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| ||One of the true legends in women's basketball, Ann Meyers was a Hall-of-Fame player and is a world-class announcer. She was the first high school player to make a U.S. National Team, the first woman to receive a full athletic scholarship from UCLA, the first woman player named to Kodak's All-America team four straight seasons and the first woman elected to the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame. She played on the first women's Olympic team that earned a silver medal at the Montreal Games in 1976. She was the first woman player to tryout with an NBA team, the Indiana Pacers and as the wife of the late Los Angeles Dodger pitcher and Baseball Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, Meyers has now created the first husband-wife team in any Hall of Fame.|
Conference Finals Preview
Posted by Ann Meyers - August 23, 2006 5:42 PM
The two best teams in the Western Conference this season, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Sacramento Monarchs, are set to square off in the Conference Finals, which is only fitting. While the Sparks finished with the best record and the top seed in the conference, the Monarchs are still the defending champions and do not get enough respect. Just think about this. Every season, the defending champion comes in with a target on its back, but do the Monarchs really have the target on their backs? Have they had that bulls eye? Probably not as much as past champions, so when they say they have not gotten their due respect, I'm inclined to agree. This team believes that it does not get its due respect and uses that adage to its advantage. It's a great motivator.
Regardless, this will not be an easy series to pick and I would not be surprised to see the series go three games. In all fairness, Sacramento lost all three games to Los Angeles this season. Sacramento is not a team known for its high scoring. The Monarchs make you play at their pace because they are such a good defensive team. This is a new season and the Monarchs are a different team this postseason. In their two games against the Comets, the Monarchs averaged 20 more points per game than they did in the regular season. Wow!
While the Sparks and Storm were battling it out to the end, the Monarchs have had a good chance to rest up a bit. Coming in fresh will only help bolster their defensive intensity, which has flustered teams all season once again. But in order to move back to the Finals, the Monarchs have to take care of the basketball, first and foremost. Both of these teams are very strong defensive teams. The Sparks really got a huge boost from their defense in the last series, which Lisa Leslie credited for their win. But Sacramento also showed that they can put points on the board, which is psychologically important. So even though they are coming in as the favorite, this will not be an easy series for L.A.
Looking at the matchups, I think it will be interesting to watch the matchup between Ticha Penicheiro and Temeka Johnson. Johnson really found a lot of success getting to the basket and creating shots against Seattle. The Monarchs also need great shooting out of Kara Lawson, who thrives on big games. She always seems to come up with those big shots. I see the Mwadi Mabika-Nicole Powell matchup as a wash, and could swing in the direction of who gets hotter. Between DeMya Walker and Jessica Moore, you have to give the edge to Walker. Moore does so many little things for the Sparks and her team has rallied behind her, but Walker has done a terrific job getting in shape and contributing after having her baby. Walker's return takes a lot of pressure off of Powell and Yolanda Griffith. Yo and Lisa is just a classic matchup. Lisa is so fluid, but faces the basket a little bit more than Yo. Griffith will stay at 15-feet and in and has been the best offensive rebounder in the game since she entered the WNBA.
Looking at the role players, Erin Buescher was the Most Improved Player in the WNBA, but the entire team gets solid minutes. This is a very long and athletic team that plays with a high level of intensity because they are kept fresh, but because everyone plays, there is a greater opportunity for more players to step up. Los Angeles has great team chemistry, as do all four of the playoff teams. But the x-factor for this series could come down to whether Chamique Holdsclaw plays, or how much. I believe it will be a game-by-game decision, but even two minutes could give them a psychological boost. The Sparks also get good contributions from their bench in the likes of Murriel Page, Lisa Willis, Doneeka Hodges-Lewis and Christi Thomas. Thomas has been plagued with knee problems, but she has solid, real important. Willis comes in and hits shots while Page does little things as well.
The Sparks like to get out and run, like they did in the first half of Game Three in the Seattle series. When they are moving the ball, they are a dynamic team and a lot of fun to watch. So if they are able to get the ball out quickly, push the defense and play frantic, it won't allow the Monarchs the time they need to set up their defense. The reason they got into trouble in that fourth quarter in the last game was because they quit passing the ball. Sharing the ball is key to the Sparks success. That said, I was impressed that the Sparks did not fold. Seattle cut that lead all the way to one point, but they never let the Storm tie the game and get over that mental hurdle.
Speaking of mental hurdles, it took the Monarchs finally beating the Sparks in the first round in 2004 to get over the block and finally win a title in 2005. The Monarchs do not have that flash, exciting star. They do not have anyone who will blow you away. They bring their hard hats and tools to work every day and just get the job done. Yolanda Griffith is their leader, her teammates feed off of her and she never lets them down. The Monarchs took a little while longer to come together this season because of Kara Lawson's pre-season health situation, Yo's bad and DeMya's pregnancy. But here they are, ready to go.
Finally, the Sparks will be hosting Game Two on this series not at the Staples Center on Saturday afternoon, but at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. "American Idol" auditions will temporarily displace the Sparks, so how will that affect them? Will they still feel that home court advantage?
In this classic battle, Los Angeles is still the favorite because they won the conference, they have the home court advantage and did go 3-0 against the Monarchs this season. But Sacramento is confident and rested, which could prove to be a deadly combination that adds up to an upset. My pick might fuel their motivation, as the doubts from so-called "experts" have fanned their fire all season long.
Watch for in the 2006 Playoffs
First Round predictions
Posted by Ann Meyers - August 16, 2006 7:36 AM
With the 2006 WNBA Playoffs beginning this week, the one thing that really makes this year different is that any team is capable of knocking out any other team this season. These teams proved that they can beat each other in the regular season, so anything is possible. That said, here are a few things to keep an eye on this postseason.
Houston Has A Chance, But..
I think Houston has a very good chance of upsetting Sacramento, though I am not sure it will actually happen. While Sacramento's numbers may not wow you, they are the defending champions. The Monarchs are a deeper team, even though they do not have the superstars on offense anymore that can dominate every night. Yolanda Griffith can be a big-time scorer if she needs, though all of her points come off of the boards. Kara Lawson has been very productive off the bench, but Nicole Powell's numbers have dipped a bit from her Most Improved season because teams have keyed in on her a bit more (because DeMya Walker was out). Rebekkah Brunson's numbers were okay starting in place of Walker, but with DeMya playing so well again, I really think the Tina Thompson-DeMya Walker matchup will be the key to this series.
With a healthy Dominique Canty, Houston is probably the favorite. Yet with so many players injured or out of the lineup, the Comets really are relying on their stars to come through. Dawn Staley is playing really well with a lot of confidence and controlling the game. I give her the edge over Ticha Penicheiro because Staley has the ability to score. Sheryl Swoopes had a very solid season if you look at her numbers across the board, but I wonder if Houston will have the legs to keep up with the Monarchs. Monarchs coach John Whisenant plays his players three to four minutes at a time, expects them to play hard and will give them a break by putting the subs in.
No one has talked about Yolanda Griffith's potential retirement and I hope the league honors her in the same way they have honored Dawn Staley.
Do Not Overestimate The Importance of the Bench
I think we overrate the importance of the bench in these playoff series. Most teams shorten their bench and will use three players or so. The only time that reserves will play a key role is if there is foul trouble or an injury. There are teams like Sacramento and Connecticut that go to their bench. Detroit relies on its Fab Five for so much. But with Cheryl Ford, Katie Smith, Swin Cash, Deanna Nolan and Ruth Riley, you don't need too much from your reserved. Each plays 30 minutes or more per game, though Kara Braxton and Plenette Pierson have been big off the bench and they got deeper with the addition of Elaine Powell. Indiana pretty much stays with its starters, with Tan White as the primary option off the bench. Washington brings in three or four players, Coco Miller, LaTasha Byears and Nakia Sanford. Seattle and Los Angeles also use their bench to an extent, but the Sun and Monarchs are the only teams we will see go 10 deep this postseason.
