Detroit Shock: Defending The Crown Again

by Matthew Brennan, WNBA.com

The Detroit Shock will enter the 2007 season on a familar path... as defending WNBA Champions. The Shock entered the 2004 season in an identical situation, but struggled to a 17-17 record and a loss in the first round of the playoffs. The disappointing campaign came only one year after Detroit dominated the league with a 25-9 record on their way to the WNBA title. The four remaining players from the 2003 and 2004 teams, Deanna Nolan, Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, and Elaine Powell, will now get a second chance at playing the role of defending champions.

The members of the Shock who were around for that 2003 season are ready for things to be different in their second experience coming off of a championship season.

"We definitely learned how hard it is to repeat that first time around," said Cash about how this year compares with 2004. "Because we have most of the same core members in place, that will play to our favor."

Head coach Bill Laimbeer was at the helm for both of the Shock's championships, and he feels that there is a crucial difference between this year's team and the 2004 team that struggled in their season as defending champs.

"We won in 2003, and it happened so fast", said Laimbeer. "We were a young team, most of them were 22, 23, 24, and we came into the next year and expected it to be the same, and it doesnt work that way."

The core of the 2006 team took a different journey to the title, experiencing two seasons where the Shock struggled to reach .500 despite retaining most of the talented lineup that had won a title two seasons earlier. Laimbeer feels that this made the team hungrier to win another WNBA title, and appreciate how hard it is to accomplish.

"In 2003, we didn't go through the school of hard knocks that most teams experience before they win a championship", said Laimbeer. "On the other hand, the last two years before 2006 were frustrating, they were difficult for the players and the coaches. I think going through that not only made us hungrier to win the championship, but also made us understand how hard it is to get there and stay there. Our players are a lot more mature now then they were then, and I think they realize what is in front of them."

A big part of the Shock's 2006 championship run who was not around for their first title is guard Katie Smith. This will be Smith's first experience at defending a championship in the WNBA after winning back-to-back titles with the ABL's Columbus Quest nearly a decade ago. As part of a cadre of Shock veterans, Smith is prepared for this season knowing that the target will be on Detroit's back every night.

"The norm: staying hungry and staying motivated to go out every night knowing everyone is going to go after you with their best shot," said Smith. "Everyone wants to beat the defending champs. One thing we need to improve on is becoming more consistent throughout the season and throughout every game."

Repeating Isn't As Easy Anymore

If the Shock are able to win another championship this season, then they will become the first WNBA team to repeat since the Sparks won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. Prior to Los Angeles, the Houston Comets won the first four championships in the WNBA's history. It is a testament to how competitive the league has gotten in the past five years as each champion has fallen short during the next season.

The 2006 Finals saw the Sacramento Monarchs come the closest to repeating, leading Detroit at halftime of the deciding Game 5 before the Shock came from behind to take home the trophy. Prior to last season, defending champions Seattle and Detroit were both eliminated in the first round the next year while Los Angeles fell short of the three-peat with a loss to Detroit in the 2003 Finals.

Detroit is expected to be a contender again this season, but the road will not be easy. According to WNBA.com's Preseason 2007 Power Rankings, the top three teams in the WNBA, led by Detroit, reside in the Eastern Division. The Shock will have their work cut out with the likes of the Connecticut Sun and the Indiana Fever if they are to make a third WNBA Finals appearance in franchise history. The road will begin on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC when the Monarchs return to Detroit, where they fell just short in the WNBA Finals last September.

Making Some Changes

The Shock and head coach Bill Laimbeer made some roster adjustments in preparation for the 2007 title defense. Ruth Riley, last year's starting center, was traded to San Antonio after winning two WNBA titles in four seasons with the Shock. Arriving from San Antionio in her place are center Katie Feenstra and veteran guard Shannon Johnson.

Johnson, who was a teammate of Katie Smith on the Columbus ABL title-winning teams, is in a similiar situation to Smith before last season. She is a veteran player who has toiled on teams that have struggled to make the playoffs during her seven-year WNBA career. The addition of a veteran who is looking to make a contribution to a contender could be put the Shock over the top with the odds of repeating stacked against them.

The Shock know that they have a difficult road ahead, but they are expressing confidence about what they can do this season.

"I think we have enough talent to be right back where we were," said Katie Smith. "We just need to go into work every day knowing that each opponent is going to give us their best shot and want to knock us off."

"We know that there are a lot of teams out there that want to beat us, and being the defending champions compounds the situtation," added Laimbeer. "We are aware that we have a target on our back, but now with all of our players in camp the lightbulb has come on and our players realize the opportunity that lies in front of us."

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