|You asked for it, so here it is... the Official WNBA.com Blog. "In Other News..." will be your one-stop source for all WNBA-related info and activities taking place throughout the season. From game reactions on the court to player appearances, free agency and trade rumors and college prospect tracking and anything else that falls through the net, the Blog will be updated regularly with news, links and photos. All you have to do is keep coming back to get your fill and stay in the loop. | NBA.com Blog Squad|
For the first time all season, we had all 14 teams in action yesterday. And remarkably, with two weeks left in the regular season, the four Eastern Conference playoff teams have clinched berths. The Sun, Shock, Fever and Mystics will all be playing the postseason this year, though seeding has yet to be determined. The Sparks have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference title, but have home court throughout the playoffs to keep playing for.
Today is a travel day for WNBA teams, who will again be in action tomorrow night. Teams have anywhere between five and eight games remaining over th enext 13 days, which is really a grueling pace considering how intense the playoffs are. But do not expect to see coaches resting their star players down the stretch, at least not until the seedings and matchups are set. Home court is tremendously important as exemplified by the fact that the team with home court advantage is 7-2 in the WNBA Finals.
Also on the horizon is the 2006 World Championships, and the United States has yet to name the remaining names on it's 12-woman roster that will be competing in Brazil. Already named to the U.S. team is Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton-Jones Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and Tina Thompson. That leaves four spots barring any injuries between now and then (knock on wood). Without any knowledge of how the USA Basketball selection committee will choose the remaining players, here are some of the prime candidates.
- Seimone Augustus: A leading candidate for 2006 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Augustus is the future and the present of USA Basketball. She is averaging 22.5 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game and shooting 36% from 3-point range. While she may not have paid her dues yet, it makes sense to have her get some international experience playing alongside veterans like Leslie and Swoopes.
- Alana Beard: Beard went from rising star to superstar this season and has the perimeter defense skills that would make her a worthy candidate for selection. She also spent time in Australia in the offseason and got to play with and against much of the Australian National Team, the main U.S. rival in Brazil.
- Katie Douglas: Not always on the map for USA Basketball's All-Star teams growing up, Douglas deserves consideration for the stellar season she has been having. All-Star Game M.V.P., the Sun guard is scoring nearly 17 ppg, a career high. She is also a top defender and lights-out shooter. She also led the Euro League in scoring playing in Lithuania last offseason.
- Becky Hammon: The injured Hammon may have cost herself a shot at the team by going down with a sprained ankle before the All-Star Game.
- Shannon Johnson: An Olympic gold-medalist and USA Basketball favorite over the past eight years, Johnson's veteran presence could be a positive influence on younger players on the team. Oh, and she can still play. She is scoring just under 10 points per game, but still a legitimate force in San Antonio.
- Cappie Pondexter: See Augustus. The same applies. Pondexter has played on just about every USA Basketball Team you can imagine. Is she ready yet?
- Lindsay Whalen: The obvious choice before she got hurt in last year's Finals and struggled to regain her health in the offseason, Whalen has played her way back into shape and health. She is the catalyst on the best team in the East and has experience playing around All-Stars and making them better.
Forwards and Centers:
- Swin Cash: An Olympic gold medalist back in 2004, Cash missed much of 2005 recovering from a knee injury. Yet, she is healthy again and playing well, averaging over 11 points per game and running the floor like the Swin of old.
- Cheryl Ford: If Ford wants to play, she should be on the team, plain and simple. She is the best rebounder in the game and has the emerging offensive game to go along with it. She is older and more mature than she was back in 2004 when she was not chosen to play on the Olympic team, but she has played with USA Basketball teams in exhibitions and smaller tournaments.
- Yolanda Griffith: Griffith, who has hinted at retirement after this season, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and still capable of dominating on a big stage (see: 2005 WNBA Finals). If her body is still holding up come mid-September, Griffith could be a great second center behind Lisa Leslie.
- Taj McWilliams-Franklin: Probably not what you were thinking, bu Taj is playing great basketball right now and, like Whalen, makes great players even better. She has earned a chance to play and would be a great ambassador of United States Basketball to the rest of the world.
- Ruth Riley: Riley's numbers have been inconsistent since the 2004 Olympics, but Riley was a member of the team that took home the gold in Athens and she has won at every level. But based on her season so far, her 8.0 ppg and 5.1 rpg might not be enough to convince the committee.
- Nykesha Sales: A seven-time WNBA All-Star, Sales does everything well. She can score, shoot, pass and defend with the best of them. Yet she has missed time this season due to injury, which might affect her chances.
- Michelle Snow: The only other All-Star center in the WNBA with an American passport, Snow is a long shot to make the team, but her athleticism and talent are unquestioned.
You may also remember the players who got a shot to play with the USA Basketball exhibition teams in Europe and Australia... Kara Lawson, Nicole Ohlde, Kara Braxton, Chasity Melvin, Nicole Powell, Kendra Wecker, Kristen Mann and Shameka Christon... though they remain the longer shots. The interesting question is whether the committee will look at collegiate stars Candace Parker or Sylvia Fowles. Both figure to play prominent roles in the WNBA and with USA Basketball in the future, but they may be two years away.
Either way, the United States will be the favorite come mid-September. But the stars of the WNBA will not even think about Brazil until they have completed their quest for a 2006 WNBA Championship.
In Other News... My Rock Star: Supernova prediction: Ryan Star. Just watch...
Talk about a reversal of fortunes, the Sacramento Monarchs went from winning nine straight against Eastern Conference teams and seven in a row overall to losing back-to-back games against two Eastern Conference teams. On Tuesday, the Monarchs were victims of the Indiana Fever's hot hands in the second half, in which the Fever shot a remarkable 71 percent from the field. The Fever went on to win 75-60 and ended Sacramento's seven-game winning streak. After the tough loss, the Monarchs did not have much time to work out the kinks as they were back on the road the following night to visit the Detroit Shock. The Shock handed Sacramento their second loss in as many days as Cheryl Ford and Katie Smith led Detroit to a 91-71 win over the Monarchs.
New York's 11-game losing streak finally came to an end on Tuesday after Cathrine Kraayeveld scored 22 points for the second straight night to lead the Liberty past the Chicago Sky, 79-72. Rookie Candace Dupree scored a career-high 22 points in the contest, but even that wasn't enough to keep the Sky from slipping again and losing their seventh straight.
New head coach Carolyn Jenkins, who recently took over head coaching duties for Suzie McConnell Serio, started her WNBA head coaching career with a bang as her Minnesota Lynx accomplished a rare road victory over the Charlotte Sting. With the defeat, the Sting had lost two in a row after winning four straight, but two nights later, these same two teams met again with Charlotte getting their revenge and beating the Lynx, 81-68, in Jenkins' home debut.
The Houston Comets let a nine-point second half lead slip away as they lost to the Los Angeles Sparks 56-52 on Tuesday night. Lisa Leslie scored 16 points and added 13 rebounds to acheive her league-leading 14th double-double of the season as she led the Sparks to their first ever regular-season sweep over Houston.
In a battle between two teams fighting for their place in the Western Conference top four, the Mercury lost some playoff groud after a loss to Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm on Tuesday. The Storm found their touch in the 91-85 victory as they made 10 3-pointers while shooting 50 percent for the game. Bird scored 25 points and Lauren Jackson, who is staying put in Seattle, added 16 as the Storm won their third in a row. Seattle moved two games ahead of the fifth place Mercury with the win. The Mercury did n'o have to wait long to prove that they still deserved a late playoff push when they visited Houston two days later, but unfortunately the playoffs are looking more and more out of reach for Phoenix as they lost the battle against the Comets, 98-95. Diana Taurasi scored a career-high 41 points in the losing effort.
After losing three of their previous four, the Washington Mystics got back on the winning track Thursday night by blowing out the Chicago Sky, 92-74. The Mystics, who have dropped from first to fourth in the East this season, have swept the expansion Sky for the season.
In Other News... The Lynx hired Jim Lewis as an assistant coach for the remainder of the season... The Sun have won five straight, but can they continue to sail without Sales, but can they stay sharp for the playoffs?... Detroit aquired Elaine Powell, who was waived by the Sky, on Wednesday... Cisti Greenwalt signed a seven-day contract with the Storm on Tuesday.
In case you haven't noticed it yet, we have put up our daily Playoff Picture capsule that will be updated each night after games end. It has all of the scenarios and info you need for the next two weeks, including remaining schedules.
So bookmark it. Make it your home page, keep it up at all times constantly hitting the refresh button, print it out and sleep with it, send the link to your friends and never leave it anywhere unattended.
Legendary comedian Bill Murray sat courtside for a game between the Connecticut Sun and the expansion Chicago Sky last Thursday night, July 20, at Mohegan Sun Arena. He took a few moments to answer some questions from Connecticut Sun All-World P.R. man Bill Tavares.
A. I watch them on TV because Iíve got the NBA package, so I see them on 601 and itís nice to have a Chicago team back again. Thatís why Iím here. I want to see how well theyíre doing.
Q. Is this the first
time youíve attended a WNBA game?
A. Technically, sort of (smiles). I feel like Iíve been to a few games before. I canít tell you why. Iíve had a lot of memory loss at high altitude (smiles). I know Iíve seen games, but I donít know why or where. I think Iíve seen All Star games in New York, but that was a few years ago.
Q. What was your impression of the
A. Well, Iíve played a little bit with some girls who can play, and Iíve been dominated. Girls with knee braces, I might add.
Does the speed of the players surprise you when you watch them in person?
A. Well, I think in the open field, I could take any one of them in a hundred yard sprint. You know? Thatís my distance. But in the 94-foot thing, Iíve got problems. Iíve got real problems.
That's right, we're all out scouting local hoops talent on the basketball court at the picnic grounds here at the NBA and WNBA Family picnic today. While we're out, feast on some of these things to read...
A day after suffering a 27-point defeat to the Sacramento Monarchs and being pushed even deeper into the Western Conference cellar, Minnesota Lynx head coach Suzie McConnell Serio resigned from her position due to frustration from unmatched expectations. Assistant coach Carolyn Jenkins has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2006 season.