The Margo Dydek Factor
With the play of Katie Douglas, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Nykesha Sales, the play of Margo Dydek in the middle for the Connecticut Sun has gone virtually unnoticed. In the past, Dydek would come out of the game when the Sun wanted to push the tempo. Teams knew that if the Sun ran with Margo, they could run right back on them. But this season, Coach Mike Thibault has been able to keep her in the game longer. She has been so effective. At 7-2, even if she is a bit slower than people, she changes the dynamic of teams defensively. Plus, she has 3-point range which we see less of here in the United States and more so when she plays overseas. She is an excellent shooter and presents matchup problems for opposing teams. If they double team her, she can look right over the defense and just dump it down to Taj, Nykesha or Asjha. What a great weapon she is.
The Best Player In The World Will Win
The Sparks-Storm series will be a great one to watch. Seattle won the regular season series. People have debated over whether Lisa Leslie or Lauren Jackson is the best player in the world over the past few years. Lauren is just remarkable. Seattle has battled a lot of injuries this season and you cannot take anything away from how amazing Jackson has been this season, playing through injuries and still putting up those numbers, but Lisa Leslie elevated her game even more this season. It just shows you how durable she is and what she can do when she is healthy. The Sparks have had great chemistry since the first day of training camp. Coach Joe Bryant has given his team a lot of confidence. For example, Jessica and Tamara Moore have played well because Bryant has put them in a position to succeed.
Seattle is a physical team, they can go to the bench with Barb Turner and Tiffany Johnson, who has been in the Playoffs before. They are also fast. They can push the ball. Sue Bird and Jackson are two of the best running the pick and roll. L.A. is going to have to play terrific defense in order to win. I expect these to be high scoring games. Mwadi Mabika is another key for Los Angeles. She has to play consistently, both hitting her shots and getting to the basket. And Chamique Holdsclaw coming off the bench has been huge. It takes a lot of pressure off of her. Overall, I think this is a great matchup. The Sue Bird-Temeka Johnson battles will be fun to watch, both teams will play zone a lot and both teams will play within themselves. It is just a matter of executing. I'll pick Los Angeles because of the home court advantage.
Road Losses Will Change The Series
The disadvantage remains in these three games series that the better seed has to open up on the road. That is really tough. Los Angeles has a pretty good road record, one of only two teams to win double digit games on the road (Connecticut's 12 was the most) but also has the best home record in the WNBA Yet Seattle was the only other team in the Western Conference with a winning record away from home.
There Will Be A First Round Upset
The biggest advantage that the Washington Mystics have is that no one is picking them. That creates incentive. Richie Adubato always has his teams prepared. In order to win, though, Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton-Jones have to put up big numbers over the entire series. Nikki Teasley also has to be on her game, taking care of the basketball and average around eight assists per game, getting everyone involved. Chasity Melvin also has to have a big series. She cannot be a no-show. But the Sun have played with such consistency and they have at least two M.V.P. candidates. Taj McWilliams-Franklin had another solid year this year, Katie Douglas could be First Team All-WNBA and Nykesha Sales combined with Douglas to be one of the top scoring tandems until Sales got hurt. Lindsay Whalen has gotten stronger as the season has progressed and she is so strong. Connecticut is a physical team and while I do not think it is a lock, I give the Sun the edge over the Mystics.
The Indiana-Detroit series can go either way. But I think Indiana will upset Detroit. Detroit has more offensive power, but it's all about the defense.for the Fever. Catchings works so hard on every possession, but it's about the team. It is never about her. But Tully Bevilaqua also deserves credit. She runs this team well and you will see six to eight points per game from her. The key may well be Anna DeForge. She has been up and down this season and she has to be able to hit her shots. Detroit is ready for Katie Smith, who is a scorer but can also defend, to win a championship. The Shock are a lot more mature than when they won it all in 2003 with many of the same players. Detroit has been up and down, though you wouldn't know it from their record. But Indiana just makes you play ugly. I think the Fever will win the first game at home and if they get that one, it will give them the edge. I will be at Game One for this series on Thursday, so we'll see!
Weeks and So Many Questions
Going around the WNBA as we hit the home stretch
Posted by Ann Meyers - July 27, 2006 5:36 PM
Greetings, WNBA friends and family! Only two weeks to go in this 2006 WNBA season and things are sure heating up.
With the shortened WNBA season, teams are playing more games in a shorter amount of time. That means we can expect a bit of a fatigue factor these last few weeks. Compounding matters is that so many players spent the offseason playing overseas. Over the past few years, the difference down the stretch between teams that have gone deep into the postseason and those that have not have been the injuries. Playing all the time wipes them out.
Just look at Houston. Their injuries have played a huge part in how they're going to finish. The same goes for Phoenix. Their injuries have cost them ground in the standings. I believe that the Mercury are a third or fourth-place team without those injuries. They are playing without Vodichkova, Penny Taylor came in late and we do not know the severity of Cappie Pondexter's injury. I said with these college kids that the WNBA should not take them their first year out. Let their rookie year be a year of rest where they can be with the team, but coming out of college, with a forty game schedule where they were fighting injuries right into the pros, they don't have a chance. This group, especially, had a lot of playing time in college. A lot of them are going to feel pressure with the World Championships as well. Do Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter make those teams? And then how do they turn down the money to go overseas. I'm just blaming them at all, I'm just saying it catches up to them.
Fine-Tuning For the Playoffs
Connecticut has already clinched, as has Detroit, so it is not too far fetched to think that they are already focusing on the playoffs. Detroit and Conencticut might even be thinking about playing each other in the Eastern Conference Final, but not too much just yet. They are still looking ahead to their next games and their potential first round matchups. So, yes, in the back of their minds they are looking to the playoffs, especially with the East nearly sewn up.
Playoff coaches need to think about their lineups carefully over the next two weeks. Next Tuesday, the Detroit-Indiana is a huge matchup because of the added implications of them potnetially matching up in the first round. This year, you don't have as big of a turnaround between games and to prepare for the postseason because of the shorter regular season, yet the playoffs are different. The players play differently when the postseason begins. We are deep into our tenth season, with veteran coaches and players who have been to the playoffs and to the championship. These experienced individuals know how to tweak their game and prepare not to burn them out.
How The Coaches Fare
Certainly, it is a chess match for coaches as far as trying to get key players healthy. Just look at Connecticut and Nykesha Sales. How she is going to come back from her injury? The conditioning factor is certainly going to be a concern. I don't think the missing the practices will be a big factor for her, but her game timing and conditioning will be two factors. Yet look how they have continued to win without her. That is why the Sun are such a good team - they go so deep and players are coming off the bench like Ashja Jones, who has started a couple games, and Erin Phillips. Mike Thibault also has Laura Summerton and Jaime Carey, who have each been solid. Katie Douglas is an MVP candidate, I think McWilliams Franklin is having another spectacular year, and Lindsay Whalen did not come into the season 100 percent, but she has played her way into shape. I really think Connecticut is knocking at the door this year.
There is a good group of coaches among the top teams in the Eastern Conference who know what they are doing. I think Mike (Thibault) is a very good coach, as is Bill Laimbeer, as is Brian Winters, as is Richie Adubato. They have all been to the playoffs, so these are four experienced coaches who know how to motivate their players. But I think this is the year that Detroit needs to show they can play motivated again. I call the Shock the Fab Five because you have Cheryl Ford, who is a double-double every night without a lot of recognition, Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan, Swin Cash, and even Ruth Riley has gotten better and been playing more consistent. When you get someone like Cheryl Ford, who is getting double-teamed all the time, it opens things up for her teammates. Deanna Nolan is having a solid year. Is she having a great year? No, but she is having a solid year. Katie Smith was injured in her limited time with the Shock last year so she was still trying to learn her role early this season, put in the point guard position and forced to adapt. Katie is such a savvy basketball player who understands what she needs to be doing to be effective on the scene. Here you have one of the top scorers in the history of women's basketball and she is being asked to distribute the ball and not be the main scorer. She is just a class act.
At The Buzzer
Looking at the playoff contenders in both conferences, nearly all of these teams have a number of players who can make a big shot at the end of the game. Detroit and Connecticut have a number of options as a "go-to player" at the end of the game. Any five of their players can take the last shot. In Washington, I think you look for Alana Beard to be your go-to player, but Nakia Sanford can knock the ball down at the end of the game, as can Delisha Milton and Chasity Melvin. Same goes for Indiana where you want the ball in Tamika Catchings' hands, but Anna DeForge is having a terrific year. I think that Tully Bevilaqua and Tamika Whitmore can alsp break your back. If you're playing for L.A., you are looking to get the ball to Lisa Leslie or Chamique Holdsclaw. In Houston, you want to get the ball to Sheryl Swoopes or Tina Thompson. Seattle has multiple options by the name of Lauren Jackson, Betty Lennox and Sue Bird, but they also have some young talent that can knock shots down.
