Posted Aug 25 2008 8:36AM
By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com
Diana Taurasi and the Mercury are in danger of becoming the first WNBA champs to miss the postseason the following year.
We’ve already touched upon all the basketball being played at this point by rookies Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker, but they aren’t the only ones who gave it their all over in Beijing. Fifteen other active WNBA players took part in the 29th Olympiad, most of which are regarded as integral parts to their respective WNBA teams. The Sparks’ nucleus of Parker, Lisa Leslie and DeLisha Milton-Jones played for the U.S. and the Storm also had three key players from their roster rack up minutes (Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, Kelly Santos).
Upon the players’ arrival back in the States, there will be obvious concerns about fatigue and durability, especially with those that are up there in age or nursing injuries. There will also be a readjustment period as players return to teams that haven’t been able to practice with their full squads for a month. Perhaps this gives an advantage to teams like New York and Connecticut that didn’t send anyone to China. Although, Sun coach Mike Thibault was an assistant on U.S. head coach Anne Donovan’s bench and considering his importance to Connecticut, his temporary absence from the Sun could also have an impact.
Keep in mind though that the Storm won the 2004 title after Bird and Jackson participated in the Olympics in Athens.
The Storm Without Lauren Jackson
Prior to the break, the Storm got a taste of what life would be like without their best player, as Jackson left the team early to join her Aussie mates in preparation for the Olympics. The Storm went 3-2 in the five games she missed, proving they can be competitive in the short term without the reigning league MVP. But doing battle sans LJ over the long haul should prove to be a more daunting task, and that’s the very obstacle Seattle now faces with Jackson set to undergo surgery on her ankle.
Jackson leads the team in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, steals and is also the team’s best free throw shooter (if not the league’s). That’s a lot to cover for, and with so few games left on the schedule, Seattle needs to figure out a solution quickly. Jackson is expected to be out four-to-six weeks, which means the door is open for a possible return in the playoffs, but with so many teams jockeying for four playoff spots in the West there’s no guarantee even Seattle will still be alive.
The good news is Seattle still starts a virtual All-Star team with Bird, Sheryl Swoopes, Yolanda Griffith and Swin Cash gracing the lineup. And Camille Little, who the Storm got for virtually nothing from Atlanta, has been a pleasant surprise since taking over Jackson’s spot in the starting lineup, doing an admirable job in the post and on the boards. In the five games Jackson has missed, the second-year pro has averaged 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 55 percent from the floor. But let’s not go crazy. That doesn’t even come close to replacing the production that Jackson typically provides. If Seattle hopes to compensate for the loss of Jackson, it’s going to take a concerted effort from the team’s All-Star veterans and lesser-known supporting cast.
It’s been a while since Indiana had Tamika Catchings at 100 percent because of various injuries and the Fever have dipped from the East’s elite as a result. But thanks mainly to the addition of Katie Douglas, a breakout year by Ebony Hoffman and some underperforming conference foes, Indiana has been able to remain in the playoff picture in 2008.
While the Fever continue to be hampered by inconsistent play, Catchings has been steadily improving since making her return to the court in June. In her last game before the break, Catchings turned in arguably her best performance of the year to date. She scored a season-high 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-5 from three-point range, and collected five rebounds and six assists in helping the Fever post a huge 88-84 road win in Phoenix. The victory halted a three-game slide. But more important, it signaled that Catchings is close to being at full strength and that the Fever could possibly realize their full potential soon. And with the playoffs right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be worse for their conference rivals.
The only team out of playoff contention is the Atlanta Dream, which was to be expected at this point since they are taking part in their inaugural WNBA season. The Dream own a 3-24 record heading into their final seven games and stand 9 ½ games out of a playoff spot in the East. With no postseason berth to shoot for, the Dream will instead be focused on ending on a positive note and carrying that momentum into the 2009 season.
And there are silver linings. All three of the wins have come in the team’s last 10 games. Veteran Betty Lennox has enjoyed a career year and Ivory Latta has had a breakout season. The team has played most of the year with out Erika Desouza, who was effective prior to being sidelined by injuries. And in-season acquisitions Alison Bales and Kasha Terry have paid immediate dividends and promise to be key components in 2009. The Dream’s most recent addition occurred during the break in the form of Nikki Teasley, who gave birth in June and has missed the entire season to this point. The savvy veteran should help enormously with her talent and leadership skills at the point guard spot.
