The Ultimate Professional
Lior Klinger ,05/05/2012
Those three words are what Plenette Pierson uses to define herself. Much has been said and written about this player who first came to Israel nearly a decade ago, and led Ashdod to a historic season. Moments after cutting down the nets, we decided it was time to let Pierson do the talking and listen to what she has to say about Ashdod, Ramla, herself, the Israeli players and more.

"What can you say, we just made history all in one season", said Pierson about an hour after winning her 2nd championship in Israel. "It hasn’t been easy. We've had so many ups and downs throughout the season. Reporters have talked about us fighting with each other, fighting with the coach, fighting with management, but when it was time to go out and play - we played together. It's just a spectacular feeling. We put everything that we've been going through the last 7 months aside, and it was about one goal. That’s the sign of a team", explained Pierson about the key to Ashdod's success.

Plenette Pierson really needs no introduction, but here's a short rundown for the younger generation. She is a Texas Tech graduate and will be 31 in August. She was the 4th overall pick in the 2003 WNBA draft, and came to Ramat Hen after her rookie year. Ramat Hen lost to Ramla in the finals that season. She came back to Ramat Hen the next winter, but was released after 4 games. In 2006 she won her first WNBA championship, and landed in Ramla shortly after. She led Ramla to win the Cup & Championship, picking up season MVP honors in the process. In 2007 she became the 1st player to win the WNBA's 6th Woman of The Year award, and a season later won her 2nd WNBA title with Detroit. In January of 2010 she returned to Ramla and left during the playoffs, more on that later. This season, well you already know.

"I wanted a championship for this city"
Before the tip of every home game in the Finals, as naturally as she shakes hands with the refs, Pierson would walk up to the hard core fans behind the basket to get them psyched and jumping like crazy. The commitment Pierson feels towards Ashdod, or any club she plays in for that matter, definitely cannot be taken for granted. "I don’t just sign a contract to sign a contract. Every country or city I go to, I feel like I have that city or that country on my back. It's like, I live for the next day so I'm going to give 110%. With Ashdod, I put them on my back and I wanted to win a championship for the city to the point that I'll do whatever I need to do to get it done. It doesn’t matter. I'll play 40 minutes and be hurt every day, I'll practice every day. I just wanted them to have that feeling, and not have a negative view of me. I don’t want to be one of those players that just want to get paid and that's that".

As the buzzer went off in game 5 and perpetrations began for the ceremony, those who followed Pierson with their eyes got a rare glimpse into what goes on in her head. Without giving it a second thought Pierson marched down to the jam packed stands and out of the standing, cheering sea of yellow shirts she pulled out a 17 year old junior team player, who practiced and played with the senior team early in the season. The kid took part in the ceremony and got her own piece of hardware.

"I'm actually completely different than what everybody sees on the court, it's like night and day", said Pierson. "People say I don’t smile when I'm on the court but that's my game face. Yes, basketball is fun to me. I know I don’t look it at times, but it's very fun to me. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t still be doing it", she continued. "Off the court I'm a smiley person, I like doing different things, I like site seeing, trying new foods, I'm a baker. I'm a creative person, I like making gift baskets and scrapbooks and things like that. I'm just completely different, that's basically my work face. It's all or nothing".

Obviously we had to address the love hate relationship that went on all season between Coach Edni Dagan and Pierson. It was time to ask her how they managed to make it work. "We're both true Virgos, that’s the crazy thing. We both have very strong personalities but we both think the same", she explained. "Edni is a very strong personality and he wants everybody to give 100% and be 100% perfect. I think that worked to my advantage because in my daily life I also want everything to be perfect, even though there's no such thing as perfect. I think we gave each other a little leeway as far as the things that we were doing and saying to each other, so that made it work. We were able to talk to each other and understand each other. We're basically talking about the same thing just in different ways", like say, yelling. "I don’t take it personally, sometimes he's just frustrated and I'm just that person that is there at that moment and he knows that I can handle it probably better than some other players. He lashes out, but after the game we win, we laugh about it and we're ok. We've had arguments throughout the season where I didn’t want to speak to him and he didn’t want to speak to me but at the end of the day, we went our separate ways and came back the next day as if nothing happened. We're both mature adults and we're able not to hold grudges and keep going".

"People love to hate"
During the interview which took place outside of Ashdod's gym, people stopped by to say thanks and congratulations on an unforgettable season. Leaving a good impression on her environment is one of the most important things for Pierson, and that's something that didn't happen in the 2010 season with Ramla.

