In-state stars add intrigue to training camp

Backcourt Battle Brewing

With his first two free-agent signings since the April 9th draft, Shock general manager and head coach Bill Laimbeer addressed an area of need while injecting some local flavor into what should be a fierce training-camp battle.

The Shock signed former Michigan State standout Kristin Haynie Wednesday, a week after the Atlanta Dream waived the 5-foot-9 point guard. After selecting guards with two of his three draft picks, Laimbeer continued to address backcourt depth, which he made an off-season priority.

“A facilitator is the position I was looking for but you also have to be able to hit a perimeter shot,” Laimbeer said. “So that’s kind of why we signed [Haynie] up now and I think she’ll be successful for us.”

Haynie, who hails from Mason, Mich., just south of Lansing and about 90 minutes west of Auburn Hills, is one of Michigan’s most recognizable female players after leading the Spartans to the 2005 NCAA championship game. The Shock have even hosted “Mason nights” when she’s returned to play at The Palace, first as a member of the Sacramento Monarchs and then the Dream.

Haynie is the Spartans’ alltime leader in assists and steals. In Big Ten annals she ranks third in steals, 10th in assists and is the fourth player in conference history to amass at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals.

The first player in Mid-American Conference history to reach those career benchmarks was Western Michigan guard Tiera DeLaHoussaye, who signed with the Shock last Thursday. After posting a school-record 250 assists her junior season, DeLaHoussaye averaged a team-high 4.6 assists in 2009, finishing No. 2 on Western’s alltime list with 650. The Detroit native won three Class B state titles at Detroit Country Day.

The competition

DeLaHoussaye and Haynie will compete alongside third-round pick Tanae Davis-Cain from Florida State, though Laimbeer wouldn’t rule out signing more players before training camp, saying, “it’s too early to tell.” With DeLaHoussaye and Haynie, the Shock would have 13 players in camp, two below the league maximum of 15.

Davis-Cain, selected No. 37 overall, is more of a scorer than her pass-first competitors. She averaged 13.0 points last season, shooting as well from beyond the arc (37.2 percent) as she did inside it (37.9 percent). She connected on a school-record 73 triples, making her Florida State’s runaway career leader in 3-pointers made (193). But she had just 42 assists in 32 games.

“[She] had a good season this year and we definitely have a guard roster spot open,” Laimber said of Davis-Cain on draft day. “She’s going to have to compete with anybody else we may bring in or any free agents we may sign.”

Haynie, a four-year veteran, has several factors in her favor. She turns 26 in June and is entering the prime of her career. She also has considerable postseason experience, which is highly valued in the Detroit locker room. She helped the Monarchs win the 2005 WNBA championship and then return to the finals in 2006, where they lost to the Shock. Haynie played 20 playoff games in three seasons with the Monarchs.

“She can handle the lead guard for us, and has a 3-ball, which helps with our big interior lineup,” Laimbeer said. A career 33-percent 3-point shooter, Haynie shot 10-for-32 last season. “That 3-ball will be a big positive for her and for us.”

Haynie has not been a prolific scorer at the pro level (3.5 ppg) but she creates opportunities for teammates whenever she’s on the floor. She averaged 2.5 assists in 14.7 minutes per game, which calculates to 6.7 assists over 40 minutes. That ranked fourth in the WNBA last season and was identical to the number posted by Detroit’s incumbent starting point guard, Elaine Powell, whose status for an 11th WNBA season is unclear.

Roster “Not Set in Stone”

Detroit’s training camp promises to be one of the most competitive in years after the WNBA reduced the roster from 13 players to 11. Rookies like Davis-Cain and DeLaHoussaye face even longer odds than they would have in 2008, and seasoned veterans can’t take anything for granted, either.

“The league itself is very competitive right now, whether it’s trying to get a spot on the Shock or any team, but you have to give people their opportunity,” Laimbeer said.

The Shock have five returning frontcourt players who would presumably make the roster - Kara Braxton, Cheryl Ford, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Plenette Pierson and Olayinka Sanni. Four more spots appear locked into the backcourt with starters Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith and the team’s first-round picks in 2008 and 2009, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shavonte Zellous.

Laimbeer has some flexibility with the last two roster spots. Both could go to guards, or he could add one guard and one big, such as Detroit’s second-round draft pick, 6-foot-4 center Britany Miller. (On draft day Laimbeer said, “the only thing she can do is play her way out of” a roster spot.) Either course, however, would leave the final roster without a true small forward.

“Our roster is not set in stone,” Laimbeer said. “We may carry six guards, we may carry five guards. Smith can play small forward; Nolan can play small forward. We’re unclear what the final make-up will be. It’s going to depend on who shows themselves in training camp.”