Add it together and Atlanta will be looser, more aggressive and much improved for its remaining games. That could spell danger for tighter opponents still teetering on the cusp of the postseason, or teams that take them for granted.
The Phoenix Mercury
The Mercury have endured a rollercoaster ride this season in their attempt to repeat as WNBA champions and the adversity didn’t stop even when the action halted for the Olympic break. First, in what came as a bit of a surprise, forward Penny Taylor made it clear that she had no intentions of rejoining Phoenix for the remainder of the season once she was done playing for Australia in Beijing. Soon after it was announced that starting center Tangela Smith would miss 4-to-6 weeks after undergoing knee surgery, meaning she was out for the rest of the regular season and possibly the playoffs… if the Mercury even get that far.
Making the playoffs seemed like a no-brainer prior to the commencement of the 2008 season, but even with Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi lighting up the scoreboard the Mercury find themselves in serious jeopardy of becoming the first team to miss out on the postseason the year after winning a WNBA title. Currently, Phoenix sits in last place in the West with a 12-15 mark with seven left to play. The good news is the Mercury are only three games back of the fourth and final playoff spot in the extraordinarily competitive conference. They still must leap frog Minnesota and Houston, but they play the Lynx twice and the Comets and fourth-place Sacramento once each down the stretch, so there’s an opportunity to put themselves in a good position.
Candace Parker has been on fire since returning from the Olympic break, leading the Sparks to a 3-0 record.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
NEW YORK, Sept. 2, 2008 - Jia Perkins of the Chicago Sky and Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks were named the WNBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Thursday, Aug. 28 through Sunday, Aug. 31. WNBA games resumed on Aug. 28 after halting play for the Olympics.
Perkins collects her second-career Player of the Week award and first of the season on the heels of a week in which she averaged 20.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals on 53.3 percent shooting (24-45) from the field. Chicago resumed play with three consecutive wins over Eastern Conference foes New York, Washington and Detroit. With the wins, the Sky moved into fifth place in the East and two games behind Indiana for the conference's fourth and final playoff spot with six games remaining.
Perkins highlighted her week with 28 points, five rebounds and three steals in the team's 79-75 win at Washington. She scored 20 of her points in the second half and led the team in scoring for the game. She also paced the Sky in the first game back from the break when she poured in 19 points on the road at New York. The Liberty trailed by only two points with 3:12 left in the game when Perkins hit a jumper and converted the three-point play to seal the game for the Sky, who won 69-60.
Originally drafted by the Charlotte Sting with the 35th overall pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft, she was selected by Chicago in the 2005 Expansion Draft. This season, she is averaging 17.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals. Her scoring average not only marks a career best but also doubles her career average entering the season (8.5 ppg).
Parker earns her first-career Player of the Week award after averaging 18.0 points, a league-best 12.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks on 53.8 percent shooting (14-26) from the floor. She pushed the Sparks to a 2-0 record on the week with wins over Sacramento and first-place San Antonio. On the week, Los Angeles gained a game on both San Antonio and Seattle and now sits 1.5 games behind the Silver Stars for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Parker led the Sparks in scoring and rebounds against the Monarchs with 19 points and nine rebounds while adding five blocks in her first game back. Two days later, she posted a double-double against the Silver Stars when she tallied 17 points and hauled in 15 rebounds. Against Sacramento, Parker scored eight points during a 16-0 run late in the third quarter which the Sparks used to pull away for good.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, she is averaging 18.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 blocks on the season. She currently leads all rookies in points and rebounds and is tied for the rookie lead in assists with teammate Shannon Bobbitt. Parker also ranks among top 10 league leaders in rebounds per game (first), blocks per game (second), minutes player (second), points per game (fifth) and field goal percentage (sixth). With an Olympic gold medal and NCAA Championship already under her belt in 2008, she is looking to become the first woman to ever win the Olympic gold medal, NCAA title and WNBA Championship in the same year. As a part of most-heralded rookie class in WNBA history, Parker has also won two Hanns-G 'Go Beyond' Rookie of the Month awards (May and July) this season.
