WNBA Draft 2004: A Buffet of Talent

By Vera Jones, WNBA Analyst

What an exciting year to be a part of the WNBA Draft! When asked to assess this year’s talent, the image of an “All You Can Eat Buffet” immediately comes to mind. I’m talking about one of those huge buffets where the salad bar has so much variety, you forget to get any lettuce. Meats are sized to Fred Flintstone proportions, and there are so many sinful sugar-loaded items on the dessert bar you’ll spend a week in confession or therapy just thinking about them! Most analysts, coaches and fans would agree this is the most anticipated year for the WNBA Draft. It is viewed as the deepest in talent and versatility in the league’s history.

Vera Jones interviewed picks at the 2003 WNBA Draft.
Jennifer Pottheiser
WNBAE/Getty Images

In keeping with the all-you-can-eat buffet theme, pre-draft camp, I had an opportunity to speak with many of the WNBA coaches and here are the names that have collectively and almost unanimously come from their mouths regarding NCAA senior hoopstars to form our anticipated Main Entrée 1st Round WNBA menu:

Diana Taurasi, Alana Beard, Nicole Powell, Lindsay Whalen, Vanessa Hayden, Nicole Ohlde, Chandi Jones, Tasha Butts, Rebekkah Brunson, Kelly Mazzante, Ashley Robinson, and Iciss Tillis.

I’m also mixing in Shereka Wright and Shameka Christon. Let’s take a look now at which teams are hungry for what. Additionally, coaches have shared with me what they hunker for the most when they are heading to an all-you-can-eat buffet. The irony and psychology behind how this may play out in their draft selections may prove very interesting. After all, you are what you eat!

1. PHOENIX (8-26) (1st and 8th pick)
Buffet Line: “First come-first served! The best thing on the menu!”

So close to the draft, the coaching situation may have been uncertain, but whom Phoenix will select with the first pick in the WNBA draft has virtually never been in question. Diana Taurasi in one body offers everything this entire team has lacked, foremost, leadership and confidence. Taurasi is a proven defender as well as a dynamic passer and scorer with exceptional court awareness and a keen fundamental understanding of the game. She makes everyone around her better, always leading by example and a swagger of confidence under the gun not seen since Dirty Harry coined, “Make my day.” Tarausi will shoulder the responsibility of leading a young and athletic team (14 of it’s current 17-player roster are 27-years of age or younger.)

With pick number 8, expect Phoenix to try to acquire a quick and versatile player to compliment Taurasi’s style. With young talent now at every position, size will not matter as much as ability to run and defend.

2. WASHINGTON (9-25) (2nd pick)
Buffet Line: Get the best thing the person ahead of me didn’t get!

In my opinion, the Mystics have always been a pure point guard and a power post player shy of a championship. Acquiring 6’3 Chasity Melvin from Cleveland’s dispersal draft has added meat to an otherwise “lite” frontcourt. Additionally, Tamicha Jackson (from Phoenix) if groomed to stay under control, may be the very added spice to Chamique Holdsclaw’s main entrée to take this team to another level. Now factor in the likelihood that Washington will take Duke’s Superwoman, Alana Beard, and Washington has firepower and defensive aggression that will be tough to match. Nicole Powell from Stanford is a possibility at the number 2 pick, which would offer more size and slightly more versatility since Powell can easily adapt to four positions on the floor to Beard’s three.

3. CHARLOTTE (18-16) (3rd pick)
Trudi Lacey’s Buffet Line: “I love desserts!

And oh, how sweet Charlotte is! Who makes a sweeter pass than Dawn Staley? Who shakes and bakes better than Andrea Stinson? Only problem is, these ladies are nearing the end of their careers, and Trudi Lacey has to start building for the future. She’s looking for a perimeter player with the third pick and there’s plenty to choose from. Beard would be ideal to stay home in North Carolina, but Nicole Powell or Lindsay Whalen will be just as sweet if she’s not available. This draft, Charlotte will have its cake and eat it too!

4. CONNECTICUT (18-16) (4th pick)
Mike Thibault’s Buffet Line: “I’m getting something good and I don’t want to share.”

Head Coach Mike Thibault was very adamant, “I don’t want to talk names.” With the fourth pick in the draft, it only makes sense coach would cover his plate. His choice will greatly be influenced by who is taken before him and since Washington and Charlotte picking two and three, and New York picking at 5, are all Eastern Conference opponents, he is strategically surrounded and in a very vulnerable position. I’d hide my plate, too! Fact remains, with Rebecca Lobo retiring, Connecticut is in need of another post player and a point guard is critical since Shannon Johnson has headed to San Antonio. There are currently only nine players on a very thin Suns roster so this team will actually gain weight from this year’s buffet of talent. I’m betting on Lindsay Whalen this pick if she isn’t already taken.

5. NEW YORK (16-18) (5th pick)
Richie Adubato’s Buffet Line: “If I’m going to a buffet, I’m looking for Lobster.”

Well, Richie, lobster, in my opinion is going to Phoenix! But there are plenty of other fish in the sea. As the proud queen of “all you can eat”, I know that lobster is big on buffets in Florida. New York needs size inside as Tari Phillips is undersized at center and is better suited as a four. Vanessa Hayden is the purest center in this draft – and she’s from Florida. Aha, lobster afterall! T-Spoon has moved on to L.A., therefore NY now lacks experience at the point, and they also need to get bigger at the small forward spot. Both Georgetown’s Rebekkah Brunson and Houston’s Chandi Jones have a few tasty moves and are good selections for a 3-4 swing. Finally, defense has always been the pride of this team. Tasha Butts comes to mind from a very strong defensive Tennessee mentality. One lobster won’t do. With picks five and 17, Richie is hoping to find two.

