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Past articles:
  • 2008 Young All-Americans

  • 2008 NCAA wrapup

  • 2008 WNBA draft preview

  • Wisconsin guard Jolene Anderson

  • L.A. wins draft lottery post-sesason report card

  • WNBA '07 post-sesason report card

  • WNBA '07 awards

  • WNBA '07 mid-sesason report card

  • The 2007 Young All-American Team
  • THE WNBA: STRONGER THAN EVER
    By Dave Wohlhueter

    This article will definitely conclude the 2008 WNBA season, leaving it to the historians to search through in future years.

    The 2007 version of this story said that the WNBA was on the upswing, and asked what's the next step.

    Twelve years have gone by since the inaugural campaign, and it would takes reams of paper (or many computer screens) to list the accomplishments. There are still growing pains, but larger crowds, more television exposure and better yet, tons of quality players have definitely put this "young" league on the map.

    The 2008 season saw the competition for playoff berths once again go right down to the final week. Going into the final week, the eight playoff teams had been selected, but only one team, Indiana, knew its final position for the extended season. The Fever knew that it would be seeded No. 4 in the East.

    One thing was certain. Defending champion Phoenix would not be in the playoffs, becoming the first team in league history to not be able to defend its crown from the previous year.

    The Olympics certainly had an impact on the season in many ways. First of all is the fact that the WNBA took a month off so that 41 of its current and former players could represent their respective countries in Beijing in August.

    Phoenix felt the loss of all-star forward Penny Taylor from its 2007 championship team, who didn't rejoin the Mercury so that she could train full-time with her Australian Olympians. Seattle all-star center/forward Lauren Jackson also felt the loyalty to the Aussies' national team, and left the Storm five games before the break. She never did return due to an injury.

    During the Olympic break, Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer pulled off the biggest heist of the year. Having seen his team drop its last four games before the Olympic break, and lose its No. 1 rebounder, Cheryl Ford, to an ACL injury, Laimbeer traded a couple of youngsters to Washington for savvy veteran forward/center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was joining her fifth WNBA team.

    McWilliams-Franklin turned out to be just what Dr. Laimbeer had ordered. She made an immediate impact in the starting lineup, and helped the Shock win its last five games of the regular season and 6-of-7 following the Olympic break to capture the Eastern Conference title. Detroit went on to win its third WNBA championship, sweeping Western Conference champ San Antonio in three straight contests as McWilliams-Franklin averaged 12.9 ppg. and 7.0 rpg. in the postseason.

    Detroit's opening 77-69 triumph at San Antonio in the finals was the first loss for the Silver Stars vs. Eastern competition after 14 wins during the regular season. For the third straight year, Phoenix ranked No. 1 in scoring offense (88.53 ppg.), just .44 points per outing off its record-setting pace of a year ago. Unfortunately for the defending champs, they set a league record for most points allowed (88.50) also for the second consecutive season. Seattle had the best defensive record, allowing just 70.77 ppg.

    Some individual firsts took place in 2008. Phoenix teammates Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter became the first players from the same team to finish 1-2 in scoring. Taurasi was the champ, averaging 24.1 ppg., while Pondexter was second at 21.2 ppg. Another first was having teammates top the list in rebounding. Los Angeles rookie forward Candace Parker collared 9.5 rpg., while veteran center Lisa Leslie grabbed 8.9. The same two players became the first teammates to go 1-2 in blocked shots, with Leslie topping the list at 2.94 bpg., followed by Parker at 2.27 bpg.

    A great rookie class, led by Parker, entered the WNBA in 2008. Not to be outplayed by their former Tennessee teammate, Parker, first-year players Nicky Anosike at Minnesota and Alexis Hornbuckle in Detroit made their presence felt in the success garnered in the respective cities. Hornbuckle topped the league in steals for a 2.32 spg. mark, followed by Anosike at 2.21 spg.

