Emerging from shell: Former Terp Shatori Walker-Kimbrough adjusts to WNBA in rookie season

Soon after guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough shed her warmup shirt and entered a Washington Mystics game against the Seattle Storm last week, the former Maryland star caught the ball on the wing with what her coaches thought was enough space to shoot.

But the Terps’ all-time leader in 3-point field-goal percentage didn’t take the chance with the Mystics leading by a large margin in the fourth quarter, instead passing to a teammate at the top of the key.

Afterward, coach Mike Thibault called for Walker-Kimbrough to not let her aggressiveness dip despite playing limited minutes — just 7.7 per game through 10 appearance as a rookie heading into Wednesday night’s game at Phoenix. That’s a message Walker-Kimbrough is trying to follow as she adjusts to the professional level.

“When you go in, you can’t come in just trying to be safe and play out there,” Thibault said. “We talked to her about that and said: ‘Play like you know how to play. This is your playing time. Take advantage of it.’ ”

From her perspective, Walker-Kimbrough wasn’t sure she had enough space on the play.

So, in conversations with her coach and later in video review, she said she would ask questions to better understand the WNBA flow and expectations.

“Just being able to go back on film and ask him what he thought,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “Just the confidence that he gives me. It’s not every day that a coach is going to be like, ‘Shoot the ball.’ It could be worse.”

Walker-Kimbrough has tried to channel that inquisitive approach since joining the Mystics as the No. 6 overall draft pick in April after capping a Maryland career that included two Final Four appearances, a slew of national honors and her jersey hanging in the rafters.

She’s bonded this season with Kristi Toliver, who played at Maryland from 2005-06 to 2008-09 and signed with the Mystics during the offseason, asking her for help with game plans and scouting reports.

Anywhere from the court to dinner, Walker-Kimbrough has peppered Toliver with questions, and the veteran, in her ninth WNBA season, will talk her through the idea or demonstrate the sets.

“I know that she’s a basketball junkie, so for me, that’s been nice that we can just talk basketball,” Toliver said. “She’s doing well, and I hope that she continues down this path. She’s had a great attitude since I’ve been around her.”

In practices, Walker-Kimbrough has also relished the chance to play against her more experienced teammates. She often matches up against Tayler Hill, a guard the rookie called “lightning fast.”

“If I can go against them in practice every day, I’ll be fine in the game,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “Just being able to push myself in practice and being ready when coach calls me.”

So far, Walker-Kimbrough’s efforts have resulted in 2.5 points a game, shooting 7-for-16 from the field. She earned her lone start June 4, playing 18 minutes and making three free throws in a win against the Atlanta Dream.

In those appearances, Thibault said, she’s shown progress, just as she did throughout her 11 minutes against the Storm last week.

A few minutes after she passed up the look from deep, Walker-Kimbrough swiped the ball from a Seattle player, dribbled upcourt and made a layup.

With Maryland coach Brenda Frese and members of her staff cheering and taking pictures in the section across from the Mystics bench, Walker-Kimbrough said it felt like a move she’d grown accustomed to making with the Terps.

“She’s a worker,” Toliver said. “She works every day. Before practice, after practice, she’s being a rookie. She’s being a good rookie, and that involves asking a lot of questions, being involved in on-court, off-court things. It seems that she’s enjoying it.”

Next game

Mystics@Mercury

Wednesday, 10 p.m.

Video: leaguepass.wnba.com

ccaplan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/CallieCaplan

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