By Bailey Johnson
In the Dream’s trio of point guards, two are similar and one is an outlier. Renee Montgomery and Alex Bentley can always be found talking, teaching, yelling and cheering on their teammates.
But rookie Maite Cazorla takes a different approach. She still cheers for her team, but you won’t hear her above everyone else the way Montgomery or Bentley’s voices stick out. Cazorla leads in a quieter fashion, but she’s still earning the respect of her team.
Dream coach Nicki Collen has been encouraging the rookie point guard to be louder from the minute training camp began, and Cazorla is now finding her voice.
“I don’t think she’s ever going to be loud, but she’s commanding her team,” Collen said after practice on Tuesday. “Our team knew what we were running in the game and they know what we’re running in practice.”
And while Montgomery and Bentley seem to bounce off the walls with their energy level, Cazorla exudes calm. She never appears rattled or flustered, and the moment is never too big. In her first career appearance in the WNBA, Cazorla played just five minutes but hit a 3-pointer for her first professional points.
In the five games she’s appeared in since then, Cazorla has made three more treys and dished out 13 assists against just three turnovers.
“She’s a player that — I would want to be her teammate,” Collen said. “She’s unselfish and she keeps her dribble alive and she finds open people. She usually makes good decisions. It’s gonna take her some time to be potentially a little more aggressive in terms of scoring, but I think at this point, she scores enough that people have to respect her.”
Collen has said before that point guard is a hard position for a rookie to play in the WNBA. Commanding a team and putting everyone in position for success requires a high level of knowledge — and going up against All-Star point guards like Kristi Toliver doesn’t make adjusting to the league any easier.
But Cazorla is finding her footing, and with Bentley away from the team for the EuroBasket tournament, her role is expanding every game.
Against Washington on June 23, Cazorla played a career-high 25 minutes and scored a career-high seven points. She’s scored in every game she’s appeared in, and she almost always looks at ease on the court.
“She was ready when it was her time,” Collen said after the Dream’s win over the Fever on June 19. “We’ve talked a lot about the day that I chose to keep her in the final cut. I told her that we were preparing her for this day, that this was gonna be her chance.
“Maite is not the world’s best — if you see her in a shooting drill, you don’t necessarily think she’s the world’s best shooter. But put Maite in a game, when the shot matters, there’s a pretty good chance — ask anyone who played against Oregon — that she’s gonna step up and make a shot. She’s just a gamer-type kid.”
Part of Cazorla’s ability to have that “gamer” mentality comes from the fact that she’s played on some of the biggest stages in women’s basketball. She left home at age 16 to attend an elite sports academy in Barcelona, a three-hour flight from her home in the Canary Islands.
By 2013, she’d won a European title with the U16 Spanish national team. Playing at a high level on a big stage isn’t new for Cazorla, and her experience puts her right at home in the WNBA.
“I think she’s just becoming more and more confident,” Collen said. “I think she’s a player that, because she’s calm, because she’s confident, because she’s played a lot of international basketball, I don’t think the moment’s too big for her.”