One month into the WNBA season the most valuable players are the usual suspects. Diana Taurasi is the leading scorer at 21.4 points per game. Three other active players are averaging over 20 points, Angel McCoughtry (20.8), Lauren Jackson (20.4) and Cappie Pondexter (20.3), as well as Candace Parker (20.6), whose season was cut short early last week after multiple dislocations to her left shoulder.
But in addition to this elite group, there are some players who have taken a big step forward this season. This week we will take a look at the WNBA's most improved players in 2010 and how they have shaped the early season.
As if their 3-7 start to the season weren't enough, the Los Angeles Sparks got more bad news today when it was announced that star Candace Parker will miss the remainder of the 2010 WNBA season to undergo reparative surgery on her left shoulder.
Full Court Press was the first media outlet in the U.S. to report this spring that Parker, then still in Europe for her winter season with Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburg, was considering sitting out this season to undergo surgery on the shoulder, to which she has suffered multiple dislocations. Parker, who refers to herself as "Gumby-like" in light of her loose jointedness, has suffered chronic problems with the joint since her collegiate playing days. She initially injured the shoulder during the University of Tennessee's Elite Eight win over Texas A&M in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, but went on to lead the Lady Vols to the National Championship (their second in a row) that year. She took no time to rehab the injury, but instead went straight to the pros as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft that year. Despite playing with a brace, had a sensational rookie season, that ended in her being named the league's 2008 Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, the first player in WNBA history to achieve the dual honor. That September, Parker iced the cake with a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
This year, Parker ultimately decided to put the surgery on hold and reevaluate the issue after the 2010 WNBA season and the FIBA Women's World Championships, scheduled to be held in the Czech Republic this October.
But Parker reinjured the shoulder last week, dislocating it twice in a period of just three days. She was forced to leave the Sparks' Friday, June 11, game at the Seattle Storm late in the first quarter, but went to the locker room where, with the help of trainers, she managed to pop her arm back into place. She returned to the floor in the second period and played for a total of 31 minutes, but had one of her most disappointing outings of the season -- being held to just 13 points and seven boards -- as the Sparks went down to a 60-82 loss at the hands of the best team in the league.
Three days later, on June 14, back in L.A., the Sparks eked out an 88-84 win (just their third of the season) over Minnesota (currently the worst team in the league), but they had to do most of it without Parker. The All-Star got off to a strong start, with 12 points and six rebounds already to her credit, before she collided with Seimone Augustus after Parker missed a jumper near the six-minute mark of the second quarter. Parker fell to the floor, clutching her left ankle and writhing in pain next to the L.A. bench as her team played on, four against five, without her.
Parker walked it off on the sidelines and returned to the court after the official timeout. She was moving well enough, though she appeared to be favoring the shoulder and was largely unproductive, save for an assist to Tina Thompson, over the next three minutes. That's when Parker reached for what would be her final rebound of the evening and the season, securing it with her right hand, then immediately grabbed her left shoulder and took herself out of the game. (There was no apparent contact on the play.)
This time there would be no return to action for Parker, who was evaluated in the locker room by team physicians and trainers, then taken to the hospital for further testing. After several tests, including an MRI, it became evident that surgery was the best course of action, according to a team spokeswoman.
The surgery will be scheduled "in the next few weeks" and rehab is expected to take from three-to-six months, the spokeswoman added, making Parker's participation in the Women's World Championships doubtful. Parker's loss will be a major loss to the Sparks, as well as to the U.S. Senior Women's National Team.
Much of the talk in college sports these days involves the restructuring of three of the six major conferences. While this is being driven by football (read that, "money"), the impact it would have on womens basketball will be enormous.
Thursdays announcements that Colorado will move to the Pac-10 and Nebraska will join the Big Ten (which has, in fact if not in name, been the "Big Eleven" since Penn State joined the league in 1990) appear to be only the beginning of what promises to be a major revamping of the landscape of college sports. If reports from many sources are to be believed, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State may join Colorado in jumping ship for the Pac 10, with formal invitations expected to go out over this weekend. And though Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney was coy about further plans for that conference's expansion, reports continue to circulate that the Big XII's Missouri and even the Big East's Rutgers may join Nebraska in heading for the Big Ten.
There are other rumors, of course, such as Texas A&M's flirtation with the SEC. If the Aggies do head south, the Pac-10 may extend its next invitation to Kansas, with an eye to expanding its league to a 16-institution, two-division conference. Baylor was once mentioned among the possible defectors to the Pac-10, but its President and Athletic Director spent the day touting the benefits of a revamped 10-team Big XII. Still, they're hedging their bets, arguing publicly that the Texas schools of the Big XII should be a "package deal," staying or leaving the league as a group.
Legendary basketball coach John R. Wooden, died on Friday evening, June 4, at the age of 99, of natural causes. His 88-game winning streak remains the longest victory string in college basketball history; his 10 National Championships, seven of them back-to-backs, cemented his place in the sports history books. He remains only one of two players named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
But as his own players would hurry to tell you, Wooden's influence was felt far beyond the hardwood. He groomed his charges for success in life, not just on the court. He gave generously of his time to a plethora of individuals, organizations and causes, including the UCLA Women's Softball team (baseball was his own first love as a sport).
Here, Full Court columnist Clay Kallam, remembers Coach Wooden for his impact on women's basketball.
The 2010 WNBA season is nearly three weeks old, and though Atlanta and Seattle had impressive early runs, already there are no undefeated teams remaining in either conference. On a brighter note, there are no teams in either conference who have yet to taste victory this season, though Los Angeles, with just a single win under its collective belt, is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Seattle, with just one loss (6-1) leads the league -- probably to no one's great surprise. But Atlanta, which rules the East by a two-game margin (6-2), is certainly a surprise. While it is too early to make any definitive judgments, the WNBA season is only 34 games long, so even three or four losses can put a team in a hole that may be hard to overcome. Los Angeles, for example, is just 1-5, putting them already four-and-a-half games behind the Storm. If there is a silver lining for the Sparks it is that the only team in the West to break the .500 mark is Seattle. Tulsa and Phoenix are tied for second, despite amassing only 3-3 records, and the remainder of the conference -- San Antonio, Minnesota and LA -- are deep under water.
This week, we'll take a look at how much personnel movement in general, and rookies in particular, have played a role in the fate of teams to date.