WNBA players used to spend their offseasons playing overseas in other leagues. But after rules changed to force players to prioritize their WNBA teams, some players took other jobs in the offseason.
For the Atlanta Dream's Naz Hillmon, that meant shifting from basketball player to hoops pundit.
During the women's college basketball season, Hillmon served as a studio analyst and game analyst on the Big Ten Network. The Michigan alumna said working from the sidelines allowed her to gain a new point of the view on the sport.
"It taught me a lot, and that was a big part of why I wanted to do broadcasts this offseason," Hillmon told Bally Sports. "For the long run, I want to coach, but I felt like it would give me insight as a player, and as a coach in the future, of seeing the game from a different perspective. Especially in that instance, not being able to control anything that was on the floor or being able to pick up what was happening."
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Playing in games, both in the WNBA and in college, means Hillmon is usually wrapped up with her teams. Being a broadcaster allowed her to see how teams relate to each other before the game and how that differed from what she knows.
"Just seeing what their shoot-arounds looked like, how they prepped, how they interacted as teammates, how the coaches interacted with the teams, how it was different from what I did in college and different from what I do at the professional level. And then seeing how that translated into the game," Hillmon said. "So I really like to see the prep side of it. And really getting a deeper dive into some of the players as well.
"I mean, they're competitors for however long that I play against them, and now I'm trying to figure out who they are as people and as players."
Hillmon's curiosity about every aspect of basketball is what made her stand out to her Big Ten Network colleagues. Meghan McKeown, who has called Big Ten games as well as WNBA games, said Hillmon's growth over the course of the college season was noticeable.
"I'm just really proud of how she really came into her own by the end, gaining so much confidence every single time to step into a broadcast," McKeown said. "She was just so much fun to work with. I thought she just continued to get into a groove the more and more she did it."
Before Hillmon joined the Big Ten Network, she talked to several people in the media to get the best advice on how to prepare for the job. As the college season progressed, she referred back to her notes to continue her growth in broadcasting.
With a long-term goal of becoming a coach, she thinks she is already learning lessons that will translate to coaching.
"I think just being able to see it from the sidelines, see it developing," Hillmon said, "and how quickly I can pick it up is how quickly I will be able to translate it to my players, and I think that's super important. Offensively, defensively, those in-game adjustments."
Before she pursues coaching, though, Hillmon still has work to do in the WNBA with the Dream. Last season as a rookie, the 2022 15th overall pick averaged 4.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 19.8 minutes per game for an Atlanta team that went 14-22 and finished fifth in the Eastern Conference.
"I really want to be that person who is helping lead the team, that aspect of being here before with (coach Tanisha Wright)," Hillmon said. "I know exactly what she wants and what the staffs want, and being able to be a little bit of that bridging that gap between coaches and players, to make sure that we're putting out the best product.
"I just want to be more productive than I was last year. Incidentally, (that) goes to points, but I want to be a better defender. I want to be a better rebounder, and, of course, I want to be a better scorer."