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Scouting the Top College Seniors
More Offseason News and Notes
By Ann Meyers, WNBA.com
|Meyers: Dec. 17 news and updates|
Still, the biggest news is that Val Ackerman is stepping down and the search continues for a new league president. Commissioner Stern and his staff are managing the process and the league is so stable at the top of the organization on down, so I am not concerned. Val was a tremendous president and really got this whole thing going, but I know that things are in good hands and they will handle it.
As far as coaches go, San Antonio has a new coach, Dan Hughes, while the Los Angeles Sparks are still without a coach. We know it won't be Karleen Thompson, who signed on as an assistant in Houston. New York re-hired Patty Coyle and Marianne Stanley, which is big for them. I believe Sacramento is going to keep going with John Whisenant as I have not heard anything different. There was talk last season as to whether he would stay on because of his health. Being a General Manager and a coach is so difficult and demanding, but there haven't been any changes there.
Dipping into the College Pool
With under three months to go until the 2005 WNBA Draft, things are starting to heat up in the college ranks. This Draft will be so interesting because of how free agency will shape teams over the next few months. A lot of teams will change and look different next season. Some players that fans are familiar seeing in one uniform might change and be wearing another one. It is still too early to tell. Also, when the Draft takes place, I think we can expect to see trades, probably more so than we have seen in the past.
Every season there is something different that affects the way the league plays out, whether it is expansion or contraction or some other factor. This year it is free agency. Of course, it keeps things interesting and always gives us something to talk about. Whether players make teams or not will depend on current player contracts, free agency, and returning players who might have been cut last year. And who is to say that there aren't some good players over in Europe who might come back?
One key Draft question is whether some of the players who still have eligibility remaining will come out and declare for the Draft or not. Seimone Augustus, Monique Curry and Shawntinice Polk all have another year of eligibility left but could also qualify for the Draft. A lot of the WNBA scouts are waiting to see whether they decide to leave school or not. All three would probably be first round picks, but why not stay and play 37 minutes for your college team instead of risking coming out and not getting much playing time at all? Why not get another opportunity to play? The league is eight years old and there are very experienced women who have been playing for a long time here.
This may not be a dominant class coming out as compared to last year, but there are still three rounds and a lot of these kids will get picked up. There are probably more guards available this year, but the opportunities for them to play next year at the next level and make an impact will be tough. But how many make a team after training camp is a question for another time. Several sound rookies stuck with teams last year, let's not forget. Amber Jacobs is a good example with the Minnesota Lynx last season. It's tough to break in this league as a starting guard unless you are really over-the-top... We as a league are eight years old and full of veteran players.
In talking to coaches, they seem to still want the best player available, but they also want to fill their needs. Both are a priority for them. So here are some of the players that I have seen that I like with still a few months left to stand out and make some noise.
I really like Tan White (Mississippi State) and Tanisha Wright (Penn State). Both are shooting guards, but Tan can also play the point. She did that a little last year, though I'm not sure if they have her playing it at all this season. She really understands the game. The fact that both can put the ball on the floor is huge. They are scorers and can shoot the three-pointer. I think both will go in the first round. If you are a strong, solid ball handler, can handle the pressure and shoot the three-pointer, there could be a spot for you on a roster.
I think L.S.U.'s Temeka Johnson will get a serious look. She is the MVP of that team so far. I don't know if all teams are willing to take her size (or lack of), but she can shoot the ball, she penetrates and sees the floor. Tennessee's Loree Moore will also get looked at because of her size. She is a good, big guard and a strong defensive player. Stanford's Kelley Suminski reminds me a lot of Maria Conlon last year at UConn because they can shoot the eyes out of the ball. Suminski might be a sleeper pick here. Jamie Carey (Texas) is another one that we have to throw in the mix. DeeDee Wheeler is still lesser known because she plays at Arizona, but she is scorer. Vanderbilt guard Ashley Earley might be a second round pick. She is a tough, heady kid that can shoot the three as well. Penn State's Jessica Strom will probably get a look because she is such a good three-point shooter as well.
I still don't think the west coast kids are seen enough. Also, we are really only looking at the big name schools with the kids who are likely to make an impact. But there are players at schools that the scouts have seen that might not be on everyone's radar. For example, L.A.'s Doneeka Hodges has a twin sister, Roneeka, who is a senior guard (a year behind her sister behind because she transferred) at Florida State, is averaging around 24 points per game and a player that could get some looks from teams.
A lot of the forwards coming into the league don't have the
range that forwards like Tina
Thompson or Sheryl Swoopes
have. As a 3 or 4 in the league, you now have to be able to hit the 3-pointer
on a consistent basis. A majority of these players don't. That, along with the speeds
and the strength, will be big adjustments for all of them. The most exposure
has gone to Notre Dame's Jacqueline Batteast, who is more of small forward,
and Tennessee's Shyra Ely, who can play either of the forward positions but
is more of a 4. Baylor's Steffanie Blackmon is a power forward who will also
get a considerable look.
Kristen Mann, a forward from Santa Barbara, could be another sleeper. At 6-2, she is very strong. She is a talented power forward, but one who needs to increase her range. On the other hand, Kansas State's Kendra Wecker is small forward, but at 5-11 who might have to play shooting guard in the WNBA. How does she handle that transition? She'll have to become a better ball handler and a creator, though she did have 41 points in a game this year.
Ashley Battle is a swing player, a 2/3, and reminds me a lot of a Semeka Randall. She doesn't have a great shot, but she just brings constant energy for Connecticut. She is strong, can rebound and is a great defender. She was a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Somebody will definitely look at her to fill that need, but she needs to be able to hit shots from the outside and score facing the basket.
Centers of Attention
The center position is a bit thinner in this year's Draft as compared to the past. Last season we had Nicole Ohlde, Vanessa Hayden, Iciss Tillis, Lindsay Taylor, Kaayla Chones, Stacy Stephens and Ebony Hoffman among the top picks that made teams. So how many centers can be an impact player this year? People used to think of centers in the mold of a Lisa Leslie. Then teams were looking at centers that played like Kym Hampton. She was only 6-1, but gosh could she dominate inside. Look at Chasity Melvin and Tammy Sutton-Brown. They're physical, strong and in great shape. I don't think everyone realizes just how great a difference there is on the next level for the post players.
Minnesota's Janel McCarville is a big body in the post who will go very high in the Draft. Some have her listed as a forward, but she still has to develop an outside game to compete with some of the 4's and 5's currently in the WNBA. She has some range, maybe 12-15-feet. But 3-point range? I haven't seen Minnesota play enough to determine whether she can hit the outside shot on a consistent enough basis. Sandora Irvin is a power forward who will go pretty high. At 6-3, people probably think that they can play her at either forward position as well, but she probably plays like a center at TCU. Irvin and McCarville will probably be the top two centers taken.
UConn's Jessica Moore is listed as a center, but some teams might look at her as a big forward as well. She also needs to improve her game facing up to the basket. Jamie Cavey is a 6-3 center from Iowa who also needs to be mentioned. Now I've never seen Katie Feenstra, the 6-8 center from Liberty, play but, again, she is 6-8. The Mercury took a 6-8 center, Lindsay Taylor, out of Santa Barbara last season, so it will be interesting to see if she gets some serious looks.
At this point, most of the WNBA teams have a handle on the seniors who are coming out. I just don't know when Polk, Augustus or Curry will make a decision and how that will all work, but teams absolutely have an idea about who they like. With two months left in the college basketball season, the picture will only become clearer with time.
Looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you again before the NCAA Tournament. Until then...