May 14, 2014

Combination of Veterans and Youth Provide Optimism for 2014 Season

Optimism is always at its highest right before the start of the season, when every team starts out with a fresh slate, their eyes collectively focused on the goal of a championship. That especially rings true for the San Antonio Stars, who welcome Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm back to the lineup after losing both players – San Antonio’s leaders in points per game from 2007-2012 – to injury last year. A 2013 season in which the Stars failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six years is long in the rearview as the 2014 season opener against Atlanta approaches, and the Stars look at last year’s unfortunate turn of events as a positive.

“Obviously we would rather not have injuries, but we took advantage of the opportunity for young people to play,” said fourth-year center Jayne Appel. “I think a lot of them grew in confidence and leadership, things that with everyone else healthy this year is only going to make us better. It really is a new beginning for us.”

Hammon and Young-Malcolm have averaged 13.3 and 15.6 points per game, respectively, throughout their careers, and while having that kind of production back in the lineup will be a huge boon to the Stars’ offense, the impact of their return from a leadership perspective certainly can’t be overlooked.

Becky makes things work,” said Stars coach Dan Hughes. “She’s veteran enough to understand not only her position, but the totality of what we’re doing. She can communicate it on the floor in a way that provides understanding and that’s what your great players do. Whether it be with a pass or organization or toughness, they empower others.”

That veteran presence combined with a mix of talented rookies and young players who have started to come into their own as professionals gives the Stars the depth, particularly at the guard position, to get back to the postseason. It has also made for what Hughes said is one of the most important training camps the team has ever had.

“Training camp is vital,” he said. “As excited as we are to have everyone back, it’s not the easiest situation to bring people back from injury when they’ve been away from the game for a period of time. So, I think we’re working really hard on going through the different stages where I think learning takes place, where chemistry takes place, where confidence in your body and your team’s system take place.”

Fourth-year guard Danielle Robinson, who missed the end of last season with a knee injury, averaged 11.2 points and 6.7 assists through 25 games in 2013 and brings almost unmatched speed to the floor, giving the Stars a valuable threat in transition.

“D-Rob keeps coming to another level,” said Hammon. “She’s going to be someone we’re banking on and looking to do some special things for our team.”

Center Danielle Adams, another fourth-year player, will also take on added responsibility after averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last year, and Appel is a gritty, blue collar type of player who can play defense and get rebounds. She averaged five boards and four points through the Stars’ two preseason games and has seen increased production throughout her young career, averaging 8.9 rebounds and 5.9 points per game last year, both career highs.

“I think that’s the beauty of it all,” said Hammon. “We’re going to win by committee. We’re not going to have anyone who is scoring 25 points per game. We’re all going to pitch in and do our part.”

San Antonio also welcomes a talented crop of rookies in camp, including Kayla McBride, who was taken with the third overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft after leading Notre Dame to the national championship game this season.

“We got a player who understands how we want to play,” said Hughes. “She’s really been taught well and she’s invested herself in ways that are pro-like. It’s been fun watching her. She’s soaking it up. I see her looking at the veterans. I see a player who is hungry to get better. She’s a good young player.”

Fellow rookie Heather Butler, a 5-5 guard out of Tennessee-Martin, has also showed promise – in 11 minutes per game in the preseason, she averaged five points and one assist per game. Said Appel of the rookies, “They’re bringing a lot of energy every day and they’re picking up on things quickly.”

The Stars open the season on Friday at Atlanta before heading to the AT&T Center for the home opener against the Tulsa Shock on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We’re excited to be opening on the road and then coming back,” said Robinson. “We’re just looking forward to getting the season started.”