The weather in Uncasville didnt matter April 8: The sun was definitely shining in the Mohegan casino, home of the happiest draft day franchise.
Sure, everyone knew Connecticut was going to get premier post Tina Charles with the first pick, but by the time the last players name had been announced, the Sun had set themselves up for this year and next.
First, the 6-4 Charles gives Mike Thibault immediate depth in the post, if not a starter. Sandrine Gruda and DeMya Walker are both very solid WNBA players, and Charles addition means the Sun wont have to rely on the inconsistent, and 33-year-old, Tamika Whitmore.
Then, for no apparent reason, Allison Hightower dropped all the way to 15, and Connecticut was able to add an athletic, long wing who just spent two years playing for Van Chancellor at LSU, and is probably as WNBA-ready as any guard in the draft.
So the Sun are looking at two potential rotation players with those two picks and also traded for the number three overall choice, and selected Kelsey Griffin of Nebraska. Most mock drafts had Griffin going much lower, and theres a serious question about her ability to play the post in the WNBA (and she has no perimeter game to speak of), but Thibault rolled the dice.
He also rolled the dice on the Maya Moore sweepstakes, giving up his number one pick in the 2011 draft to get Griffin, in essence saying that Griffin gives Connecticut more than whoever the Suns top choice in 2011 would be able to.
There is a fallback, though: With the seventh pick (lifted from Tulsa for a pair of disposable parts), the Sun took Danielle McCray, who will miss this season with a torn ACL, and wont count against the salary cap. Shell be ready to go, presumably, in 2011, and thus will be the stand-in for the number-one choice that Connecticut traded for Griffin.
Yes, theres an element of risk, especially if Connecticut crashes and burns and winds up with the top pick in next years draft. Then, like New York this year, the Sun will watch someone else cherrypick the best player. But barring that, Thibaults plan seems sound and the Sun restocked their roster with some solid young talent on draft day.
By all accounts, for more than a year the 2010 class has been expected to be a weak draft by WNBA standards. Sadly, little has changed to get coaches and general managers excited.
Thursday's WNBA Draft Day, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, may be the "main event" in terms of both publicity and suspense, as general managers and coaches wait to find out who they will get and players and their families look forward to seeing where (and how high) they will go. But that's just the first step in the journey for this year's WNBA rookie class.
With the demise of the Sacramento Monarchs, only 132 player slots remain in the league, and many of them are already occupied by veteran players still in their primes. When you throw in the dispersal of the former Monarch players to other rosters, there is a better chance than ever that even some first-round picks may not find their names on a WNBA roster come opening day.
One thing that may -- almost counter-intuitively -- help this year's rookies is the reduced salary cap, which has put some teams into a major money squeeze. Salary increases built into the collective bargaining agreement remain intact, while each franchises overall maximum salary cap has actually been reduced from last year by $28,000, rather than going up by $24,000 as anticipated. Those factors combine to create a $52,000 negative swing in personnel budgets. To teams caught in this squeeze, cheap rookies, as opposed to pricey veterans, may look good at the end of the bench.
In fairness to the players drafted after round one and two, the draft needs to be shortened to just two rounds. This would give a prospect a chance to pick a team where she and her advisers think she has the best chance of sticking. As it is, some second and almost all third-round picks are doomed to be cut and done with the league before game one. As a free agent, a player could at least get in on day one of training camp for a team where she thinks she has her best shot, rather than being drafted by a team who has little need for her particular skill set and is just picking the best player left on the board. By the time that player is (predictably) cut, it may be too late in the day for the player to have much of a shot on another team where she could have contributed.
This years draft really falls into three segments -- the first pick, the next three, and the rest. In this article, we'll analyze more than 40 players likely to be in play in Thursday's 2010 WNBA draft, some briefly and some in detail, as most of them fall into the "rest" category. Lets dig into the particulars, starting in order of predicted first-round selection:
With the college season and the Final Four now behind us (just barely), attention now shifts to Secaucus, New Jersey, where the 2010 WNBA Draft will take place on Thursday, April 8, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Full Court Press will be on hand to keep you up to date on who gets picked, how high, by whom and, most importantly, on how these selections are apt to effect the fortunes of the WNBA franchises who welcome them.
