The 11 Things To Know For the WNBA’s 11th Season
Posted May 16 2007 11:26AM
1. The Who, When and Where
The defending champion Detroit Shock host the Sacramento Monarchs on Saturday
in a rematch of last year's WNBA Finals to open the season on ABC (3:30 p.m.
ET). Rings will be handed out, the banner will be raised and then the games
will begin. The 13 teams that will be competing for the 2007 championship are
the Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Detroit Shock, Houston Comets, Indiana Fever,
Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento
Monarchs, San Antonio Silver Stars, Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics.
2. Old Faces, New Places
Where do we begin? This was the busiest offseason in WNBA history, with free agency and blockbuster trades dominating the headlines. Among the most active teams were the San Antonio Silver Stars, who acquired Becky Hammon from New York and center Ruth Riley from Detroit. Also signed was 2006 Most Improved Player Erin Buescher from Sacramento. With Marie Ferdinand back from maternity leave and the emergence of Sophia Young, this could be a team to be reckoned with in the wide-open West.
Veteran All-Star forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin was traded from the Connecticut Sun to the Los Angeles Sparks and will do her best to fill the void created by Lisa Leslie's pregnancy. She will most likely be out for the season. The Phoenix Mercury, with the highest-scoring backcourt in WNBA history last season, also filled a major gap in their roster in trading for All-Star forward Tangela Smith from the Minnesota Lynx on Draft Day (in exchange for No. 1 overall pick Lindsey Harding).
3. The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Also Get Richer
Thanks to the 2007 WNBA Draft, Charlotte Sting Dispersal Draft and the aforementioned player transactions, every team got better this offseason and the playoff races are as wide open as ever. Yet last year's playoff teams, the Los Angeles Sparks, Seattle Storm, Houston Comets, Sacramento Monarchs, Connecticut Sun, Detroit Shock, Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics, will all be back in contention once again.
The defending champion Shock filled their point guard need with two bodies, signing free agent guard Shannon Johnson and drafting Ivory Latta out of UNC. Also in the East, the Indiana Fever, filled its biggest need in signing free agent center Tammy Sutton-Brown. The Fever now have an All-Star frontcourt capable of competing with Detroit and Connecticut, the past four Eastern Conference representatives in the WNBA Finals.
Out west, the Sacramento Monarchs got back a key member from their 2005 championship team in guard Chelsea Newton. The Los Angeles Sparks added frontcourt depth in McWilliams-Franklin and former No. 1 overall pick LaToya Thomas and we already know about how good the Silver Stars and Mercury can be if their additions pan out.
4. New Look and Feel
Don't be surprised if the game you know and love looks a bit different this season. Not only are there new adidas uniforms (combining style and performance) that will bring a new style unique to women's basketball, but the ball will also look slightly different. The Spalding ball will be made of the same material, but it will be made up of six panels, not the traditional eight.
There are a few rule changes designed to make the game even more exciting for fans, including changing the backcourt rule to eight seconds rather than 10 seconds. Head coaches can now call time outs and teams can now carry 13 players on their playoff rosters (11 active) just like the regular season.
5. Changes at the Top
There are five new head coaches taking over this season. Well, four new head coaches, and one making a comeback, of sorts. Bo Overton joins the Chicago Sky from the college ranks, Don Zierden was named head coach of the Minnesota Lynx after stints with the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves, Karleen Thompson was promoted from assistant to head coach of the Houston Comets, former Storm assistant Jenny Boucek takes over in Sacramento and Michael Cooper returns to coach the Los Angeles Sparks.
Cooper previously coached the Sparks during their 2001 and 2002 WNBA championship seasons, but takes over with almost an entirely new roster. The only holdovers are 11-year veteran Mwadi Mabika (one of six original WNBA players remaining) and Leslie. Three current head coaches have played in the NBA: Cooper, Bill Laimbeer (Shock) and Brian Winters (Fever). Six current head coaches have also coached in the NBA: Paul Westhead (Mercury); Mike Thibault (Sun), Richie Adubato (Mystics), Zierden, Cooper and Winters.
