Since entering the league in 2008, it was expected to be a slow and steady build for the Atlanta Dream to get from the point of being a new franchise to developing into a top competitor. The Dream, however, did it quicker than most, turning a 4-30 finish in 2008 into an 18-16 playoff berth in 2009, and a championship run in 2010. Along the way, Atlanta could afford to be patient as the foundation was set, but a lot had to do with making the right moves in the WNBA Draft as well.
There’s no denying the impact Angel McCoughtry has made in Atlanta since she was selected first overall in the 2009 Draft, garnering Rookie of the Year honors that year and finishing third overall in scoring last season (21.1 points per game). But later in that same draft, the Dream selected guard Shalee Lehning 25th overall, and the rewards have been similarly outstanding. That shows in the standings and stats from last season, as the Eastern Conference champs benefited from Lehning finishing seventh overall in assists per game (4.8) and second overall in assists per 40 minutes (8.2). Sometimes though, it’s more than just numbers that can improve a team.
“She was the heart and soul of our team, and she was the steal of the draft,” said Marynell Meadors, coach and general manager of the Atlanta Dream. “When she showed her leadership and the qualities that she had playing point guard, the team really embraced her and tried to help her get through being a rookie in the starting point guard position. I just felt like her desire and her passion for the game showed, and our players just loved every second of it.”
Now as the Dream looks to pick eighth overall in the April 11 Draft at ESPN Studios, Meadors will no doubt be looking to keep her options open for another potential steal. Even with a roster that remains more or less intact from last – exceptions being reserve players Alison Bales and Yelena Leuchanka – Meadors knows that staying put could have its consequences.
“You’ve always got to be open-minded, because I just know being in this league as long as I have you can’t sit still,” said Meadors. “You always have to try and improve your weaknesses, and if you can improve your weaknesses than that’s what I have to do as a GM.”
In that sense Brittainey Raven, selected 33rd overall in 2010, is yet another example of a player who found a spot on the Dream roster thanks to a willingness to learn, show support for her teammates and put her nose to the grindstone in camp and practices.
“Chemistry-wise and enthusiasm-wise she did a great job,” Meadors said of Raven. “She was always very supportive of all of her teammates, and whether she got into the game or didn’t get into the game she had the same attitude. Every day she came to practice and she worked extremely hard and I truly believe she got better because of that. I think it was just her attitude and her approach to learning from other players that have been where she is and I think that she had an open mind when she came into camp.”
When you look at a high-octane offense like the Dream had in 2010 – who in the playoffs alone averaged nearly 90 points per game - it’s hard to imagine change is needed on that side of the ball. Consider it more like an enhancement.
Meadors suggested improving on a player like Erika de Souza, who not only plays a face-up game but also has the ability to back down toward the basket. But when it comes to defense, that just might be the one hurdle that the team has to overcome to bring home that WNBA championship.
Although Meadors is open to the options that await her in the draft, bringing the 6-foot-7 Bales and 6-foot-5 Leuchanka back remains at the top of her to-do list. Especially when you consider how other teams may fair above Atlanta’s No. 8 pick.
“You’ve got Elizabeth Cambage coming in at 6-foot-8, and you’re going to need somebody that big to at least look at her eye-to-eye,” Meadors said. “To me, Alison came in and proved herself. She lost 18 pounds, got herself in better shape, got herself strong and I think going through the season last year and the contributions she made to our success has got to help her as far as her confidence level is concerned.”
With regards to Leuchanka, Meadors is confident that her game is starting to come along at the WNBA level. Overseas, Leuchanka has made her presence known in not only her native Belarus, but also throughout the world as a member of her national team at this past year’s World Championship.
“I can see her getting better every single day,” said Meadors. “She’ll come into practice and she’ll shoot beforehand, but as soon as that practice is over, when she’s in the weight room, she’ll spend anywhere from four, five or six hours working on her game every day.”
Possibilities remain endless in the draft, and Meadors has already shown on more than one occasion her knack for finding a diamond in the rough.
Is she set to do it again in 2011?
-- Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com
Recent Draft History
|9. Chanel Mokango||1. Angel McCoughtry||8. Tamera Young|
|21. Brigitte Ardossi||25. Shalee Lehning||24. Morenike Atunrase|
|33. Brittainey Raven||27. Jessica Morrow||32. Danielle Hood|