In the meantime, just to whet your appetite, it's time for our traditional check-in on the ACC's elite and their WNBA potential as Full Court Press correspondent Rob Clough takes his annual look at the ACC, sharing his predictions on the draft potential of the conference's top 10 seniors and its up-and-coming juniors. He also 'fesses up on how he did with last year's prognostications. (And who else does that?)
The pickings from the ACC this year's senior class are even thinner than they were last year, with only Monica Wright looking like a sure-fire WNBA star. There's good news on the horizon for WNBA scouts, however, as the junior class is loaded with talent and athleticism. Let's take a closer look:
As we say goodbye to San Antonio and the 2010 Final Four, it is worth reflecting on the unique nature of this event -- one part basketball tournament, one part street festival, and one part convention/reunion for women's basketball coaches across the country. It is an elixir that summons a number of people -- the hardest of the hard core lovers of the game -- to make the annual pilgrimage, regardless who is playing.
One of them is Rose Marie Battaglia. There are never any guarantees about the Final Four from year to year except for one: Rose Marie Battaglia will be there.
The longtime high school and women's basketball coach has been to every women's Final Four since the first year of the event in 1982. She had tickets in hand for this year's games as well, and until her sister died last week, she had planned to be here once again. Only the death of a loved one could get her to miss the event.
"Norfolk, Virginia, was the site of the first Final Four, and I was one of only two high school coaches there," recalled Battaglia, who turns 81 this month.
"After that I just kept going and going and going (to the Tournament). There's no reason not to go to the Final Four."
They did it. But not the way anyone, including their own coach, thought they would.
Connecticut won its seventh national title in as many national championship game appearances. They finished just the sixth undefeated season in NCAA Women's Basketball history -- and Connecticut owns four of those six undefeated seasons (2010, 2009, 2002, 1995, with the two remaining undefeated records belonging to the 1986 Texas team and the 1998 team from Tennessee). And with a total of 78 consecutive wins, all but this one by double digits, the Huskies became the first NCAA Division I women's team ever to go undefeated two seasons in a row, and the first team of either gender to accomplish that feat since John Wooden's UCLA teams of 1972 and 1973.
And along the way to the national title, they set yet another record -- their 12 points in the first half represented the lowest scoring by any team in Women's Final Four history.
If the crowd of nearly 23,000, that included Vice President Joe Biden and his wife and former Secretary of State (and former Stanford provost) Condoleeza Rice, and the millions more who tuned in on television in 82 countries around the world, had been anticipating a display of Connecticut dominance, they had to be disappointed. What they did get to witness was proof of the Huskies' resilience, as Maya Moore led her teammates in the fourth-biggest rally in NCAA national championship game history, to eke out a 53-47 win over Stanford. It was good enough for the national championship.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife are expected to be among the 25,000 in attendance on Monday night in San Antonio as the University of Connecticut and Stanford face off for the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 7:30 p.m. CDT.
The two teams, which have been nationally ranked at No. 1 and No. 2 all season, are the sole survivors from the field of 64 that began this tournament in 16 venues scattered about the country two weeks ago. Most recently, despite a brief scare midway through the second half when Baylor closed to within three and a night of dreadful shooting from everyone other than the Big Two of Maya Moore and Tina Charles, Connecticut pulled out yet another double-digit win in its national semifinal, defeating the Lady Bears, 70-50. On its side of the bracket, Stanford pulled out its second squeaker in a row, as Oklahoma twice pulled to within three points in the final seconds before a sizzling play by Nnemkadi Ogwumike iced the game and free throws padded the final margin to 83-66.