Other candidates for WNBA Players of the Week were Connecticut's Tamika Whitmore, Detroit's Katie Smith, Minnesota's Candice Wiggins, Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, Sacramento's Nicole Powell, San Antonio's Becky Hammon, Seattle's Sue Bird and Washington's Alana Beard.
Val Ackerman and President Bush watch the recent action in Beijing.
Sept. 4, 2008 -- Less than a day after returning from China in which she saw the U.S. Men's and Women's Senior National teams win the gold, Val Ackerman is off to Springfield, Mass. for yet another triumph. On Thursday night, the former and founding President of the WNBA will receive the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. It is more than a deserving honor for one of the most important and visionary executives in not just women's sports but in all of sports. The former University of Virginia basketball star and first female President in USA Basketball spoke about the honor, the WNBA, sitting next to President Bush in China at the U.S. Women's game and the challenges that lie ahead for USA Basketball.
NBA.com: What does winning the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you?
Val Ackerman: It’s hard to put in words, first because it was so unexpected and second because the reward I always get is just the privilege of being able to work in basketball. I’ve had an incredible opportunity to work with amazing people like David (Stern) and Russ Granik and Dave Gavitt, the first president of USA Basketball that I knew., and the many tireless people in women’s basketball. For me the reward has been to be part of their world and to be part of the continuum that represents our sport with people who have given so much of themselves to make our sport what many believe to be the top sport in the world. Just to be part of that is enough.
NBA.com: As a key figure in the launch and growth of the WNBA, what is your proudest accomplishment?
Val Ackerman: That we were able with the WNBA to get women’s basketball to its rightful place in our country, meaning a place where we can have not only young girls playing at the youth level and the high school and collegiate levels, but also a viable pro outlet for the very best players. There had been many attempts to start leagues prior to the launch of the WNBA. None of them made it and I think the fact that the WNBA has been here 12 seasons is a testament to how strong the women’s game has gotten, how popular it is as a spectator sport, and how much potential it continues to have. With each passing year the quality of play only escalates and the number of people who accept as a fact of life that women’s pro basketball is here to stay, that number of people solidifies.
NBA.com: Assess the overall growth of women’s sports since the 1996 Olympics?
Val Ackerman: The ‘90s were very heady times for women’s sports. There was women’s college basketball entering the big time in terms of the media coverage. You saw the Atlanta Olympics putting a bright spot on particular women’s team sports – women’s basketball, women’s softball, women’s soccer. Then with the launch of the WNBA followed quickly by the women’s World Cup in 1999 and the first attempt at a women’s pro soccer league shortly after that, there was a great deal going on that was very, very positive. I would say the last 10 years have been a little bit quieter but no less impactful in that the number of girls and women who are making sports part of their lives only continues to grow.
We have a renewal of excitement every four years with the Olympics. I just got back from China where U.S. Women’s basketball continues to be very dominant – we won our fourth straight gold medal. For American women’s basketball, these last few weeks have been a source of great pride in our ability to keep that streak going. With great young players continuing to come out of the college ranks, really in all sports, they feed the pro leagues like the WNBA, they go on to become Olympic athletes, they play in other sports leagues and outlets. There’s just no turning back and it’s exciting to think about what’s still possible.
NBA.com: You sat next to President Bush during the Olympics. What was that experience like and what did it mean to you to have him present in supporting the women’s team?
Val Ackerman: Obviously it was a great honor to have him there. We got down early and he was really cheering hard, and in fact, our women came back and won the game going away. I found him to be quite a sports fan, a very easy guy to talk to in that respect because he knows basketball. He was familiar with a number of players on our team because of White House visits and WNBA visits. I shared information with him about the game and some changes with international basketball and he seemed interested to hear about that. He was sitting with his brother Marvin who graduated from the University of Virginia two years ahead of me, so we had something in common there and we were able to talk about Wahoo sports. Sports were sort of the theme of the day. It was actually a lot of fun. He was very gracious. We were of course very happy that he came back the next night to support the men’s team.
NBA.com: Who were your basketball role models growing up?
