Promise Pushed All Star Duo

April 21, 2008.

That date is etched into the memories of Nicky Anosike and Charde Houston. It was the first day of training camp of their rookie seasons with the Minnesota Lynx.

The two were disappointed with their draft positions – Anosike slipping into the second round and Houston not going until the third – and wanted to prove they belonged in the WNBA. April 21 was their first chance to prove everyone they deserved to be picked higher. The odds would be long for both to find a place and make an impact with their new team.

But on that day, the two rookies vowed to push each other to be the best they could be and make it in the league.

After nearly a year and a half, it is safe to say that vow has been fulfilled as both Houston and Anosike will represent the Lynx at the WNBA All-Star Game in Connecticut on Saturday.

“It means everything,” Anosike said. “I felt like I needed to really prove myself because obviously what I did in college wasn’t enough. I felt like I needed to prove myself last year and I knew my second year would be crucial also as far as making a name for myself. It’s been nothing but hard work.”

It has been an incredible climb for the two, even in a short amount of time.

Anosike earned a spot in the starting lineup for Minnesota her rookie season, starting all 34 games while averaging 9.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 2.2 steals per game.

All those numbers have jumped up this season as she has averaged 14.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 3.1 steals per game. She is the only player in the league to be in the top 20 in all five categories.

Houston fought hard in training camp for her playing time her rookie season and scored 8.8 points and grabbed 3.7 rebounds per game in 33 appearances off the bench.

She has stepped up this season, starting all 17 games so far and leading the team with 14.5 points per game. She also grabs 6.2 rebounds and is hitting on 45.7 percent of her 3-pointers after not even attempting one last year.

The two became the fourth and fifth All Stars in franchise history and their appearance together is as much a testimony to the team’s success as their own. The Lynx have gone from finishing tied for last in 2008 to fighting for one of the top spots in the Western Conference despite trading away all but four players and losing U.S. Olympian Seimone Augustus to an early season knee injury.

“It just goes to show that our franchise is moving up and that we’re heading in the right direction,” Houston said. “Not only us two, but all of my other teammates as well have the attitude of a passionate desire to want to put this franchise on the map, to want to improve our record and to want to go to the playoffs. I believe we have the talent to do great things and it just goes to show we have the right players too.”

The two Minnesota players should see plenty of action in Saturday’s game.

Anosike is the lone center on the bench behind Los Angeles’ Lisa Leslie, who has not played since June 19 and only played in five games this season and was replaced on the roster by Sacramento’s Nicole Powell.

Seattle’s Lauren Jackson, who was voted in as a starter at forward, also could be questionable as she is recovering from a strained Achilles heel, leaving Anosike as the only true post threat on the roster.

Houston’s versatility could also play a role for the West as it looks to jumble its lineup with Leslie and Jackson’s injury. Expect the two to contribute plenty in Saturday’s game. Houston has shown this year she can grab rebounds while also stretching the defense with her 3-point shooting.

But the achievement will not be about how each player does in the game. It is more the culmination of a lot of hard work to get to this point.

Anosike and Houston were linked by a disappointing draft and bonded together to push each other to stick in the league and help the Lynx get better.

Now they have not only done that, but they can join the exclusive group of players who can say they are All Stars too.

“Ever since day one, (Anosike has) been encouraging me as I’ve been doing the same for her,” Houston said. “We’ve just been there to support each other and we set goals every year. It’s one thing to set goals and accomplish them. One of our goals wasn’t necessarily to make the All-Star team per se, it was to make the Minnesota Lynx team and prove that we are good players and that we do have the ability to become successful in this league.”

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