After learning on Tuesday that their team had been sold to a group from Oklahoma City, the Seattle Storm looked distracted as they ended up losing two games in a row. But now things are starting to look a little brighter for the Storm after blowing out the New York Liberty, 91-54, on Saturday before winning a close one against the Washington Mystics on Sunday. Lauren Jackson led the way for the Storm in their second win of the weekend by scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. The Storm, who are currently 2-1 on their four-game road trip, lucked out in the win as the Mystics DeLisha Milton-Jones picked up her sixth foul late in the game, which led to coach Richie Adubato's second technical of the game and an ejection.
The New York Liberty have officially hit rock bottom. This is the first time in their history that the Liberty have lost 19 games, and Saturday's 37-point loss to the Storm marked the worst loss in franchise history. The Liberty may look to sign some of the best free agents available after the season, but it doesn't look like Sue Bird will be one of them. The Seattle guard, who was recently selected to the WNBA All-Decade Team, has expressed that she would like to return to Seattle.
On Monday night, the Liberty went on to lose their 11th straight and 20th overall in an 89-71 loss to the hot Connecticut Sun. The Sun have clinched a playoff spot and celebrated with a bottle of champagne, while New York has seen brighter days. The Libs hold a 4-20 record with the season winding down.
And that's not all the Sun had to celebrate on Monday. One of their five All-Stars, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, was named WNBA Player of the Week after averaging averaged 14.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists as the Sun went 2-0 on the week.
The Los Angeles Sparks bounced back from a rare loss to the Detroit Shock on Friday by beating the Indiana Fever, 73-68, to reach win number 20. The Shock also went on to win their second game of the weekend as they easily cruised past the Chicago Sky, 89-70, on Saturday.
In Other News... The Storm re-signed center Cisti Greenwalt... Katie Douglas is likely to stay in Connecticut... No trades were made at the deadline, but the Sky waived seven-year veteran point guard Elaine Powell over the weekend...
With three weeks to go in the regular season, things couldn't be busier around here. But instead of doing real work, I thought now might be a good time to answer some fan questions. As always, these are real questions. I kept them mostly basketball-related since it is that time of year... we'll have all offseason to talk about other stuff...
What happened to Janeth Arcain. I can't find anything about her retiring,
being cut etc.
-Ken, Kewaunee, WI
Janeth Arcain did not join the
Comets this season after returning to play in Houston in 2005. As an international
player from Brazil, Arcain opted to remain in her native land to play with the
Brazilian National Team and train for the World Championships. Her status for
the tournament, however, appears uncertain. She was not apart of the 12-woman
squad that played four games against Canada last week. Brazil next plays two friendlies
against Chile in Sao Paulo, then they will compete in the South American Championship
in Paraguay, from August 1 to 5. Two games against China in Sao Paulo (September
2 and 3) and a triangular friendly tournament with Canada, China and Spain (September
6 to 9) will be the last warm-up matches before the FIBA World Championship for
Women. Arcain is also 37 years old.
Why are there no longer games
on ABC? I do get NBATV, but there are alot of young girls whose families can not
afford such things. I thought you are trying to promote the WNBA. How can you
do so without it being on ABC?
-Carole, Concord, NH
The WNBA is still very much a part of ABC. From Opening Day's Mercury-Monarchs game thru the end of the regular season, six games were or will be played on ABC. There were many more games on ESPN2, however. There will also be playoff games on ABC and ESPN2 beginning on August 17. If it were up to us, we would try and have as many games as possible on national television, but we work with our broadcast partners to get as many games as we can on for fans to see.
could you please tell me the name of the girl group that played right before the
start of the all-star game at Madison Square Garden last week -- and the songs
-Chris, Durham, NC
Aly and AJ. They rule. The singing sisters performed their hit single "Into the Rush" off of their debut album, Rush. You may also recognize the song from one of the WNBA's commercials or from me singing it non-stop since April. Until I started watching "Cheyenne" on MTV. Now I have dueling teen pop songs in my head. You'd think that can't be a good thing, but it is...
I'm a Seattle Storm season ticket holder and enjoy your blogs. Two quick questions/obervations
about the Storm: I know that Anne Donovan has "sacred cow" status in
basketball circles, but shouldn't she be held accountable for the team's uneven
play dating back to last year's playoffs? Aside from drafting Betty Lennox in
the dispersal draft (a no brainer), she has made a number of questionable personnel
moves since her arrival--namely dismantling the 2004 championship team which included
Sam, Vodichkova and Bevilaqua who are making solid contributions as both starters
and "character" players for other teams--Greg
-Greg, New York, N.Y.
I've never heard the term "sacred cow," believe it or not. Maybe I'm out of the lingo loop or just isolated in my little world here, but it makes me think of Jack and the Beanstalk, when Jack traded his cow for magic beans. If you remember the tale, Jack's mother made a big deal about how the cow was really important for the family and that Jack was a fool for trading her for some beans. Anyway, let me say that I am a fan of Anne Donovan. Both professionally and personally. I happen to think she is one of the three best coaches in the league. Donovan is one of the few coaches in the league who also makes the player personnel decisions, which can be a challenge. Throw in the fact that she is also the coach of the United States Women's Senior National Team and those are three very demanding jobs. It took its toll on Van Chancellor in 2004. But there have been several factors that have contributed to the Storm's inconsistencies. The first is injuries. When healthy, Lauren Jackson is one of the two or three best palyers in the world. Over the past two seasons, she has not been healthy. Other players who have missed time include Wendy Palmer, Janell Burse and Shaunzinski Gortman this season. Looking at the personnel moves, we must also note that Donovan was constrained by the salary cap after the 2004 season. "It's the economy, stupid." Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson are superstars at the top of the pay scale. Sheri Sam, Vodichkova and Bevilaqua were all veterans who demanded a significant amount of money on the free agency market. Donovan also brought in several international players to fill the roster last season, including Suzy Batkovic and Natalia Vodypanova, who opted not to return this season. I also think the team has been distracted by the uncertainty of its future. Even prior to the sale to Oklahoma City, the team's arena situations was constantly in the news. Yet Donovan orchestrated the Janell Burse trade prior to the 2004 season and she has developed into a solid player and signed Iziane Castro Marques, who has had some good games over the past two seasons. All of the aforementioned factors have meant inconsistent lineups, which has resulted in inconsistent play.
My friends and I are having
trouble remembering what year the WNBA was formed and which teams were on the
roster? Thanks for your help.
-Kay, Royal Oak, MI
The league formed in 1996 and first played in 1997. There were eight teams... New York, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Utah, Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix and Charlotte. Be sure to check out our History section and tell your friends!
the basketballs used by the WNBA the same size and weight as used by the NBA?
I say yes, my sister says no. Thank You.
-Faye, Des Plaines, IL
As my sister once told me, "always listen to your sister." The WNBA balls are smaller than NBA balls, consistent with the international ball size standards for each gender.
Matt, will you be going to Brazil to cover the World
Championships? I fear that if you don't go, we won't have any coverage of the
event... This event features the game's best playing for their country. That also
helps promote the WNBA and benefits the game. As a fan, I'd love to have at least
someone who knows the game to be there with the women and giving us the same level
of coverage we get at WNBA.com. Who do I need to talk to make that happen? Otherwise
I might go crazy come September.
-Roland, Billings, MT
For those of you just returning from your weekend escape, perhaps to the beach or the country or even just to your own personal inner sanctuary, let us first say welcome back. For those of you just getting up and starting your week, checking in to recap a weekend of action, good morning.
In case you missed it, Lynx coach Suzie McConnell Serio resigned on Sunday and assistant Carolyn Jenkins will take over. Surprised? So were the players, who found out about the move in practice on Sunday. McConnell Serio was the 2004 WNBA Coach of the Year and an original WNBA player. The Lynx have been competitive this season, but are currently in seventh place in the Western Conference. The team is not out of the playoff hunt by any stretch of the imagination, only four games out of fourth place with 11 games remaining. Stranger things have definitely happened in the WNBA...
Jenkins joined the Lynx prior to the 2003 season and the players like her. She was previously an assistant coach with Stanford and Michigan State and has head coaching experience. She served as the head coach at Sacramento State University from 2000-01 through 2002-03.
Also on Sunday, the Sky waived veteran point guard Elaine Powell. There is now a 48-hour waiver period, though it is unlikely she will be picked up at that time. Then she is free to sign with any team that can fit her in under the cap. So who are teams in need of a veteran point guard? Well, New York could benefit, but seeing as how they are out of the playoff hunt, they are unlikely to bring her in. Seattle has been looking for someone to back up Sue Bird on a consistent and productive basis since Tully Bevilaqua went to Indiana. And how about Powell's old team, the Detroit Shock? This seems like a good fit since the Shock both have room on their roster and Powell knows the system well.
In Other News... Silver Stars center Chantelle Anderson had really been playing well of late before going down with an injury, a fractured patella, in Friday night's game. We wish one of our favorite bloggers a speed recovery.
Forget soap operas, Tuesday's, Wednesday's and Thursday's midday action brought plenty of drama to the afternoon.
On Tuesday, the Monarchs brought a four-game winning streak back to the west coast as they visited this week's most popular city in sports in an early 3 p.m. ET tipoff. The Monarchs continued to sizzle as they defeated the Seattle Storm, 74-61. Sacramento then went on to win their second afternoon game of the week as they barely held onto an early lead to defeat the New York Liberty, 71-62, on Thursday to make it six in a row. Now it's off to their "murderous" four-games-in-six days road trip. The Libs, on the other hand, have extended their losing streak to nine.
The Charlotte Sting, who are finally healthy, showed everyone that they're not going down without a fight this season as they brought their two-game winning streak on the road to Detroit for a noon matchup on Wednesday. The Sting pulled off a shocker as they defeated Detroit, 73-67, for their third win in a row. The win also marked the first time Charlotte has defeated the Shock since 2003. The following day, the Sting pulled off another surprise by beating the Seattle Storm, 86-72, to make it four in a row. We were surprised on Wednesday, but now we're really surprised. It's nice to finally see five teams rather than just four competing for a playoff spot in the East.
