By Ed Odeven
Yuko Oga has played a grand total of 19 minutes in her first three WNBA games.
But already she’s given her new boss, Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines, a clear understanding of what she can accomplish as a rookie point guard for the WNBA’s reigning champions.
“Her ability to come into the WNBA and play without fear despite the difference in style of play has impressed me greatly,” Gaines told The Japan Times.
“Her speed allows the team to move faster. I’ll use her in our rotation to give us a spark off the bench.”
Under previous head coach Paul Westhead, the Mercury established their trademark run-and-gun offense. It’s continued under Gaines, who played college ball under his legendary predecessor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
The style of play is conducive to what Oga likes to do on the floor: run, run and run some more.
The reigning WJBL MVP, Oga led her JOMO Sunflowers team to four league titles since joining the team in 2001.
In 2007-08, she averaged 15.6 points (fourth in the league) and league-best numbers in assists (7.0) and steals (2.39).
In a recent conference call with reporters in Japan, Oga said she’s working on building a stronger bond with her teammates and wants her hard-nosed mentality to lead to productivity on the court — getting good shots, earning trips to the charity stripe and giving her teammates a spark whenever she’s on the court.
She is the second Japanese to play in the WNBA. Mikiko Hagiwara, who’s now an assistant coach for the Japan women’s national team, played for the Sacramento Monarchs and Phoenix Mercury in 1997 and ’98, respectively.
It’s an honor that she won’t to take for granted. For sure, that mind-set will lead to more hours in the gym shooting jumpers or working on defensive mechanics.
“This is only the starting point,” Oga told Kyodo News, “but I am very excited that I was able to attain my goal of joining the WNBA.”