NEW YORK, July 11
-- As the premier women's league in the world, the WNBA already holds a rare position in sports.
On Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), the WNBA will be able to witness something unique: its glorious past and its bright future gathered in one place.
Early Tuesday, the All-Decade team gathered for a historic photo. A few hours later an All-Star record four rookies -- Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter, Sophia Young and Candice Dupree -- took the floor for practice.
Never has the WNBA seen such a convergence of youthful excellence for it's mid-season showcase. As a matter of fact, only six rookies prior to the 2006 Game have ever made an All-Star appearance, the last being Detroit's Cheryl Ford in 2003.
Surrounded by All-Decade players Sue Bird and Yolanda Griffith, Pondexter finds herself at center of a rookie renassiance.
Jesse D. Garrabrant /NBAE/Getty Images
This year, the All-Star Game features Augustus, the league's leading scorer, Pondexter, the third-leading scorer, Dupree, who is the seventh in the league in scoring among forwards (five of whom are All-Stars) and Young, who is seventh in the WNBA in rebounding.
That's quite a Draft class.
"They come in and they're able to make an impact right away," said Sue Bird, herself a rookie All-Star in 2002. "That obviously affects their teams and just makes the league better."
Dawn Staley, a member of the WNBA's All-Decade team knows first hand the league will reach new heights soon. She coached Dupree at Temple University.
"They are very good, they are players that could take our league to the next level," Staley said. "I think within the next two years the WNBA will be played above the rim. And I think that'll be really exciting for everyone."
The rookies, despite their heady play, have kept their feet firmly on the ground during the All-Star festivities.
"We knew we could come in and play basketball, but I don't think either of us expected to be near the top in scoring," Augustus said. "We just wanted to come in and have a good time."
This immediate success, however, was not unexpected by the rookies.
"I think we think highly of ourselves, but I do think we surprised some people," said Pondexter, who's pouring in 21.9 points per game. "We're competitors, we work hard and we play hard."
Yet, as most rookies find out, the pace of play and minimal breaks in the schedule have been the biggest changes from their college days.
"The traveling and playing, travel one day, play the next," Young said. "And the competition, every game is a tough game. Everybody on every team is good."
According to the Mystics' Alana Beard, this group of rookies has proven to be good and then some.
"Their impact has been unbelievable," Beard said, "and I'm not surprised. I've followed them, I went back to AAU, college, so to see them come in and play well, they really make the game exciting."
One of the more intriguing matchups of the 2006 All-Star Game will be when Dupree, who has replaced leading vote-getter Tamika Catchings on the East roster, and her former college coach, Staley, are on the floor at the same time. Will Dupree respect her elder?
"I still call her coach Staley," Dupree admitted. "She's sent me a couple of text messages, but I haven't talked to her. I spent all of last night traveling, so I haven't seen her yet today.
Dupree gets to square up and face her college coach, Staley, in the 2006 All-Star Game.
Andrew D. Bernstein /NBAE/Getty Images
"But I did call her for some outfits, business casual outfits and she was the first person I hit up."
And while Dupree calls her old coach for sartorial advice, she knows what to expect from coach, er, Staley when they hit the floor.
"I'm sure she's ready to run her team, get her teammates open looks like old school point guards do," Dupree said.
Any advice for her Eastern Conference teammates?
"No," Dupree said, "but I'm sure [coach Staley will] have some about me."
Staley notes that it could be strange seeing one of her former charges across from her on Wednesday night.
"We faced each other in Houston," Staley said of the Comets' 71-60 win on June 2. "It's different and weird. I find myself still coaching her even though she's on the opposition.
"I think she has a fruitful career in the WNBA, I'm sorry that Catchings got hurt, but I'm glad that Candice got an opportunity on a larger stage."
And there is no stage larger right now than the Garden's on Wednesday night. Beard thinks such attention is warranted.
"The future of the league gets brighter and brighter every year," Beard said, "not to say that it wasn't bright before, right here, you can look up to so many players who have made this league what it is today, but to see these young players come in and do what they do, the future looks very promising."