So what about the defending champs? Who are you looking for in Sacramento at the end of a tight game? This is a very balanced, interesting team. They really don't have a superstar on that team. You know about Yolanda Griffith and Ticha Penichiero, but I don't think Griffith is having the kind of year she has had in the past, and there were games where she struggled earlier in the year. Yo has had some games where she's had zero points or four points, and she's worked her way through that. It shows just how important her presence out on the floor is, even if the skill sets have dwindled a bit. For Sacramento, it is about leadership and desire. No starter is averaging over 25 minutes (whereas every starter on Detroit is over 30), so fatigue should not be as great an issue. The bottom line is that Sacramento is a team that you cannot discount from the Western Conference Finals because of their hunger and experience.
As Yolanda Griffith has said, "we don't get any respect, nobody respects our players, nobody respects our coach, nobody respects our team," and for whatever reason, that fuels Sacramento.
See you in the playoffs!
Report and All-Star Picks
Most Deserving All-Stars and First Half Highlights
Posted by Ann Meyers - July 4, 2006 7:22 AM
I hope everyone is having a great Fourth of July. With the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game a little over a week away and the starters set to be announced in the next day or so, I wanted to share my All-Star picks as well as some thoughts from the first half of the season.
My backcourt locks in the East: New York's Becky Hammon, Washington's Alana Beard and Connecticut's Katie Douglas and the frontcourt would include Detroit's Cheryl Ford, Indiana's Tamika Catchings, Connecticut's Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin. I know that is seven players, but two of them will be our top reserves off the bench. I'd make Douglas and McWilliams-Franklin the reserves of that group.
I wrote this in the preseason, but what Sales and Douglas do for that team night in and night out never gets its due attention and respect. Becky Hammon also has kept the Liberty in many games this season even and continues to put up the numbers even as she draws double teams. Think about what that team would be without her. Tamika Catchings and Alana Beard are both playing really well again and have their teams at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Beard really seems to have blossomed.
I strongly considered having Sky rookie Candice Dupree as a center on the East team, but with Chicago's last place struggles, she may not get on. Indiana's Tully Bevilaqua is another player who never gets enough recognition for what she does and her impact has been huge for Indiana's success since she got there. Detroit's Katie Smith is having a good year, Deanna Nolan has become a regular All-Star and is having a nice year, but no one really sticks out for the Shock except for Ford.
The West is much tougher for me. It is really a dominant conference and so difficult to pick the All-Stars. More specifically, narrowing down the candidates to the five most deserving players is the challenge. The All-Star Game is for the fans, so the players picked will be fan favorites. It's not always even about who is playing the best. I think you will see Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi starting in the backcourt. But how do you leave Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter off the team? I think both will be there even if not voted on as starters by the fans. Lisa Leslie is a no-brainer to be the starting center and the three best forwards are Houston's duo of Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson and Seattle's Lauren Jackson. Both Swoopes and Jackson have been hurt and missed some time, yet Thompson has been the most consistent. She's having an incredible year again, another player who never seems to get enough recognition (even though she was a lock for the All-Decade Team). In picking starters, I'd lean towards Swoopes over Jackson right now. Swoopes was last year's M.V.P., the scoring leader who also had a great defensive year.
Rounding out the roster, there is no one on San Antonio or Sacramento that really deserves to be on the team. Yolanda Griffith will likely make the team, but neither she nor Ticha is really having an All-Star year. Chamique Holdsclaw probably deserves to be on the team just for how good the team has been since she came back. Do we have a Sixth Man Award? At this point, she certainly deserves that consideration. The Sparks won eight or nine games after her return before losing one. it is just tough for many other players to break through because of the popularity of these top players.
More From the First Half
Lisa Leslie is the frontrunner for the M.V.P. Award again this season. She is playing like she did when she was 26 and already won three Player of the Week Awards. I witnessed her 41-point game and she probably had a chance to score 50. I think the Sparks should continue to have Holdsclaw come off the bench because it keeps working.
This season is also prodcing the most 20-point scorers we have ever had. Two of them are rookies! For Cappie and Seimone, their ability to put up these numbers has been amazing. To see this kind of scoring, I am pleasantly surprised.
Is it bad defense? Is it the 24-second shot clock? Not necessarily. Teams are better and there is more talent. Teams can go deeper onto the bench where the players in the game can make an impact.
Cheryl Ford keeps getting better and better. She gets a double-double every night. Yet she does not get enough attention either. The Shock is a powerhouse. Same with Connecticut. I think Douglas and Sales got even better. They are solid on the frontline and Lindsay Whalen is getting healthier.
I was surprised at how Chicago came out. Even though they were an expansion team, they have some real talent. It just shows you how difficult tis league is when you get these players that have all been here before. Both of their wins came against Charlotte, who have only won a handful of games themselves. Yet, both teams have been in games that they could have and should have won. You cannot go into any game thinking you have it won. Even Minnesota beat L.A. by putting 114 points on the board.
In the past, we have talked about teams needing 10 games or so to find themselves after playing overseas in the offseason, but this season, teams have found their chemistry and hit their stride really early. It did not affect teams quite as much as it has in the past. Teams like Indiana and Washington got off to great starts and really have not slowed down. It will make for a great second half. Don't we know that things will come down to the last games on the last weekend? Detroit is coming on, too, and these top teams in the East will battle it out to the end.
Sacramento is the defending champions, but this is a team that still feels like no one gives them respect. San Antonio is a team that has surprised a lot of people... a last place team last year, they have already won more games than they did all of last season. Give Dan Hughes credit for turning things around. He is certainly a Coach of the Year candidate, along with the Sparks Joe Bryant.
I am looking forward to the All-Decade Team celebration at the All-Star Game this year and while I don't know who you would take off that list, I think it is really disappointing that Teresa Weatherspoon did not make the Top Ten. An eight-year founding player, she was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and took the Liberty to four WNBA Finals. She was certainly one of the most popular players in the league and set records for assists and steals.
WNBA Season Preview
How things will shake out this season
Posted by Ann Meyers - May 19, 2006 3:26 PM
Projected Order of Finish
|Los Angeles Sparks|
|New York Liberty|
|San Antonio Silver Stars|
The Connecticut Sun had the best record in the league last year at 26-8. They advanced all the way to the Finals for the second straight season, only to fall short to Sacramento Monarchs. This could be the year that the Sun gets over the hump. One key will be injuries. Point guard Lindsay Whalen was injured in Finals last season and is coming back from ankle surgery to start the season. With her, the Sun will be tough to stop. They have a veteran front line with Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who is coming off of a career year in which she was Second-Team All-WNBA, Nykesha Sales, one of the top scorers and defensive players in the league, and Katie Douglas, who was an MVP in the offseason in Lithuania and a First Team All-Defensive player last year. Sales and Douglas are one of the best tandems in the league, bringing maturity, defensive skills, the ability to spot up and shoot the 3 and take it to the hole. Margo Dydek gives them a different look at 7-2 and led league in shot blocking. Asjha Jones is one of the best off the bench. These veterans give confidence and maturity to an already well-balanced team. Coach Mike Thibalt has also added some young players to this mix, including two from Australia in guard Erin Phillips and post player Laura Summerton.
The Detroit Shock is a team loaded with talent, the best rebounding team is 2005. That said, they were the worst free-throw shooting team and led the league in disqualifications. Make no mistake, this is a physical team. Look for them to continue that attitude and have that swagger directly from Coach Bill Laimbeer. Last season, though, this was also a team that found itself near the bottom of WNBA in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. That is part of the reason they brought back Kedra Holland-Corn, a vital member of the 2003 championship team, and Katie Smith. Smith was acquired in a trade late last season, but has come in great shape to play point guard. Their post players, Cheryl Ford, Ruth Riley and Kara Braxton, have to make their shots. One player you don't have to worry about scoring is Deanna Nolan, one of the top five scorers last season. She is one of the league's most exciting players. Playing alongside Smith, the all-time women's basketball leading scorer, will only make her better. The final piece to the puzzle is Swin Cash, who returns from knee injury and should be back to full health. This team has so much fire power, yet barely made the playoffs last year, finishing at 16-18. In order to improve upon that, they have to rely on bench players for increased production.
