August 12, 2020
She Got Next, Episode 2: Pepper Persley talks to Connecticut Sun’s Jasmine Thomas
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PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 10: Jasmine Thomas #5 of the Connecticut Sun shoots the ball against the Atlanta Dream on August 10, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.
We are proud to present another edition of She Got Next with Pepper Persley. In this episode, Pepper talks about her journey to becoming a nine-year-old WNBA journalist. Then she is joined by Jasmine Thomas, the Connecticut Sun point guard. The two discuss the Sun’s season so far, the WNBA’s efforts on social activism, and much more.
PEPPER PERSLEY: Welcome to the second episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. On this episode, you’ll learn a little bit about my journey as a journalist and hear my interview with Connecticut Sun All-Star guard Jasmine Thomas.
PERSLEY: But first, a little bit about me. I am a nine-year-old journalist and I love basketball and the WNBA. This all started when I was six and I did my first-ever interview. I interviewed Sugar Rodgers, then of the New York Liberty, and now the Las Vegas Aces. I really fell in love with interviewing, asking questions and learning. The next year, I wanted to do more and help promote the WNBA. I ended up interviewing a lot of awesome WNBA players. It was an amazing experience. Even though I was starstruck some of the time, I was able to ask people I really respect questions. Thinking of these experiences makes me smile.
PERSLEY: Another part of my journalism journey happened last year when I wanted to do something to help prevent bullying and help kids who are bullied. I was bullied in second grade, so I created an anti-bullying video for my school. I was able to talk to some WNBA players, members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and others to hear their experiences and get their advice. Then, during coronavirus quarantine, I wanted to do something to help people get through this tough time. So I created a talk show called “Dish with Pepper.” After around six episodes of “Dish with Pepper,” I wanted to do even more since I love journalism and interviewing. So I reached out to some WNBA teams and was able to attend some of their media days and press conferences. Then, my platform started to grow, so I created my own Instagram page. I started covering more and more WNBA teams, and in the process of expanding my coverage, I got two jobs, including this one with The Next.
PERSLEY: I am so excited to be able to expand my platform and continue to share some amazing stories. The reason I do this work is not only because I love it, but because I love sharing important stories. I believe that kids and adults need to see and hear people of all ages, colors, identities and beliefs. I look forward to sharing more of these stories with all of you each podcast episode. I want to give a big shoutout to all the people who have supported me in my journalism journey. It means so much that you have my back.
PERSLEY: Now, time for this week’s interview. Jasmine Thomas is not only a WNBA All-Star, but a chef, an aspiring WNBA or NBA front office member, sightseer and so much more. You get her perspectives on her passions on her blog, ja5mine.net. Now, my conversation with the awesome Jasmine Thomas.
PERSLEY: Hi everyone, and welcome to “She Got Next” with Pepper Persley. Today I’m here with Connecticut Sun All-Star guard Jasmine Thomas. I’m so excited to speak with you and thank you so much for being here, Jasmine.
JASMINE THOMAS: Thank you so much for having me.
PERSLEY: Thank you. Are you ready to get into the questions?
THOMAS: I sure am.
PERSLEY: Okay, I feel like I have to ask you this since it’s pretty big news. What are your thoughts on Kara Lawson being the new head coach of the Duke women’s basketball team?
THOMAS: I could not be more excited about Duke hiring Kara. I feel like the last few years, Duke basketball has had a tough time. And I think Kara is definitely the person that can get us back to where we want to be. She’s a winner, she’s a champion. She understands the culture that’s necessary, and I know that she’ll get some good recruits in there, and also make us alumni feel welcome back.
PERSLEY: Awesome. Can you walk us through a typical day in the life in the wubble and what your experience has been so far?
THOMAS: Yes, so, every day is very similar, if it’s a game day or if it’s kind of an off day, everything is scheduled out for us from our mealtimes to practice times, treatment times, [inaudible], and then of course, the game time. So you kind of wake up, you go eat, you going to practice or shootaround, then you might have a few hours of downtime in the afternoon. If it’s an off day, usually you’ll find the players at the pool, or you know, kind of trying to find some hangout time in the early afternoon, and then later on either you will have a game or, you know, you’ll just get your massages or head to practice.
PERSLEY: Awesome. I hope — those massages sound really awesome, especially when playing like almost every other day. What have you learned about yourself and your team during your time in the wubble?