    Rookie guard Candice Wiggins came off the bench at Minnesota to earn the Sixth Woman of the Year award. The second pick in the 2008 draft, center Sylvia Fowles missed 17 games with an injury, but she still averaged 10.5 ppg. and 7.5 rpg. for Chicago, and she was the only rookie on the WNBA All-Defensive teams. Fowles also won an Olympic gold medal for the USA, as did Parker. In the WNBA, she became the first player ever to be called for goaltending. Former Rutgers great, Matee Ajavon, added needed speed at Houston; and Amber Holt and Kerri Gardin helped ease the loss of three veteran players at Connecticut. New York made it to the last game of the Eastern finals due to the quality play of rookies Essence Carson, Erlana Larkins and Leilani Mitchell.

    Picking a MVP this season was really tough because there was not one ˇ°superˇ± standout, but a number of outstanding candidates. Gballmag.com went with Seattle veteran guard Sue Bird with the feeling that without Bird, Seattle would have gone nowhere especially with Jackson missing every game following the break. Bird averaged 14.1 ppg. and 5.12 apg. while playing 33.7 mpg.

    Bird joined Taurasi in the backcourt on the Gballmag.com first team. Up front, Parker and Leslie were chosen, along with Sophia Young of San Antonio. Leslie earned the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and Parker was unanimous for Rookie of the Year honors even with the truckload of first-year talent. Guard Jia Perkins of Chicago was named to the Most Improved Player Award. Laimbeer of Detroit copped Coach of the Year honors.

    Certainly a historical moment took place in 2008 with the addition of Atlanta as the 14th team in the league. The Dream won its first game on July 5, beating visiting Chicago 91-84, and achieved its first road victory at Minnesota (73-67) four days later. Unfortunately, Atlanta won only two more games the rest of the season (4-30).

    What does the WNBA do for an encore? Certainly adding another couple of teams to the league would be a possibility. There seems to be plenty of talent to go around. With today's economy, the league may have to hold back on that project for the time being.

    Here's what we can expect in 2009 before any personnel changes and additions of the '09 rookie class. The teams are listed in the order they finished in 2008.

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Detroit (22-12) The Shock actually had an up-and-down season until getting hot at the end, and of course adding McWilliams-Franklin to the lineup. It definitely was a team effort, as only guard Deanna Nolan received all-league honors, and she was named to the Gballmag.com and WNBA second unit. If Ford comes back healthy, the boards will be wiped clean by her and McWiliams-Franklin, although the latter is taking each season at a time at this stage of her career. Nolan (15.8 ppg.) and veteran Katie Smith (14.7 ppg.) top the scoring list, while McWiliams-Franklin (12.8 ppg.) forward Plenette Pierson (11.9 ppg.) are next. Pierson, possibly the best sixth player in the league, missed most of the playoffs with an injury. Free agency is a key to Detroit's depth as veterans Kara Braxton, Elaine Powell, Sheri Sam and Kelly Schumacher are all on the list. Braxton, with 8.9 ppg. and 5.1 rpg., needs to be kept in the Motor City. Detroit has the strength to successfully defend its title, although age will begin to takes its toll.

    Connecticut (21-13) Coach Mike Thibault worked wonders with the lineup after losing three starters from a year ago. The Sun was so close to Detroit in every stat category, including beating opponents by 4.38 ppg. to 4.41 ppg. for the Shock, as the two teams ranked 1-2 in the entire league. Guard Lindsay Whalen had her best year with 14.0 ppg., 5.4 apg. (No. 1 in the league), and 5.6 rpg., second on the team. She received Gballmag.com second-team honors. Forward Asjha Jones (17.0 ppg., 6.10 rpg.) has proven as worthy starter as she was as a sub. Veteran forward Tamika Whitmore averaged 12.6 ppg., and rookie forward Amber Holt was a pleasant surprise, starting all 34 regular-season contests and averaging 6.5 ppg. Another good draft will keep the Sun shining in 2009.