The Storm looked a bit distracted during Tuesday's loss to Sacramento, but who can blame them? They had just been sold to an Oklahoma City group for $350 million about an hour before the game, and, to make things worse, about ten minutes before tip off, Lauren Jackson was sidelined with a sore foot. Even coach Anne Donovan seemed quite dazed before the game began after hearing the news. Now that's a painful afternoon for the Storm and the city of Seattle.
So what you're probably asking yourself now is if the Seattle Storm are now the Oklahoma City Storm? Well, not yet. The new owner, Clayton Bennett, said he wants to keep both the Storm and Sonics in Seattle, but Bennett and his group said they will begin a 12 month countdown to reach an agreement with the city officials for a new arena. The bad news for both Storm and Sonics fans is that the previous owners couldn't accomplish a new arena deal in two years. If there is not an agreement within the next year, the new owners could bring the two franchises to Oklahoma.
And things continued to be painful for the Storm two days later as they lost to the Sting 86-72 in Charlotte. Lauren Jackson was in the lineup, but only scored 11 points in the contest. Oddly enough, Storm coach Anne Donovan returned to Charlotte, the city that once put her and her former team, the Sting, in a similar position as the Storm face now. Four years ago, the Hornets were moved to New Orleans and the Sting were left in uncertainty about their future. Yet, everything worked out well.
Also on Tuesday, the Phoenix Mercury visited Indiana for an early afternoon showdown. The Mercury played tough, but fell to Tamika Catchings and the Fever, 71-65. Phoenix led by one point with 3:26 remaining, but the Fever did not allow them to score again as they went on a 7-0 run to end the game. With rookie All-Star Cappie Pondexter suffering with ailing knees, the Mercury must adjust if they want to make a late playoff push. They proved the next morning that they can indeed adjust by rising to the challenge. Coach Paul Westhead's team gave the Washington Mystics their third home loss of the season with Cappie back in the lineup, but struggling (8 PTS, 3-11 FG). The question for Phoenix now... can they keep it up?
The Trade Deadline has now passed and there were no transactions.
Yes, I know the trade deadline is in like 6 hours, but let's change the subject for now and try to distract ourselves from rampant speculation and wish listing...
Has everyone gotten their Sports Illustrated this week? If not, this would be a good one to pick up.
Leading Off: Two-page photo of the WNBA All-Decade Team.
SI Players: ďFirst PersonĒ: Minnesota Lynx guard Simone Augustus discusses leading the WNBA in scoring as a rookie, adjusting to the pro game, her fashion sense and more.
ďPop Culture GridĒ: The Connecticut Sunís Katie Douglas is amongst a panel answering questions on the worst job she ever had, her favorite food, her first celebrity crush, etc.
As Paris Hilton might have said about two years ago after dancing on a table at Marquee, "That's Hot."
In Other News... The Philadelphia Inquirer and WNBA impresario Mel Greenberg have put together a great page on the Inquirer's web site in honor of Dawn Staley's upcoming retirement from the WNBA. It includes links to features covering her WNBA career, her Olympic accomplishments, her coaching career, her collegiate career and even her high school days. Really a great way to spend an hour or two reading up on one of the greatest athletes of our time.
Yup. I'm just as surprised as you are about the Charlotte Sting's second half turnaround.
Who would have thought that a team that entered the All-Star break with a 3-16 record would equal their season win total in the first week of the second half? Earlier this afternoon, the Sting won their third straight after defeating the Detroit Shock, who, I might add, are sitting in second place in the East, by a score of 73-67. It is the second time in five days that Muggsy's squad beat one of the East's best. On Saturday, the Sting defeated the Indiana Fever, 75-65, which came just one day after beating up on the San Antonio Silver Stars, 81-65. It was Charlotte's first back-to-back wins of the season.
After sitting at the bottom of our Power Rankings for the entire season and not having any players in the top 10 of the three major statistical categories (points, rebounds, and assists), Tangela Smith brought some excitement to Charlotte by being selected as an injury replacement for the Eastern Conference All-Star team and things started rolling from there.
Believe it or not, the Sting have a chance to make the playoffs. They're currently only 5.0 games behind the Washington Mystics for the final spot in the East. The Mystics, who currently stand at 11-11, have shown some kinks in their armour since starting the season 7-3. And in a league where any team has a chance to blowout another on any given night, you never know what can happen.
The WNBA trade deadline is tomorrow (Thursday evening) and while the rumormills and gossipmongors have been busy with speculation, all has been quiet on the transaction wire. Will we see the kind of blockbuster deals that saw All-Star veterans Katie Smith and Dawn Staley traded to new teams for the stretch run a year ago? The Shock, who acquired Smith, went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs while the Comets, who brought on Staley, lost to the Monarchs in the Western Conference Finals. What will teams in the playoff chase do to solidify their lineup and improve their chances at winning a title? We shall see.
In Other News... Week Two of the WNBA Greatest Moments voting on AOL.com is up and ready for voting. Of the five top passes in WNBA history, Ticha Penicheiro, Sue Bird, Tan White, Nikki Teasley and Teresa Weatherspoon will battle it out for your vote, so cast your entry at AOL.com and win a trip to the 2006 WNBA Finals.
Also, the big news around the NBA and WNBA yesterday was the sale of the Sonic and Storm to an ownership group in Oklahoma City. The team made the announcement Tuesday that the sale of the franchise was complete (Press release | Video: press conference). So what does that mean for the future of the Storm? At least some of the answers can be found here.
In a 2005 WNBA finals rematch on Saturday, the Monarchs continued their dominance over Eastern Conference teams as they defeated the Connecticut Sun, 69-63. The afternoon had a playoff feel and featured six All-Stars, five from the Sun and one from the Monarchs, including the MVP of Wednesday's game. Katie Douglas is on her way to stardom.. The Monarchs now hold an 8-0 record against Eastern Conference teams this season.
The New York Liberty are looking worse than ever this season after losing their sixth straight on Friday to Lauren Jackson and the Seattle Storm in a 86-66 blowout, and then their seventh in a row two days later to the Phoenix Mercury, 80-70. The New York Post hasn't really needed to put much thought into their headlines as after each game the headlines read LIB'S SKID HITS 6.... LIB'S SKID HITS 7... when will it end?
After blowing out the Liberty on Friday, the Seattle Storm got some more good news to start the weekend. Forward Wendy Palmer had her cast removed and, after some examination, the doctors said they saw some progress. Her exact return date won't be known for another couple weeks.
The Charlotte Sting started the second half of the season on a very postive note after finishing the first half with a 3-16 record. The Sting almost totaled their first half win tally in two days after overpowering the Silver Stars, 81-65, on Friday and then beating the Indiana Fever, 75-65, on Saturday. Tangela Smith led the team in scoring in both games in the rare back-to-back wins.
The Chicago Sky, the third of the lowly bottom three in the Eastern Conference, had no luck this past weekend as they went on to lose both games played to start the second half of their first season in existence. After scoring eight points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out two assists in last week's All-Star Game, Candice Dupree kept the pace going on Friday, but it did not result into any wins. Dupree scored 13 points in a losing effort Friday night to the Houston Comets, 82-77. On Sunday, things weren't much better for the Sky as they looked shaky from the start in a loss to the Washington Mystics, 83-75. The Mystics, who were led by Sanford, took a 24-11 lead into the second quarter.
In Other News... Former DePaul star Latasha Byears, who is back in the WNBA with the Mystics, made her return to Chicago on Sunday... Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke to the WNBA's All-Decade Team in a luncheon in New York before the All-Star game... The Houston Comets re-signed forward/center Astou Ndiaye-Diatta on Friday.
You know what the good thing about halves is? They come in two's!
After quite an entertaining All-Star break, the WNBA is gearing up for its second half stretch run... players will step up their game and teams will bring it every night just to gain some sort of position in the standings and the playoff race. The battle for tops in the east will be a good one (and with the way Whalen and Douglas played at the All-Star Game, it will really be fun - let's just hope 'Kesh is back on her feet again) while the dogfight in the west will be just to make the postseason.
Thanks again to the All-Stars who made this week such a great one. From the community appearances, event appearances and media availability to their on-court antics and late-night carousing, you were all class acts and so much fun to be around. The league also brought in a number of legends, All-Decade honorees and ten-year veterans who made the festivities that much more complete.
I mean, how could you not get chills when the All-Decade team was honored at halftime. I seriously felt like we were watching a gold medal award presentation ceremony. And seeing Spoon, Lobo and V.J. honored at the Garden was also a personal highlight. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not recognize all of the hard work put in for months by the staff of the WNBA and NBA league office. No one puts on a show like this group, folks. You may not see how much effort these people put in to make the game more enjoyable for you all, but these people are just as passionate about the success of the WNBA and give it their all. They are overworked, underappreciated and mostly underpaid. Yet they all look good doing it, and that's what really matters most, right?
In Other News... The WNBA Trade Deadline is one week away. No trades will be accepted after 8:00 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, July 20.
What a fun All-Star week this was in New York City. We saw some old vets show they can still run with the youngsters in our version of the midseason classic, a great game along with a great Skills Challenge and 3-point Shootout, and, heck, we even saw a dunk (and a few highly entertaining missed dunks). But most of all, we saw the future of the WNBA, the next generation of stars.
The 2006 WNBA All-Star Game featured many great veterans along with many great youngsters who are ready to take the starring roles. This year's rookie class represents the first group of newcomers who grew up watching the WNBA. Young players like Phoenix Mercury rookie Cappie Pondexter were in middle school when they first started watching the WNBA. Chicago Sky All-Star rookie Candice Dupree never thought she would be where she is now... not because she didn't believe she was good enough to play in the WNBA and become an All-Star, but because she didn't think the WNBA would make it this far. But it has, and it's been more exciting then ever, especially this All-Star week.
