August 5, 2008
By David Driver
Used with permission
By David Driver, Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Erlana Larkins stood beside the Liberty team bus, idling in the bowels of the Verizon Center, as she waited for a ride to the train station and a trip back to New York.
The Liberty had just won a rare afternoon game in Washington, but for Larkins, it was another game spent on the inactive list.
While she experienced first-class travel with the Tar Heels, Larkins is not used to sitting on the bench, no matter how nice the surroundings.
"I am a basketball player. I am a competitor," she said. "There is no getting used to (sitting). But you go with the flow. Whatever happens, happens."
Larkins, a 6-foot-1 forward, was the 14th overall pick in the WNBA draft's first round earlier this year, chosen by New York after she finished a four-year, All-America career in Chapel Hill.
The Florida native started all 35 games last season as a UNC senior and averaged 13.5 points and a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game. She ranked among the top 15 in seven categories in the ACC and was the Most Valuable Player of the conference tournament in 2008.
Larkins, who turned 22 in April, was named to the State Farm All-American team, USBWAA All-America team, AP All-American second team, ESPN.com All-America second team and the all-ACC first team.
There were many good moments for her in Chapel Hill.
"Man, there are a lot of good memories," she recalled. "The first time I stepped on the court, all of the people I met from North Carolina. It was some good times."
Now she is adjusting to the WNBA, where the Liberty have off until Aug. 28 for the Olympic break. New York, which stumbled to a 1-3 start out of the gate, is 15-10 and in second place of the Eastern Conference after its last game, a 10-point win over Atlanta on July 27.
"It is different. College is more team oriented. It is kind of more individual" in the pros, she said.
What is the biggest adjustment to the pro game? "I would say on the court, because when you come out of college you are playing. It takes some getting used to," she said.
She averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in her first 18 outings (all off the bench) for the Liberty in games through July 27. But the last game she played was July 5 at Phoenix, when she played 11 minutes and had two points and two rebounds in a New York win.
After that, Larkins traveled with the team but was not activated to play.
Said New York head coach Pat Coyle: "It is not unusual for rookies to be on the inactive list (for some games). Erlana has a bright future in New York."
Larkins said the New York coaches tell her to be positive.
"They tell you, 'Just always be open and willing to learn.' This is a new thing. There is always something that can be taught," she said.
Larkins has faced former UNC teammates in the WNBA, including Camille Little of the Seattle Storm.
"It was really different," Larkins said, "just to see them in a different uniform was kind of different."
Larkins lives in suburban White Plains, N.Y., not far from where the team trains. That too, "is different," though at least it's not a negative change.
"There is constant movement (in New York). We stay in a pretty peaceful part," she said.