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A TERRIFIC SENIOR CLASS HIGHLIGHTS THE 2001 WNBA DRAFT
Talent All-Around
By Michelle Smith
Hoop magazine


They are known simply as "The Seniors," and they bring with them plenty of pomp and circumstance, not to mention some pretty darn good games. The NCAA's Class of 2001 will graduate with distinction all right, the distinction of being the best collective group of women's college basketball players available in five WNBA seasons.

blue rule  
"It's a wonderful class and there's going to be high expectations."

-- Ann Meyers, NBC's WNBA analyst blue rule

"It's a wonderful class and there's going to be high expectations," said NBC's WNBA analyst and Hall of Fame player Ann Meyers.

But some of the expectations were tempered by news of injuries to two of the players considered to be top picks, Tennessee's Tamika Catchings and Connecticut's Svetlana Abrosimova, both of whom sustained season-ending injuries. It is still not clear whether they will be available to play in the WNBA this summer. Yet overall, this is a group of players laden with personal achievements and accolades and valuable experience provided by playing in the biggest games and on the biggest stage -- the Final Four and the national championship.

"I think there's enough depth in the first two rounds that we can get a quality player with our first pick and our 17th pick," said Seattle Storm coach Lin Dunn, whose team is in the envious position of making the draft's No. 1 selection.

Dunn has been running herself ragged for months, traveling around the country -- to places such as Knoxville, Tenn., Storrs, Conn., and Ruston, La. -- to scout the college game's top players in the hopes that she will find herself a star. Luckily, there are plenty of them to go around.

By the time the April 20 draft is over, each of the WNBA's 16 teams is going to be stocked with young, talented, impact players. All that's left is determining the final order.

Here's a look at some of the top talent the college game has to offer:

Svetlana Abrosimova, Connecticut, Forward
Abrosimova

The Huskies star, forced to miss the last month and a half of the season with a foot injury that required surgery in February, has quite an impressive NCAA résumé, which includes the 2000 NCAA title and a couple of All-America distinctions. During that championship season, Abrosimova shot 49 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Abrosimova can rebound as well, making nearly every game a double-double possibility.

The 6-2 forward from St. Petersburg, Russia, also has plenty of international experience and that will make her a valued addition to any WNBA team, most of which have sought talent outside the United States.

"She's already played in the Olympics and with the Russian National Team," said Dunn. "So, she's mature beyond her years."

Tamika Catchings, Tennessee, Forward
Catchings

The "Meek," who followed in Chamique Holdsclaw's hallowed footsteps at Tennessee, prepares to follow her into the WNBA as well. But it won't be exactly the way she planned. The ACL injury the two-time National Player of the Year suffered in late January raises uncertainty about her ability to suit up in the 2001 WNBA season. But it is unlikely to affect her draft status as one of the most coveted college talents.

"She's a 12- to 15-year player," said Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor in the days following Catchings' injury. "Why is that going to change in only one year? This is going to be an outstanding player in the WNBA."

Of course, it would take a miracle for Chancellor to have a shot at getting her. The Comets have the No. 15 pick.

"If by some miracle she dropped to No. 15, we'd go outside and see if it was snowing because it would be Christmas," Chancellor joked. "Santa Claus would have come back."

Catchings, a consistent scorer, has a valued combination of quickness and power along with a superior work ethic. She can fill the passing lanes and come up with the ball and block out underneath the basket as well.

Kelly Miller and Coco Miller, Georgia, Guards
C. Miller

K. Miller

Kelly Miller and twin sister Coco made up one of the toughest backcourts in the country. Kelly was one of the nation's finest point guards, while Coco did her damage at the off-guard spot. The pair helped to lead Georgia to a Final Four appearance in 1999 and the Elite Eight in 2000.

Kelly Miller -- the SEC Player of the Year the past two seasons -- was originally recruited as a wing player, but moved to the point by necessity. At 5-10, she developed into one of the best floor generals in the nation. Coco is a strong scorer at the wing, and both averaged more than 15 points a game, providing the bulk of the Bulldogs' offense.