THOMAS: I mean, for the most part from our team, I’ve just learned that off the court, we’re getting to know each other. You know, we’ve had — in Connecticut, we’ve had the same team for a few years, so now adding some new faces, having this time in the wubble to be so close and see each other every day has allowed us to get to know our new faces. And then on the court, it’s just to, you know, stay positive and keep fighting. You know, we’re working on our chemistry and getting everybody comfortable. We’re missing Jonquel Jones, who is a huge part of what we do here in Connecticut. So we’re just trying to stay positive, iron out some wrinkles and get back to winning.
PERSLEY: I know you mentioned some new faces and I know one of those people is DeWanna Bonner. How has DeWanna Bonner been fitting in to the Sun’s style of play?
THOMAS: Yes, we are so happy to have DB, she’s clearly, you know, her resume speaks for itself. She’s an amazing player, she’s a fantastic teammate, and, you know, she’s just been herself. We brought her here for her to help us win and bring a championship, but then she is a champion, and she’s really just asserting herself, you know, as that player, but also leading others. We have some young pieces around and I’m, you know, seeing her talk to them and teach them and kind of mentor them in that way. So she’s really blending in here and we’re finding a way to kind of play around her and play through her. You know, it’s an adjustment, but it’s gonna work out in the long run for sure.
PERSLEY: Yeah, I know you mentioned DeWanna as a big leader, but I also know you are. As a leader of the Sun, what have you seen from your team thus far in the season?
THOMAS: What I’ve seen is us doing a really good job of taking — you know, we don’t have practice, and usually in Connecticut we’re a team that really emphasizes video and preparation. So it’s a big part of why we’ve won in the past, and not being able to get on the court as much. I’m really proud of our group being able to take video and these walkthroughs to the court and execute our game plan. So for the most part, that is something to really be proud of, because that’s hard to do. And then also just everybody staying confident, you know, at any given time, shots aren’t falling or, you know, you feel out of sync or out of rhythm, and just to hear everybody stay positive and build each other up and come into these shootarounds and really encourage each other that the next game is going to be the best game, and the next game’s going to be a win. We really believe we’re gonna win every game, and I think that is something that I believe.
PERSLEY: Wow. I know you mentioned having limited practice time and only being able to rely on film. Can you just talk about how you’ve seen your team adjust to that?
THOMAS: Yes, I’ve seen us really — which is probably the most important piece — is really pay attention to personnel. So other players on other teams, we’re not the only team that doesn’t look like we usually do, there’s a lot of new faces around the league on different teams. With free agency, people have moved around a lot. So having us really understand the personnel that we’re playing against is really important. And I think that we’re doing a good job of that.
PERSLEY: Awesome. And I know you mentioned personnel and I know that’s one of the things that comes with being a point guard and knowing all the personnel. Can you talk about the other responsibilities that come with being a WNBA point guard?
THOMAS: I think what’s challenging about being a WNBA point guard is that, you know, finding that balance of when to score and getting its units involved. And something that’s been kind of what I’ve been encouraged to do more this season is to be more aggressive in searching for my scorers. I don’t know, just for me, I’ve been so used to kind of just scoring when I need to, when was my turn, not necessarily being aggressive from the start. So, it has been an adjustment for me, but also just managing the game. You know, we’ve lost most of our games. So for us, or for me as a point guard, it’s kind of trying to see like what possessions could have been better, what could make that difference defensively. So I rewatch all the games from start to finish just to see my decisions during those moments. And unfortunately, right now I’m turning it over a little bit, which is something that the point guard cannot do, but I’m sure I’ll make that adjustment.
PERSLEY: I’m sure you will. So the league played for — I’m going to switch over for a second to some of the activism. [THOMAS: Okay.] The league played for women like Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland. What is it like to be part of a league that is so committed to this type of important activism?
THOMAS: It honestly feels really good to be part of a league that, you know, it’s made up of 70 to 80% Black women. So for us to, you know, really be vocal and use our platform when we’re playing on, you know, a national stage, to bring not only the awareness, but actually put the pressure on real change, is so important to me, especially during the time of COVID. And, you know, systemic racism being a common topic, and just all the social injustices against Black people, it was really important to me in order to even step foot on the court, that this was part of our season. That every day that I stepped onto the court, I’m making an impact.
