Despite finishing in second place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 18-16 in 2003, the Charlotte Sting felt the need to trade all the way up to the third pick and draft a potential franchise player.

The Sting won 18 games in 2003, tying for second place in the East making the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. With almost everyone back this season, there is good reason to believe that 2004 can be just as good, if not better. The backcourt starters should not be a concern for Lacey. At age 34, Team USA point guard Dawn Staley is still at the top of her game while Andrea Stinson is an All-Star at the other guard position.

One area that needed to be addressed was inside presence, but the Sting signed Olympia Scott-Richardson away from Indiana in the offseason. Will her addition be enough to offset the pressing need for a big body that can share the interior scoring load with Allison Feaster and Tammy Sutton-Brown? Perhaps, but if not, the 2004 WNBA Draft might be the perfect opportunity to do so. Names such as Vanessa Hayden and Nicole Ohlde are very much in the mix.

But no prospects have been as widely discussed for the third spot as Stanford's Nicole Powell, Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen and Houston’s Chandi Jones. Let’s consider the options:

Nicole Powell, Stanford
Considering that the Sting traded away a reliable backup guard in Kelly Miller, Nicole Powell might be a logical choice. Powell is 6-2, can play four positions on the court and excels at so many skills. She is a passer, a rebounder, a three-point shooter and a pull-up jump shooter. She puts the ball on the floor and gets to the free throw line. But because Powell played on the west coast, many fans may not be aware of just how versatile and talented she is. Many coaches believe that she would have been the first overall pick in previous drafts.

Thoughts on Powell:

Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault: “She is really appealing to many coaches because she can play so many positions and is so multi-dimensional on the floor. She can play everywhere from the point to power forward if you needed her to do so. I think the draft has a lot of players like that.”

Mystics guard and ESPN analyst Stacey Dales-Schuman: “She is averaging a double-double this year, which is remarkable, because she is a guard. She started her career playing point guard and running the floor, but has naturally moved into her natural position, which is a forward/swing-type of player. She is unique because of her size, which will give her an advantage. She passes the ball extraordinarily well and she knows how to find a rebound. She has great basketball instincts."

ESPN analyst Ann Meyers: “Some people have said that Powell should go first because she is from Phoenix and has the same abilities as Diana Taurasi. She may be a better rebounder and post-up player than Taurasi and she knows how to take the smaller player down low. Nicole has the same kind of range and has done great things with less of a supporting cast.”

Fellow prospect Ebony Hoffman, USC: “I think she is a very difficult match-up because she is tall and she can shoot. That is difficult for one person to guard. If you put a smaller player on her, she’ll take them to the post. If you put a bigger player on them, she will shoot all day.”

Fellow prospect Jenni Benningfield, Vanderbilt: “She is the real deal and so versatile. She can play any position and score. I had a chance to play with her last summer and she’s just a great player. It is so hard to know how to guard her because she can play anywhere.”

Lindsay Whalen, University of Minnesota
No one raised her stock in the NCAA Tournament more than Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen. In carrying the seventh-seeded Gophers on her back to the Final Four, the Hutchinson, MN native proved that her small frame can carry a heavy load. The entire state of Minnesota hopes this 5-9 spark plug will drop to the seventh pick, when the Lynx makes its first selection, but the chances of Suzie McConnell Serio’s team keeping Whalen within the Gopher State do not look promising. If Charlotte does take Whalen, it would be an ideal learning environment for her with Staley there, already a teacher who has developed talent and gotten the most out of an overachieving team at Temple.

Thoughts on Whalen:

Thibault: “A lot of people jumped on her bandwagon during the NCAA Tournament, but the coaches in the WNBA have all been watching her for over a year. She is not a surprise for anyone that has done their homework.”

Minnesota Lynx head coach Suzie McConnell Serio: “We are from Minnesota and someone like Lindsay Whalen is someone we obviously have our eye on, but I’m not sure she’ll be there when we pick at number seven. Her stock has risen, and being the player that she is as well as being from Minnesota, the fans absolutely adore her. She is loved in Minnesota both for what she does on the court and off the court.”

Dales-Schuman: “I think the word that describes Lindsay is ‘tough.’ Wow, she is gritty. She is another player like Alana Beard that has the attitude and ability to lead a basketball team. She is extremely versatile. Having watched her play the last few seasons, she likes the challenge of carrying her team on her back. This is a separating quality that has made her a Kodak All-American. She can shoot the ball, but it is her passing that really stands out.”

Meyers: “At 5-8, she is exciting and has the ability to play the one and the two. In the NCAA Tournament, the two teams that everyone was absolutely spellbounded by were Connecticut because of Taurasi and Minnesota with Lindsay Whalen. She sets others up extremely well, she is a tremendous ball handler, is tough as nails and is quite a vocal leader. And she’ll lead by example. She has good range on her three-point shot and is both a great penetrator and distributor of the ball.”

Fellow prospect Amber Jacobs, Boston College: “She is definitely going to make it. She is an incredible point guard with unbelievable athleticism and body control. Not only can she shoot, but she can penetrate and get to the hoop and draw the contact, create for others and move very well off of the ball.”

Fellow prospect Erika Valek, Purdue: "By far, the most humble, and one of my favorite players. She has just come so far. No one really knew about her coming out of high school, but she is a hard worker and she gets things done. She is one of those people that you might look at and think she is not very good, but, boy, does she have a smooth game. I really admire that for all of her accomplishments, you never see her be arrogant or cocky or talk trash."

Chandi Jones, University of Houston
Because she was not a Kodak All-American in 2003, Jones came into her senior season at Houston with less fanfare than some of her peers. But she can score a lot of points and quickly proved that her name belonged in conversations about the nation’s premiere players. En route to leading the Cougars to a Conference USA championship and an NCAA Tournament berth this season, Jones was named a Kodak All-American, a USBWA Second Team All-American and Conference USA Player of the Year for the third consecutive year.

Thoughts on Jones:

Thibault: “She is more of a specific position player. She is mostly a shooting guard that can probably play a little bit of the point. There aren’t many better shooters than her. I saw her play a game in Houston where she scored 39 points and, boy, was she solid.”

Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan: “There are a lot of good perimeter players available, but Chandi Jones and Shameka Christon are two of the players that we are looking closely at and would fit in well with us.”

Meyers: “Chandi is a shooting guard, but a lot of people think that she can play the point guard position in the WNBA. Some team might try and make her a point guard depending on the personnel that the team has. She is a great athlete with a lot of speed, and she is a scorer. The more time she spends in the WNBA and the more she learns and matures, she will eventually be able to switch over and play both positions well.”

Fellow prospect Shereka Wright, Purdue: “You know she is going to put up a lot of points against you. She is very quick and has a quick release.”

Fellow prospect Sara Nord, Louisville: “Chandi is a great player. She can really do it all. She can score, rebound and even block shots. She reminds me a lot of Diana Taurasi in that she can do everything for her team. She can shoot off of the dribble, she can take anyone one-on-one, she can shoot the three. She is just a great player.”

Regardless of which of these fine prospects Charlotte takes with the third pick, the teams that pick fourth and fifth, Connecticut and New York, stand make out just fine on April 17.