Looking for a team on the rise? The Washington Mystics made one of the big trades in the offseason sending Rookie of the Year point guard Temeka Johnson to Los Angeles in exchange for local hero Nikki Teasley. From 5-3 for 6-0 at point, Teasley, an All-Star when healthy, brings Magic Johnson skills to Washington and is reunited her with former Sparks teammates DeLisha Milton-Jones and LaTasha Byears. Can she bring magic to the 16-18 team that just missed the playoffs last year? Alana Beard is back and ready to lead the Mystics. She comes off of career-like offseasons in Australia and Korea, averaging 30 points per game in Australia. Milton-Jones moves back to her natural position with Byears filling in the with the more physical play. Byears, returning from a two-year absence from the league, adds toughness and attitude. Also returning are Chasity Melvin, a big player in the post, and guard Coco Miller, who was nearly lost to free agency. Coach Richie Adubato has also been reunited with one of his favorites, Crystal Robinson, a swing forward from New York. The best three-point shooter last season was a rookie, Laurie Koehn, who will add some punch off the bench. They also got the steal of the Draft with Nikki Blue, a point guard from UCLA. She gives Washington a different look when Teasley is out of the game. She is strong, can score and drive and dish.
I really believe the final playoff spot will be a battle between the Indiana Fever and the New York Liberty as each are completely new teams this season. It's a toss-up for me. Only four players return from last year's Indiana team, which finished with the 21 wins and the second best record in the East. Brian Winters has revamped the Fever with veterans and more scorers. Perennial M.V.P candidate and last year's Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings was in the top ten in scoring, rebounding, assists and number one in steals last season, so look for her nine new teammates to gel quickly around her. They needed more scorers and the Fever went out and got them. The losses of Natalie Williams, Kelly Schumacher, Kelly Miller (retired, freeagent, traded) is counteracted by the additions of Anna DeForge, Charlotte Smith, Olympia Scott and Tamika Whitmore. This team was last in field goal percentage, tenth in 3-point field goal percentage and 11th in points scored. At the point, Tully Bevilaqua is a hard-nosed, tough guard that made all the difference for them last year. Bevilaqua and Catchings are defensive stalwarts, but the team also needs to improve on its defense as they were 11th in blocks and 12th in defensive rebounds in 2005.
So who does that leave out? This offseason saw a big shake-up for the New York Liberty. Coach Pat Coyle has a brand new team for Becky Hammon to lead. Longtime liberty players Vickie Johnson and Crystal Robinson are gone, as are Ann Wauters and Elena Baranova. So it is up to the new, young guns to step up. Also supporting that effort will be veterans brought in from other teams - Barb Farris (Detroit), Keisha Brown (Washington) and Kelly Schumacher (Indiana). Forward Shameka Christon, with her size and ability, needs to become a go-to player. Other youngsters the team needs to show improvement are guards Loree Moore, who is back from injury, Ashley Battle, who brings toughness, and rookie Sherrill Baker, who was college defensive player of the year. This is a team that needs reounding and scoring. They were #1 in free throw percentage last season because of Becky Hammon, but they need more than one player to get to the line. Cathrine Kraayeveld is expected to start at the four, who along with Schumacher will give them size, but it's tough to replace Ann Wauters and Elena Baranova. This is a team that always has found a way to make the playoffs, finishing 3rd at 18-16 last season. They need to find a way to get more points on the scoreboard but this is a team that always seems to find a way into the playoffs.
Unlike any other expansion team that the WNBA has ever seen, the Chicago Sky is full of seasoned veterans. Yet, it might not be enough for Dave Cowens' team as the East is stacked. Guards Elaine Powell and Chelsea Newton are WNBA champions and Brooke Wyckoff has played in some big games with the Sun. Stacey Dales is back from a two-year absence and stint as a broadcaster. She is in shape and ready to go. Rookie Candice Dupree from Temple gives the Sky a presence inside. She is a good defender, quick, mobile and jumps well. She will be thrown into the fire quickly. Guard Deanna Jackson is a young talent and Nikki McCray's veteran leadership will help guide the team as they get off the ground. It will be tough for the Sky to make the playoffs with two of the most talented teams in Detroit and Connecticut in their conference.
The Charlotte Sting still have a lot of work to do. Scoring, rebounding, committing fouls, turning the ball over, field goal percentage... Charlotte can only go up. The team was weak in all of those categories last season. Coach Muggsy Bogues nw has rookie Monique Currie to boost scoring to go along with one of the best shooting tandems in Sheri Sam and Allison Feaster. Tangela Smith is back as one of the team's best inside players alongside Tammy Sutton-Brown. Kelly Mazzante, the all-time leading scorer in the Big Ten, brings depth off the bench, as do high profile rookies and Tye'sha Fluker (bulk in the middle) and LaToya Bond stability in backcourt behind Helen Darling. That said, it will not enough for this team to be a playoff team.
The 2005 WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs are looking to stay at the top as they had the best record in the west last year with a 25-9 record and the best home record with 15 wins en route to the title. Returning to the fray is First Team All-WNBA and All-Defensive center Yolanda Griffith. At age 34, she is still anchoring the middle and playing alongside Ticha Penicheiro at the point, the all-time assist leader. Coach John Whisenant has his team playing a White Line defense as they were the best at limiting opponents' points and turnovers forced last year. Last year's most improved player, Nicole Powell, has good three-point shooting ability along with Kara Lawson and Canadian-born rookie Kim Smith. Standout defensive guard Chelsea Newton, a rookie last season, was lost in expansion draft. Look for a new rookie out of L.S.U., Scholanda Dorrell, to take her place in the starting backcourt with Ticha but gives them more offense as well and can shoot the three-pointer. Playing for National Team this offseason, Kara Lawson will have confidence and that leadership will help her game tremendously. Anticpation of DeMya Walker's return from pregnancy leave later this summer will galvanize the team, though her absence gives Rebekkah Brunson an opportunity to start, thus allowing Hamchetou Maiga and Erin Buescher to get more off the minutes off the bench. She was effective off the bench as her great board work helps out Griffith down low. Defense wins championships and Coach Whis has shown that, and continues with that mindset.
The Seattle Storm are loaded with talent as well, though not as healthy coming into the season as star forward Lauren Jackson, one of the best players in the world, is still recovering from stress fractures. A former MVP, she was the second leading scorer and rebounder in the league last year. Center Janell Burse is also slowed by injuries. Anne Donovan, the coach of the World Championship Team later this year and the Olympic Team in 2008, will look to rely on her backcourt. Sue Bird led the WNBA in assists last season and the Storm hope that guard Betty Lennox can return to her 2004 championship form. Seattle led the league in scoring and getting to the free throw line a year ago, but was last in defense. Donovan is looking for physical play from Connecticut rookie Barbara Turner and also brought in veteran Wendy Palmer, one of the original seven of the WNBA, to toughen up her squad. Look for Seattle to be a strong contender for the Finals again this year.
Congratulations to Coach Van Chancellor on his tenth season with the Houston Comets. Not only has he won four championships, but he has also been the World Championship Olympic team coach and continually leads the Comets to the playoffs. This season he has a team featuring three of his proiminent Olympians and three of the remaining seven original players. Point guard Dawn Staley is healthy as she enters her last year, Sheryl Swoopes is the reigning M.V.P and leading scorer in 2005 and Tina Thompson is in better shape than last year after delivering her son. Thompson is one of the top inside-outside players in this game. Tamecka Dixon is also a veteran free agent that they brought in from Los Angeles who gives even more experience and a variety of options in the backcourt. That means there are five players in their 30's on the team this season, by far the oldest in the WNBA. That also means that so much of the Comets success will depend on health down the stretch. With an older backcourt, look for Houston to rely on the inside game of Michelle Snow, Sancho Lyttle, Mistie Williams and Tari Phillips, who has been an All-Star. They will miss the silent assassin, Janeth Arcain and her versatlity on both ends of the floor, but Roneeka Hodges' patience has paid off and steps into that spot. They may not be the healthiest team at the outset, but these are Olympians and national team players that understand how to make the playoffs and how to take it to the next level.
