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Second Coming
By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com

WASHINGTON -- When the 2006 rookie class landed four players in the All-Star Game last year, it was noted as quite a remarkable achievement. When the same four players returned as All-Stars in their sophomore seasons, it signified the start of something special.

Chicago’s Candice Dupree, Phoenix’s Cappie Pondexter, San Antonio’s Sophia Young and Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus were all in Washington, D.C. on Sunday as the East held on for a 103-99 victory over the West.

While the foursome didn’t exactly usher in a new era at the Verizon Center, it was evident they belonged.

“We came into this league prepared to get back-to-back All-Star selections,” said Augustus. “To be All-Stars it says a lot about the programs we came from and about the teams we’re on now. So hopefully we can continue to be successful players in this league.”

Dupree, Pondexter and Augustus were all selected as reserves by the coaches, while Young was picked as a late replacement for the injured Rebekkah Brunson, although most felt Young deserved to be selected the first time around.

“I think we set a tone last year for the way our class is going to be,” said Young. “When you see Cappie, Seimone and Candice being named All-Stars again, it says that we are staying on that level. We’re just trying to stay on top.”

Among all the Super Sophs, Pondexter provided the biggest spark in the game, hitting an array of outside shots and finishing with 12 points, which was also the highest total among the West bench players.

Pondexter’s 2007 All-Star showing was an improvement over her 2006 effort, when she totaled just four points.

Conversely, Augustus, who poured in a team-high 16 points in 2006 and was marked by some as a darkhorse MVP pick prior to Sunday’s game, managed only eight points off the pine this time around. But the league’s second-leading scorer at the break did help out on the glass, pulling down seven rebounds.

“Cappie and Seimone both have all-around games,” said Dupree. “They can get to the basket and they can shoot pull-up jumpers. It’s corny, but I guess you can only hope to contain them. You can’t stop them.”

Like Augustus, Young made her mark on the boards in the All-Star Game, and that was nothing new to the players familiar with her game.

“Sophia is a hard worker,” said Augustus. “She does the dirty work.”

The All-Star Game, which is notorious for encouraging style over substance, did little to change Sophia’s approach. Young contributed eight rebounds and even played stifling defense in her limited action on the court.

“Sophia is unbelievable,” said Pondexter. “She can hit the fade-away jumper. She can score from anywhere. She’s a small forward, but she’s kind of mighty and strong.”

Young didn’t get many scoring opportunities Sunday, attempting just six shots and finishing with three points, but she has raised her scoring average 3.2 points per game (15.2) from her rookie campaign. As a result, the Silver Stars have benefited.

“Sophia Young has stepped up big time for San Antonio,” said Dupree. “She’s upped her scoring average and she’s a strong rebounder. She’s doing great job. San Antonio’s first in the West. I think she’s played a big role in that.”

Dupree is equally important to her squad as she currently leads the Sky in both scoring and rebounding at the break. But her style is a little different from Young’s, and that was clear Sunday.

In fact, Dupree relates better to a certain NBA player, according to her fellow sophomores.

“Candice is smooth, like the lady Tim Duncan,” said Pondexter.

Dupree played like her NBA counterpart once again in the All-Star Game, quietly contributing eight solid points, mostly on her deliberate and devastating low-post moves. She shot 4-of-5 from the floor and also grabbed four boards.

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard it,” said Dupree about being likened to the Spurs big man. “I’ve been getting that since I was in college. I guess hearing my peers say that makes it sound even better.”

But heaping praise on the sophomores isn’t reserved to just their classmates.

“The second-year players we have are just amazingly calm and poised to only have been in the league two years,” said nine-year veteran and six-time All-Star Taj McWilliams-Franklin of the Sparks. “That says a lot for not only the development of the women’s game, but the development of each player.”

Augustus, Dupree, Pondexter and Young may signify the next wave of stars in some people’s minds, but the veterans proved Sunday that they’re not ready to hand over the torch.

McWilliams-Franklin ended the game with 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while seven-time All-Star Tina Thompson of the Comets turned in one of the better performances of the 2007 All-Star Game, collecting a team-high 19 points, grabbing six rebounds and draining five three-pointers for the West.

So the second-year stars still have a long way to go, but they're off to a great start.

Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter had 12 points in a losing cause for the West.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images