WNBA President Donna Orender said before Wednesday's game that the WNBA has not only survived, but thrived.
After a decade in existence, the WNBA is hitting new heights. In a league that most people, and even many players, didn't think would last this long, the 10th Anniversary All-Star Game played in New York City was more than just a game. It was a time to honor the legends of woman's basketball and the pioneers of the WNBA. If it wasn't for former women basketball players like Lynette Woodard, many current and future stars of the league feel they wouldn't be where they are now. The young players also recognize those veteran players who play on their teams and are still going strong. Players like Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley are passing the torch along to the young players.
As for the game itself, the East finally got its first WNBA All-Star victory as they beat the West for the first time in seven tries, 98-82. First time All-Star Katie Douglas, who was one of five Connecticut Sun players to make the trip to New York, won the game's MVP award. Douglas matched her season average as she finished with 16 points.
But it was Michelle Snow who took over the show in the final seconds of the game. With six seconds remaining, the Houston Comets' center showed everyone what may be in store for the future of the WNBA as she threw down a reverse dunk that put the fans on their feet. Lisa Leslie may have put dunking on the map with her one-handed throw-downs, but Michelle Snow just raised the bar.
As for the other skills that people associate more with the WNBA than dunking, Seimone Augustus showed off her overall game and Dawn Staley let the league know that she's still deadly from downtown. Augustus won the All-Star Dribble, Dish and Swish Challenge at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday as she beat two-time defending champ Sue Bird in the finals. The victory was Augustus' first entry to her All-Star resume, which is almost guaranteed to be filled in the years to come. In the 3-point contest, Dawn Staley added one of the last entries to her impressive resume as she shot the lights out to become the winner of the WNBA's first 3-point shooting contest.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Congratulations are in order for both Katie Douglas and the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Both accomplished firsts tonight.
Douglas, who's in her sixth WNBA season, made her first All-Star appearance and captured the contest's highest individual honor.
Her Eastern Conference teammates chipped in to give the conference its first-ever win in the midseason showdown.
"We knew the West was coming in with an undefeated record," Douglas said in a post-game press conference. "We wanted to show we could compete with them. Maybe they were surprised by our defensive effort."
Maybe they were surprised to see four players from the same team, operating on seemingly the same wavelength and taking control against the game's best players.
"I think the East is the team that was put together, was really balanced," said Dawn Staley, who played in her fifth and final All-Star Game. "Any time you get four Connecticut players, they're a machine. They work together. Any time you have any combination of them on the floor, you've got to feel good as a coach."
Their coach, that is. Not so much for the opposing coach, John Whisenant.
"Tonight, our Western team was not nearly as cohesive, obviously. I think at least part of thtat was Coach Thibault had four of his own players there, so they had a foundation to kind of feed on, a system that they practice and were familiar with each other."
That cohesiveness led to 39 points and 25 boards, not to mention the four blocked shots by Margo Dydek or the 10 assists between Douglas and Lindsay Whalen.
Whalen and Douglas worked almost flawlessly together, propelling the East to the win.
"Having Lindsay out there as point guard primarily at the time I was out there," Douglas said, "she knows where I like the ball. She knows my good spot. As a shooter, that's really important and key. She does a tremendous job of finding me out there and everybody else. It just kind of felt like a regular practice, a regular game kind of scenario."
"It was a lot of fun."
Yes, yes it was, Katie. Thanks to you and the other 21 players for the show.
It's official, Katie Douglas is your MVP of the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game. Shortly after the award presentation ceremony, the All-Stars took the court with mini basketballs which they heaved into the enthusiastic crowd.
The fans standing courtside were also fired up to see the Chicago Bulls' Ben Gordon standing on the court. He spent a little time post-game chatting up Diana Taurasi before making his way off the floor.
The WNBA players, however, lingered around a while longer, signing autographs, kissing babies, and just delighting the fans in general.
With 30 seconds to go, the players on the floor tried to close out the festivities in flash-bulb-popping fashion as, first, Diana Taurasi and then Michelle Snow and Deanna Nolan -- also known as "Tweety" -- tried to throw down dunks. Let's just say, Taurasi was significantly short on her try. Snow was much closer on her first attempt, but then tossed down one over her head. Nolan is still a sight to behold as her 5-10 frame goes soaring high in the air to attack the rim. Alas, had her legs been fresh, the results might have been different, but as it is she came up just short.
Nolan and her East teammates, however, didn't come up short in their bid for a first-ever win in the WNBA All-Star Game, downing the West 98-82.
Back in a moment with the MVP award presentation. The early look is it's Katie Douglas as she stands out front with ESPN's Heather Cox.
During a timeout here with 1:32 left, celebrity row emptied along with the in-arena entertainment for a little impromptu dancin'. Taking the 'stage' here was Aly and AJ -- the pre-game entertainment -- along with Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child fame and a current investor in the Chicago Sky. Williams was decked out in heels -- naturally -- and a Sky jersey sporting her name across the shoulders.
Katie Douglas just took a seat on the bench and possibly extinguished her hopes at the MVP trophy. Then again, her 16 points on four-of-seven from beyond the arc could be just enough to take the crystal award. Douglas had been letting fly here late in the fourth, even chasing down a long pass and trying to retreat back beyond the arc. Alas, she stepped out of bounds, a sign of her fatigue and eventual seat upon the East's pine. Still, is it enough for the honors? We'll just have to wait and see.
Time's fading, but the East is not. The charge of a comeback is falling squarely on Michelle Snow, Diana Taurasi, Sheryl Swoopes, Yolanda Griffith and Dawn Staley -- currently in the game for the West. Of course, with the game getting out of reach, maybe we'll see the runways cleared and these young hoopsters try to throw it down, as they did a year ago in Connecticut ...
Oh, not that kind of wave ... There's a wave of points burying the West All-Star right now. A wave, too, is making its way around MSG ... now that's something you don't see everyday at the Garden.
The West's stronghold on the league looks to be in serious jeopardy as the East is making a statement with it's 23-point lead after three. Closing the quarter, however, a wide-open Michelle Snow was found by rookie Cappie Pondexter, who's no stranger to scoring herself. Again, if the West wants to get back in this game, they can ill afford to play around. Well, actually, that's precisely what they need to do -- play around a little better. That and finding the open woman at point-blank range wouldn't hurt either.
During a timeout just now, Katie Smith and Dawn Staley had a little fun with each other as Smith was stationed on the baseline for the inbounds pass and Staley was seated on the West bench nearby. Smith pointed to her elbow, made a jabbing motion, then playfully pointed in Staley's direction mouthing, "That's what you're going to get." Wonder where she picked that up? Hmmm, any ideas?
It's all fun though, as the two were jawing about playing for the opposite teams for the first time in their careers. Staley's in her first season in the West, while Smith made the move from Minnesota to Detroit last season and is suiting up for the East for the first time.
If the West wants to make this a contest, now would be a good time to start closing that sizable gap the East has opened up. The East had gone on a 10-2 run to start the second half, but has failed to score the last three trips down the floor while the West has done just that -- score. Still, the East has a commanding lead at the moment. Then again, these are All-Stars and no lead is ever safe in this situation.
The WNBA's All-Decade team is being honored here at halftime. You can call them the best of the best, if you will. And, but who, garners the loudest cheers from the Liberty's home fans? None other than Houston's Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper. The duo teamed up with Tina Thompson to win the WNBA's first four championships. A stat or two for you to chew on before we return to the game:
I could just be talking about the first half, which the East wraps up with a 49-40 advantage heading to the lockerrooms. Then again, I could be talking about the game in general -- a fast-paced, exciting affair. But no, I'm talking Dawn Staley's last All-Star Game. We'll have more on that at the conclusion tonight, but if she's nostalgic, she's not letting it get the best of her. Rather, she's out there having a blast. To wit, as she was walking off the court, she wandered in the direction of ESPN's Heather Cox and Comets All-Star Sheryl Swoopes and gave the pair bunny ears.
The fun is translating to her play on the court, where she has six rebounds and three assists -- both game highs.
Cheryl Ford got plenty of love from the PA announcer just now, converting on successive trips down the court. Ford and her East teammates are sure to get plenty of love from head coach Mike Thibault if they keep this up. The team has gone on a 16-4 tear since the 5:53 mark of the second quarter to take a nine-point advantage.
That Staley-Dupree matchup we just mentioned in the previous post ... the pair is guarding each other right now. Surely giving up a little speed to the youngster, Staley was clutching at Dupree's jersey on one trip down the floor. The next possession, Dupree got the ball on the block, with a clear size advantage, and made a move past Staley. But Lauren Jackson was there to thwart the attempt. On the run-out, Staley found Jackson open on the wing -- a little thanks? -- but Jackson failed to convert. A few seconds later, Dupree hit a 'J' over her old coach.
We've mentioned Sky rookie Candice Dupree, here's an interesting fact. She played four years of college ball at Temple University for ... drumroll, please ... Dawn Staley, point guard of the Western Conference squad. Pupil and teacher are on the floor, in opposing colors, at the moment.
While all hoops stars relish the opportunity to run, they're usually at the mercy of the head coach. Perhaps never more so than a game like this where an opposing coach is your so-called boss. It seemed to be a smooth transaction just now between the West's Josh Whisenant and Seattle's Lauren Jackson. It went something like this:
Whisenant: "So, you wanna go in?"
Jackson: Nods head in the affirmative.
Whisenant: Throws his thumb to his side in the universal motion for, "Well, let's go."
The West, surprise, holds the early advantage, 28-27. It's not necessarily how you start but how you finish. We'll know that 30 minutes from now.
As for now, the start of the second 10-minute quarter, we're seeing three rookies start the stanza for the West -- Cappie Pondexter, Seimone Augustus, and Sophia Young.
If you're keeping score at home, Candice Dupree, the fourth rookie to make the game, is not in the action right now. This year marks the first time four rookies are participating in the contest.
