UConn's Taurasi, Duke's Beard lead a distinguished 2004 class

Draft Lottery: Top of Their Class

Dec. 1 -- In a recent question and answer session with Sports Illustrated, Duke's All-America guard, Alana Beard expressed her thrill about the ability to play in the WNBA.

SI: You'll almost certainly be one of the top three picks in next year's WNBA Draft. How closely will you be watching the Draft Lottery on Dec. 3?

Could Taurasi and Beard have a long, competitive rivalry like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did?
Andrew D. Bernstein
WNBAE/Getty Images
Beard: "I don't care where I play. I'm just glad we can play in the States."

With the WNBA holding its Draft Lottery on Dec. 3 and heading into its historic eighth season in 2004, the league will welcome the first-ever class that entered as high school freshmen who knew that there would be a women's professional basketball league waiting.

And the league will be waiting for them with open arms.

Reneé Brown, the WNBA's Vice President of Player Personnel since 1997, watches more basketball each year than most people do in a lifetime. She has noted the level of talent in the 2004 Draft could rival, and even surpass, those excellent classes in 2001 and 2002.

"When you think about that, it's given those players time to prepare over those last eight seasons," Brown said. "You see the level of skill and how much it has improved. Now, these women have something to look forward to, just by seeing how the level of play gets better and better.

"They have something to look forward to -- to play professional basketball." WNBA fans also have something to look forward to, two transcendent seniors -- UConn's Diana Taurasi and Beard. Brown notes how these two players have gained recognition in their four years at their respective schools.

"What's interesting about this class is," Brown said, "I can't think of another class where there are two women who are coming out who are as known nationally as Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard.

"It's almost like when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were coming into the NBA."

Heady praise (and hardly any pressure) for these two players. But Brown is convinced they can handle it.

"It's so much fun because when you get a player like Diana or a player like Alana, they just love to play," Brown said. "That's true through every class, because these players play for the love of the game. And they have such a passion for the game."

And that passion for the game and the talent, leads to the lofty comparisons, especially with Taurasi.

"The one thing that reminds me of Magic's game is her versatility," Brown said. "Magic was so versatile. He could handle the ball, he could pass, he could post you up."

Brown also sees Taurasi as an undeniable force. And for the team that wins the Draft Lottery on Wednesday, a consensus No. 1 pick.

"She's got this gift, this will to win," Brown said. "With bigger games, she plays at a higher level. It's magical to me. Think about the kids she played with last year and how young they were. To get them confident and to get them to believe they can win. It's like: 'I'm not going to let you guys down.'

"What I like about her is she's got a swagger to her walk, and she can back it up. Yes, I'm good, I know I'm good and I'll show you how good I am. I wish more players had that."

Brown thinks Beard can develop that swagger.

"She doesn't know how good she really is," Brown said. "That will come with maturity. She makes the game look effortless. The game comes so easy to her. She has a power and grace game. She doesn't even realize how good she is.

"This season is a very, very important season for her. Get to the level when it's time to take over, take over. It's very important that Alana get that mental part of the game this year."

Off the court, Beard already has that swagger.

SI: You once said that if you could be on the cover of any magazine, it would be Fortune. What's the headline?

Beard: "'Alana Beard: The Second Wealthiest African-American Woman in the World Behind Oprah Winfrey.'"

The WNBA as a steppingstone to greater things? Eight years ago, who would have thunk it? Eight years later, now they can.

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