Hall-of-Famer and longtime broadcaster Ann Meyers also took as General Manager of the Phoenix Mercury and former Monarchs coach John Whisenant will serve in the same capacity for the Monarchs this season.
6. Send Me To Washington
The 2007 WNBA All-Star Game will be played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on July 15 at 3:30 pm ET with live coverage on ABC. It will be the eighth game. Balloting begins on May 22. All-Star Weekend will also feature the return of the Dribble, Dish and Swish Skills Challenge and 3-Point Shootout and the Inspiring Women Award. The Eastern Conference finally got a win for the first time in seven games last year as MVP Katie Douglas scored 16 points at Madison Square Garden.
7. Super Sophs and Fresh-Faced Rookies
With four rookie All-Stars last season, the 2006 rookie class may have been the best yet. Minnesota's top overall pick, guard Seimone Augustus, finished second in the league in scoring with 21.9 points per game, while the second pick, Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter came in just below that with 19.5 ppg. The other two rookies chosen to participate in the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game in New York were Chicago's Candice Dupree and San Antonio's Young. We should expect even bigger things now that they have a full year under their belts.
This year's crop of rookies could also make an immediate impact around the
league. The Lynx acquired top pick Lindsey Harding from Phoenix and she, along
with fourth pick Noelle Quinn, should get an opportunity to contribute right
away. So could a pair of top five Liberty picks in center Jessica Davenport
and Tiffany Jackson. Chicago's Armintie Price could also be a contender for
Rookie of the Year if she is able to bring her collegiate scoring and defensive
abilities to the Sky rotation.
Way back in 2002, the WNBA created a new ownership model to allow for non-NBA team owners to purchase franchises. In the 2006 season, three teams were independently owned and operated, including the Connecticut Sun, Washington Mystics and the Chicago Sky.
Well now we're at five. The WNBA announced the sale of two more franchises during the offseason: the Houston Comets to Houston-based Hilton Koch/Hilton Acquisitions, LLC, on January 31 and the Los Angeles Sparks to an ownership group led by Los Angeles-based businesspersons Katherine E. Goodman and Carla J. Christofferson on December 7.9. 6-For-11
Entering the 2007 season, there are six players who have been with the league since its inception in 1997: Houston's Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, Sparks teammates Lisa Leslie and Mwadi Mabika, San Antonio's Vickie Johnson and Storm forward Wendy Palmer.
10. The Best In The World
The WNBA is the destination for the world's greatest female basketball players. Australian Lauren Jackson is considered by many to be the best all-around player in the world and led Australia to the gold in the World Championships last year. But in the WNBA, Jackson teams up with Brazilian star Iziane Castro Marques and French guard Edwige Lawson to give the Seattle Storm a diverse international flavor. Last season, there was a record 29 international players from 18 countries. We might see even more than that in 2007 and beyond. According to FIBA, an estimated 100 million women play basketball worldwide.
With more girls and young women playing basketball on a global basis, the WNBA's talent pool continues to improve in terms of athleticism and skill. Since 1997, organized basketball participation has increased 38% among females in AAU basketball and 22% in girls' high school varsity basketball. With the WNBA as a dream to shoot for, more women than ever are now shooting the rock.
11. The WNBA is Not Going Anywhere
Despite what you may have been led to believe by misinformed frat boy "journalists," the WNBA is here to stay. Total 2006 playoff attendance was up +29.6% from 2005, including a capacity crowd of 19,671 that filled Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI, for the decisive Game 5. It was the second-largest crowd in the 10 years of WNBA Finals history.
WNBA Finals ratings and average viewership were also up from 2005 to 2006. The games also reached more international viewers than ever as it was broadcast in 198 countries by 60 telecasters in 29 languages allowing the league's global fan base to witness all the action. And with an impressive list of marketing partners and corporate sponsors who all believe in the future of the WNBA, this league truly is here to stay.