Saturday, July 22, 2006

From hoops to altar, balance is always key

When Shanna Zolman's days on the basketball court are finished, she might want to consider joining the circus.

Considering her current situation, the former Wawasee High School star could have a bright future as a high-wire performer or even as a juggler.

Zolman is doing some kind of balancing act right now, juggling life as a WNBA rookie while planning her wedding.

Zolman, whose skills earned her a scholarship and starting role at the University of Tennessee, is in her first season as a San Antonio Silver Star.

"Being focused is difficult at times,'' admitted Zolman in a phone interview earlier this week. "But I'm able to focus on basketball and separate it from my personal life.

"Balance is crucial. I think that planning a wedding is a release for me. It gets my mind on something else.''

Zolman, the pride of Syracuse, will return home for her wedding on October 14. She will marry Andrew Crossley, who played football for the Volunteers. The two have dated for almost two years.

Focus on the court has never been a problem for Zolman. The 5-10 shooting guard holds the state scoring record (3,085 points) and went on to score 1,706 points to rank ninth all-time at UT. Zolman set career records for 3-pointers (266) and free throw percentage (.916) at Tennessee.

Now she's living her dream.

"This is definitely enjoyable,'' said Zolman. "I'm so happy and excited to be making a living playing the game I love. I feel blessed to be playing at the highest level possible.''

Zolman, who was drafted in the second round as the 16th overall pick in April, is finding her niche with the Silver Stars. She is averaging 6.0 points per game and shooting .368 from 3-point range while averaging 14 minutes a game. Zolman scored 15 points in her pro debut versus four-time league champion Houston and WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes. San Antonio is battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"I welcome my role with this team and I'm used to coming off the bench now,'' said Zolman. "They drafted me because of my shooting ability and that's what they want me to come in and do.

"I felt rejuvenated when I came into the league. It's so different. The new level of competition drives me every day. There are many ups and downs in your first year, but I'm enjoying it.

"I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. I trust God and his plan for me. Everyone here is amazing. The chemistry on this team is great. That's why I'm enjoying it so much.''

Zolman holds NCAA records for career (.916) and single-season (.957) free throw percentage and says her collegiate experience under legendary coach Pat Summitt is coming in very handy.

"Without playing at UT, I don't think I'd be at this level,'' Zolman said. "Playing four years under coach Summitt prepared me so well for this. All the things I learned there about discipline, work ethic and being a complete player have helped make the transition so much easier. At this level, they expect you to know everything about the game. Tennessee really prepared me for that.''

Zolman still places great emphasis on the priorities in her life. Faith and family always will rank ahead of basketball.

"My family (which includes parents Kem and Lynette and older brother Josh) means everything to me,'' said Zolman. "I'm not sure where I would be without them. They're always first. That's why basketball is year to year.

"I feel so blessed to have had the upbringing I did. I talk to my Dad before every game. I talk to him about basketball and my Mom about the wedding. They're unbelievable.''

Zolman also is eager for a homecoming of sorts August 5. The Stars visit the Indiana Fever for a 7 p.m. contest at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Zolman knows her loyal following of fans, who have been behind her every step of the way, will make the trek from Kosciusko County downstate.

"Any time I'm able to come back close to home it's exciting,'' Zolman said. "The support I've received and the following has always been unbelievable. I'm very, very appreciative of that. It will be great to see some familiar faces.''

With so much on her plate, the 22-year old Zolman still sneaks a peak into the future.

"I'm not excited about playing overseas this year as my fiancee is looking into dental school,'' explained Zolman. "I may go play there for short stints, but my focus will be working out in San Antonio in the offseason and marketing opportunities.

"I honestly think I can make a huge impact in this league. Shooters are welcome in the WNBA and that's a good thing for me. I want to play the game as long as I can.

"I think I have a bright future. Knowing how much better I can be energizes and intrigues me. My competitiveness has me looking forward to that.''