The first defense did not go so well - a .500 regular-season record and an early playoff exit -the memories of which stay with the Shock’s championship core even today. So while several first-year Shock players are hungry to win their first WNBA title, it will be the sting of losing one that drives them toward a third league crown.
“How we have to approach it is that we’re on even ground with everybody,” forward Swin Cash said. “I think if we approach it like that it will give us an edge, (especially) from what happened in 2004.”
The 2003 team went 25-9 in the regular season and won six of eight postseason games to capture their first title. The Shock nearly cruised out of the playoffs in 2004, having to win their last three games to reach .500 (17-17). The New York Liberty knocked them out in the first round.
Only four players from the 2004 team - Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan and Elaine Powell - remain with the Shock following the trade of Ruth Riley and retirement of Kedra Holland-Corn, but all four continue to be pivotal figures. They were four-fifths of the 2003 starting lineup along with Riley. Cash, Ford and Nolan still are starters while Powell is a valuable backup guard.
“I think the great thing about it is that you have three players in the starting lineup who were a part of that,” Cash said. “Hopefully we can learn from what history has already taught us. You can’t come in with the same mindset thinking that you can get it done at the last minute all the time. You have to prepare. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail, and that’s the way we have to approach it.”
“They’re more mature women now,” said head coach Bill Laimbeer, no stranger to defending titles as part of the Pistons’ back-to-back NBA champs in 1989 and 1990. “They appreciate the championship they won more last year than they did the first time.”
Even for the players who were not with the Shock three years ago, Laimbeer noted, most of them are veterans who understand what it takes to win at this level. “I think it’s just the veterans who have been there twice and Katie Smith also. They’ll come every night and play very hard,” he said. “They have great pride now in what they’ve accomplished, and they want to do it again.”
Smith and first-year Shock guard Pee-Wee Johnson won back-to-back ABL titles with the Columbus Quest nearly a decade ago. Smith acknowledged it's easy to relax after enjoying such success, but doesn't see that happening with this team.
“You can go into games and think, ‘oh yeah we can win this. We can do our own thing and eventually we’ll win. We have enough talent. We’ve been there, done that.’ It just doesn’t happen,” Smith said. “We have to have the workman’s mentality of every night having to prove ourselves again. I think some of the new blood will also keep us hungry because they want one. They want to get one, so I think those new additions will really keep us on our toes and be a reminder there’s still work to be done.”
The key additions that will help immediately are Johnson and center Katie Feenstra. Both come to Detroit from San Antonio, which has not been to the postseason the past two years. The former Silver Stars typify a bench of veteran, hungry players eager to follow the lead of a wiser, tougher group of starters.
At least that’s the plan.
“We’re put together well,” Cash said, “and expectations are high.”