Or, I could say, Teammates Know Best. But enough. That last trip down the floor garnered as many oohs and aahs from the crowd as the previous trip when the diminuitive Deanna Nolan was floating around the iron. Out on the run, Katie Douglas put the breaks on at the arc and dropped a sweet pass to the lane, where it appeared nobody was ... that is, until Taj McWilliams-Franklin appeared for the easy deuce.
How long do you think it will take for coach Thibault to work his four Connecticut Sun players into the lineup at the same time versus the West? In the NBA's most recent All-Star Game, Flip Saunders employed the tactic when his four representatives took on the West. Thibault could do the same and watch his squad move toward its first victory. Currently, he has Douglas, Whalen and McWilliams-Franklin on the floor with Whitmore and Nolan.
The Sun actually is represented by five a record five players, but Nykesha Sales is sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury. The team's three starters marks just the second time in All-Star history a team has had as many players voted into the starting lineup.
I'm not talking about that 24 ... I'm referring to that new figure on the shot clock with each change in possession. And really, who needs all 24 in this format, where the best in the game meet in a literal track meet?
So, don't bother keeping an eye on the red digits posed atop the hoop. The teams are routinely getting up shots with as few as eight, nine, 10 seconds off the clock.
Wondering about the 24 seconds? The league changed the format from the 30 ticks of previous seasons.
Dawn Staley may be playing in her last All-Star Game, but don't go thinking she's lost anything on her game through the years. Motoring down the lane, with wide-open space in front of her, she unselfishly was giving it up to Yolanda Griffith who was camped out on the low blocks. The pass had a little too much mustard on it, however, and squirted through the mitts of the West's post presence.
Staley's still active as we type this, pushing the ball and trying to get everybody involved up and down the floor.
Wow! What a stellar rendition of the National Anthem by Heather Headley. That, there, was what we call a serious set of pipes. No wonder she was up for a Grammy.
Time to make a play a different tune, though ... that of string music. The East and West are out on the hardwood, exchanging pleasantries before they go after each other like a championship trophy is on the line.
Thanks, Aly and AJ. That hook laden dittie y'all have crafted has found its way into my subconscious on more than a few occasions this season. Well, if I have to recite it to myself, it's refreshing to get a live take on the tune. And kudos to you on a sound performance prior to the introductions.
In the East lockeroom, I asked Taj McWilliams-Franklin about the West's recent dominance in the All-Star Game and whether she could guarantee an East victory tonight -- which would be the conference's first in the seven-year history of the game.
"I can't," she said. "But ask Tamika"
Tamika Whitmore, taking a bite out of a slice of watermelon looked up and said "Of course. I guarantee it" Perhaps reconsidering, she passed the buck off to rookie Candice Dupree.
"Candice will tell you its Guaran-Dupreed," Whitmore said.
Candice wanted no part of the guarantee, however, perhaps learning from the Detroit Pistons' Rasheed Wallace and his failed "Guaran-Sheed" in the 2006 NBA Playoffs.
At precisely 6 p.m. ET, the doors to the Western Conference locker room opened up and the media poured in. If any of the players were watching any of the three TVs in the room (showing "Friends," "Law and Order" and AMC, for the record) beforehand, they weren't after it filled with reporters from around the country.
Sue Bird seemed to be the most popular player in the room, as she has been for the two days she's been in town. She fielded questions about her alma mater, Christ the King High School, the weather in Seattle and the depth of the Western Conference. We asked her what question she has heard the most ...
"How it feels to be back home in New York," she told us.
Perhaps if the All-Star game is held elsewhere next year, someone else will be more popular among the media.
... Orange. That's the glow here at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, home of tonight's WNBA midseason classic. Game time is about 90 minutes off, but the players are already in uniform and going through the required motions pre-game. Among those: a photo shoot of the East and West teams -- together, seperate, with youth teams, with kids, you get the idea.
We also couldn't help but get the idea there's a little orange involved in the league's colors. For the first time, the teams are sporting uniforms specially crafted for the All-Star contest, rather than wearing their home and away unis. The East wil suit up in white, naturally, by virtue of the game being staged on the East coast. The West gets orange.
And what an orange it is. Not quite the muted orange of the game ball, but more the vibrant feel of landing-airplanes orange. Seeing the team all huddled together for a team portrait seemed a little overwhelming to my rods and cones, but I soon came around. I'm a fan. Then again, I dig orange. So, too, apparently do the players. Most laced up shoes with the same hued trim and color schemes.
Speaking of shoes ... many of this year's All-Stars have customized kicks with their names, initials, numbers, etc. emblazoned on them. Even rookie Seimone Augustus is in on the action, as "Mone" is stenciled on the strap wrapping around the front of her ankle.
So, let that serve as a small tease of what you'll see when the players take the court for the tip. You might not get a glimpse at the gear too soon before that, however, as many of the players coming out on the court for pre-game interviews and the like are keeping it under wraps by wearing their team-issued warmups.
It was a hot, muggy day in the Big Apple, but that didn't stop the fans or the players of the WNBA from making their way to 33rd St. outside Madison Square Garden in the early afternoon to the attend the WNBA Summer Jam.
People of all ages made the trip to the Garden and everyone had a great time. Even some of New York's Finest enjoyed the day while on foot patrol.
"The crowd has been very good," one NYPD officer said while standing in the middle of the festival. "The All-Star Game is great for the city."
The All-Star Game and Summer Jam are not only great for the city of New York, but its wonderful for the entire WNBA as well.
"It's awesome seeing all the fans out there supporting us," Charlotte Sting forward Tangela Smith said, while signing autographs for the fans. "And it's really great interacting with the fans."
Interaction between the fans and players is what the event was all about.
Well, that along with "getting everybody excited about coming to the game," Fever forward Tamika Whitmore said.
The second I walked into the blocked-off street between 7th and 8th Avenue, I saw three All-Stars interacting with the fans. I walked by the Nike 3-Point court and saw Minnesota Lynx rookie Seimone Augustus signing autographs and even rebounding a few balls for the fans who were chosen to compete in the 3-point contest. I asked her how her experience at the event has been and she said that "it's been great."
"The fans are showing a lot of love out here and that's what we're trying to give. They're very excited about us being here, so we're just going to try to entertain them as much as possible." the No.1 overall pick added.
As Augustus moved to the autograph tent, the fans followed. But it was former New York Liberty player Vickie Johnson who drew the biggest crowd of the day while signing autographs in the autograph tent.
There were fans from every team at Summer Jam, but the Liberty Fans were out in full force. The blue 'Hammon' Liberty jersey was the most popular jersey on the street, and I saw a fan who had the word 'Liberty' tattooed on her arm above an orange and white WNBA basketball. Even the Liberty's official dance team, the New York Liberty Torch Patrol, made a special appearance and wowed the crowd as the female dancers were thrown about 10-15 feet in the air. I was truly impressed by the show they put on, and I was equally impressed by the few fans chosen to dance in a small dance contest.
Summer Jam featured many events that the fans participated in, including the Reebok Slam Dunk Court, the Nike Three-Point Shoot Out, the HANNspree Broadcast Booth, where fans were able to record their own voice in the role of courtside announcer, the T-Mobile Basketball Clinic, AOL.com Bungee Run, the Gatorade Thirst Station, and the Discoverģ Card Fan Lounge.
Reebok Slam Dunk Court was open anc closed throughout the day due to a slippery plastic floor from the drizzling weather, but the AOL.com BUNGEE RUN kept many fans entertained, even during the slight rain. The young fans blasted down the lane while having a bungee cord strapped to their back only to be pulled back.
Ryan Patrick, a 9 year old from New Jersey, said the "bungee game was by far the best game." He added that he is "now a bigger fan of the WNBA than he ever was."
As the rain picked up around 3:30, so did most of the fans. But just about every fan walked away with a WNBA Cares t-shirts or hat, T-Mobile backpacks and headbands, Ocean Spry Craisins, free Dasani water, and a smile on their face.
"I think everyone had a great time," NBA intern Lynn said while working at one of the shooting games. "The kids were all very competitive and are all very happy."
After spending the entire morning meeting with and interviewing all 42 of the WNBA players in New York City for All-Star events (along with the rest of the great WNBA.com staff), some of my personal favorites included Yolanda Griffith and Dawn Staley each going on for more than 15 minutes each about who remembers what... Tamika Whitmore talking passionately about NASCAR... Cappie Pondexter teasing me again that she and Diana might have something planned for tonight's game... Tangela Smith talking about her hair salon... Lauren Jackson talking about the World Championships... and way too much more.
That media circuit was immediately followed by the All-Star Salute: Celebrating Inspiration Luncheon. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke passionately about inspiration, motivation, the impact of the WNBA and greater social issues. It really was quite moving. Yet, the first-ever Secretary of State has quite the sense of humor and pulls no punches when it comes to critiquing the current United States leadership.
The event also paid tribute to the WNBA All-Decade Team, all of whom were present. Even four of the five honorable mentionees were in the house to accept the WNBA Inspiration Award.
And, yes, apparently I have been entrusted as the guardian of the trophy. I'm quite honored, really, except for the fact that we have to head down to Madison Square Garden and I only have two hands...
After a day of running around for just about everyone involved, tonight's WNBA Welcome Reception was a chance for players, coaches, officials, staff, marketing partners and V.I.P.'s to take a relaxing breather and get together in a social setting.
Every WNBA All-Star was in attendance, as were players' families, coaches and their familes and gathered friends mingled among the buffet table and outdoor patio on the water at the elegant Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on Manhattan's West side. In addition to the relaxed setting, WNBA President Donna Orender made some brief remarks, honoring both the All-Decade Team, the ten-year players and even recognizing Comets coach Van Chancellor as the Coach of the All-Decade Team.
After dinner, shuttle buses brought everyone back to the hotel for a relatively early night (at least for the staff... players... who knows...) as tomorrow is Wednesday, the day of the big game. Things get started early with NBA Entertainment and ESPN interviews for every player in attendance (which will last all morning). Switching gears on Wednesday afternoon, more than 300 distinguished guests will celebrate Inspirational Women at a luncheon at the New York Hilton. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be the keynote speaker. We'll catch up after that...