"I like the way they handle the ball, they can shoot off the dribble and penetrate," said Meyers.

Ruth Riley, Notre Dame, Center
Riley

The Fighting Irish center made great strides in her senior year and turned into one of the nation's best all-around post players. She claimed the Naismith Award at season's end and closed out her career with 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks and the game-clinching free throws in Notre Dame's 68-66 victory over Purdue in the national championship game.

She was the Big East Conference leader in points, field-goal percentage and blocks, all the while facing routine double-teams. Her mobility, noteworthy because of her 6-5 frame, will make her attractive to many WNBA teams.

Semeka Randall, Tennessee, Guard
Randall

Randall might be the least well-known of Tennessee's three "Meeks," with most of the spotlight shining on Holdsclaw (now with the Washington Mystics) and Catchings. But Randall has long been regarded as her team's emotional yardstick, not to mention a tenacious defensive player.

The biggest hurdle for Randall will be the inconsistent offensive play that plagued her during her senior season. Randall made a big scoring push, however, when Catchings went down. If it's a question of "What have you done for me lately?" the resounding answer is, for the Lady Vols, Randall has done quite a bit.

Katie Douglas, Purdue, Forward
Douglas

Douglas knows team success, having been a key part of the 1999 NCAA title team and this year's national runner-up, and she knows individual accolades, having earned All-America honors as a junior and senior. Douglas, one of the nation's top shooting guards, led Purdue for the second season (15.5 ppg) after averaging 20.4 points in 1999-2000.

Jackie Stiles, Southwest Missouri State, Guard
Stiles was the national leader in scoring the past two seasons, averaging 30 points in 2000-01. It remains to be seen, however, how that will translate to WNBA success. Stiles has been playing in a mid-level conference, raising questions about the quality of the competition she's faced during her career, despite reaching the Final Four this season and receiving the Wade Trophy.

On the other hand, Stiles seems to be able to score, no matter how many defenders are assigned to stop her, and there are a lot of teams out there who could use such a consistent scoring punch.

Marie Ferdinand, LSU, Guard
Ferdinand

Ferdinand, a 5-9 guard, led the Lady Tigers in scoring the last two seasons and averaged 21.1 points in 2000-01. She was an All-America selection as a senior, and an All-SEC pick the past two seasons.

Ferdinand kept busy in the summer as well, leading the U.S. team to a gold medal in the Jones Cup competition in Taiwan. She led the team in scoring at 11.8 points a game.

Camille Cooper, Purdue, Center
Cooper

The Boilermakers' 6-4 center was also a key figure in Purdue's championship run of 1999 and this year's trip to the title game. Cooper was second to Katie Douglas in scoring with 14.2 points per game for Purdue.

Cooper is the Purdue school record holder for career shooting percentage (.608) and single-season shooting percentage of .642. She also ranks second in blocked shots.

Tammy Sutton-Brown, Rutgers, Center
Sutton-Brown

The Scarlet Knights' 6-4 senior center has played big in the big games for her team this season, scoring 19 points when pitted against Notre Dame's Riley and pulling out a 15-point, eight-rebound effort against Tennessee. Brown has a combination of quickness, size and power. She has done well this season to cut back on the foul trouble she struggled with earlier in her career.

Sutton-Brown also has been tested on the international stage as a member of the 2000 Canadian Olympic Team.

Others of note:
LaQuanda Barksdale, North Carolina, Forward - The ACC's leading scorer for the last two seasons, and who ranked among the league leaders in the nation in double-doubles.
Niele Ivey, Notre Dame, Guard - A proven floor leader on the national championship team.
Angelina Wolvert, Oregon, Forward/Center - A constant and consistent presence in the low block for the Ducks.
Reshea Bristol, Arizona, Guard - The Wildcats' floor leader is a strong defensive player who can score and dish on the offensive end.
Georgia Schweitzer, Duke, Guard - The Blue Devils' all-time best three-point shooter makes teams pay on the perimeter on a nightly basis.

MICHELLE SMITH is a sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle and the WNBA columnist for ESPN.com. She is a frequent contributor to Hoop magazine.



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