The Los Angeles Sparks made the playoffs last year with a 17-17 record. All-world center Lisa Leslie's numbers were down, yet she was still one of the top offensive and defensive players in the league. She comes in this season relaxed and ready to go to work after a November marriage and playing overseas in Russia for the first time. Ten-year veteran forward Mwadi Mabika is back at the three after not playing overseas and looking forward for another All-Star years in 2003 and 2004. Last year, Chamique Holdclaw led the Sparks in scoring and was second in rebounding to Leslie. If she has another season like that, the Sparks should make the playoffs again. The Sparks lost their starting backcourt from last season as Nikki Teasley was traded to Washington and Tamecka Dixon signed with the Comets. Enter last year's Rookie of the Year Temeka Johnson, who was near the top of the league in assists and scored in double digits. She is the first true point guard that L.A. has ever had.Team chemistry was an issue with the coaching change during the season as Joe Bryant took over the last five games. His return gives the team more stability. The recently married Doneeka Hodges-Lewis can play the one and the two, and UCLA product, rookie Lisa Willis, can also play both ends of the floor. Still, this is Lisa Leslie's team to take to the playoffs.
Up-tempo, up-tempo, up-tempo. That's what Paul Wssthead, the new coach of the Phoenix Mercury, brings to the team. Phoenix just missed the playoffs for the second year in a row with a 16-18 record and expectations are high. You will see lots of quick shots, not because of the new shot clock, but because of his run-and-gun offense. That style is perfect for shooters liek guard Diana Taurasi, who was fourth in the WNBA in scoring last year. She could average 20 points this year. Rutgers rookie Cappie Pondexter averaged 20+ plus points per game in college. This team has a real chance of breaking the team scoring record as they averaged almost 90 points per game in the preseason. Kelly Miller has finally found an offense she can play point guard in and get her shots off as well. With 6-8 Maria Stepanova and 6-1 Penny Taylor not returning this season, their inside game will have to work hard to get points and rebounds. Look for veterans Kamila Vodichkova, Kristen Rasmussen and second-year player Sandora Irvin to do that job. They will get shots in that offense with a lot of shots going up. With a mix of younger players like Crystal Smith, Jennifer Lacy and Ann Strother and veterans Bridget Pettis and Tamicha Jackson, Westhead will see who can stay with the pace for 40 minutes. The Mercury are running up scores so far, but come in banged up. They have a chance of being a playoff team as long as their legs hold up.
The Minnesota Lynx are greatly improved with the addition of top pick and two-time college player of the year Seimone Augustus, a big-time scorer in college. She is already scoring 26-plus points in preseason action.. The Lynx need more scoring as they were near the bottom in league ranks for points per game and field goal percentage. They did not have a single player in the top 20 in scoring. After trading Katie Smith to Detroit, coach Suzie McConnell Serio has gone young and very talented, but they have to come together. Kristi Harrower is not returning to the team, so Amber Jacobs and rookies Shona Thorburn and Megan Duffy will handle the point. Kristen. Mann is back from knee surgery that limited her last year and played well in the preseason. That gives them size on ther perimeter. Not to mention size on the inside. Nicole Ohlde and Vanessa Hayden enter their third season. It is time for them to dominate the middle. Veteran center Tamika Williams starts out the season recovering knee surgery, and her health is of the utmost importance from a leadership perspective. This team has good, young talent, but I think they fall short of the playoffs.
The San Antonio Silver Stars were a 7-27 team finished that finished one game ahead of the Charlotte Sting last season. This season, Coach Dan Hughes and his squad try to improve to double figure wins. Pee Wee Johnson is back at point, Kendra Wecker is healthy for her first year and they have great size - The Twin Towers - in Chantelle Anderson and Katie Feenstra. With some offseason changes, they should improve, but will still finish last in the west. Marie Ferdinand, the team's leading scorer last season, is out with a baby, so the team went out and signed veteran and original player Vickie Johnson from N.Y. She played well with Dalma Ivanyi overseas, which adds to the team's growing chemistry and overall toughness. Ivanyi will back-up Johnson. LaToya Thomas returns after an injury shortened her season a year ago and Agnieska "Biba" Bibrzycka is back as well, which gives them an outside game. With the addition of the number three Draft pick Sophia Young, the team has also added quickness and a good attitude. The team also another rookie in Tennessee's Shanna Zolman, a three-point specialist. No one works as hard as these two. These are good improvements, but the team still will struggle. They will be better than last year. Coach Dan Hughes has a great attitude and knows how to bring young talent together.
Finally, I reserve the right to change, revise or recant all of this once the season actually begins, though I look forward to checking back in with you throughout the season. Enjoy the games!
Breaking Down the
2006 WNBA Draft Preview
Posted by Ann Meyers - March 31 2006 7:23, AM
With the WNBA entering its tenth season, rosters are very much secure and coaches know what kind of players they are looking to add to their team. And while this Draft may not produce as many "immediate impact" players as some previous Drafts, I think there is a good number of players who can make a team in some capacity and serve a purpose either this season on in years to come. When you break down the prospects by position, as will do below, the caveat is that while we may think of players as fitting into certain roles or playing positions, WNBA coaches will ultimately have their own ideas and put these players where they think they can best help their own team.
Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter and Monique Currie are the top three. They could be the top three picks in that order, though the order in which they are picked could vary. I don't think any of these top three picks are point guards even though a lot of people might want to turn Cappie Pondexter into a point guard. There is also talk, and I don't know whether it will happen or not, that Phoenix could trade the No. 2 pick to another team to add veterans to their team. That is the rumor that is out there, but it remains to be seen whether it will happen.
The interesting question is whether Phoenix would select Pondexter if a trade does not happen. If the Mercury do not think she is the best pick for the team, why should they select her? Everyone seems to think that they need a point guard, but I also think they need a 3 and a 5 if Taylor and Vodichkova opt to stay overseas this summer. Phoenix has a new coach s well, and it remains to be seen who will fit into his new system. I don't think Kelly Miller is a true point guard, but she has played that role in Charlotte and Indiana.
Charlotte has made some interesting decisions in the past, and whether or not they take Monique Currie, that trend could continue. I am not certain that she is the right pick for that team either. I think the Sting need a point guard as well, though that need could be filled with their second first round pick, the 10th overall pick. The top true point guards mentioned have been Megan Duffy, Erin Grant, Nikki Blue and Shona Thorburn. Those are the top four. They keep throwing Cappie in there as a point guard, but I don't think that fits. Those would be the top five point guards. After that are Ashley Allen (Ohio State) and Chameka Scott, a lefty from Baylor.
So who else should you keep an eye on at the next level, perhaps second or third round picks? Louisiana Tech's Tasha Williams is a player to watch even though her size is an issue. Michigan State's Lindsay Bowen is more of a 2 than a 1, though I think she will go in the second round. A player who has not been talked about as much is Georgia's Alexis Kendrick. She plays in the SEC and has been around talented players, so that could make her a second or third round pick.
As far as two-guards after Augustus and Currie, I think Sherill Baker is a first round pick, for sure. Next will be Lisa Willis. Both will go between five and 10. I think Shonna Zolman, LaToya Bond and Scholanda Hoston are more guards being talked about who will go in the second round.
With three guards potentially going in the top three picks, the best forward in the Draft is Baylor's Sophia Young. Having played the power forward position in college, I think she will be made into a three at the next level. But she can score, rebound and is a leader. After Young is selected, the talent level of frontcourt players drops, but not by much. North Carolina's La'Tangela Atkinson is a very athletic player and a great defender. She has also shown that she has a good mid-range game and can hit the outside shot when necessary. That is an area she has to improve upon, however.
I have not seen Miami's Tamara James, though I know many others have and are quite high on her. She is another player who can score both facing up and with her back to the basket. Other small forwards who could go in the first round include UConn's Ann Strother, who could be a shooter in the WNBA. She can do much mooe than just shoot because of her size and athleticism, but long-range shooting might be her specialty at the next level. Utah's Kim Smith will be a three in the WNBA and has a very polished game. She can score, is a very good outside shooter and can rebound. She also has played at a higher level as a member of the Canadian National Team.