Val Ackerman: My role models in basketball were really the top NBA stars of the day. There were no women’s players at the time that someone like me could look up to, so the posters on my bedroom wall were of John Havlicek and Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. Those were the ones that were on TV, those were the ones you tried to be like when you were shooting baskets in the driveway. It really wasn’t until later on that I was able to admire the accomplishments of great players and coaches of women’s basketball. I wasn’t a kid at that point, but still to admire what Carol Blazejowski had done as a player or what Coach Summitt has done as a coach. I have gotten to know many of the pioneers in women’s basketball. It’s hard not to be impressed by what a Billy Moore or Kay Yow or Annie Meyers has done, all remarkable people and very glad that I’ve been able to call many of them friends. Again, as a young girl growing up in the late ‘60s in the U.S. of A, playing basketball, the only heroes you could look up to were the guys.
NBA.com: What kind of long term impact can a player like Candace Parker have on the WNBA, on and off the court?
Val Ackerman: I think she can have a tremendous impact because she is a new age type player. She is a tall woman who in the old days would have been relegated to the post and in the new days she kind of does it all. She can dribble, she can shoot the outside shots, she is very graceful on the floor, she can handle the ball. So she, in her way, is revolutionizing the game. She is a competitor. She comes out of a top program, a great pedigree having played for Pat at Tennessee. In terms of the National Team, she was literally able to step right in for us and have a leading role the last couple of years. In terms of the WNBA and National Team program, she certainly is going to be a star. Off the court, she is a remarkable person, very graceful, gracious and a very good spokesperson. I think she’ll wind up being a terrific ambassador for the sport.
NBA.com: With the Men’s team reclaiming gold and the Women winning again, what challenges lie ahead for USA Basketball?
Val Ackerman: I think USA Basketball is in the midst of a very exciting time right now. We’re working very hard to take advantage of the Olympic success and the renewed interest in grass roots basketball to perhaps reposition the organization to take on a greater role in the development of our sport. Much of the organization’s focus over the last two decades or so has been on the National Team program, but over the last couple of years I and others have really pushed hard to try to figure out a way where USA Basketball can take advantage of its charter, which gives it a great deal of leeway to do more than just a National Team program.
We recently restructured the board of directors to try to create a more nimble governance model and to add youth basketball organizations to our membership structure. We are in the midst of potential relocation of the organization outside of Colorado Springs which would enable us to have our own training center for basketball and to create new programs using that and other resources of our host city. We’ve long been in discussions with both the NBA and NCAA about their announced youth basketball initiative and trying to figure out a way where USA Basketball can take on a meaningful role in the context of that. So I think there is great potential for the organization and I and others have worked very hard to try and harness that. The future is still unclear with what the specifics would be, but it’s a very exciting time for the organization and hopefully some important things can be made to happen in the not too distant future.
-- WNBA Players To Wear special Pink and White Uniforms on Nationally Televised Games During WNBA Breast Health Awareness Week --
--Proceeds to Benefit the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund in partnership with The V Foundation --
NEW YORK, Sept. 4, 2008 — Continuing an effort that has raised more than $2 million for breast health awareness, the Women's National Basketball Association will host several activities from Sunday, Sept. 7 to Saturday, Sept. 13, to generate awareness about breast cancer and raise funds to help fight the disease.
Two nationally televised WNBA games will include special programming on the league's breast health initiative and awareness efforts. Those games include San Antonio vs. Connecticut on ABC at 1 p.m. ET. on Sept. 7, and Phoenix vs. Detroit on ESPN 2 at 7 p.m. ET. on Sept. 9. Each WNBA team donated pink and white autographed basketballs and both home teams participating in the televised games will wear white uniforms with pink trim, which will also be auctioned off for charity. In addition, coaches will wear pink ties or scarves and the referees will use pink whistles during these games. The official WNBA Breast Health Awareness logo will be displayed on the court
As part of the weeklong events, the WNBA Breast Health Auction will launch on WNBA.com, with proceeds benefiting the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund in partnership with The V Foundation. Yow is North Carolina State University head women's basketball coach, who is currently battling breast cancer for the third time. She was also the recipient of the 2008 WNBA Inspiring Coach Award.
The Auction will feature, for the first time, game worn apparel featuring some of the league's top stars, autographed WNBA memorabilia, and specially designed autographed pink and white WNBA Breast Health Awareness basketballs.
