July 15, 2023
How staying ready propelled Seattle Storm rookie Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu into the starting lineup
‘She just comes in and works harder than everybody, and you get rewarded when you do that’
SEATTLE — With half of the 2023 WNBA season already behind them, the Seattle Storm (4-16) are still struggling to put all the pieces together to create a winning puzzle. Head coach Noelle Quinn and her staff continue to shuffle around playing time, starting positions, and second- and third-string lineups to remedy the team’s seven-game losing streak and last-place spot in the WNBA standings.
This trial and error has resulted in 10 of the team’s 12 players starting at least one game this season. This has provided an opportunity for every rookie, veteran and those somewhere in between, including rookie Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, to get a shot at a starring role.
Fankam Mendjiadeu is one of Seattle’s four rookies and has seen every side of this lengthy role-testing process. Her minutes have bounced around from a couple minutes at the end of a game to a 10-minute appearance to a zero-minute “did not play,” or DNP. But in the past two and a half weeks, Fankam Mendjiadeu has gone from a frequent DNP to a starter. Her journey to becoming one of Seattle’s key pieces has been one of hard work, perseverance and seizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Since the day Fankam Mendjiadeu was drafted in the second round, Quinn could see her on-court abilities, citing the “pro-like” system at Fankam Mendjiadeu’s alma mater, South Florida. But Fankam Mendjiadeu had to conquer the mental aspect to unlock her fullest potential.
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“For me, it was more of the mental stuff,” Fankam Mendjiadeu said during training camp in May. “Just getting to know that I need to show up every day and be present in the moment and be mentally focused.”
While she might have struggled with her mental focus, her teammates and coaches were impressed by how Fankam Mendjiadeu’s diligence and motivation to work on her craft never seemed to waver with her playing time. As her seat on the bench became more and more familiar, she continued to approach every day as if she would start the next game. Being ready to be thrown into the game at any moment is something that Seattle’s veterans have drilled into the rookies, but they say Fankam Mendjiadeu has taken staying ready to the next level.
“She’s very coachable, she listens well and she retains information,” Storm guard Yvonne Turner said. “When the coaches tell her to do something, she does exactly that and then some. She’s a very hard worker; you never see her slacking or doing anything lazy. She sets some mean screens … The definition of staying ready is Dulcy.”
After about a month and a half of staying ready, her name was finally called. She earned her first career start against New York on July 8.
“I just saw my name starting on the scouting report, and I was really nervous,” Fankam Mendjiadeu said. “But I just had to pull myself into the game. I had to be ready because I’ve been working on my readiness every day, so I just had to keep going with that.”
But what does staying ready mean? To Fankam Mendjiadeu, it’s “going 100% every time we go into the gym. Just showing that you’re actually putting your heart into it.” Quinn elaborated from a coach’s perspective on the qualities that she looks for when deciding whether a player is ready for more responsibility.
“It starts with your preparation,” Quinn said. “Especially Dulcy, she’s constantly in getting extra work with her conditioning, her individual workouts, watching film sessions and so on. From my vantage point, the trust factor comes into what I see from her every day, and I knew at some point, there was going to be an opportunity for her.”
Fankam Mendjiadeu’s preparation certainly paid off, as she recorded a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds in 37 minutes against one of the top teams in the league in her first start.
“There’s 12 of us, but at any given moment, any of us can be a starter,” Turner said in a media availability with Fankam Mendjiadeu. “She’s a prime example. She’s been doing a great job for us and will continue to do a great job for us. The ‘stay ready’ definition right here sitting next to me!”
Seattle guard Sami Whitcomb noted that she and her teammates weren’t surprised by Fankam Mendjiadeu’s recent performances.
“She’s done it since camp; she just really hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase it in a whole game,” Whitcomb said. “She’s kind of had limited minutes, but I think you’ve seen it even in the limited minutes that she comes in. She comes in [and] impacts the game straightaway, particularly on the boards. And you’ve seen that she’s capable of scoring as well. She’s so strong. We say it all the time. She just comes in and works harder than everybody, and you get rewarded when you do that.”
Fankam Mendjiadeu was rewarded with starts in Seattle’s next two games before the All-Star break. If the first double-double wasn’t enough proof of her impact, Fankam Mendjiadeu recorded another one in the next game against the Washington Mystics.
These performances were reminiscent of her time at South Florida, where she ranked fourth in the nation as a senior with 24 double-doubles. Before landing at South Florida, Fankam Mendjiadeu spent two years at Memphis, where she was the only player in the American Athletic Conference to average a double-double in 2020-21 and was second in the conference in double-doubles the season before. Fankam Mendjiadeu’s talent has always been apparent, but as with most rookies, it took some time to convert those skills to the next level.
“I just needed more time to adjust to the system, but now I can say that I learned so much from that and I handle it much better now,” Fankam Mendjiadeu said of the mental and physical adjustment to the WNBA. “[The veterans] have been really good at directing us and letting us know the way to do something, how we are supposed to act. Their support has been really big.”
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With the help of her teammates, Fankam Mendjiadeu has been able to take a step back from her workouts and film sessions to reflect on her recent accomplishments.
“I’m really proud of myself, and I’m not usually like that,” Fankam Mendjiadeu said. “I am lucky enough to have the confidence of my teammates … they’re really hyping me up every time. When I mess up or not, they’re just like, ‘Keep going and be confident in yourself,’ and I’m just taking that and using that energy to just do what I do best.”
After averaging 30.0 minutes over the last three games, Fankam Mendjiadeu is spending the All-Star break relaxing with a friend in Florida before diving into the second half of her first WNBA season.
Fankam Mendjiadeu’s next test will come when Seattle hosts Las Vegas on July 20. If the recent pattern continues, Quinn will give her the start against the No. 1 team in the league, which gave the Storm their largest loss in franchise history on May 20. But Fankam Mendjiadeu will be ready for anything.
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