6. SEATTLE (18-16) (6th pick)
Anne Donovan’s Buffet Line: “I’m looking for the hearty stuff, the good stuff in the middle, like macaroni and cheese.”

There’s nothing wrong with trying to beef up the middle. Depth is what makes or breaks teams in this league. Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson make a great pair who quickly, under Donovan’s direction, found chemistry. Playmaker Bird could use a few more side “dishes” (Pun intentional.) Look for Seattle to select another perimeter player with great range. Kelly Mazzante’s lightening quick three pointers could satisfy that hunger. Seattle may also look to include another post with step out and shoot it ability on its plate. Nicole Ohlde is described by Donovan as a young Lauren Jackson. Sounds like a good fill here.

7. MINNESOTA (18-16) (7th pick)
Buffet Line: Need something to really fill me up on the INSIDE.

Suzie-McConnell Serio has a boat load of guard and swing talent. Katie Smith, Teresa Edwards, Svetlana Abrosimova, Sheri Sam, Shaunainski Gortman and now the addition of Helen Darling from the Cleveland dispersal has completed a formidable backcourt with unbelievable depth. What Minnesota has lacked is chemistry and the ability to combine all the firepower from the outside with the potential led by Tamika Williams in the paint. Look for another post player with this pick. Best available will do, but I see Rebekkah Brunson as a good fit here.

8. INDIANA (16-18) (9th pick)
Brian Winters and GM Kelly Krauskopf Buffet Line: “Best side dishes available.”

With pick number nine, new head coach Brian Winters will just be looking for the best player available. But whoever that is, in Kelly Krauskopf’s mind, it will be someone who is very much like her buffet tastes – a complimentary side dish – particularly to Tamika Catchings greatness. Acquiring Natalie Williams last season gave this team the size it needed in the paint, as Catchings serves it up hot all over the floor. Having picked up Deanna Jackson in the post will be a tremendous improvement down low. That side dish needs to come in the form of a two-player, a pure shooter who can create her own shot. Mazzante sounds like a good fit here if still available. Pudue’s Shereka Wright would be a local favorite and also add versatility and athleticism.

9. SACRAMENTO (19-15) (10th pick)
Buffett Line: One more helping, please.

This is an amazingly talented team that could truly benefit from another pure scorer in the swing position. With the likes of Yolanda Griffith, just one more complimentary side dish with outside accuracy and consistency could offer the state of California a new taste of a champion. Kara Lawson has proven she has leadership ability while Ticha Penicheiro never ceases to amaze with her ability to serve up new and improved dishes. I say best available 2-3 swing player is the most likely pick here.

10. DETROIT (25-9) (11th and 13th pick)
Bill Laimbeer’s Buffet Line: “I like Salads.”

Looking up at a towering near-7fter, Bill Laimbeer, the last thing you’re thinking is that this man will be bolting to the salad bar! But looking at a very young team in 2003, the last thing many people thought was Detroit would be bolting to a championship! Their play, like Laimbeer’s buffet interest - underestimated and unpredictable! Laimbeer runs a lean mean machine in Detroit. Who knew it’s all due to a healthy salad mentality? Detroit is looking for a true Center to back up Ruth Riley. Another 3-4 Post player will add depth in positions already made strong by Swin Cash and Rookie of the Year Cheryl Ford. Perhaps Duke’s Iciss Tillis has a place here. Detroit has both the 11th and 13th first round picks. If Laimbeer is successful in gaining depth at the post, look for salads to be the special menu item at the 2004 Championship concessions.

11. LOS ANGELES (24-10) (12th pick)
Buffet Line: Gotta be gumbo or jambalaya.

This is and will always be, in my estimation one hot team to beat. There’s just too much natural, athletic talent and court spice to go around. Put all the seasonings and spice into one really great tasting dish, and that is what this team serves up night in and night out. The Sparks have the one menu item that can be imitated but never duplicated in 6’5’ center sensation Lisa Leslie. This team is stacked in every position. The only area where a little more seasoning might be needed would be in a consistent outside scoring threat in the guard position. A back-up center could also help. Beyond that, this is a team that watched a very young Detroit team take away their crown. Now an already naturally spicy team is even hotter. Opponent indigestion is imminent this season.

12. SAN ANTONIO (12-22) (no first round picks)
Dee Brown’s Buffett Line: “Just give me the special.”

Dee Brown is comfortable in recent personnel movement for his 2004 squad. He feels the Silver Stars gained just about everything they needed with the acquisition of LaToya Thomas and Shannon “Pee Wee” Johnson in the off season. Offensively, San Antonio has gained quickness and two pure scorers capable of creating their own shots from the point and from the post now. Brown says he’s now looking for defenders. This team had a tendency to rely on 7-ft Margo Dydek in the middle to block shots rather than play good on ball D. Tasha Butts, and Chandi Jones might be the “special of the day” at this position in the draft. Brown is looking for players, not positions and with a draft so deep, he will undeniably be served his wish.

13. HOUSTON (20-14) (no first round picks)
Van Chancellor’s Buffet Line: “How much food can I hold and how fast can I get it?”

Rich, deep and fast is the image that comes to mind, because that’s what the talent of this team is made of with the likes of Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. Houston added a little French cuisine to its menu with Lucienne Berthieu in the dispersal draft. A quick team with intensity for 40 minutes is what this team thrives on. Houston’s pick at 26 will have to be able to mirror Chancellor’s coaching (and eating) philosophy: take in a whole lot as quickly as possible and then be ready to ready to run with it!

Different tastes abound, but all teams are hungry. Bring on the Buffet!

Vera Jones will be co-hosting the draft party at the ESPN Zone in Times Square with Liberty guard Becky Hammon on Saturday, April 17.