...And we're BACK! Thanks to Rob Peterson for taking over the Blog while I chatted up the players at Madison Square Garden. How fun is he?!?
So coming back on the bus to the player hotel with the Eastern Conference All-Stars, there was dunking vixen Margo Dydek curled up on the seat with a special friend sitting on her lap. Taj McWilliams-Franklin's daughter, Maya, wearing her mommy's jersey, was pointing out different colors as the bus scrolled through Times Square (where there are LOTS of colors). The tour bus was red, the building was blue and the taxi cab was yellow.
Wait, aren't those the Sun team colors?
Player fashion photo shoots for each team this evening will be followed by the official WNBA Welcome Reception at Chelsea Piers... Of course you know I don't miss parties of any kind, so we'll hit you back later tonight with a report.
To end their practice, the East did the Electric Slide out of the Garden to the strains of Kool & the Gang's "Hollywood Swingin.'"
Well, that's all from the Garden. Matt Wurst will take you home tonight with more bloggy goodness from tonight's post-practice events.
Thibault has opened the floor for ... questions and answers. First one: "Margo, when are you going to dunk?"
Dydek took a running start and flushed it home.
Guess that answers the question.
Now, someone asked Candice Dupree what was the toughest thing about the transition from college to pros. "The physicality."
What's it going to take to beat the West?
"We're going to open it up, we're going to run and gun," Katie Smith said. "We're not going to let their bigs get the ball. We'll be fine."
Tweety, can you dunk?
Deanna Nolan then tried two toss and slam attempts. Close, but no cigar. Still impressive. She's 5-9. If she were 5-10, that would have been a sure thing.
Hey, Tamika Whitmore, what's it like to make the All-Star Game in New York after years of playing for the Liberty and not making the All-Star team.
"Well, it's kind of ironic, isn't it?" Whitmore said. "I wish I could have made it when I was with you, but I'm here now."
Catchings ... from halfcourt ... in the booooooooooooooooot...
Yes! No wonder she's the leading vote-getter.
Now, the All-Stars have the floor to themselves.
And Candice Dupree drained the first shot for the All-Stars. Precocious rookie. That could happen when you're going youngest to oldest.
Wow, Whalen just hit one. That was two in a row to start off.
All right, more half court shots. Thibault asked for volunteers from the crowd. I resisted raising my hand.
The pros are shooting from half-court, the kids are shooting from different spots inside half-court.
We have yet to have someone drain one.
That's tough right there. Thibault made both teams do situps because, as he said, "they were trying to cheat."
That man runs a tough All-Star practice.
Uh oh. The All-Stars have teammed up with some fans. First team to 10 wins, losers do ... push ups! Yikes! Harsh.
Dydek, Whalen, Douglas, Beard and Tangela Smith all laughed while Katie Smith, Taj, Noaln, Dupree and Whitmore hit the deck and gave Thibault 10. Now, they've switched ends. Losers do situps.
From the "Tell Me Something I Don't Know File": Katie Smith can shoot. You know that, but to see it in action, well, she just never hits the rim.
After the shooting drills, the East is now running their "fast" break. Thibault has the team running a three-quarters speed. Can't afford another injury, you know.
Whereas Whisenant started off his talk about rebounding and protecting the paint, Thibault noted that, "the best passing team often wins."
Which can also mean, good passes minimize turnovers, and if you minimize turnovers, you usually win.
Is there anything these coaches don't know?
Yikes, even Thibault has a boot on. Becky Hammon is on crutches, Tamika Catching has a bad Achilles'. Nykesha Sales is in a boot. The East is going through stretching right now to prevent any more injuries.
Thibault has tried to get the crowd fired up. He said anyone is welcome to write down the East's plays and give them to the West. He said the East won't remember them anyway, and it could possibly confuse the West ... to the East's benefit, of course.
Well, that was nice. WNBA players have always been great to talk to. Today was no different. We culled some good stuff regarding this year's rookie representation in the All-Star Game. We also saw Katie Smith eating a Subway sandwich, which is not a sandwich from the New York MTA subway, but a Subway sub.
Now, it's time for Sun coach Mike Thibault to lead the Eastern Conference All-Star through their practice.
Gotta go talk to the rookies. Doin' a feature. Look for it a little later.
Uh oh, Lil' John and fans from the crowd, hand-picked by the All-Stars themselves. It's a house party at the Garden.
"Practice is officially over," Whisenant said. "But you can continue to dance."
Sounds like a good idea.
DT for Diana Taurasi. DT for downtown, as she ended the shooting part of practice with a half-court swish.
Let the dancing commence!
"I couldn't dance," Whisenant protested. And now, the crowd is clapping and Kanye just came over the PA...
Sheryl Swoopes and Yolanda Griffith just "helped" Whisenant with his dance. It looks like they were carrying him off the field because of injury.
Half court shots... After four, none have fallen, though Sue Bird rimmed one in and out.
Hey, Lauren Jackson just took a half-court shot.
Sounds like the West wants to rachet up the O. Whisenant just said, "We need to score 100. We need to score 120."
Last year, the West set the All-Star record with 122.
And now the rim is ... as Whisenant goaded Lisa Leslie or Michelle Snow to dunk during a shooting drill. Snow's now done it twice, and quite easily. She just missed the two-handed reverse.
Meanwhile, Diana Taurasi has become a conducter, riling the kids to chant Lisa's name for a dunk.
It looks as if Lauren Jackson isn't practicing. As a matter of fact, she's doing a courtside interview with Nancy Lieberman We'll try to find out more in a little while.
Phoenix Mercury rookie and local, Rutgers product Cappie Pondexter -- much to the delight of the kids in the crowd -- just sank a nice, nice fadeaway teardrop to end one offensive set.
Well, whatever he says, we can hear. Whisenant has been miked for this practice. After the shooting drill, he started talking about protecting the paint and boxing out on rebounds.
You need to do the little things to keep the West's All-Star streak alive, which of course he mentioned during practice.
Right now, Sue Bird and Dawn Staley run their squads on the break and then into the halfcourt offense.
Yep, we're sitting smack dab in front of the Western Conference All-Stars as they go through shooting practice. In the stands, thousands of kids in school groups, camps, community groups soaking it all in. With assorted "Yeas!" and "Ooohs and ahhs," their squeaky little voices ring thoughout the Garden:
"Go Lisa. Go Lisa!"
"Nice try, Diana," after she biffed a layup.
Even the kids in New York can give it to you good.
Lynx rookie Seimone Augustus knocked off defending champion Sue Bird in the Dribble, Dish and Swish Challenge...
Legend Dawn Staley hit the money ball at the buzzer to with the 3-Point Challenge...
But watching Lisa Leslie dance on the sideline... now that's quality entertainment.
Finally courtside here at Madison Square Garden, the players are all assembled and the fans are beginning to trickle in. Coming up will be the Dribble, Dish and Swish Challenge and 3-point Challenge, followed by team practices.
If you have access to NBA TV... now's the time...
What happens when you get arguably the best ten players in WNBA history in one room? Well, fun and laughter, of course. That's exactly what we saw in the All-Decade photo shoot this morning.
Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Katie Smith all in one room. Seriously, this is a WNBA fan's dream. And to see how they all get along is truly amazing. They all genuinely like each other.
Thankfully, Tamika Catchings and Tina Thompson brought some real sneakers and took off their protective boots. No one wants to remember them for posterity as being injured. Lisa and Yolanda had to be separate by Lauren Jackson, not because they couldn't get along, but because basic laws of photography dictate that two purple jerseys cannot stand next to each other. Tina Thompson had a near crisis because she was unhappy with the socks she had brought with her.
"I hate short socks," she proclaimed!
"I can't stand them. They make me look too thick," Katie Smith said.
We also got to see some of the players' special Nike sneakers made just for the game. I don't want to give too much away, but Lauren, Tamika and Sheryl were sporting flashy orange kicks to match their All-Star uniforms.
This morning, with breakfast standing by, the WNBA held its first official group event for every player participating in the events over the next few days. The WNBA Player Participant Meeting for All-Stars and coaches is the first chance for players to talk with each other, get some instructions from the league on the overall flow of things and sign a LOT of balls and jerseys for various purposes.
Even the injured players are here, which means our little meeting room is swelling to capacity... and some notes... Becky Hammon is on crutches, but thinks she should be back from her ankle sprain in 10 days or so. Tamika Catchings is in a walking boot and Nykesha Sales is walking gingerly on her bad leg. It's getting so bad out there that even Sun coach Mike Thibault was in a walking boot.
Somebody better call the DOCTOR!
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Washington Mystic guard Nikki Teasley and she told me the Mystics were "having a lot of fun" and that she felt her team could "definitely" make the playoffs. Well, here we are about three weeks later and I'm sure Teasley and the Mystics are not having too much fun as they are rapidly falling from the league's elite to a team sitting at 10-10. The Mystics were even below .500 for the first time all season after losing to the Sacramento Monarchs on Friday 73-60, but luckily for Teasley and co. they were able to face the team with the worst record in the league before the break began. The Mystics hosted the Chicago Sky, who had won only their third game of the season on Friday, and finally saw some light as they came out on top, 89-83. In the win over the Sky, Nakia Sanford scored a career-high 25 points to lead all scorers.
As for a team on the rise, the Monarchs, who beat the Mystics on Friday, continued to coast into the All-Star break as they won their third straight when they beat up on the Charlotte Sting 70-61 on Sunday night. That was the Sting's second loss in back-to-back games after losing to the leagues best Los Angeles Sparks in a close one, 66-64.
In the battle of Texas, the San Antonio Silver Stars showed the WNBA who really runs the state as they beat the Houston Comets for the second time this season on Friday, 94-75. That was San Antonio's fourth straight win for only the first time since 2002 when they were the Utah Starzz. However, the Silver Stars couldn't make it five in a row losing to Seimone Augustus and the Lynx, 85-80, on Sunday.
