A TERRIFIC SENIOR CLASS HIGHLIGHTS THE 2001 WNBA DRAFT
By Michelle Smith
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.
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
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
"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 -- 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
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
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
Jackie Stiles, Southwest Missouri State, Guard
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 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 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 also has been tested on the international stage as a member of the 2000 Canadian Olympic Team.
Others of note:
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.