Monarchs Makeover

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Kevin Pelton, | May 17, 2005
The last time the Sacramento Monarchs were in Seattle, they were leaving the court dejected after finishing their second straight season a game away from the WNBA Finals.

While the Monarchs had an outstanding run in the 2004 Playoffs, upending the heavily favored Los Angeles Sparks in the Semifinals, their lopsided Game 3 loss to the Storm reminded everyone of Sacramento's shortcomings, particularly in terms of perimeter shooting.

Over the winter, the Monarchs were involved in trade rumors that had them sending out former MVP center Yolanda Griffith in an effort to add depth on the perimeter. Ultimately, it as not Griffith who was dealt but forward Tangela Smith. The 1998 second-round pick, who had played her entire career in Sacramento, was traded to Charlotte for a package headlined by Stanford alum Nicole Powell.

Sacramento matched Phoenix's contract offer to restricted free agent DeMya Walker, who will move to power forward this season to replace Smith, with Powell stepping into the starting lineup at small forward. The result should be better outside shooting on a team that has long struggled from the perimeter.

"It's going to be where you can't just guard us inside and guard Kara outside, which is basically what they did here to us last year."
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
"It's going to be where you can't just guard us inside and guard Kara (Lawson) outside, which is basically what they did here to us last year," Sacramento Coach John Whisenant said before his team beat the Storm in a preseason game on Saturday. "They guarded Kara on the perimeter and dropped everybody in and stopped us from being able to score."

Powell isn't the only new addition on the perimeter. The Monarchs also signed a pair of Chinese players, Miao Lijie and Sui Feifei, who are battling for roster spots. With their first two picks in this year's draft, Sacramento took guards - first Michigan State point Kristin Haynie and then Rutgers guard Chelsea Newton, who scored the game-winning layup on Saturday.

"We brought in two Chinese players who are shooters - they were the Chinese National Team's best players, and they both can shoot it," said Whisenant. "Our number one pick is a point guard, but she had a 38% 3-point shooting percentage in her career at Michigan State. Granted, this is tough; we've got to prove it. Chelsea Newton, from Rutgers, was a defensive specialist in the Big East, but she also shot 36% as a 3-point shooter, which is not bad for a defensive player."

To some extent, Whisenant can only speculate as to what his team will look like at full strength. Annually, Sacramento is the WNBA team hardest hit by late arrivals from overseas. Point guard Ticha Penicheiro has yet to report to camp, while starters Griffith and Walker returned recently.

"Yolanda's had two practices, DeMya Walker's had one," said Whisenant. " Becky Brunson's had three. Before they got here, we had our first week of practice with only two of last year's players - Kara Lawson and Tanty Maiga.

"We hope we'll ultimately be better, but we've got to get our stuff going."

Storm Coach Anne Donovan is as intrigued as anyone to see how the new-look Monarchs work together.

"They're much like us in terms of redesigning the team and going through the growing pains of doing that, adjusting to new players," said Donovan. "I think Tangela Smith was big. I'm not sure who's going to step in and fill that hole yet. Nicole Powell's a good addition; she's the 3-point shooter that he's really been looking for. But where exactly he plays her will be interesting."

For one game that doesn't count in the standings, the changes looked good. In Sacramento's 77-76 win, Powell scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting while rookies Haynie and Newton handled the point. At her new position, Walker scored 17 points in 17 minutes on 7-for-8 shooting.

"I saw some good things from our team," Whisenant said afterwards. "I really like the way we competed with about eight or nine players in the second half they got out and competed on the defensive end."

The best news from Whisenant's off-season had nothing to do with the basketball court. During last year's playoffs, Whisenant experienced a health scare when he began coughing up blood.

"At the time, I thought it was long cancer because I bled from the lungs," said Whisenant. "The test had been done but the diagnosis hadn't been completed when we were playing for the championship.

"It was a disease called histoplasmosis. Histoplasmosis is a fungus that you get in about a dozen states in the southeast. Oklahoma, where I grew up, is one of the states. It's something I apparently contracted in my teenage years, feeding cows and chickens, and it's been dormant all that time. It's not deadly but dangerous under certain stressful conditions."

After having his sons, one a doctor and one in med school, research the fungus, Whisenant feels well - mostly.

"I'm healthy," he said. "I think I am. My back hurts from standing so many practices on the hardwood floor, and Sue (Bird) and LJ ( Lauren Jackson) and Betty (Lennox) gave me a headache up here in the playoffs."