The game wasn't the only thing the Comets lost on Friday. Center Michelle Snow was ejected from the foul-filled contest, and, worst of all, the Comets lost star forward Tina Thompson, who left the game with a strained right calf, for four months. Thompson, who was selected to the All-Star game as a starter, will be replaced in Wednesday's game by teammate Michelle Snow.
In more injury news, the New York Liberty lost more than a couple games last weekend as they also lost all-star Becky Hammon in the beginning of overtime in Sunday's loss against the Phoenix Mercury with an ankle injury. Hammon will not play in Wednesday All-Star Game at the Garden.
This year's top All-Star vote-getter, Tamika Catchings, also will sit out of Wednesday's game after being diagnosed with Achillesí tendinitis in her left heel. Catchings, who is in New York for the festivities, will also miss the 3-point shooting contest. Connecticut's Nykesha Sales will also be forced to sit out of the game.
Charlotte's Tangela Smith, Houston's Michelle Snow, Connecticut's Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Chicago's rookie forward-center Candice Dupree were selected as replacements for injured players in the All-Star game. Dupree joins three other very impressive rookies Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, Phoenix Mercury's Cappie Pondexter and the Silver Star's Sophia Young in Wednesday's game.
After an evening out on the town with several of the All-Stars, some friends and even a few team personnel which consisted of an elegant dinner, we now, finally, learn the final lineups for tomorrow's (today, really) events.
2006 WNBA Three-Point Shootout
32 - Katie Douglas, Connecticut
4 - Mwadi Mabika, Los Angeles
30 - Katie Smith, Detroit
5 - Dawn Staley - Houston
3 - Diana Taurasi, Phoenix
13 - Lindsey Whalen, Connecticut
2006 WNBA Skills Challenge
33 - Seimone Augustus, Minnesota
10 - Sue Bird, Seattle
14 - Deanna Nolan, Detroit
23 - Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix
The festivities commence at 1:30 p.m. At Madison Square Garden, so come out and watch the best players in the world have a little fun. As for us, we'll be up bright and early for a Player and Staff meeting. See you in the morning.
So where do WNBA players go when asked by ESPN to shoot promos for Wednesday's game here in New York? Well, the center of the known universe, obviously. Earlier this evening, approximately ten of the biggest stars in the WNBA gathered in the very heart of Times Square to shoot some promos spots of the ESPN. With traffic whizzing by and the Naked Cowboy (photos not available) not too far off, the WNBA has already begun to take center stage.
With Sue Bird, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and Lisa Leslie decked in white representing the West... Cheryl Ford, Alana Beard, Katie Smith and Lindsay Whalen in black representing the East... the two teams shot various scenes with the subway, taxi cabs, a hoop set up on the street and even incorporated fans into the act.
Of course, any time cameras are rolling in Times Square, the crowds are sure to flock. Hundreds and thousands of onlookers spilled out into the street and clogged up intersections as traffic backed up even further up town. As a New Yorker, this is the type of scene I'd typically not bea big fan of. But when it's the women of the WNBA stopping traffic in the middle of rush hour traffic, well how can anyone complain?
The players have arrived and 2006 WNBA All-Star Week is officially here!
The day kicked off bright and early with interviews on morning shows and newspapers, but the most special event of the day did not get started until early this afternoon. The 2006 WNBA Cares All-Star Legacy Project was capped off at the Life Shelter with All-Stars and around 100 excited New York children all uniformly decked in WNBA Cares t-shirts.
The event was emceed by Jennifer Azzi, who welcomed all of the participants and spoke briefly about the importance of the Legacy Project, then introduced the "VIP's" in attendance. They included Mercury guards Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, Sun stars Lindsay Whalen and Margo Dydek and Detroit's trio of Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith got to play games and hang out with the kids. Also on hand were WNBA President Donna Orender, basketball Hall-of-Famer Lynette Woodard and Liberty guards Loree Moore and Ashley Battle.
"You can do anything that you put you mind to," Azzi told the assembed children. "And we can reach those dreams together."
Other speakers at today's event were Ketan Bhatia, who spoke on behalf of Toyota about sponsorship of Legacy Project, Carol Blazejowski, who spoke on behalf of the New York Liberty, and Taurasi, who spoke for the All-Stars. Julia Moten, speaking for the shelter and the City, then thanked everyone for all of the hard work that the WNBA and Liberty put into the shelter.
"Your home is where your heart is and there are a lot of hearts in this room," Orender said.
After a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony to usher in the NY Liberty Reading and Learning Center, the players and kids broke up into smaller groups for Reading Time-Outs and computer activities. Two or three players led small reading groups with the kids, each reading one book. During and after the book, the players engaged the students in questions about the story. Additional players headed off to the technology section, where they were paired with a few kids to work on reading-related activities.There were Loree Moore and Deanna Nolan working the computer stations... There were Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen in the Reading Corner... There were Cheryl Ford and Jennifer Azzi leading the educational games... There was Katie Smith holding court at the ping pong table... There was Margo Dydek taking part in the Playstation 2 contest (highlight of afternoon)
Of course, the goody bags full of Reebok stuff was pretty nice, too.
This just in... Fever forward Tamika Catchings is injured and will not be participating in the all-star game or the three-point contests. Replacement information is forthcoming. That brings the total list of injured East All-Star starters to three... Catchings, Becky Hammon and Nykesha Sales.
Just back from Madison Square Garden where the visiting Phoenix Mercury knocked off the Liberty in overtime. But the game was not the only thing lost for New York. Just seconds into overtime, All-Star starting guard and Liberty favorite Becky Hammon turned her left ankle. She was helped off the court and did not return.
About an hour after the game, Hammon came out of the lockerroom in crutches, her left ankle swollen to the size of a tennis ball. She will not be playing on Wednesday and is obviously also out for the 3-point challenge. This brings the injury total for Wednesday's game to three. The announcements regarding her replacement should come Monday.
Hammon also missed the last All-Star Game in New York, back in 2003, after tearing ligaments in her knee.
Okay, now we can finally talk again... After having to keep my mouth shut for nearly a week about the reserves, it's great that we'll get to see so many superstars in the All-Star Game on Wednesday... Lisa Leslie, Diana Taurasi and Cheryl Ford were no-brainers. It will be great to see Katie Douglas and Tamika Whitmore in the game as well. Both are very deserving.
So a look at the teams... Four Connecticut Sun stars, three Houston Comets, three Detroit Shock, two Seattle Storm, two Indiana Fever, two Phoenix Mercury... yet 12 of the 14 teams will be represented.
But I am most excited about the three rookies for the West. I mean, THREE ROOKIES. That's unheard of. Of course, since Cappie Pondexter and Seimone Augustus are both lighting up, are we really surprised? Sophia Young has also been very instrumental in the turnaround for the Silver Stars.
Only one big question remains... are these the final rosters? We know that Comets forward and West reserve Tina Thompson will not be able to play. Also questionable are Connecticut's Nykesha Sales and Washington's Alana Beard. We also don't know about Seattle's Lauren Jackson. So who will get the nod? That remains to be seen, but Taj McWilliams-Franklin deserves a nod on the East, but Nikki Teasley could get a look, or perhaps another center will be added. Maybe another rookie like Chicago's Candice Dupree. Houston's Michelle Snow could replace Thompson on the West. Other deserving candidates are Vickie Johnson. Or how about Betty Lennox. Expect to hear about replacements as early as Monday.
Monarchs coach John Whisenant only knows one way to coach. Intensely hard. His defensive-minded, motion system won the Monarchs the title last year and earned him and his staff the leadership reins of the their first WNBA All-Star Game. But how will that style translate to a new group of players, or All-Stars, to be specific?
"I have no specific plans other than to substitute every three or four minutes," Whisenant said. "I may let Yolanda Griffith, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson or Lisa Leslie coach for me. There is not much coaching here for me. It's just a matter of playing 11 players and hoping for the best. With an hour of practice, I'm not sure how much we will be able to get accomplished."
"I'm going to be sure they know that these are not the Monarchs they are coaching and these players may not want to play a White Line Defense in the All-Star Game," Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith said. "We have to come back to reality. We are going to enjoy this. It's about having fun and entertaining the fans. It's also about the West winning again. That's our focus."
After last night's win in New York, the Monarchs have a game tonight in Washington, then travel home to play Charlotte on Sunday. Then Whisenant and his coaching staff will be back in New York City right after the weekend, along with Griffith. They are not complaining, though.
"It's great to get the support of the fans across the league, not just in Sacramento," Griffith said. "It's an honor to represent the Sacramento Monarchs along with the coaching staff this season. This is a great accomplishment for the organization."
When asked if this could be Yo's last weekend...
"It could be," she told me, and flashed a big grin. But these Monarchs representatives are not the only ones excited to be a part of the fun...
"You never know what's going to happen and it's hard to maintain a level of play that can get you on an All-Star team, so every time I'm selected, it feels the same as it did the first year - that's just pure excitement," Sue Bird said. "There's so many great players coming up, there's so much talent out there - which is the main reason why the league is so good and so competitive. I know my points and my stats aren't always the most glamorous, so for me it's all about what my team does. I always try to make sure my team's playing well, and I always try to maintain that level of play."
Her teammate, Lauren Jackson, concurs.
"It's unbelievable. As a foreigner, that's pretty awesome to be voted in by the fans," Jackson said. "Still, I don't know how I get voted in, but it's really fun. I really appreciate it. Thanks to everybody who voted for me. It's definitely a huge honor. I've made a lot of fans from all over America since I've been playing better. People have really been great to me and supportive. The American fanbase has embraced me, and that's pretty cool. I'm proud to be a starter. I don't know how long it's going to last for, so I really just have to be thankful, and I am."
In Other News... The Monarchs were actually in New York City for four days before playing the Liberty last night at Madison Square Gardend and leaving right about now on a bus ride to Washington. So how did the Monarchs spend their four days in the world's biggest playground?
"On Tuesday, I took a bike tour of Central Park, which was awesome," Nicole Powell said. "But then it started to rain and I was wearing a white t-shirt, which was not as awesome. Wednesday night, I got to see Rent with a few other people. I waited until the last minute and then went to the TKTS booth in Times Square, which has great last minute deals on a lot of shows."