    New York (19-15) Two years ago, the Liberty had the youngest lineup in the WNBA, and it didn't age much in 2008 and kept the honor. The team finished strong, knocking off Detroit 60-56 at Madison Square Garden in the first contest of the Eastern Conference finals, after disposing of Connecticut in three games. This is a young team that will continue to get better with age. Forward Shameka Christon averaged 15.7 ppg., while center Janel McCarville, last year's most improved player, pumps in 13.7 ppg. and grabs 5.4 rpg. Forward Cathrine Kraayeveld is the top rebounder with 6.1 rpg. to go with 9.6 ppg. She is a free agent that needs to be kept in the Big Apple. Veteran guard Loree Moore has 7.2 ppg. and 4.2 apg. stats, and forward Tiffany Jackson adds depth with 8.3 ppg. and 5.7 rpg. Rookie guard Essence Carson contributed 6.6 ppg. The sky's the limit for the potential of the Liberty.

    Indiana (17-17) The Fever had a little bit of everything: nine new players, injuries to top players, Olympic excuses, etc., but yet it played in the postseason once again, and took eventual champion Detroit to three games in the first round. To improve in 2009, Indiana must have a healthy Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, who averaged 13.3 ppg. and 15.6 ppg., respectively, in 2008. Forward Ebony Hoffman had a tremendous year with 10.4 ppg. Guard Tully Bevilaqua left early to play for Australia in the Olympics. She contributed 5.8 ppg. and 2.3 apg. Guard Tan White gets better with experience, averaging 9.9 ppg. and 3.1 apg. in 2008. Center Tammy Sutton-Brown has her ups-and-downs, but still managed 11.8 ppg. and 6.3 rpg. to tie Catchings for tops in the Fever rebounding department. Indiana has always been tough defensively (72.3 ppg.) with Catchings and Bevilaqua named to the WNBA All-Defensive first team, but it needs to get a big time scorer to increase the offense from 72.7 ppg. to near 80 ppg.

    Chicago (12-22) Guard Jia Perkins won the Gballmag.com Most Improved Player Award, averaging 17.0 ppg. The Sky is pretty good up front with veterans Candice Dupree (16.3 ppg., 7.9 rpg.) and Chasity Melvin (8.2 ppg., 5.1 rpg.). Add in Sylvia Fowles, a rookie last summer, with 10.5 ppg. and 7.5 rpg., and Chicago can play with the best. Fowles was also named to the WNBA All-Defensive team. A huge scorer in the backcourt would benefit the team greatly. Second-year guard Armintie Price disappointed from her 2007 performance by scoring less (6.9 ppg.) than when she was named the Gballmag.com Rookie of the Year. A double-figures scoring threat is a must in the backcourt.

    Washington (10-24) Stabilization in the front office and coaching staff would be a good place to start in improving the Mystics. Veteran guard/forward Alana Beard is a consistent performer (16.1 ppg., 3.6 rpg., 3.5 apg.), but can't get the job done by herself. Former Duke teammate Monique Currie is another swing player (11.9 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 2.5 apg.) like Beard. Rookie Tasha Humphrey (8.3 ppg., 3.7 rpg.), obtained from Detroit in the McWiliams-Franklin trade, will definitely help if she doesn't decide to play in Europe. Rookie forward Crystal Langhorne (4.8 ppg., 4.0 rpg.) doesn't waste any shots. She converted 62.4 percent of her field goals to lead the league. You'll notice that there is no mention of the backcourt, and that's a big time void in Washington.

    Atlanta (4-30) Veteran guard Betty Lennox (17.5 ppg., 4.20 rpg., 2.4 apg.) tried, and so did guard Ivory Latta (11.4 ppg., 3.6 apg.). The Dream is fortified in the backcourt by guard Iziane Castro Marques who averaged 9.3 ppg. Center Erika Desouza pulled down 6.6 rpg., while averaging 9.3 ppg. Atlanta was 10th in scoring, but only Phoenix allowed more points per game than the Dream. Lennox is also a free agent. As with all expansion teams, there's plenty of room for additional talent.

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    San Antonio (24-10) The Silver Stars won their first conference title in franchise history, and the future continues to be bright. Forward Sophia Young was named to the Gballmag.com and WNBA first teams, and to the league all-defensive unit. She averaged 17.5 ppg. and 5.6 rpg. Veteran guard Becky Hammon has been nothing but great since coming over from New York before the 2007 campaign. Hammon, named to the Gballmag.com second five, averaged 17.6 ppg. and handed out 4.9 assists per outing. Center Ann Wauters (14.7 ppg., 7.5 rpg.) was a pleasant addition this past year. Guards Erin Buescher (7.2 ppg.) and Vickie Johnson (6.7 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 3.6 apg.) make San Antonio extremely strong in the back. Both Wauters and Johnson are free agents who need to be signed. If the Silver Stars can draft well for depth, there's no reason why they can't compete for the top rung in 2009.

