April 18, 2016

NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has spent time talking with many of the greatest players in WNBA history and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com. Jon visited with Janell Burse about winning a WNBA title and creating a new basketball league from scratch.

Janell Burse does not have to look up to anyone…seeing as she is 6'5". She was born in New Orleans and stayed there for college at Tulane, where she was an All-American as well as C-USA tourney MVP/DPOY. She was selected in the 2nd round of the 2001 WNBA draft by Minnesota, but after being traded to Seattle a few years later she helped the Storm win the 2004 WNBA title. After Hurricane Katrina hit her hometown in the summer of 2005, Janell worked hard to raise a significant amount of money to help the relief efforts. Now she is about to embark on her next adventure: deputy commissioner of the Women’s Minor League Basketball Association, a new league that tips off this fall.

In Game 3 of the 2004 WNBA Finals as a player for Seattle, you beat Connecticut to clinch the title: what was it like to play in front of a sellout crowd at KeyArena, and what did it mean to you to win a title? It was huge: I will never forget that moment. Seattle fans have always been the best fans and to play on such a large stage meant everything to me. Winning a title was definitely the high point of my career. I went to the NCAA tourney in college but never won a title so to finally get there was a huge moment for me.

You were born in New Orleans: what impact did Hurricane Katrina have on your life, and how have you been able to help raise money to help victims of the disaster? I was born and raised in Louisiana and went to college at Tulane. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 I was still playing for Seattle. We were able to raise more than $75,000 for a local church in New Orleans, and they used the money to do a lot of great work for the community.

You recently joined the NBRPA: how did you hear about the organization and what made you decide to join? WNBA Membership Coordinator Brittany Ray reached out to me about the organization about a year ago, and then I learned about all the work they did and all the opportunities they provided. The networking is endless: I get to reach out to other retired players and was aware of what everyone was doing even before I became a member.

What was the transition like from active basketball player to retired basketball player? It has been awesome! I hear about a lot of female players who do not know what they will do after they retire, and I did not want to be like that. Once I officially retired in 2013 I just shifted gears from playing basketball to running my own smoothie company called The Fresh Factor.

What have you been up to since your playing days came to an end?
I started Fresh Factor because I have always been into health and wellness, so when the opportunity came to work with LA Fitness I just jumped on it. Having the juice bars was a no-brainer for me and I get to educate people about nutrition and supplements, which was a great transition from being a pro athlete.

What is your best advice for current players who are close to retirement? I recommend they start planting the seeds for what they want to do after they retire and then use every available resource to start networking. Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks and was the owner of the Storm when I played there. He was only an arm’s length away from us at so many games/team events, but none of us thought to reach out to him at the time. We were star-struck because he was the god of Starbucks: I was always polite around him but never approached him about any business stuff.

janell burseHow did you get involved with the Women’s Minor League Basketball Association (WMLBA), and how did your experience as a former player help develop and launch this new league? It came from working as part of a team: during my career I, have seen so many talented pro players who got cut and so many great college players who could not get a job in the WNBA. I realize how few jobs there are for women to play pro basketball in the US so I wanted to help extend their careers and give them more options.

What is your role within the WMLBA? I am the deputy commissioner, but right now I am doing a little bit of everything! There is so much to get done before our 1st season tips off in October so everyone is stepping up to help get things done.

What can fans expect to see from this league, and what makes it different from other leagues? Fans will see a high level of basketball. When you hear “developmental” league most people think of the D-League, but our players will be in the gym as our women transition into becoming better players and putting a good product on the court. The WMLBA will be an extremely competitive league.

Where do you envision the WMLBA will be in 5-10 years? We are hopeful to have a partnership with the WNBA and FIBA and use those leagues as ladders to move players up and down to keep them in the sport as long as possible. I also envision our league producing some of the most talented players in the game who simply need an opportunity!

How can people find out more information on the WMLBA? Visit our website www.wmlba.com or can email me at jburse@wmlba.com. There are some coaching and ownership opportunities still available and I encourage those that are interested to reach out!