Mercury Beef Up Defense By Selecting Irvin in Draft

By Brad Falduto
East Valley Tribune
April 17, 2004

The Phoenix Mercury added a defensive-minded forward to their frontcourt and a former NFL All-Pro wide receiver to their fan base Saturday with the third pick in the 2005 WNBA draft.

Sandora Irvin, who broke NCAA records for blocks in a game and a career this season at Texas Christian, was chosen by the Mercury after Minnesota center Janel McCarville went No. 1 to the Charlotte Sting and Mississippi State guard Tan White was taken by the Indiana Fever.

With its other selections, Phoenix chose Illinois forward Angelina Williams at No. 18 and Texas guard Jamie Carey at No. 31.

Irvin, the niece of former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin, said she couldn’t be happier with where she ended up.

"My dad and (Michael Irvin) talked about Phoenix, and they said, ‘I hope Phoenix gets you,’ " she said. "My whole family is really excited about it. I’m definitely in awe right now, and I’m soaking it all in. I can’t wait to get there."

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Irvin said she also can’t wait to start playing with point guard Diana Taurasi.

"She is like a coach out there," Irvin said. "I’m hoping she can teach me a lot of things and help me. I think we can be great combo, like Kobe and Shaq back in the day."

That probably won’t be the case this season, but general manager Seth Sulka said the potential is there.

"She has progressed and grown as a player tremendously over her time in college . . . and we feel that she is going to continue to get better," Sulka said. "In the long term, we think that this kid can be an All-Star in this league."

Drafting Irvin (6-foot-3) addresses the Mercury’s biggest weakness from last season, the lack of a post player who could rebound and defend against the league’s best. With the free agent signing of 6-4 center Kamila Vodichkova in the offseason and the potential return of 6-8 center Maria Stepanova, who has been in her native Russia since the end of the 2001 season, Phoenix’s post game is in vastly better shape.

"She is an exceptional athlete, she’s versatile, she has great work ethic, and she comes from a pretty good gene pool," Mercury coach Carrie Graf said. "I think she has a tremendous upside.

"We are going to have to make some tough cuts at camp, the way our roster is now. . . . I think (the additions) combined with the talent we had last year; it’s a really exciting time for us."

No one appeared more excited than Michael Irvin, who coincidentally was at America West Arena for the draft. He played in a charity basketball game Friday at Desert Mountain High School and was at the Mercury’s draft headquarters Saturday to do a TV interview with ESPN2.

"I love Diana Taurasi. I love her to death, and I always wanted Sandora to play with her," said Irvin, who added he will be a regular at Mercury games this season. "I’m blessed that she is finally getting that opportunity to play with another great player like Taurasi."

BONUS SHOTS: Sulka said Williams’ biggest draw was her talent. "She’ll make us more athletic on the perimeter," he said. "She was under the radar playing at Illinois, but she’s one of the top two or three athletes in the draft." . . .

As for Carey, she appears to be a long shot to make the team. With Taurasi, All-Star Anna DeForge, veterans Penny Taylor, Nikki McCray and Tamara Moore and newly signed Belinda Snell, the Mercury are already deep with perimeter players.

COPYRIGHT 2005, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.