    Seattle (22-12) The big question is whether forward Lauren Jackson will return to the Storm. The jury is out on that one. Her 20.2 ppg. and 7.00 rpg. would be hard to replace over the 34-game season. She is also a fine defensive player, being named to the WNBA All-Defensive team. Guard Sue Bird was the Gballmag.com MVP for her contributions to the Storm success, especially after the departure of Jackson. Bird averaged 14.1 ppg., and was second in the WNBA in assists per contest (5.1). Veteran forward Swin Cash, when healthy, averaged 11.3 ppg. and 5.4 rpg., but her wellness is always questioned. Forward Camille Little arrived during the season and scored at a 9.7 ppg. rate, and grabbed 4.40 rpg. She was especially valuable after Jackson's Olympic departure. The Storm was the best defensive team in the league, allowing its opponents just 70.77 ppg. The value of veterans Sheryl Swoopes and Yolanda Griffith for 2009 is also questionable. Both Jackson and Griffith are free agents.

    Los Angeles (20-14) The Sparks are loaded with talent, and veteran center Lisa Leslie doesn't seem to be slowing down. Rookie of the Year Candace Parker lived up to all of her press clippings by leading the team in scoring with 18.5 ppg., and ranking No. 1 in the league in rebounding (9.50 rpg.). She also handed out 3.4 apg. Leslie averaged 15.1 ppg. and was runner-up to Parker in rebounding (8.90) in the WNBA. She also was named Gballmag.com Defensive Player of the Year in addition to joining Parker on the all-star first team. The two were also 1-2 in blocked shots for the entire league. Add in veteran forward DeLisha Milton-Jones with 13.9 ppg. and 6.3 rpg., and this is one tough front court. Veteran guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris had an improvement year with 8.4l ppg., and rookie guard Shannon Bobbitt played well with 4.1 ppg., and 3.5 apg. It's hard to say what LA needs except to win more games than the rest of the league.

    Sacramento (18-16) The Monarchs have no queens of the castle, but a team that plays well as a unit. Forward Nicole Powell led the team in scoring at just 13.6 ppg., while guard Kara Lawson increased her output to 12.2 ppg. Forward Rebekkah Brunson pumped in 10.9 ppg., while grabbing 7.1 rpg. Veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro had her best year in quite awhile. She averaged 8.6 ppg. and 5.2 apg., and was named to the WNBA defensive squad, along with Brunson. Penicheiro and the off-injured DeMya Walker are free agents. Some more size would be beneficial to Sacramento from the 2009 draft.

    Houston (17-17) Gone are the glory years in Houston, when the Comets won the first four WNBA championships. Veteran forward Tina Thompson continues to amaze all followers with her ability and leadership, along with her dexterity. Thompson averaged 18.1 ppg. and grabbed 6.9 rpg. She topped the WNBA once again in minutes played per contest (34.8), which was two minutes less per outing that she logged in 2007. Center Michelle Snow is consistent at 9.9 ppg. and 6.8 rpg., but not spectacular. Veteran guard Tamecka Dixon nearly averaged double figures in scoring at 9.0, while recording 3.2 rpg. Rookie guard Matee Ajavon was a great addition, averaging 8.0 ppg. off the bench. A good 2009 draft is needed for the Comets to reach playoff levels.

    Phoenix (16-18) How can you average 88.53 points per night and lose more than half of your games? It's quite easy. Let the opposition score more per evening that you do. That is the problem in Phoenix, a team that features two of the most dynamic players in the WNBA in Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter. They were 1-2 in scoring in 2008 at 24.1 and 21.2 ppg., respectively. Taurasi also pulled down 5.1 rpg., and handed out 3.6 apg. Pondexter had 4.2 helpers per outing. Center Tangela Smith played well at 11.1 ppg. and 7.0 caroms, and forward Le'coe Willingham was another starter in double-figure scoring at 10.1 ppg. Veteran Kelly Miller is the point guard, averaging 8.3 ppg., 4.4 rpg., and 4.0 apg. In the Wild, Wild West, the Mercury was still in the playoff picture down to the last week.

