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Past articles:
  • 2004-05 College Awards

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  • 2004 WNBA Awards

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  • Gball's Players of the Year

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  • Gball's 2003-04 All-Americans

  • Leslie repeats as Player of the Year

  • 2002-03 NCAA Awards

  • Sophia Young

  • WBCA All Stars

  • NWBL Draft

  • The Burge Twins

  • 2002 WNBA Successes

  • Title IX's 35th Anniversary

  • The 2002 High School State Champs

  • The 2002 Gball Awards

  • Being Recruited

  • Protecting Your Knees

  • Candace Parker dunks!

  • Michigan Playoff Results

  • WNBA Teen Advisory Board

  • St. Ann's girls' team

  • Leslie Gball's Player of the Year

  • Hitting the last-second shot

  • Scholarships,
    Part I

  • Scholarships,
    Part II

  • Improving Agility

    By Dave Wohlhueter

    For the third year in a row, the WNBA crowned a new champion. On the other hand, nothing is new: The champ came from the Western Conference. Only Detroit in 2003 has broken the stranglehold by the West on taking home the WNBA prize.

    Sacramento won the franchise's first WNBA championship, but not before capturing the most exciting and competitive championship round in the nine-year history of the league. Fans were treated to top-shelf basketball with an emphasis on defense. Sacramento never had any second thoughts about using the strategy that to the Monarchs all the way to the top: defense! Sacramento beat visiting Connecticut 62-59 in the fourth game of the championship round, holding the Eastern winners to 64.0 ppg. in the finals. During the regular 34-game season, the Monarchs ranked No. 1 in defense (61.6 ppg. allowed).

    The WNBA, almost in its first decade, has now seen Houston and Los Angeles win three championships each, followed by Detroit, Seattle and Sacramento.

    Once again, the fight for the playoffs went right down to the final day of the regular season. When the dust had settled, Connecticut (26-8), Indiana (21-13), and New York (18-16) were 1-2-3 in the East, and Detroit (16-18) won a tiebreaker over Washington (16-18). Ten games separated the top five teams in the East, with only Charlotte (6-28) really out of the playoff picture.

    Sacramento (25-9) finished five games ahead of second-place Seattle (20-14) in the West. Houston (19-15) and Los Angeles (17-17) rounded out the playoff teams, but Phoenix (16-18) missed out by just a game Minnesota (14-20), 3-7 in its last 10 outings, and San Antonio (7-27) rounded out the 13-team league. Chicago will be added in 2006.

    The two-year record of nine teams finishing above .500 ended. Seattle finished up as the top offensive team (73.5 ppg.), but the Storm couldn't stop anyone, ranking at the bottom in points allowed (70.8 ppg.).

    Houston forward Sheryl Swoopes won the league scoring title (18.6 ppg.) and MVP honors, although chose WNBA finals MVP Yolanda Griffith of Sacramento as its regular-season most valuable player. Connecticut center Margo Dydek, who led the league in blocked shots (1998-2003), regained her title from Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie with 2.29 bpg. Dydek holds the WNBA career record of 2.92 bpg.

    Detroit guard Deanna Nolan recorded the only triple-double of the season.

    After three great rookie classes (2002, 2003, 2004), this past season's first-year class did not feature as many future "stars." Rookie of the Year Temeka Johnson of Washington was a superb point guard, and San Antonio center Katie Feenstra performed very well.

    During the season, veteran guards Katie Smith and Dawn Staley changed residences. Smith was traded to Detroit from Minnesota, and the Lynx never recovered. Houston picked up Staley in a trade with Charlotte, and the Olympian added tremendous stability off the bench to the Comets' backcourt.

    What can we expect in 2006? For one thing, a new franchise in Chicago headed up by former NBA all-star and coach Dave Cowans. And with this addition, teams will be hit with the expansion draft, making it difficult to predict who will win next summer.

    Another fly in the ointment will be the World Championships next summer during the WNBA season. The Worlds will definitely affect the rosters, especially a team like Seattle with a number of foreign players, including superstar Lauren Jackson of Australia. And who will represent the USA?

    Here's what we probably can expect in 2006, with the teams listed in the order they finished in 2005:

    Connecticut (26-8)
    The Sun still ranks as the best team in the league after losing in the finals in 2004 and 2005. The loss of point guard Lindsay Whalen to an injury in the playoffs certainly hurt. Veteran forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin (15.9 ppg., 9.38 rpg.) had a superb year, as did forward/guard Nykesha Sales (14.4 ppg.). Both were named to the second team in 2005. McWilliams-Franklin hints of retirement and Sales is a free agent. Both will probably return; if not, you can count Connecticut out in 2006. Guard Katie Douglas (12.0 ppg.) made the All-WNBA defensive first team. Whelan, an excellent leader, averaged 11.1 ppg. and 3.3 apg., and will still improve. Center Margo Dydek does her thing: block shots (a league-leading 1.63). Forward Asjha Jones (8.9 ppg.) is one of the league's better players off the bench. The key here is whether the two veteran forwards return to the lineup.