The semifinal wins set up a championship game that is a rematch on many levels. Though this will be their first national championship game match-up, UConn and Stanford have met in the last two Final Fours, but both times in the semifinals. The two teams split the decisions, with Stanford knocking Connecticut out of the competition (and handing the Huskies their last loss) with an 82-73 win in Tampa in 2008, while UConn returned the favor, 83-64, in last year's semifinal meeting in St. Louis. And earlier this season, Stanford led after the first half in Hartford, before the Huskies kicked it into high gear to add an 80-68 win over the Cardinal to a winning streak that has now reached 38 games this season and 77 in total since Stanford handed them their last defeat in the 2008 national semifinal.
Let's take a closer look at how these two teams got to their final match-up:
On Final Four weekend, only one championship really resonates. But for Cal, the WNIT crown says everything about where its program stands, and where its headed.
I thought they took the bull by the horns in postseason and said, You know, were going to make the most of it, California Coach Joanne Boyle said of her young team, which shook off the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament with six straight wins in the WNIT.
Cal saved its best for last, shooting a season-best 56 percent from the field in a 73-61 win over Miami, giving them their first national championship in womens basketball. Alexis Gray-Lawson capped off her brilliant college career with 17 points, including several pivotal baskets in the second half. Gray-Lawson exited with 20 seconds left to a standing ovation from an impressive home crowd that made the early 11 a.m. PDT tip-off and was loud and supportive of the Bears from the opening tip.
That is the question entering the 2010 NCAA Womens Final Four in San Antonio, Texas, Sunday, when defending champion Connecticut (37-0) will put its 76-game winning streak on the line while seeking a seventh championship and trying to become the first program with back-to-back unbeaten crowns.
Baylor (27-9), UConns semifinal opponent, as well as Stanford (35-1) and Oklahoma (27-10), the other pair of semifinalists, aspire to shock the world the world of womens basketball, anyway if any of them knocks off the Huskies in the Alamadome.
Let's take a closer look at the national semifinal match-ups:
Sixteen of the top high school girls' players in the nation took center stage at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Saturday evening to entertain a crowd of several thousand coaches and fans at the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's (WBCA) High School All-America Game. The event was part of the Final Four festivities of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament and the WBCA's annual convention which is being held in San Antonio from April 2 through April 6.
Twenty female high school seniors were named to the WBCA's All-American teams, which were divided into Red and White squads for the game. Unlike the McDonald's All-American Game, which divides squads geographically into East and West regions, the WBCA's All-American Selection Committee endeavors to divide the talent equitably between the two squads in an effort to create teams as evenly balanced as possible, without regard to geography or the players' current or future schools.
In this case, it appears that the Selection Committee did a great job of choosing the talented teens who were honored as All Americans, but missed the mark in terms of balancing the teams. Though the White Team struck first blood on a free throw (one of a pair) by 6-5 center Karla Gilbert (A&M Consolidated High School, College Station, Texas), the Red Team dominated much of the game from the early going, leading 48-37 at the half and ultimately breezing to a 101-81 win.
But for the players, the honor of being there, plus the intensity of the environment, meant more than who won or who lost.
"It was such an unbelievable honor to be on the Final Four court for the first time and be in the midst of great players and have such high competition, said Stanford-bound Chiney Ogwumike (Cy-Fair High School, Cypress, TX), the White Team MVP, who described herself and fellow All-Americans as "starstruck" at being in the presence of players such as Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Jayne Appel and Kelsey Griffin. Though the prep stars didn't get much of a chance to interact with the elite collegians, simply passing them in the corridor and knowing they were playing on the same court that would decide the NCAA National Championship this weekend was more than enough, Ogwumike, and Red Team MVP Chelsea Gray (Saint Mary's High School, Manteca, CA), a Duke signee, agreed.
"It may not have been demonstrated on the score board, but we worked hard and learned a lot by playing through adversity and trying to come back. This game was definitely a memorable experience for me."