2005 Center Prospects
It seems clear that the marquee position in this year's WNBA Draft is center. Call Janel McCarville a center (as storm.wnba.com is not, for the time being), and the top overall pick could be a post. Even without McCarville, four centers are possible first-round picks and at least three should go that high. Sandora Irvin is the relative sure thing, Sancho Lyttle the basketball newcomer, Kara Braxton the question mark and Katie Feenstra the potential. All four have intrigued WNBA teams with their size and skill.
When you talk about centers in the 2004 Draft, you talk about the Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx took the two best post prospects a year ago. Nicole Ohlde developed more quickly than expected and averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Teammate Vanessa Hayden was set back by a foot injury that kept her out of training camp, as well as Ohlde's presence, but showed flashes of brilliance as a reserve. Ebony Hoffman was active on the glass for the Indiana Fever, but struggled with her shooting and conditioning.
Storm Outlook: Despite losing Kamila Vodichkova as a restricted free agent, the Storm is still in reasonably good shape at center for 2005 with the duo of Janell Burse and rookie Suzy Batkovic. Veteran Simone Edwards is perfectly capable of helping off the bench. Still, Storm Coach Anne Donovan enjoys working with posts and may draft a project.
The measurements: 6-3, 175
The skinny: Irvin is part of the "Fantastic Four" widely expected to go, in some order, in the top four picks in this year's Draft. It's doubtful Irvin would slip past the Phoenix Mercury, who have the third pick and need help in the interior. A raw athlete when she started at TCU, Irvin developed into a 20-point scorer by her senior season (okay, 19.9, but who's counting?), winning Conference USA Player of the Year honors. But she wasn't an efficient scorer, shooting only 45.6% as a senior, and her performance in the NCAA Tournament in Seattle - 14 points on poor shooting in a loss to Oregon - showed she can struggle against good defense. But in the WNBA - particularly in Phoenix - Irvin wouldn't need to be a big-time scorer. And there's little question about her defensive prowess; Irvin holds the NCAA single-game and career records for blocked shots and averaged an incredible 4.5 as a senior. That and strong rebounding will make Irvin a great player for many years to come.
The measurements: 6-6, 190
The skinny: Braxton is the most interesting prospect in the Draft, hands down. She did not play organized basketball this season after being dismissed from the Georgia team midway through the 2003-04 season, and gave birth to a son two months ago. Braxton is already back in playing shape and reportedly was very impressive at the Pre-Draft Camp last weekend. There is no question about Braxton's skill level; she's 6-6 and athletic, a fine combination. But after being named All-SEC First Team as a freshman, Braxton saw her numbers drop off the next two seasons. After shooting 54.0% as a freshman and 55.1% as a sophomore, she hit just 47.8% of her shots during her abbreviated junior season. Still, Braxton is a possible top-six pick and perhaps the only player with a chance of breaking up the "Fantastic Four".
The measurements: 6-4, 175
The skinny: Lyttle has developed in a hurry after not playing basketball as a youngster. We'll let her explain (from WNBA.com's Q&A): "Actually, I did not grow up in the United States and was not that into basketball growing up. One of the coaches at home tried to create a women's team and attend tournaments. He had a friend up here that needed some tall players, so... I had no skills then. Everything I have done, I have learned in four years." After playing at Clarendon Junior College, Lyttle ended up at Houston, averaging 18.8 points and an NCAA-best 12.1 rebounds as a senior. Strangely, Lyttle is not much of a shot-blocker, averaging only 1.0 per game as a senior. But her quickness allowed her to average an impressive 3.1 steals per game. Given how far Lyttle's game has already come, WNBA teams have to wonder what else might be in store for her down the line.
The measurements: 6-8, 240
The skinny: Largely unknown a month and a half ago, Feenstra burst on the scene during the NCAA Tournament. Her Liberty Flames became just the second 13 seed ever to reach the Sweet Sixteen, taking down fourth-seeded Penn State and fifth-seeded DePaul before losing to LSU. Feenstra had 22 poitns and 11 rebounds against the Nittany Lions and 29 points on 11-for-14 shooting and 13 rebounds against DePaul before looking athletically outmatched against the Lady Tigers. At 6-8, Feenstra would be the WNBA's second-tallest player, tied with Phoenix's Lindsay Taylor, a second-round pick last year. Feenstra's athleticism will always be a question mark against WNBA-level competition, but she apparently impressed at the Pre-Draft Camp and is a probable first-round pick.
The measurements: 6-4
College: Michigan State
The skinny: While most players whose teams advance to the Final Four help their stock during the NCAA Tournament, that might not have been the case for Roehrig. Though her Spartans team got all the way to the National Championship game before falling to Baylor, Roehrig had only eight points and five rebounds in that game after recording only three rebounds in the Semifinals vs. Tennessee. For the season, Roehrig averaged 13.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, but she was outplayed by Baylor's Steffanie Blackmon, another mid-round prospect. Roehrig has size to spare and a soft touch that allowed her to shoot 54.6% for her career, but bigger defenders will give her more trouble and Roehrig has a hard time keeping up in a fast-paced game. Those weaknesses will limit her impact at the WNBA level.
|OTHER CENTER PROSPECTS|
Petra Glaser, Long Beach State - 6-6 UNLV transfer was invited to Pre-Draft Camp.
Cisti Greenwalt, Texas Tech - 6-5 and lanky; Big 12's all-time blocks leader.
Jessica Moore, UConn - Three-year starter was part of 2004 All-Final Four team.