Shock forward runs away with inaugural award

Pierson Named Top Sixth Woman

Detroit’s No. 6 is No. 1.

Shock forward Plenette Pierson, the first reserve called upon by head coach Bill Laimbeer virtually every night, has been named the WNBA’s inaugural recipient of the Sixth Woman of the Year Award.

“It means a lot to me, to be the first in WNBA history to be the Sixth Woman of the Year; it’s great for me,” Pierson said at the award ceremony, held prior to Game 3 of the Shock’s first-round series with the New York Liberty. “It’s a great award for anybody because everyone can’t be a starter. Someone has to come off the bench and someone has to play hard off that bench. I’m just glad it happened to be me.”

Pierson was the runaway winner in the ballots cast by a national panel of sports writers and broadcasters, receiving 36 of 49 votes. Chicago’s Jia Perkins and Sacramento’s Kara Lawson tied for second with six votes, and Indiana’s Tan White received one vote. Pierson’s profile was raised when Cheryl Ford, Detroit’s All-Star forward, was sidelined more than half the season, yet Detroit still won a league-high 24 games.

“I think the voters saw that regardless of whether Cheryl Ford played or she wasn’t (in the lineup), I was going to come bring the same intensity, same energy, the same aggressiveness, and the same play throughout the season,” Pierson said. “And it just so happened that Cheryl Ford was a big key loss for us and I had to step in and take that role. I’m just glad they saw my hard work was paying off for the team and it got me an award.”

Though she was a reserve in all 34 games, Pierson was clearly the Shock’s most productive frontcourt player. She was one of five Shock players to average double figures and was among the WNBA’s top 25 in points and rebounds. Both Laimbeer and Pierson cited last year’s WNBA Finals, particularly the title-clinching Game 5, as a breakthrough in her development. Pierson’s team in Israel also won a league championship in the off-season, sending her confidence to an all-time high as the 2007 season approached.

"She shot a lot of free throws. She was very aggressive in going to the basket. She got fouled,” Laimbeer said of her Game 5 performance. “She was an integral part of winning a championship and she took that overseas to Israel and won a championship and that's where her big confidence boost came from."

In 2007, Pierson set career highs in points (396), points per game (11.6), rebounds per game (5.8), assists per game (1.7), blocks (29), field-goal percentage (.478), field goals made (149), free-throw percentage (.754) and free-throws made (98). Laimbeer has also said he was very encouraged by her willingness to accept a bench role, something the former starter doesn’t think twice about now.

“As far as my role goes here in Detroit, I love it,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Everyone wants to start at some point, but I’m very comfortable in the role that I have here. I’m playing behind five All-Stars and I couldn’t have a better situation.”

Pierson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2003 WNBA Draft by Phoenix, joined the Shock through a midseason trade in 2005. She was in the Mercury starting lineup 36 of her last 43 games with the team. She was unfamiliar with the bench role she is now celebrated for when she arrived in Detroit.

“It was something new I had to work with as far as being a reserve,” she said. “I had Cheryl Ford to play behind. I couldn’t expect to come in and play before her. Coming in and playing behind her, I knew I had a lot of things to learn from her. I just took that and rolled with it.”

Pierson said she won’t be satisfied, even though it’s her first individual award at any level. “I’m going to continue to do the same things that got me this award,” she said. “Play hard and play aggressive, do whatever Bill asks me to do. As far as going overseas I’m just going to continue to work on my game and try to get better.”