    Minnesota (16-18) The Lynx was the most improved team in the league, and certainly was an exciting organization. Minnesota started the season fast by winning its first six games before dropping two in a row to Connecticut. The Lynx have a good blend of veterans and rookies led by guard/forward Seimone Augustus, who averaged 19.1 ppg., in becoming the second-fastest WNBA player to reach 2,000 career points. Rookie guard Candice Wiggins tallied 15.7 ppg. off the bench, and was named the WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year. Another rookie, center Nicky Anosike played well at both ends of the court, averaging 9.2 ppg. and 6.8 rpg., in addition to 2.21 steals per outing, second best in the WNBA. Veteran guard Anna DeForge added stability and savvy while averaging 8.5 ppg. The Lynx will continue to get better with age, and with a solid draft.

    BIRD NAMED GBALLMAG.COM MVP
    By Dave Wohlhueter

    For the second year in a row, a Seattle Storm player has won the Gballmag.com WNBA most valuable player award. This year's recipient is point guard Sue Bird. She follows in the footsteps of forward/center Lauren Jackson, who was the 2007 recipient.

    This blows this writer's philosophy out of the water for the second straight year that MVP winners must come from championship teams.

    It is ironic that the foundation for choosing Bird is predicated on the absence of Jackson for 13 regular-season games, and the playoffs. Jackson chose to leave the Storm five games before the Olympic break, leaving Bird to carry the team. The Australian never returned due to an injury and surgery.

    Seattle finished the regular season with an 8-5 record without Jackson. Bird took charge, and helped the Storm to a 22-12 record (16-1 at home), and second place in the Western Conference.

    This year's list of MVP candidates was probably larger than ever before, but the feeling was that without Bird, Seattle would have gone nowhere.

    Bird averaged 14.1 ppg. for the season, and was No. 3 in the WNBA in assists per outing (5.12). What can't be calculated is the way she ran the show. Everything in Seattle went through Bird after Jackson's departure. And she was a yeoman on the court, averaging 33.7 mpg., fourth in the league, and was second in total minutes played (1,110).

    Seven different franchises are represented on the Gballmag.com first and second all-star teams, with Los Angeles, San Antonio and Seattle with two players each. Champion Detroit had just one rep.

    LA had two players on the first team in veteran center Lisa Leslie and rookie forward Candace Parker. Leslie, who was also the Defensive Player of the Year, came back strong after taking off 2007 for maternity leave. She was No. 1 in the league in blocked shots (2.94 bpg.), while being the runner-up to Parker in rebounding with 8.9 caroms per contest. Leslie averaged 15.1 ppg. to lead all centers in scoring, guiding the Sparks to the Western Conference finals.

    Parker, the unanimous Rookie of the Year in an outstanding season for first-year players, was No. 1 in the WNBA in rebounding (9.5 rpg.), while finishing No. 5 in scoring (18.5 ppg.), nearly becoming the only player to average a double-double. The Tennessee alumnus topped the WNBA in double-doubles with 17. She was No. 2 in blocked shots (2.27 bpg.).

    Joining Leslie and Parker on the first team are San Antonio forward Sophia Young, Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi and Bird.

    Young had a career-high 17.5 ppg., ninth in the WNBA, in helping the Silver Stars win their first WNBA Western Conference title before losing three straight to champion Detroit. She also grabbed rebounds at a 5.6 rate per outing, and was named to the league All-Defensive first unit. It is her first time on a Gballmag.com all-star team.

    Taurasi is on the first team for the fourth straight year after being named to the second five as a rookie. She led the WNBA in scoring with a 24.1 ppg. mark. The UConn grad averaged 5.1 rpg., and led the league in foul shots made (215) and 3-pt. baskets (89).

