Back in her native California, Haiden Palmer took a break from spending time with family during the holiday break on Thursday to talk about her whirlwind year. She was a highly touted guard at Oregon State during the 2009-10 season, playing under coach LaVonda Wager.
Palmer, a 5 foot 8 shooter, transferred to Gonzaga last summer, however, after parents and players went public about player abuse and a controlling environment created by Wagner. Here Palmer (pictured right by Ethan Erickson) talks about what she experienced as a freshman at OSU and her current career with the Zags:
Women’s Hoop Blog: What people say of coach LaVonda Wagner is that she was a nice person, which conflicts from media reports about the team culture. Did you see a change in personality?
Haiden Palmer: It was the whole situation rather than one specific thing with her. It was hard to deal with losing and the kind of tough daily schedule and tough practices and some verbal stuff. I could tell it affected each person differently, that’s why a lot of the reports were different. It maybe wasn’t as bad for me as it was for some of my teammates. I do think she treated each of my teammates in a different way.
WHB: Were you thicker skinned, then?
HP: No. I don’t think it was easier for me…Honestly, I’ve forgotten a lot about last year, so it’s harder to explain. I’m trying to block it out. But it definitely made me stronger and my former teammates stronger on and off the court. I don’t regret going there, but I don’t regret leaving either.
WHB: So, it didn’t matter who was hired at OSU, you were transferring to Gonzaga?
HP: I didn’t see Oregon State being a very promising thing for me. I’m glad things look good for them now, but I’m still glad I left. When I left, a lot of my teammates had already left, too. That had a lot to do with it. Even if coach Wagner was able to stay or not, already half my team left — people I was pretty close to. And media made it hard for us to focus on basketball. Now they’re doing good, but it took a lot to get where they’re at right now. I wanted something more promising for me.
WHB: That’s Gonzaga?
HP: A big part of me leaving was I wanted to make sure I had a coach I could trust and interact with and a team I liked. Obviously they’re a successful team, they just went to the Sweet 16. All of that looked a lot more promising for me, so that’s what made me want to leave.
WHB: What were your original schools coming out of Vista del Lago High (Moreno Valley, Calif.)?
HP: Utah, Oregon State and Santa Barbara. Not big schools. Oregon State was the best school for me at the time because of the conference, the Pac-10. And coming out-of-state, I don’t regret it because even though we were losing, I was able to get recognized. When I wanted to leave, bigger schools were looking at me like Cal-Berkley, Gonzaga and Arizona. It worked out in the end.
WHB: You’re not playing this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but how is it at Gonzaga? I hear you’re pushing senior PG Courtney Vandersloot pretty hard in practice.
HP: It’s completely different. What I’ve come to realize on both sides of it is that the environment is really important as far as getting along with your coaches and teammates. Especially in women’s basketball. The emotional side of it, that we all really care about each other, that makes everyone play harder and play together. I don’t see any of the tactics that I saw at Oregon State. Everything seems really positive. I like coach (Kelly Graves) and I believe in what he’s trying to do and I’m really excited to play next year. I still feel like I’m contributing this year. Me and Coach Lisa (Mispley Fortier) actually talked about it, as far as the best way I can help is help Courtney get better by playing good defense on her.
WHB: Then do you keep in contact with former OSU teammates?
HP: A few, but not as much. We all kind of moved away from it, but I still talk to a few every once in awhile. I just saw Talisa Rhea (Seattle University) when we went to the Seattle (Holiday Hoops Classic). But I think we’ve all moved on.