PERSLEY: I know I am repeatedly inspired by the WNBA’s activism. What do you hope to accomplish with this season dedicated to Say Her Name?
THOMAS: I just am, one, proud of our league for, you know, being on board with us, you know, we had some history in the WNBA where we didn’t really feel that support. So I’m happy that in 2020, we really feel that as a league, we’ve gotten to a place of understanding that we’re more than athletes, that it’s bigger than basketball and that we can make an impact on the world. So ultimately, that’s what I hope is the goal and what we accomplish this summer. But then moving forward, we continue to do it, you know, that’s something that we keep hearing and seeing is like, you know, keep your foot on the gas, don’t let this just be a trending topic. So it’s not something that we want to just do this summer. It’s something that we want to do, even when we’re not playing and when we go into next season that we continue this fight.
PERSLEY: I know I mentioned this before, but I am so inspired by the activism. And what do you hope other children and young fans will learn and take away from the WNBA’s activism this season?
THOMAS: I just hope that young kids realize that you don’t have to wait to make an impact. You don’t have to have a million followers. You don’t have to be someone that’s on TV. You can make a difference right there in your classroom, in your friend circle, in your family, in your community. Because ultimately, that’s where it starts. It starts in your close, intimate group, and then as we change our hearts and change our minds, we can affect larger amounts of people.
PERSLEY: So true. And I want to be known as more than an athlete because I have other activities I enjoy outside of sports. I read an article from 2018 in which you talked about how you wanted to be known as more than an athlete because you have other interests and passions. Why is it important for athletes, especially WNBA players, to be seen as more than an athlete and how have you seen the expectations that athletes are only athletes change?
THOMAS: I mean honestly, I think people that do only view us as athletes, I don’t know. I think it’s a little bit of ignorance, I think it’s definitely not fair, especially because a lot — most of us are, you know — well, all of us were college-educated. We’re, you know, we’re human. We have everything that we enjoy and other things that define us more than just our sport. And I just think it’s important that while we’re professionals, it provides us this amazing platform in order to influence other people. but it also gives us the opportunity to show that there’s other things we want to be involved in, there’s other things that, you know, we’re interested in. For instance, I like the business of sports. So outside of basketball when I retire, I want to go into hopefully someone’s front office of an NBA or WNBA team, so it’s things like that that people wouldn’t know about us, but they don’t even give us a chance.
PERSLEY: Wow, well, that sounds really awesome. And I can’t wait to see you in the front office of the W or the NBA soon. I saw your message to your best friend, Denay Wood. What does her commitment to saving lives mean to you?
THOMAS: It means everything. You know, she’s someone that has been with me since I was a kid, we were like sisters, and to see her make that sacrifice during this time, still going into work, still working with patients, even in the time of COVID, it just shows her selflessness and her sacrifice. And for me that’s inspiring, to give yourself for the benefit of others. It’s something that we don’t see as much as we need to. So I love her. She’s an incredible woman, and she’s one of my role models for sure.
PERSLEY: So awesome to have so many amazing doctors and nurses doing all this stuff, including your best friends. What do you want people to know about you, Jasmine Thomas, that they might not already know?
THOMAS: I don’t know. I just think that I want people to know that I have a huge heart. I know that that’s something a lot of people will tell you is on most teams I’m like the mom, I’m the one that always has the snacks at the right time, that always has the hand sanitizer, that when someone’s missing something, they’re like, “Okay, ask Jas.” You know, and I’ve really embraced that just because it’s who I am. And I really want people to know that I’d do anything to make this world a better place and just help people feel happy.
PERSLEY: I know happiness is key. And thank you so much for being on my show and giving all these amazing, inspiring answers.
THOMAS: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I have to let you know that this show is awesome and that you are a true inspiration as well.
PERSLEY: Thank you so much. Well, I wish you the best of luck in the rest of the season. And thanks again for being on “She Got Next” with Pepper Persley.
THOMAS: Alright, thank you so much, you take care.
PERSLEY: Same. Bye.
PERSLEY: I really enjoyed talking to Jasmine and learning more about her. Big thank you to Jasmine and the Connecticut Sun. And please check out her website. It’s awesome.
PERSLEY: I will be back next week with another episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. As always, you can find me on Instagram at @dishwithpepper. Thank you so much for listening.