    Named to the second team are San Antonio guard Becky Hammon, Connecticut guard Lindsay Whalen, Detroit guard/forward Deanna Nolan, Jackson of Seattle, and Houston forward Tina Thompson.

    Hammon was a first-team selection last season. She averaged 17.6 ppg., seventh best in the league, and handed out 4.88 apg., which was fifth best in 2008. At the foul line, she was deadly, making 93.7 percent of her shots.

    Whalen had a breakout year for the Sun. She was No. 1 in the league in assists (5.36 apg.), while averaging 14.0 ppg. and 5.60 rpg. She was also named to the WNBA All-Defensive second team. If Connecticut had advanced further in the playoffs, she might have ranked higher for MVP honors. She won the WNBA Peak Performer Award, along with Taurasi and Parker, as the league's top players in assists, scoring and rebounding, respectively.

    Nolan was her usual outstanding self for the Shock. She averaged 15.8 ppg., and 3.9 rpg. Nolan ranked No. 7 in helpers (4.88 apg.), and was a member of the WNBA All-Defensive second team. She was on the Gballmag.com first unit a year ago.

    Jackson probably would have made her sixth straight appearance on the Gballmag.com first team if had not been for her absence at the end of the season. She averaged 20.2 ppg. (No. 3 in WNBA), and 7.0 rpg. Named to the WNBA All-Defensive second team, she averaged 1.57 blocks per outing, which was No. 6 in the league.

    Thompson keeps getting better with age. Once again, she led the league in minutes played per game (34.8), which was just a shade down from her league-leading average of 36.3 mpg. a year ago. Thompson was the No. 6 scorer in the league at 18.1 ppg., and she averaged 6.9 rpg. and 2.17 apg.

    The Gballmag.com Most Improved Player Award goes to Chicago guard Jia Perkins. Perkins averaged 17.0 ppg., which was nearly 5.0 ppg. better than her career-high of a year ago. Her 4.0 rpg., 2.8 apg. and 1.9 spg. were all career bests.

    Who should get Coach of the Year? It could have been 2007 winner Dan Hughes of San Antonio, or Mike Thibault at Connecticut. Certainly Patty Coyle at New York brought the Liberty on strong at the end.

    The Gballmag.com Coach of the Year award goes to Bill Laimbeer of Detroit. How's that for going with a winner. Laimbeer may have done his best job of coaching this season than any year previously. He led the Shock through turmoil, injuries, and losing streaks, but the team reached its peak at crunch time. His biggest move of the year was trading for forward/center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, as the veteran was the final piece in the winning puzzle.

    2008 AWARDS
    Gballmag.com Awards
    MVP: Sue Bird, Seattle
    Defensive Player: Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles
    Most Improved Player: Jia Perkins,Chicago
    Rookie of the Year: Candace Parker, Los Angeles
    Coach of the Year : Bill Laimbeer, Detroit

    WNBA Media Winner Awards
    MVP: Candace Parker, Los Angeles
    Defensive Player: Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles
    Most Improved Player: Ebony Hoffman, Indiana
    Rookie of the Year: Candace Parker, Los Angeles
    Coach of the Year : Mike Thibault, Connecticut

    GBALLMAG.COM TEAMS
    First Team
    Candace Parker, Sparks
    Lisa Leslie, Sparks
    Sophia Young, Silver Stars
    Diana Taurasi, Mercury
    Sue Bird,Storm

    Second Team
    Lindsay Whalen, Sun
    Becky Hammon, Silver Stars
    Deanna Nolan, Shock
    Lauren Jackson, Storm
    Tina Thompson, Comets

    WNBA TEAMS
    First Team
    Candace Parker, Sparks
    Lisa Leslie, Sparks
    Lindsay Whalen, Sun
    Sophia Young, Silver Stars
    Diana Taurasi, Mercury

    Second Team
    Sue Bird, Storm
    Becky Hammon, Silver Stars
    Asjha Jones, Sun
    Deanna Nolan, Shock
    Lauren Jackson, Storm

    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. He recently was named the winner of College Sports Information Directors of America's 2007 Bob Kenworthy Good Person Award, which annually is awarded to a CoSIDA member for civic involvement and accomplishments outside the sports information office.




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