It's not that the Shock's improbable title run was void of intriguing storylines worthy of being savored for a day or two. You want storylines?
Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, Ruth Riley and Deanna Nolan muck it up with the Championship Trophy.|
Jesse Garrabrant/WNBAE/Getty Images
Look at the surprising emergence of Finals MVP Ruth Riley
The sharp talent of Swin Cash and Deanna Nolan.
The enthusiastic leadership of head coach, and local hero, Bill Laimbeer.
And last, but certainly not least, the dramatic turnaround that saw a team go from the very bottom of the standings one season to champagne in the locker room the next. These subplots are enough to impress even jaded sports fans, with the last one arguably being the most improbable feat ever achieved in professional team sports.
But as soon as Detroit hoisted the trophy on Tuesday night, it was time to stop waxing nostalgic and start looking forward. Once the final bit of confetti fell to the arena floor, it became time to ask the questions that inevitably come on the heels of a title, especially when that title comes at the expense of the two-time defending champions, and arguably the top player in the league.
Can the Shock win it again next year? And then maybe a few more seasons after that?
|Detroit Shock-Youth Served|
| Player|| Age* || Years in WNBA |
| Swin Cash || 23 || 2 |
| Cheryl Ford || 22 || 1 |
| Ruth Riley || 24 || 3 |
| Deanna Nolan || 24|| 3 |
| Elaine Powell || 28 || 5 |
|* Riley and Nolan both turned 24 in August. |
Cash will turn 24 on September 22.
Naturally, the first factor in determining a champion's chances for sustained success is age. Take a quick look at the Shock roster and it's easy to see that Detroit passes the age test with flying colors. Detroit entered the season with the youngest average age in the league (24.87). For the final game of the season, Bill Laimbeer trotted out a rookie (Cheryl Ford
), a second-year player (Swin Cash), two 24-year-olds (Deanna Nolan and Ruth Riley), and a 28-year-old (Elaine Powell) as his five starters. Detroit's first player off the bench, Kedra Holland-Corn, is also 28. Little-used post player Astou Ndiaye-Diatta is the oldest player on the team's roster. She's all of 29.
And the Shock knows how to use youth to its advantage. After their disappointing Game 3 loss, Sparks coach Michael Cooper was quick to bring up Detroit's young, fresh legs as being one of the major differences in the series.
"It's always nice to have youthful legs, and (Detroit) came out and ran the ball, played good defense, and then ran it back down our throat," said Cooper at the post-game press conference. "They have players that go 40 minutes and still sustain."
It's not just the team's age, or lack thereof, that should frighten the rest of the league, however. Equally important is the fact that the Shock might have only scratched the surface of their abilities. Ford, while a demon on the glass, is still a reluctant shooter and hasn't developed a go-to move in the post. Scorers Cash and Nolan have plenty of polish, but they still rely on their supreme athleticism to beat their opponents. With experience, all three will learn to balance skill with raw talent, and, hence, become even more formidable.
But perhaps no one gave a better glimpse of future greatness than Riley. With 27 points Tuesday night, Laimbeer's pet project showed just what the team had in mind when they made her the first pick of the 2003 dispersal draft.
"When (Ruth) got here at the start of the year she was saying, 'Well, Bill, I'm a back-to-the-basket player,'" recounted Laimbeer Tuesday night. "And I said, 'Well, I need you to be more of a perimeter player. I need you to go out to 15 feet; I know you can make that shot.'"
Laimbeer saw something in Riley that others might not have, and it made the difference in his team's title run. The coach's confidence in his players is hardly a one-way street, however, as Riley and company know that the Pistons legend was possibly the biggest factor in their success.
"Honestly, it all starts with coach," said Riley. "He told the organization last year (that we could contend) and they let him stay around and build a team he had confidence in. He really instilled that confidence in us as players."
So what factors work against the Shock heading into next season? First, a title one year means a tougher schedule the next. But rival Coach Cooper ultimately sees this as a good thing.
"(Detroit) will see what it's like to be on the road now," said Cooper. "Champions have to get out there and you have the (back-to-back road games), which we've experienced over the last two years and definitely have made us a better ballclub. And I'm pretty sure it will make them a better team."
Another more fundamental obstacle for the team to overcome is its reliance on an up-tempo, frenetic pace; one that flies in the face of conventional championship wisdom. But Laimbeer, who was known as a highly emotional player, wouldn't have his team change a thing.
"If you came to watch us play any time this year, we were so fun to watch," said Laimbeer. "We were very athletic. Strong, physical ... outside shooting, deep outside shooting, running the break. Exciting. It's exciting stuff. It's fun to watch a team play on the edge emotionally and physically like we do."
Fun to watch? Certainly. Fun to play? Not for the rest of the league.