I see Barbara Turner more as a 3 than a 4. She obviously helped herself out in the NCAA Tournament, but I'm not sure she did enough to warrant first round consideration. Purdue's Aya Traore might get a look. She is very athletic and takes it to the basket. Xavier's Tara Boothe may also get a look. A player to keep an eye on is Tulsa's Megan Moody. I think she could not only get drafted, but will compete for a roster spot if selected.
Power forward is another position that does not go as deep in this year's Draft. Temple's Candice Dupree is one of the top forwards in the country and will be drafted somewhere between picks five and 10 as well. She has very good footwork and is ready to play against WNBA forwards on both the offensive and defensive end. Liz Shimek has played in a lot of big games with Michigan State, can shoot the outside shot (very important for forwards to be able to take defenders outside) and has great hands.
The next tier of drafted forwards could include NC State's Tiffany Stansbury. She is a big, strong player who is quite talented with her back to the basket. Idaho's Faurholt was the Conference Player of the Year on multiple occasions and is a scorer, but she is only about 5-11. Ohio State's Debbie Merrill will get a look because she can shoot.
The center position is traditionally the weakest position in the Draft because good centers are so hard to come by. But there are some bigs who are capable of coming in and making teams right away. At the top is Tennessee's Tye'sha Fluker. I expect her to be a late first round or early second round pick. But another SEC center who will get drafted is 6-5 Auburn center Marita Payne. She and Arizona State's Kristen Kovesdy will both be selected on April 5.
An intriguing prospect who I have not yet seen is Zane Teilane. Pronounced ZAH-nay, it is hard to overlook a 6-7 center. The question that I hope to have answered by watching her at Pre-Draft camp is whether she is a finesse 6-7 player like Margo Dydek (who does have an offensive game, but could be more aggressive) or can bang a bit more like Katie Feenstra. Duke's Mistie Williams is only 6-2, but she will also be drafted. DePaul's Khara Smith will give you a double-double, but her knees might limit her this summer. She might even opt to take the summer off. If she doesn't however, she should be a first round pick.
News and Notes
A look at player movement, news and potential Draft picks
Posted by Ann Meyers - March 2, 2006 10:52 AM
Welcome to March, my friends, a month of college basketball excitement signaling that the WNBA season is approaching and player movement is intensifying. The Draft is now about a month away and WNBA teams are shaping the rosters that will see them through our tenth anniversary.
First off, just a quick note on the trade that took place yesterday between Washington and Los Angeles that saw Temeka Johnson and Nikki Teasley trading places... I am surprised that Washington would give Johnson up because she was a fan favorite and a really good point guard, but I guess they want a bigger backcourt partner for Alana Beard. Now, onto some other moves that have taken place in a very busy month of February across the WNBA
Keeping Up With the Moves
Let me start off by saying that I feel positive about the moves that New York has made. They are getting young, totally re-vamping everything. The knock on New York the past few years is that they did not make any significant changes. But last year, this was one of the oldest teams in the WNBA if not the oldest. Becky Hammon and Shameka Christon are the two mainstays who are returning for the Liberty after losing Vickie Johnson and Crystal Robinson. Elena Baranova and Ann Wauters are not coming back so Blaze made moves to bring in Barb Farris and Kelly Schumacher as well as Iciss Tillis and Ashley Battle. Farris has won a championship and Schumacher gives them a big body in the middle on a consistent basis. Iciss Tillis played overseas and Ashley Battle is a good addition for defensive purposes as she has a strong body. I think Loree Moore will come in with a new vigor and her return enables them to put Becky Hammon at the two-spot. So I don't feel uncomfortable about these moves at all in the tenth season.
In a move made earlier this week, guard Tamecka Dixon signed with the Houston Comets and I still think she is capable of helping a team. She also brings versatility, having played some point guard in Los Angeles, coming off the bench, applying defensive pressure and playing a number of different positions on the court. This is an old team with a lot of older players over 30 years old and built for now, not necessarily the future. But their "now" is still pretty good as this team was in the Western Conference Finals last year. Sheryl Swoopes was the MVP of the league last year and played with renewed vigor after she was healthy and pain-free. People said she was through, but she found a love for the game again and I think her son had a lot to do with that. Can she sustain that level of heart this year? Dawn Staley played only a handful of games last year but will be back this season and I still think she is one of the smartest players directing a team. I'm not sure Janeth Arcain is coming back, whether she goes to another team or decides to stay in Brazil and prepare for her country to host the World Championships. But she has been the ultimate team player, truly one of the best in the world since the '96 Olympics. She is such a versatile player and a good person with some game left to play. So if she does not return, I think they will miss her.
The Connecticut Sun re-signed their key free agents and return a strong nucleus from the team that had the best regular season record in 2005. Plus they add the captain of the New Zealand National Team, Donna Loffhagen. So much of everything we talk about depends on injuries, so the big question for the Sun is how Lindsay Whalen comes back from her ankle surgery. I think she was one of the best point guards in the league last year, if not the best. Nobody drove to the basket or could take a hit and finish shots like she could. She is such a creator. But in the Finals, it was obvious that her injuries really hindered the Sun (and showed how gutsy she is in playing with the pain).
Seattle has been busy of late, re-signing Betty Lennox and locking up Wendy Palmer to keep a strong core in place. Of course, the biggest thing for the Storm will be the health of Lauren Jackson. She fought those stress fractures, but has been playing well in Australia and is heading to Korea. She is still so young and works so well with Sue Bird. But looking back at what Van Chancellor went through as the previous coach of the National Team, I think Anne Donovan faces quite the challenge. She is already consumed with the World Championship team and putting together a roster. Wearing both hats is like having two full-time jobs, and that pressure to separate the two really will be difficult. That said, Anne is the right person for the job and it was the right selection for USA Basketball.
Sparks Still Looking For a Coach
I have not heard anything on the L.A. Sparks coaching vacancy. I saw Kobe Bryant at the NBA All-Star Game in Houston, who told me that his father is still coaching overseas in Japan, so we don't know if Joe will be back. Michael Cooper is coaching in the NBA Development League, but does he come back? There are probably some other names that are out there, but I don't know. I know General Manager Penny Toler and owner Johnny Buss have gone into the Draft before without a coach, so I don't know what their timeline is.
As much as Lisa Leslie had a down year last year, her numbers were still pretty impressive. I thought a lot of it had to do with the fact that she did not play overseas in the offseason last year. She was broadcasting and spent a lot of time on airplanes, which meant she may not have been in the best shape of her career or work out like she could in the past. But she recently got married and the addition of Michael in her life has been a positive influence. He is so supportive, but now they are building a home and looking to settle down. Those can be distractions, elements that Lisa never had. However, she is playing very well right now in Russia. Who else comes back healthy? Does Christie Thomas come back healthy and is her ankle all good? What other moves will L.A. make?
The Future Is Now
As far as the top prospects for next month's WNBA Draft go, I don't see there being much change at the top. That said, I don't think that L.S.U.'s Seimone Augustus is going to be a dropkick pick at number one. I think she is an unbelievable player, but is that what the Minnesota Lynx need? Do they trade the pick for other players? Either way, she is such a tremendous talent. The knock on her is that coaches continue to say that she can't shoot the three. Well I think she has the whole package. She can rebound as well and has the capabilities of playing solid defense.
I also think Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter has had a terrific season. Cappie is not a real point guard, but more like an Allen Iverson-type of guard, but does not necessarily set players up as well. Her strength is having the ball in her hands. She has really helped herself. Baylor's Sophia Young is also having an unbelievable year. She is a Player of the Year candidate as well, but WNBA teams have to think about where they will play her. She is almost averaging a double-double and the fact that she had 30-something points against Oklahoma center Courtney Paris (and what a duel that was!). So I think Sophia is definitely up there. Duke's Monique Currie is an interesting player for me. She is a two-three type of swing player, perhaps better at the three because she is better inside. A lot of people were high on her last year and I think the NCAA Tournament will go a long way in determining how these picks shake out.
Other players that have stood out for me are UCLA's Nikki Blue, Texas Tech's Erin Grant, Notre Dame's Megan Duffy and a kid from Missouri named LaToya Bond. Candice Dupree is going to be solid out of Temple as well. Connecticut has three players in Strother, Turner and Crockett. Turner will be interesting with her size. Another player who I think will get some serious looks is North Carolina's LaTangela Atkinson, likely a first rounder. There are others who might surprise people, maybe they get with the right team and find a role and stick. I don't think this is a very deep Draft.