"I'm East Coast, so I have a lot of cousins and high school friends I got to hang out with," Kara Lawson said. "We had some good lunches and dinners and even got to do some shopping."
"I saw Superman Returns on night," Yolanda Griffith said. "But the really cool thing was being here for the Fourth of July and seeing the fireworks. We went to the Seaport and had dinner, then got to see an amazing display. We were going to go outside to watch, but it was soooo crowded and we had a perfect view of the East River. It was really cool."
In honor of Lisa Leslieís 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, team president Johnny Buss will dedicate the court to her on Friday, July 7 before tip-off at the Los Angeles Sparks vs. Indiana Fever game.
A quick look at some of the numbers from the past week...
In the 21 games were played last week, the league has now completed 116 of the 238 regular season games scheduled. We're nearly halfway home!
Last weekís scoring was the lowest of the season at 72.0 points per game, however on the season teams are averaging 75.5 ppg in comparison to 67.3 ppg in 2005. This is an increase of 8.2 ppg/per team. It is important to note that the highest scoring average in league history was 70.3 points per game during the 1998 campaign, and that was the only season that the league averaged more than 70 points per game. 13 teams not only average more points per game than the league average last season (expansion Sky average 0.8 points less than last yearís average), but also all average over 70.5 ppg.
In 2000, the Houston Comets set the record for highest points per game average in a season at 77.3 per game. In 2006, six teams are in contention to break that record: PHX (83.6), WAS (80.9), CNT (80.6), SEA (78.9), LAS (77.8), and MIN (77.8). In that same season, the Comets established a WNBA record .470 field goal percentage as a team. This year, WAS (.465), SEA (.459), and HOU (.456) are all in contention to break that mark set six years ago.
FIBA changed from the 30-second shot clock to the 24-second shot clock between the 2000 and 2001. Scoring increased from 65.3 points per game to 71.6 points per game. It is important to note that in 1999, the league averaged 69.0 points per game, two years before the change, and that by 2004 scoring settled back down to 69.5 points per game. The WNBA scoring figures appear to far more dramatic this season.
In 2005, WNBA teams scored 80+ points in a game 41 times in 442 opportunities, a frequency of 9.3 percent. In 2006, teams have exceeded 80+ points a total of 84 times in only 232 point totals, a frequency of 36 percent, which means nearly 2 out of every 5 point totals exceed 80+ points. After 116 games, the league has registered 28 point totals of 90+ point, while last season featured only five scores of 90 points or greater. This includes the WNBA record established by the Minnesota Lynx in its 114-71 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on May 31st, and the Sparksí franchise-record 105 points versus San Antonio on June 25.
This season there are currently four players averaging over 20 points per game (Taurasi, Augustus, Pondexter, and Leslie) despite the fact that no season in WNBA history has featured more than two 20-point per game scorers. Note that Lauren Jackson is averaging 19.9 ppg, and Alana Beard 18.9 (she injured her ankle Sunday before scoring a point lowering her average below 20 for the first time this season).
The number of possessions per game have increased
from 70 per team to 77. Teams are shooting their first shot 16 seconds into the
shot clock as opposed to 17.5 seconds last season. This year, the number of field
goal attempts (fga) are up from 46.0 pg to 50.0 pg, an increase of 4.0 two-point
fga per game. Similarly, 3-pt fga are up 2.8 pg from 11.9 to 14.7.
Yet, overall field goal percentage (42.5 percent) is the same as last season, while two-point field goal percentage has increased from 44.5 percent last season to 45.3 percent. This is an indication that teams are not only adjusting to the new shot clock but thriving by getting better shots in their offenses and/or getting the ball in the hands of the scorers who can create their own shots as the clock is winding down.
In Other News... The average time for all 95 regulation games is 1:57, two minutes longer than last seasonís average length of a regulation game of 1:55. Last week, the 21 games averaged 1:56 in length.
As the 2006 WNBA All-Star starters are announced today, there will, no doubt, be plenty to talk about. There may be some surprise among players, coaches and the fans. Message boards will be flurried with buzz, we will get lets of letters and travel plans will be made. Writers will write, opinions will be opined and then we'll play an All-Star Game. Remember, these are only the starters. Six reserves per team will be named in the days to come.
Upon learning that the results were in from a senior WNBA staff member over the weekend so that we could build the lovely All-Star site, I tried to guess the starters. Knowing the last round of ballot returns from a week ago (before several teams sent any paper ballots in), I got seven of 10 correct. I will not say which ones. Of course, this should make it clear that i have no influence on the team in any way.
Fans pick the starters in just about every All-Star Game there is. This is a fan's game, it's a popularity contest, it's as much entertainment as it is an athletic contest. So fans must bear credit or accountability for the inclusion or omission of all of these starters. And if fans can critique the league for decisions that we make, isn't it fair that I can critique fans for decisions that you make? Okay, maybe not... After all, I love you guys. But not having Lisa Leslie and Diana Taurasi in the starting lineup is pretty surprising. Are you guys, the fans, happy about how it played out? I could break down their stats and the merits of their candidacy but do I really need to? Okay, let's do it briefly.
Taurasi, the league's leading scorer, started last season and has the Mercury back in the playoff hunt after a lousy start.. And Leslie, a three-time Player of the Week, a 41-point and 5,000 career-point scorer... Dawn Staley is great for the game and one of my favorite people anywhere, but we could have honored her in her final season at the All-Star Game as an All-Decade honoree. Should she really be starting over Diana? Yolanda Griffith is amazing, last year's Finals M.V.P., likely in the last season of her All-Decade career, but should she really be starting over Leslie?
In the East, we have three members of the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun. Guess those ballot-punching parties paid off. But the omission of Cheryl Ford from the starting lineup was what surprised me most. Ford, listed as a center, is having a career year and averaging a double-double nearly every night. We'll also have four starting point guards in the All-Star Game this year. Hammon, Whalen, Bird and Staley. That's kind of odd. 10 starters will represent six teams.
It will now be left to coaches from each conference to pick the reserves. Again, having no say... here's who I would pick:
-East: Cheryl Ford, Katie Douglas, Alana Beard, Nikki Teasley, Tamika Whitmore and Deanna Nolan. That makes 11. Who does that leave out? Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Smith are my last two out.
-West: Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter and Betty Lennox. That's 11. And leaves out Sophia Young, Michelle Snow, Chamique Holdsclaw and Vickie Johnson.
That said, the Game is a week away and I could not be more excited. You know we always Blog from these events once we arrive at the host city. Well, we're already here, baby. We're waiting for you to join us. Tickets are still available, so come out for the fun. If you want, I can write a note to your boss.
In Other News... Did I tell you I was excited?
Get ready, because later today, we will announce the 2006 WNBA All-Star starters and things will sure get interesting. As for the holiday, there sure were plenty of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend as the WNBA featured eleven games, a few teams fighting for their place in the standings, player homecomings and even a few surprises.
The Eastern Conference playoff race certainly tightened up and got a bit more exciting over the weekend... A day after the Indiana Fever spoiled Ruth Riley's return to the state where she played her college ball, the Shock beat the Connecticut Sun 70-64. The following night, things really started to get interesting as Katie Douglas went home to Indianapolis and led the Connecticut Sun as they torched the Fever, 76-66, to take first place back in the Conference. By beating the Fever on Saturday, the Sun are starting to look like a great team again, but Friday's loss against Detroit shows that the best team in the Eastern Conference is still to be determined. Detroit, Indiana and Connecticut are now all within a half game of each other in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Mystics currently hold the fourth place in the Eastern Conference after losing to Chamique Holdsclaw and the Los Angeles Sparks 80-75. Saturday's game also served as Latasha Byears and Nikki Teasley's return to L.A. But things got better for Washington in the second half of a back-to-back the following day as the Mystics came back from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Phoenix Mercury, 81-78, on the road. The Mystics are three games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun and four games ahead of the fifth place Liberty.
As for the the Western Conference standings, things are starting to look a bit cramped. Only 3.5 games seperate the fifth-seeded Sacramento Monarchs from the Conference- leading Los Angeles Sparks.
The Los Angeles Sparks could have used a spark as they got blown out by the San Antonio Silver Stars, 65-83, on Monday night. The Silver Stars won their third straight and ended a 10-game losing streak to the Sparks.
Silver Stars guard and Liberty legend Vicki Johnson made her return to the Garden on Friday night to lead her new team past the Libs, 91-78. For a player who helped build a franchise, V.J. may not have gotten the respect she deserved in her return to the Big Apple. Besides mentioning her name during player introductions, the Garden did not play any video highlights or give any shout-outs to one of the Liberty's greatest players ever. Of course, it was Johnson who got the last laugh.
Five-time WNBA All-Star Katie Smith recently became the first player to reach the 500 mark for 3-pointers made in a career. She turned 32 last month, yet is still a dominant force in the league. So what enables her to compete with players ten years her junior? Prior to the start of the season, I asked her just that.
"You donít want to get into the season or a tough challenge and not be ready, especially if you are getting older or coming off of an injury. I donít want anyone to think or say that I have lost a step or not as good or whatever. My motivation is to get back to where I was prior to the injury and maintaining that level. There are new players and top talent coming in every year and you just want to hold your own and be able to do what youíre capable of doing."
You don't win Olympic gold medals without that drive.
"Personal motivation isbeing the best you can be, but itís hard as you get older and achier to get up and moving. Itís like competing though, because once you get started, that fire kicks in and you want to do it a little harder. That competitiveness carries over and you want to do it well if you are going to be doing it at all. Do everything to the best of your abilities. Bust your butt because there is no reason to do it halfway."
The most pressing question now is whether Smith will be a part of her sixth WNBA All-Star Game in New York next week.
March - April 2006
January - February 2006
November - December 2005
September - October 2005
2005 WNBA Finals
2005 WNBA All-Star Game
2004 WNBA Finals
2004 Game At Radio City