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The Detroit Shock drafted Swin Cash #2 overall in the 2002 WNBA Draft.
Jennifer Pottheiser (NBAE/Getty)
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2002 Detroit Shock Year In Review

With decreasing win totals in each of the team’s first four seasons, many observers thought that 2002 would be a make or break year for the Detroit Shock. Only three players remained from the Shock’s 1999 playoff team – Wendy Palmer, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta and Dominique Canty – and two of the team’s point guards from a year ago were gone as Australian Jae Kingi didn’t return to the WNBA following her rookie campaign, and Claudia Maria das Neves was traded to the Phoenix Mercury.

The Shock were able to add a significant piece of their future when they drafted Swin Cash in the first round (No. 2 overall) of the 2002 WNBA Draft. Cash was a two-time national champion out of Connecticut coming off an undefeated season with the Huskies.

“(Swin) has such great intensity at both ends of the floor,” said Shock Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Greg Williams during training camp. “(She’s) all about competing and winning. That, we knew when we selected her. What we didn't realize was that her perimeter skills would be as far along as they are. She's really comfortable facing the basket. We even have her shooting threes. I really wasn’t sure at all that we'd see that from Swin this year – figured it’d be something we’d be working on during her first off-season. At UConn, she didn’t do much shooting beyond 15 feet.”

As good as Cash was turning out to be during the preseason, training camp did not go as smoothly as Shock fans would have liked. The injury bug hit the Motor City early in 2002 as starting point guard Dominique Canty suffered a broken left hand in a May 3 practice.

“Really, we had one player who couldn’t get hurt, and that was Dominique,” said Williams. “And then she gets hurt. Three positional changes result from one injury. We have to put Edwina at point guard instead of shooting guard. We have to play Tweety (Deanna Nolan) at shooting guard instead of small forward. And we have to put in Swin at three.”

With the regular season looming, it became evident that the schedule makers hadn’t done the Shock any favors sending them out on the road for eight of their first 10 games. Home or road, it didn’t matter in the early going, as the Shock lost its season opener to the Orlando Miracle by 14 points and proceeded to lose its first 10 games overall. Five of those 10 losses were by double-digits.

It was obvious that a change needed to be made, and on June 19 following the last of those 10 losses, the Greg Williams era came to an end. His replacement was none other than original Pistons Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer, who had joined the team as a special consultant earlier in the year.

The decision to take over the 0-10 Shock was an easy one for Laimbeer: “If we were getting beat by 20-something points per game and I was looking at it going, ‘we’ve got no shot to win games’ that would a lot more difficult to jump in the middle of,” said Liambeer at his introductory news conference. “But they compete, and they haven’t quit. And with a few things here and there, hopefully they can win a few games.”

Under Williams, the Shock’s offense was perimeter oriented. They launched an average of 17.4 three-pointers per game, and visited the free throw line a mere 16.2 times per game; they were consistently beaten on both ends of the glass; and they were outscored by an average of 9.7 points per game.

The differences once Laimbeer took over were striking. Detroit dropped its three-point shooting mentality and immediately took on the persona of its coach crashing the boards, attacking the basket and becoming more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball.

OffenseDefense
Detroit ShockG3GAFTAORPctPPGOFGPctO3GPctDRPctOPPGScDiff
Under Williams1017.416.332.164.445.335.063.074.1- 9.7
Under Laimbeer228.622.236.366.840.232.072.169.3- 2.5

The changes that Laimbeer implemented didn’t take hold immediately as the Miracle beat Detroit 80-59 in his coaching debut. It wasn’t until his fourth game on the sidelines that he picked up his first win – a 71-60 decision over the Sacramento Monarchs. From that point forward, Detroit won nine of 19 games beating a handful of eventual playoff teams along the way including Charlotte, New York and Washington.

Laimbeer wasn’t afraid to shake up the roster either as he traded Wendy Palmer and a 2003 second round draft pick to the Orlando Miracle in exchange for Elaine Powell and a 2003 first round pick on July 7.

“Elaine Powell gives us an experienced guard with 3-point range, that is both quick and athletic, and can play both guard positions,” Laimbeer said. “This trade strengthens our backcourt and allows us to concentrate on improving our frontcourt with our draft picks.”

Although the Shock lost their first game with Powell on the roster, the turnaround was right around the corner. On July 10, Detroit topped the New York Liberty 66-63 beginning a streak in which they won eight of 13 ballgames. Powell stepped into the starting lineup for good on July 20, averaging 9.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists while connecting on 44.6 percent of her field goal attempts with the Shock on the year.

Swin Cash also saw her numbers improve under Laimbeer as she increased her field goal percentage from 36.4 to 42.8, her scoring average from 13.0 to 15.6 and her rebound average from 5.5 to 7.6.

At 9-23, it may not have been the season that the Detroit faithful had been hoping for, but after four years of a never-ending downward spiral the team finally appeared headed in the right direction.

“Anyone who looked at our organization would say we’ve made great strides,” said Laimbeer at the conclusion of the season. Shock fans were hopeful that even greater strides were on the horizon.

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