    Indiana (21-13)
    The Fever was high most of the season with a franchise-record 21 victories. Veteran forward Natalie Williams will not be back. She retires as the top rebounder in U.S. women's professional basketball history. Indiana can look forward to the return of Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings, who was also on the Web site second team. Catchings (14.7 ppg.) is the fastest player in the WNBA to reach the following milestones: 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists, and 300 steals. Indiana claimed its foes with defense (led the league in steals), rebounding, and a strong bench. Nine players averaged 13.9 mpg. Indiana needs another scorer, and will also have to replace Williams' board work. Rookie guard Tan White probably will increase her offensive production (7.1 ppg.) from 2005.

    New York (18-16)
    The Liberty had a big crack in its bell. Injuries hurt, especially up front where New York got pounded regularly. second-team guard Becky Hammon averaged 13.9 ppg., 4.3 apg., and she led the league in free throw accuracy (.901), and 3-pt. field goals made (65). Injuries to "big people" Ann Wauters and Elena Baranova down the stretch were key to the Liberty barely making the playoffs. They combined for nearly half the team's rebounds. Wauters was second in the league in field goal percentage (.541). This is a veteran team, and needs help. The brightest star is forward/guard Shameka Christon. She finished her second year with a 9.1 ppg. average, starting just nine of 34 games. Christon could be the next star in the Big Apple.

    Detroit (16-18)
    How can the league's most-talented front court lose more games than it won? If you know the answer, call coach Bill Laimbeer. The Shock can start five all-stars. Who says chemistry isn't important? Guard Deanna Nolan was second team, and ranked fifth in the league in scoring (15.9 ppg.). She was also named to the WNBA defensive second team. Add her talent to backcourt ace Katie Smith and it has to be one of the top duos in the WNBA. It gets even better up front--or, at least it should be. Forward Cheryl Ford (15.9 ppg.) led the league in rebounding (9.8 rpg.), but didn't receive much help from center Ruth Riley (4.73 rpg., 7.6 ppg.) and forward Swin Cash (4.19 rpg., 5.7 ppg.). These are players, but they aren't producing. Rookie forward Kara Braxton played big (6.9 ppg., 3.03 rpg.). Laimbeer needs to go back to the chemistry lab, and he better take his team with him.

    Washington (16-18)
    Lost the tiebreaker to the Shock for the final playoff spot. The trade of Chamique Holdsclaw to LA was a good one for everyone. The Mystics performed better without the all-star forward. DeLisha Milton-Jones came east from the Sparks and averaged 11.9 ppg. and 5.2 rpg. without much fanfare. Guard Alana Beard improved in her second season, leading the team in scoring (14.1 ppg.). She also had 4.33 rpg., and 3.0 apg. Beard was named to the WNBA all-defensive second team. Center Chasity Melvin was the final starter in double figures (11.7 ppg.), and she topped the club in rebounding (5.85 rpg.). Point guard Temeka Johnson earned Rookie of the Year honors, making a spectacular debut. The 5-3 guard led the league in assists (177), and added 9.3 ppg. No one else produced much, and this was a problem. Five starters averaged more than 30 minutes of playing time. A good draft could make Washington a playoff team.

    Charlotte (6-28)
    There was not much sting here, as the team was last in the league in scoring (61.6 ppg.). At least the two previous years, Charlotte played tough defense (No. 2 and No. 1), but it ranked No. 9 in 2005. Forward Tangela Smith came in from Sacramento in the trade for Nicole Powell and led the team in scoring (13.6 ppg.). Guard Sheri Sam was the only other player in double figures (11.4 ppg.). Forward Allison Feaster, one of the league's better 3-pt. shooters, averaged 9.1 ppg., before leaving the team on maternity leave after 21 games. Tammy Sutton-Brown is a capable center with 9.4 ppg. and 5.26 rpg. It all drops off after these players. Much help is needed down south to make Charlotte a playoff contender.

    Sacramento (25-9)
    "Yo" finally did it. Veteran center Yolanda Griffith led the Monarchs to their best record ever, and in doing so, their first WNBA title. Griffith was named MVP of the playoff finals, and she copped MVP honors. She was also named to the WNBA defensive first team. Griffith averaged 13.8 ppg. and 6.56 rpg., including 2.56 caroms on the offensive boards. Forward DeMya Walker actually led the team in scoring (14.1 ppg.), but she missed 12 regular-season games with injuries. Forward Nicole Powell won the WNBA Most Improved Player Award for averaging 10.7 ppg., and starting 34 regular-season games. Veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro (7.8 ppg., 4.4 apg.) added stability to the backcourt that also included rookie Chelsea Newton (5.7 ppg.). Super sub Kara Lawson started just one game, but averaged 8.0 ppg. Seven players logged 21 minutes or more, with Powell doing 29.1 mpg. This team returns much talent, although Penicheiro might test the free agent waters. Sacramento is living up to its supremacy, and it might not want to be dethroned. Defense wins championships.

