township) was also honored. He started 48 of the 51 games he played in for the Fighting Illinois, finishing fifth on the team in hitting with a .331 average. That number was .338 in Big Ten games and he only committed three errors on the year in the field. McMurray didn't have any home runs in '08 but he drove in 24 runs and tied for the team lead with 12 doubles.
Despite being forced to sit out the season's home stretch due to injury, Johns Hopkins junior first baseman Ryan Biner (Prairie Ridge) made a mark in his first year on varsity for the Blue Jays. With Biner sidelined since an April 22 game at Montclair State, his teammates advanced to the final game of the NCAA Division III College World Series, which they lost in heartbreaking fashion on May 27, 5-4 to Trinity College in the bottom of the ninth when two consecutive batters were walked with the bases loaded.
Biner played in only 23 games in 2008 but was still named first-team All-Centennial Conference. He started 21 of the games he appeared in and hit a blistering .488 in that span, with no homers, 29 RBI and 14 doubles.
Also honored by the Centennial Conference was Haverford senior catcher Will Stafford (Evanston), who earned second-team all-conference accolades. During the '08 season, he started 33 of the Fords' 37 games, hitting .294 with a team-high six home runs and 24 driven in. In part-time duty as a junior in 2007, Stafford hit .333 with a home run and 12 driven in.
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