In the WNBA, quite a few new players are played out of their natural position. The pro coaches will take a kid who has played one position in college and puts them in a different position in the WNBA and they are not successful. A good example of this is Stacey Dales in Chicago. I never felt that she was a two-guard, so it will be interesting to see where she plays with her new team. She played point guard in college and with the Canadian National Team. That's what happens with incoming players. Like with Augustus, who is 6-1. Do they play her at the three-spot? Maybe eventually she does become that, but she played the two in college and that is where she is comfortable.
Players to Watch This Season
What to expect in the next round
Posted by Ann Meyers - November 10, 2005 11:35 AM
Even though the 2006 WNBA Draft is still a few months away, it is never too early to start tracking some of the top prospects being considered to play at the next level. Of course, these players still have another season to submit for consideration, but here is a quick look at the top seniors heading into the 2005-06 Women's College Basketball season.
2005-06 TV Schedule
|Keep an eye on these players all season long on ESPN2.|
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
So those were some of the top names to keep an eye on. I will check back throughout the season leading up to the Draft to update this list as players state their case to WNBA coaches, G.M.'s and scouts.
2005 WNBA Season
and Answers: Playoff Update
What to expect in the next round
Posted by Ann Meyers - September 7, 2005 6:32 PM
2005 WNBA All-Star
Roster Reactions and Surprises
A look at who did and who should make the teams
Posted by Ann Meyers - July 2 2005 10:52 AM
The 2005 WNBA All-Star Game is less than a week away and it is a very exciting time for the league, the players and the fans. There was no game last year as we took a break for the Olympic Games, but if last year's Finals is any indication, Connecticut will put on a great show all weekend long.
It is hard for me to believe that the season is reaching its midpoint, but teams have played anywhere from 12 to 15 games already, and fans had a decent body of work to study when voting for the All-Stars. I am excited for the fans because they selected the players that they wanted to see. They did a great job and it's hard to criticize any of their choices. At one point during the process, there were three Houston players, Snow, Swoopes and Arcain, who were in the lead. That's impressive that the fans in Houston got behind their players. East forward Swin Cash has been injured all year, but her getting voted in is a credit to the Detroit fans as well.
Diana Taurasi is a first-time All-Star.|
J. Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images
So far, the rosters have a good mix of young players and experienced veterans, representative of the league as a whole. I think it shows that we are seeing a changing of the guards a little bit in the WNBA. Fans still remember the veteran players and the quality of play that they are still producing. Sheryl Swoopes was the top vote-getter once again, which is really interesting, but the fans are also recognizing and acknowledging that the younger players are here to stay and are showing their popularity. We will also have three University of Connecticut kids from the past few years that were voted in. That's great, but it's also amazing that nine of the ten starters were Olympians last season. Eight of the U.S. players and Australian Lauren Jackson. That is pretty impressive, but it also shows you that USA Basketball knows what it's doing. I am also excited for Diana Taurasi and Ruth Riley, who will be playing in their first All-Star Game.
A big surprise for me is that no one from Connecticut was voted to start. They are off to such a great start and I think Mike Thibault is a strong candidate for Coach of the Year (I actually thought he could have won it last year). This is his third year with the team now. In his first year, they made the Playoffs, last year they made the Finals and this year they are just dominating. I think the Connecticut fans can get more active in All-Star balloting. All five of their starters merit All-Star consideration, especially with them hosting the game and Mike Thibault is the coach. I think Taj McWilliams-Franklin is having an MVP-type year. Lindsay Whalen is also having an All-Star year. But Becky Hammon and Dawn Staley, the starting guards in the east, are fan favorites and will represent the East well.
In the West, Yolanda Griffith deserves the starting nod at center. She has had a very solid first half. Sacramento has been the best team in the conference this season. But look at who else has been playing well. Houston is probably one of the surprise teams so far, especially without Tina Thompson. Think of how much stronger they will be when she comes back. Sheryl Swoopes has been great this season. You can't forget the trade rumors early on, but I give her serious kudos. She is 34 years old, but playing so well and I'm proud of her. I mean, she leads the league in steals, she is scoring and it just shows you that she didn't let all of the other stuff affect her. I think it helps that they are flying a little bit under the radar. They won the championships but then struggled the next few years. Van Chancellor looks like he has some players there that are starting to play well, so I give him and the coaching staff a lot of credit for getting them to come together.
I also think it is surprising that nobody from the Sparks was voted to start. That said, I don't know the extent of Chamique Holdsclaw's sprained ankle and I know that Lisa Leslie has not been 100% this season or on top of her game. Her numbers are not as good as people would expect and neither has the team, but there have been a lot of changes in L.A. But it is a surprise as you consider that four of the five All-Star MVP's have been a player from the Sparks between Lisa Leslie and Nikki Teasley.
It will be hard for coaches to select the reserves with so many deserving players. The coaches from each conference all submit their votes, and if a starter is injured, she is replaced by another player as per President Donna Orender's decision, but the coach can decide who of the remaining players will start. Swin Cash will likely not play even though she has been working out and rehabilitating her leg, so perhaps McWilliams-Franklin will get chosen. I think she is a lock to at least make the team either way.
The Eastern Conference starting guards are small, so Lindsay Whalen, Alana Beard and Deanna Nolan would give you some size. Some other names in the East that could be there as well are Connecticut's Nykesha Sales, who has played in every All-Star game (though I'm not sure we can have three Sun players), and Indiana's Kelly Miller has had a good season. Shock forward Cheryl Ford and centers Ann Wauters and Margo Dydek could also get in. Rookies Tan White and Temeka Johnson probably won't get in as there aren't enough roster spots, but they have had very good years so far. I think they have potential to be All-Stars down the road in this league.
R. Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Now is also as good a time as any to look at some other stories across the league...
In the Eastern Conference, we all thought it would be Detroit and Connecticut on top. Connecticut has exceeded expectations, but Detroit has struggled. The Shock have all that power on the front line, but are a .500 team, lost four in a row and five out of six. That is a story. New York has also been inconsistent this season. I really think they need to get younger. They'll have some tough decisions to make. I am not surprised that Ann Wauters is playing well because she came into the league at 19 years old and has been able to grow, get more involved and understand the game and deserves to be on the All-Star team.
The Sparks are another team that needs to get younger. The nucleus of Leslie, Tamecka Dixon and Mwadi Mabika (who has been out) has been together for a long time. Look at the two best teams in the league this year. The Sun got younger as did Sacramento. The Sun went to Finals with five or six rookies last year and they have a great mix. Then the knock on the Monarchs was that they were the oldest team in the league, but they no longer have Ruthie Bolton, Edna Campbell, Lady Grooms or Tangela Smith. Minnesota was able to do this and have been one of the top teams this season as well. I'm sad that Teresa Edwards is not with the team anymore, but Katie Smith, Svet Abrosimova and Tamika Williams are veteran players, but there are Nicole Ohlde and Vanessa Hayden are each in their second year. I also think Kristen Mann will be helpful for them down the road.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves yet. The second half is shaping up to be one of the closest and most competitive finished ever, but the All-Star Game should be a fun break featuring the best players in the world. If you are in the area, I strongly encourage you to come out and experience WNBA All-Star weekend. The UConn presence will be strongly felt with lots of their fans coming out to see them, but this is also the chance to see so many Olympians together in one game. Tune in on ABC at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Biggest Surprises After Two Weeks
And a Brief Previewing of the Sparks-Monarchs game this weekend
Posted by Ann Meyers - June 3 2005 9:37AM
Now that we are a couple of weeks into the 2005 WNBA season, each team has played between four and five games, and some teams have been able to get used to each other while others are still missing key players in their starting lineups and on the bench.
The biggest surprise so far is probably the Sacramento Monarchs. They lost a one-point game on Wednesday night to the Fever, but they have been on the road since the start and that was their first loss of the season. The question coming in with Sacramento was how the young players were going to respond. Two key players were also injured. Kristin Haynie was out with an injured ankle and returned for the first time on Wednesday. Kara Lawson also got the ankle sprain in the first game and hasn't played since. It's been tough because they lost some key veterans - Ruthie Bolton, Edna Campbell, Lady Grooms, Tangela Smith and Chantelle Anderson - but they started out 3-0. They got younger, more athletic and long, and that seems to have been a good change, at least so far. They are not as big as they were, but Nicole Powell can shoot the three, Maiga and Brunson are effective and Miao Lijie can handle the ball and shoot well. They are very excited about her even though Sui Feifei is on the injured list.