    Seattle (20-14)
    The Storm couldn't make it back to the championship round. Road woes (6-11) added to the downfall, along with nagging injuries. Forward Lauren Jackson won first-team honors, was No. 2 in the WNBA in scoring at 17.6 ppg., and she was runner-up in rebounds (9.2 rpg.) and foul shots made (151). She made the WNBA defensive second team. first-team guard Sue Bird was the league's No. 1 playmaker, averaging 5.9 assists per outing. She also scored 12.1 ppg., playing 34 minutes per contest. Guard Betty Lennox, last year's WNBA finals MVP, missed six regular-season games, but was No. 2 on the team in scoring (12.4 ppg.) The WNBA's top-scoring team (73.5 ppg.) also got double figures from center Janell Burse (10.0 ppg.), and she grabbed 5.85 rpg. Seattle needs more bench strength, as five players did the majority of the starting. With a number of foreign players on the roster, the World Championships could decimate this team, especially if Jackson were to return to Australia.

    Houston (19-15)
    Age could be a factor with the Comets, although forward Sheryl Swoopes seems to keep right on getting better. The league's scoring champion (18.6 ppg.) was the WNBA most valuable player, and was named to the league defensive first team. Center Michelle Snow had her moments, averaging 12.0 ppg. and 6.82 rpg. She was the best field goal shooter (.551) in the WNBA. Veteran guard Janeth Arcain (10.1 ppg.) returned to the team after spending 2004 with the Brazil Olympic team. Could she be gone again in 2006? Veteran forward Tina Thompson missed the first 19 games on maternity leave, but scored 10.1 ppg. in the final 15 contests. The addition of seasoned point guard Dawn Staley helped the team in the final 10 contests. Will she be back in 2006? Rookie forward Sancho Lyttle averaged 3.79 rpg. coming off the bench. Toughness inside is needed to help out Snow. Houston needs a banger.

    Los Angeles (17-17)
    Finished up with Joe Bryant as the head coach. Forward Chamique Holdsclaw and center Lisa Leslie were dominate forces with 17.0 ppg., 6.76 rpg. and 15.2 ppg., 7.29 rpg., respectively. Leslie led the league in blocked shots (71), and was third in steals per game (1.97). She was named to the WNBA defensive second team. Nikki Teasley and Mwadi Mabika are sound backcourt players, but they missed 15 and 17 games, respectively, during the regular season. There probably will be a number of shakeups in the Sparks' lineup for 2006.

    Phoenix (16-18)
    The Mercury missed the playoffs by one game, and finished below .500 after going 17-17 in 2004. The first spot to be filled is the head coaching position. At one time during the season, Phoenix won 11 out of 14 outings, but that was with center Kamila Vodichkova, and forwards Penny Taylor and Maria Stepanova up front. All three missed a total of 23 games. There was nothing wrong with the backcourt. first-team guard Diana Taurasi missed just one game and was fourth in the WNBA in scoring (16.0 ppg.) and third in 3-pt. field goals made (56). Guard Anna DeForge popped in 13.1 ppg. in 33 contests. The Mercury is just one player away from making the playoffs if the 6-8 Stepanova (10.8 ppg., 2.5 bpg.) decides to play in the WNBA. But that's a big IF. Stepanova has said she will be back. Rookie forward Sandora Irvin showed glimpses of being a possible impact player.

    Minnesota (14-20)
    The Lynx was not the same after the trading of all-time leading scorer Katie Smith to Detroit. The all-star guard averaged 13.3 ppg. before leaving town. Second-year center/forward Nicole Ohlde tallied 11.2 ppg. and 5.71 rpg. Veteran forward Svetlana Abrosimova chipped in 9.8 ppg., and center /forward Vanessa Hayden scored at a 7.9 ppg. clip, while pulling down 5.2 rebounds per outing. Forward Tamika Williams, the league's top shooter in 2003 and 2004, played in 34 games (started nine), but averaged just 5.8 ppg. on 55 percent shooting. She also grabbed 5.0 rpg., while averaging 24 mpg. Much help is needed in the backcourt, which leads one to wonder why the trading of Smith. The Lynx has a youthful team, but still can use an influx of talent from the 2006 draft.

    San Antonio (7-27)
    The Silver Stars are a better team than their record indicates. Guard Marie Ferdinand topped the squad in scoring at 12.5 ppg. Forward Wendy Palmer-Daniel, last year's most improved player, came over from Connecticut and averaged 9.6 ppg. and 5.68 rpg. Point guard Shannon Johnson added 9.3 ppg. and 4.6 apg. Forward LaToya Thomas and rookie center Katie Feenstra each contributed 8.8 ppg. Feenstra contended for Rookie of the Year honors after coming from the Sun in the preseason trade for Margo Dydek. There are many players on the roster who were outstanding performers in college. With additional experience, these youngsters should become competitive.

    Dave Wohlhueter is Gball's WNBA and women's college game expert. He is a former Sports Information Director at Cornell University, as well as a member of the school's Hall of Fame. He worked in media relations at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

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