Pierson joined Ramla in January, 7 months after hurting her shoulder in the season opener of the 2009 WNBA season with Detroit. She underwent surgery and missed the entire season with the defending champs. She chose to make her return to the court in Ramla, with the same team she led to the double 3 years prior. "It was a little difficult, I was a little apprehensive about even being out on the court. It was my first time since the surgery, after sitting out for 6 months", Pierson remembered. Two months into the season, during the 3rd quarter of the Cup Finals against arch rival Ramat Hasharon, Pierson aggravated her right shoulder again while fighting for a rebound with Kia Vaughn. She was still laying on the floor behind the basket as Ramat Hasharon pushed its lead to 17. Pierson somehow came back out on the floor in the 4th quarter, Ramla eventually lost 65-69. "I didn't get back in the game, I just got back to the court. I didn't do anything. Obviously I was worried about making it worse, I came back because everyone wanted me to so I did what I could", Pierson told us after that game. Eight days later she left the country.

"I just didn’t feel comfortable with my shoulder, I felt like it was hurting me. I need to go back home. It was against their better judgment, but I left anyway", reflected Pierson. "There were a lot of comments and remarks that were made, about me. Anybody that knows me knows that I'm the ultimate professional and if it can be done - I'll do it. I play hurt a lot of times, I just don’t let anybody know it. It hurt my feelings to have those things said to me, about me, after giving them such a great season in 2007", said Pierson, who had to hear the Ramla fans cursing at her through the series. "People love to talk and people love to hate, it's just something that I use as motivation", she said, and yes it made the championship with Ashdod that much sweeter.

"Coming to Ashdod, I had everything I needed. The management was great, Tali [Krieff, the chairwoman] was spectacular in getting everything that I needed. It just felt like home here and that was something that I didn't feel like I got in Ramla. I feel like even if we would have lost today, the fans and everyone would’ve been so welcoming and understanding that we played our heart out, and it just didn't work out. It makes this even more special that we won, and the whole city of Ashdod loves us".

"They have to work hard"
On Monday, Pierson will report to the New York Liberty's training camp for her 3rd season with the club and 10th season in the WNBA. Over her career Pierson has played all over the globe, including in Russia, Italy, Turkey, Poland and of course Israel. Pierson played in 116 games wearing an Israeli team uniform, and we wanted to know what she really thinks about the Israeli league. Warning, you might not like the answer.

"I definitely think it's one of the weaker leagues", she began and continued to explain. "I think back to 2007 and even to my first year here, and a lot of the Israeli players that were playing then are no longer playing. It's amazing to see how many good players aren’t playing anymore. The young players now want to go to the college in the States which is a great thing for them, it broadens their horizons but it's almost like the league is deteriorating. I kind of understood the whole strike thing, to have 4 Americans on the floor at the same time is kind of a disgrace to Israeli players so I understand what they were striking for. I agree that they should be on the floor and be able to play but also, I think they have to work hard. They have to learn how to work hard and want to be out there. Nothing in life is given, neither for me. Every year and every day that you're on the court you have to find something that will enable you to get that next job. I think that's where some Israeli players lack. They could be so good, they have the potential but they don't want to work hard".

There could be several reasons to the difference in mentality between the Israeli and American players, Pierson seemed to point towards one. Growing up in such a small country like Israel, talented players are labeled as stars very early on. That doesn't really happen in the US. "When you first start playing basketball you're never the most talented player starting out. That's where you learn work ethic, that it's all about who's gonna work the hardest and learn the most, soak up the knowledge. I think sometimes that's where some Israelis players lack. They're not willing to open their minds and learn new things. In Ashdod, Ortal, Meirav, Nomi and the younger players, they would listen to me. Even if it was something small, something that they can do in the game, they'd listen. That’s a huge thing. Israeli players have to learn to work harder and absorbs knowledge. You can learn something every day."

Pierson does sound like a coach at times and certainly looks it during games, so we had to ask if she sees herself crossing the lines at some point in the future. The answer was yes, but it was kind of a reluctant yes."I'm a perfectionist. I'm ok with people being less talented then I think they should be, as long as they give 110%. If you're gonna give me everything on the court I can respect that, and we can work on something else to help you get better but it's kind of hard now. I look at the generation of girls that are coming up now compared to when I was coming up. When I was growing up, basketball was everything. I go to school and I was thinking about basketball, after school I had a ball in my hand till it was dark, I was always in the gym. Now, basketball is just something for girls to do. It's an extracurricular activity. It's hard for me to want to be in that position as a coach, knowing that the commitment is not there. I still feel like I should, because if I can change one girl's life, then I've done my job."

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Plenette Pierson
Photo by: Motti Klinger

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