"Through this auction, in-arena awareness nights, nationally televised games and other events throughout the week, the WNBA and its players are bringing attention to this important cause and raising funds that are needed for research and education efforts," said WNBA President Donna Orender. "We are pleased to be able to donate this year's proceeds to Kay Yow's foundation, as she is a true inspiration to all of us both on and off the court."
The WNBA will use its various assets to help communicate the Breast Health message including a special PSA that will run on the scoreboard and PA announcements will be broadcast in arena by each participating WNBA team. WNBA.com will also provide a special section for the auction, along with daily content and editorial pieces on breast health. For more information, visit WNBA.com.
About the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund
The Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, in partnership with The V Foundation for Cancer Research, is a 501 c(3) charitable organization committed to being a part of finding an answer in the fight against women's cancers through raising money for scientific research, assisting the underserved and unifying people for a common cause.
Kay Yow, North Carolina State University head women's basketball coach, is a past president and founding member of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), and a galvanizing voice for the Association. Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, and is currently battling the disease for the third time. In her 37 years as a head coach at the college level, Yow is one of only six Division I head women's basketball mentors to achieve 700 career victories. Yow was also the head coach of the 1988 US Olympic Team that won the gold medal in Seoul.
Janel McCarville (L) and Diana Taurasi have been named the Eastern and Western Players of the Week.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
NEW YORK, Sept. 8, 2008 - Janel McCarville of the New York Liberty and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury were named the WNBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Sept. 1 through Sunday, Sept. 7.
McCarville collects the second Player of the Week award of the season and her career after averaging 23.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 60.8 percent (31-51) shooting from the field. She led the team to a 3-0 record on the week with wins over Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. In the process, the Liberty locked up their record-tying ninth playoff berth in the WNBA's 12 seasons. New York currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with four games remaining.
McCarville opened the week with a career-high 33 points in New York's 90-87 overtime victory at Houston. Her scoring output also tied the franchise record for points in a game. One game later against Atlanta, she poured in 21 points in the playoff-clinching win, marking the fourth time in her last six games she scored 20 or more points. Her 16 points against Chicago gave her the team high in each of the Liberty's three wins this week.
The former No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 WNBA Draft, McCarville is currently averaging 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists, all of which are career highs. In 2007, she was named the WNBA Most Improved Player in her first season with the Liberty after the team selected her with the third pick in the 2007 WNBA Charlotte Sting Dispersal Draft.
Taurasi earns her fourth Player of the Week award this season and the ninth of her career, which trails only Lisa Leslie, Lauren Jackson and Tamika Catchings. Over the past week, she averaged a league-high 30.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.3 blocks and 2.0 steals while shooting 46.9 percent (23-49) from the field and 47.6 percent (10-21) from behind the three-point arc. On the week, the Mercury defeated three teams with whom they are competing for the final playoff spot to keep the team's postseason hopes alive, Minnesota, Sacramento and Houston.
Taurasi paced the Mercury in each of the team's three games posting scoring totals of 33, 32 and 26 points. With her performance, she became the first player in WNBA history to total at least 90 points, 18 rebounds, 12 assists, 10 blocks and six steals in a three-game span. With her 33 points against Houston and 32 versus Minnesota, she tied Jackson's WNBA record for most games in a career with 30 or more points. Both Taurasi and Jackson have reached the plateau on 20 occasions.
In just her fifth season, but already one of the most prolific scorers in league history, Taurasi leads the WNBA in scoring with 24.1 points per game this season. Earlier in the year, she became the fastest player to reach the 3,000-point milestone, besting Jackson's record by 11 games. Continuing her terrific season, she won her second Olympic gold medal in Beijing as a member of the U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team. A former No. 1 overall pick and WNBA Rookie of the Year, Taurasi led the Mercury to the franchise's first WNBA Championship in 2007. She is also a three-time WNBA All-Star, two-time All-WNBA First Team selection, a former Peak Performer in scoring and owner of WNBA records for scoring average and total points in a season.
Other candidates for WNBA Players of the Week were Connecticut's Tamika Whitmore, Detroit's Plenette Pierson, Los Angeles' Candace Parker, Sacramento's Kara Lawson, San Antonio's Becky Hammon and Seattle's Sue Bird.