By Ann Meyers, WNBA.com

July 4, 2006 -- I hope everyone is having a great Fourth of July. With the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game a little over a week away and the starters set to be announced in the next day or so, I wanted to share my All-Star picks as well as some thoughts from the first half of the season.

My backcourt locks in the East: New York's Becky Hammon, Washington's Alana Beard and Connecticut's Katie Douglas and the frontcourt would include Detroit's Cheryl Ford, Indiana's Tamika Catchings, Connecticut's Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin. I know that is seven players, but two of them will be our top reserves off the bench. I'd make Douglas and McWilliams-Franklin the reserves of that group.

I wrote this in the preseason, but what Sales and Douglas do for that team night in and night out never gets its due attention and respect. Becky Hammon also has kept the Liberty in many games this season even and continues to put up the numbers even as she draws double teams. Think about what that team would be without her. Tamika Catchings and Alana Beard are both playing really well again and have their teams at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Beard really seems to have blossomed.

I strongly considered having Sky rookie Candice Dupree as a center on the East team, but with Chicago's last place struggles, she may not get on. Indiana's Tully Bevilaqua is another player who never gets enough recognition for what she does and her impact has been huge for Indiana's success since she got there. Detroit's Katie Smith is having a good year, Deanna Nolan has become a regular All-Star and is having a nice year, but no one really sticks out for the Shock except for Ford.

The West is much tougher for me. It is really a dominant conference and so difficult to pick the All-Stars. More specifically, narrowing down the candidates to the five most deserving players is the challenge. The All-Star Game is for the fans, so the players picked will be fan favorites. It's not always even about who is playing the best. I think you will see Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi starting in the backcourt. But how do you leave Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter off the team? I think both will be there even if not voted on as starters by the fans. Lisa Leslie is a no-brainer to be the starting center and the three best forwards are Houston's duo of Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson and Seattle's Lauren Jackson. Both Swoopes and Jackson have been hurt and missed some time, yet Thompson has been the most consistent. She's having an incredible year again, another player who never seems to get enough recognition (even though she was a lock for the All-Decade Team). In picking starters, I'd lean towards Swoopes over Jackson right now. Swoopes was last year's M.V.P., the scoring leader who also had a great defensive year.

Rounding out the roster, there is no one on San Antonio or Sacramento that really deserves to be on the team. Yolanda Griffith will likely make the team, but neither she nor Ticha is really having an All-Star year. Chamique Holdsclaw probably deserves to be on the team just for how good the team has been since she came back. Do we have a Sixth Man Award? At this point, she certainly deserves that consideration. The Sparks won eight or nine games after her return before losing one. it is just tough for many other players to break through because of the popularity of these top players.

More From the First Half

Lisa Leslie is the frontrunner for the M.V.P. Award again this season. She is playing like she did when she was 26 and already won three Player of the Week Awards. I witnessed her 41-point game and she probably had a chance to score 50. I think the Sparks should continue to have Holdsclaw come off the bench because it keeps working.

This season is also prodcing the most 20-point scorers we have ever had. Two of them are rookies! For Cappie and Seimone, their ability to put up these numbers has been amazing. To see this kind of scoring, I am pleasantly surprised.

Is it bad defense? Is it the 24-second shot clock? Not necessarily. Teams are better and there is more talent. Teams can go deeper onto the bench where the players in the game can make an impact.

Cheryl Ford keeps getting better and better. She gets a double-double every night. Yet she does not get enough attention either. The Shock is a powerhouse. Same with Connecticut. I think Douglas and Sales got even better. They are solid on the frontline and Lindsay Whalen is getting healthier.

I was surprised at how Chicago came out. Even though they were an expansion team, they have some real talent. It just shows you how difficult tis league is when you get these players that have all been here before. Both of their wins came against Charlotte, who have only won a handful of games themselves. Yet, both teams have been in games that they could have and should have won. You cannot go into any game thinking you have it won. Even Minnesota beat L.A. by putting 114 points on the board.

In the past, we have talked about teams needing 10 games or so to find themselves after playing overseas in the offseason, but this season, teams have found their chemistry and hit their stride really early. It did not affect teams quite as much as it has in the past. Teams like Indiana and Washington got off to great starts and really have not slowed down. It will make for a great second half. Don't we know that things will come down to the last games on the last weekend? Detroit is coming on, too, and these top teams in the East will battle it out to the end.

Sacramento is the defending champions, but this is a team that still feels like no one gives them respect. San Antonio is a team that has surprised a lot of people... a last place team last year, they have already won more games than they did all of last season. Give Dan Hughes credit for turning things around. He is certainly a Coach of the Year candidate, along with the Sparks Joe Bryant.

I am looking forward to the All-Decade Team celebration at the All-Star Game this year and while I don't know who you would take off that list, I think it is really disappointing that Teresa Weatherspoon did not make the Top Ten. An eight-year founding player, she was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and took the Liberty to four WNBA Finals. She was certainly one of the most popular players in the league and set records for assists and steals.