The Monarchs made the Western Conference Finals last season and beat L.A. to get there. The two square off again this weekend, Saturday afternoon to be exact, on ABC. The game is at 4 p.m. ET and 1 p.m. PT.
I wouldn't call them a surprise, but the Detroit Shock have been scary in a good way. They are just so dog-gone big. They can throw anything up there and everyone is going to go get it. If they don't lead the league in rebounding with Ford, Braxton, Riley and Nolan... And they don't even have Swin Cash right now. The knock on them last year was that tey had no outside shooters because they lost Kedra Holland-Corn. But Deanna Nolan is having a great year. To me, the three players who stand out the most right now are Nolan, Sheryl Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw. Taj McWilliams-Franklin is playing very well also. But look at Holdsclaw's numbers. Her first four games were all double-doubles and just missed a fifth against San Antonio. When she wants to do something, she can do it.
The Comets are another surprise. Swoopes, well into her 30's, has started out like gangbusters. I loved her comments before the season, how she was motivated and determined and never felt slighted by trade rumors. She's taking the high road. That's why I have so much repsect for her. She has taken this team on her shoulders with Tina Thompson out. Everyone picked them last but they have gotten off to a great start. Van Chancellor looks like he has things together there.
The Indiana Fever have also started strong, racking up the most wins in the WNBA. They go 10-deep, and I think that is only going to help. I saw the San Antonio-Phoenix game on Wednesday, and when you are able to go deep into your bench, it helps the starters tremendously. I don't think the Sparks are in a situation like that yet. They are not very deep on the bench. Mabika is not back, they don't know if Macchi is coming back, Hodges started and is now on the bench and Masciadri is now getting minutes. They also need to find another backup guard for Nikki Teasley. Just to give her a rest. I think they could struggle with that. Phoenix is another team that was waiting for Vodichkova and Taylor to come back into the lineup.
The Connecticut Sun are a team that has looked solid early on. They have Brooke Wyckoff back and Nykesha Sales is playing well. One thing people overlook is the loss of Debbie Black, who retired in the offseason. She might not have played as many minutes, but the leadership and intensity that she brought to practice everyday cannot be underestimated. That was a huge part of their chemistry last year, but Jen Derevjanik and Jamie Carey are good guards. But Margo Dydek will continue to get into the flow of the team as well. I think they have great chemistry that will go a long way towards determining who comes out on top. That and the injury situations.
Injuries have already begun to play a part in the season's drama. New York's first pick, Loree Moore, has not been able to get any real time yet while Haynie's injury in Sacramento has allowed Chelsea Newton, another rookie, to get her game together. Washington has Milton-Jones and Alana Beard out. They can't afford to get too deep in the hole. I'm also curious to see what happens with the Shock. There is a lot of talk about Bill Laimbeer going to coach the New York Knicks. Does he finish out the season or does it become a Michael Cooper situation like in Los Angeles? That was very distracting. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. They are the last of the unbeaten teams. Will they remain that way past this weekend? We'll know more in a few days.
College Midseason Report
The Picture Becomes Somewhat Clearer
Even though we are smack in the middle of the WNBA offseason, there is so much to talk about and keep track of. Of course, the college basketball is in full swing and the WNBA coaching carousel continues to go around.
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
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...
College Seniors Preview
A VERY Early Look at the 2005 WNBA Draft Prospects.
Posted by Ann Meyers - Dec 14 2005 9:39AM
The WNBA offseason gives us a chance to take a closer look at the future stars of the league as they compete in their college season, which tipped off about a month or so ago. Having worked a few of the games for ESPN already this season, I am now on a break until the middle of January. But here are some thoughts on some of the WNBA prospects that I will be keeping an eye on between now and April.
The 2005 WNBA Draft will be interesting now that Charlotte was able to get the top overall pick. Poor San Antonio. However, the hard part for us right now is not knowing what trades will transpire through free agency and/or trades. I really do see teams really trying to make some moves before the Draft takes place.
I do not know what are the real rumors or not, but it would not surprise me to see several teams pull off some trades in the next few months. In the first few years, it was difficult to execute and take advantage of them, but going into the ninth season, I do not think teams are as bothered by trades at all.
Depending on what teams decide to do, there could be several big name players ending up as free agents as well - Dawn Staley and Yolanda Griffith just to name a few. Will teams stay with some of these older players who make more money but whose production could potentially begin to decline? That question will play a big part as far as what movement takes place.
Even when the Draft takes place, I am not so sure that these kids will stay where they were selected. Last year, a lot of rookies were kept on teams not only because they were good, but a lot had to do with the salary cap as well. There were a lot of good, veteran players in their second or third year that did not get picked up, instead getting replaced on rosters by the rookies. Just look at the Sun this past season - they had three rookies on their team but cut Courtney Coleman from Ohio State who was going into her second or third year.
All of that said, I do not think that this senior class will have the same impact that last year's rookies had. It will be tough for next year's newcomers to come in and make an immediate difference.
In no particular order, here are the top players I see as having the best chance of going high in the Draft and then making a roster:
|Janell McCarville||Tanisha Wright|
|Jacqueline Batteast||Temeka Johnson|
|Kendra Wecker||Jamie Carey|
|Shyra Ely||Sandora Irvin|
The one position that has a few players that might be able to make their presence felt is point guard, though it will be tough since they have the ball in their hands at all times. Lindsay Whalen proved that it can be done, but it obviously depends on the team, the coach and how things play out. But teams are definitely looking for backup point guards.
Johnson, Carey, Tan White and Loree Moore are the big names here. I really like Temeka Johnson (only 5-3!) and Jamie Carey because of their leadership. I know a lot of people are not as high on them, but they are gutsy and would fit well on a WNBA team. The ability to hit the 3-pointer will be to Carey's advantage and she can also set people up. I like her game and I like what she does.
McCarville, because of her size, probably has the best chance at making an impact of anyone in the Draft. She is recovering from a hand injury but there is no reason to think that she isn't ready to go. Irvin reminds me a lot of Rebekkah Brunson and could be that kind of player. Unfortunately, T.C.U. does not play in a great conference so it will be difficult to tell.
Batteast will be a swing player in this league along the lines of a Sheryl Swoopes or a Sheri Sam. With her size, she is long and lanky. I just don't know what her impact will be. She still has something to prove as far as I am concerned, and I was surprised that she received as many preseason accolades as she did. Of course, playing in the Big East will help her. Meanwhile, Wecker is more of a two-guard. She is tough, hard-nosed, can shoot the 3-pointer and can handle the ball.
Tan White just might be the top guard taken in the Draft. I would put her in my top five along with Penn State's Tanisha Wright, a shooting guard. As for Shyra Ely, I think she could be a top pick even though I am not sure how keen I am on her just yet. She was one of the few underclass All-America players last year, but she has been inconsistent so far this season.
To Be Continued...
There are several other talented players who I think will get drafted and have the potential to make a team, but there are still questions surrounding them. Heather Schreiber, from Texas, is off to a tough start and has been inconsistent for me this season. Arizona's Dee Dee Wheeler is a nice player, but she is going to have to get more physical. She is about 5-10 and plays like Houston's Felicia Ragland.
The two UConn seniors, Ashley Battle and Jessica Moore, will also be picked up. Battle can defend a lot of different positions and she reminds me a lot of a player like Semeka Randall, who just retired. Moore has to develop a 15-foot shot and get quicker, though she has been playing well since her knee injury.
Houston center Sancho Lyttle has also garnered high praise, though I have not seen enough of her just yet to come to any conclusions. Meanwhile, another highly touted player, Cappie Pondexter from Rutgers, has yet to play this season, so I cannot really talk about her.
Finally, I think it would be a mistake for two very talented players, Monique Currie or Shawntinice Polk, to come out and enter the Draft after this season. Both have another year of eligibility and I believe they should take advantage of that. I think both would go high in the Draft, but both could benefit from the everyday play that another year of college will give them.
So many questions to be answered...