BY: ABACUS REVEALS
In our sports lingo, “rookie” tends to connote youth and hope, a kind of optimistic excitement—the new phenom who will lead us to the promised land.
Five rookie starting quarterbacks was the big buzz leading into the NFL’s opening weekend.
The Angels’ Mike Trout is threatening to become just the seventh combo MVP-Rookie of the Year ever in pro sports.
And the weaker sisters of the league work to position themselves for the major award (Baylor’s Britney Griner) or mere consolation prize (Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne in next year’s WNBA draft.
As a herky-jerky summer of women’s pro hoops is wrapping up its regular season on September 23, let’s take a moment to recognize the WNBA’s rookie class of 2012.
Current rosters posted on WNBA.com identify 20 players as rookies, more than 15 percent of the league. The Connecticut Sun represent the only rookie-less squad, while Phoenix shows four first year players, including two mid-season acquisitions.
Of these, there are 11 newbies, ironically the size of a WNBA roster, who have played in at least 20 games and also rank among the top eight on their teams in minutes per game. In essence, each is a member of her team’s regular playing rotation.
Here’s the 2012 WNBA All-Rookie Roster.
“The End of the Bench”
Avery Warley, Phoenix Mercury, Liberty, 6’3” -- The undrafted Warley has impressed by hustling her way to nearly six rebounds in 18 minutes per game for a team in search of an identity.
Aneika Henry, Atlanta Dream, Florida, 6’3” -- The Jamaican-born Henry, a 2009 grad and Euro-ball vet, has been a solid if unspectacular post presence for the dysfunctional Dream, although her minutes have been fewer since the post-Olympic return of Brazilian star, Erika de Souza.
Sonja Petrovic, Chicago Sky, Serbia, 6’1” -- Originally a 2009 pick of the San Antonio Silver Stars, the Euro-teammate of Sylvia Fowles has shown some spark and savvy while adjusting to the league and culture.
“The Key Reserves”
Shekinna Stricklen, Seattle Storm, Tennessee, 6’2” -- Pat Summitt pedigree notwithstanding, the No. 2 selection in the 2012 WNBA draft is an enticing but frustrating combination of size and versatility mixed with error-prone play and indecision. Her numbers—eight points, four boards, 41 percent FG shooting—are solid but unsatisfying.
Riquna Williams, Tulsa Shock, Miami, 5’7” -- Until character issues surrounding a late-season suspension arose, this flat-out baller was a sure-fire first-round pick. The Shock grabbed her at No. 17, and she’s growing into a key cog on a “better than you think they are” team, scoring in double figures in seven of Tulsa’s 10 post-Olympic games.
Devereaux Peters, Minnesota Lynx, Notre dame, 6’2” -- Few question the athletic gifts of the No. 3 overall selection in this year’s draft…it’s her durability that has raised doubts, enhanced by the broken hand she suffered in early July. Peters is back playing, effectively, even rather well at times. But she was brought to Minnesota to actually contribute to future championships. Her most competitive work should be happening in practice this season.
“The Starting Five”
Samantha Prahalis, Phoenix Mercury, Ohio State, 5’7” -- Diana Taurasi’s hobbled hip and Olympic obligations opened about 30 minutes a night of point guard duty to the 22-year-old Buckeye. This on-th-job training, while producing few victories in a rugged conference, has Sammy in the league’s top 10 in assists while kicking in nearly 12 points per game. When she can improve her shooting (36 percent on FG’s, Yuck!), Prahalis may be replacing Taurasi on more than just the Mercury.
Shenise Johnson, San Antonio Silver Stars, Miami, 5’11” -- Other than fouling out of her second pro game, coach Dan Hughes’s first-round choice has done little wrong as part of a spark-plug bench trio (along with wily veteran Jia Perkins and stout super soph Danielle Adams) for a genuine championship contender. Stout defense and heady play earn Johnson her 17 minutes a game, but the occasional 15-point or nine-rebound outburst is nice, too.
Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta Dream, UConn, 5’10” -- Don’t let the second-round draft selection or modest nine-point-per-game scoring average mislead. Hayes is a player who will get you some points—double figures in 12 of Atlanta’s last 14 ballgames, dating back to July7. Angel McCoughtry may have enough clout to unseat a coach, but she’d better learn how to get along with this kid if she wants to win a title.
Glory Johnson, Tulsa Shock, Tennessee, 6’3” -- Pure and simple, Glory is the Dennis Rodman of the woman’s game—a tenacious defender and rebounder, a heady and helpful teammate, with questionable offensive skill. The limitations of her perimeter game and foul shooting predominated the pre-draft analysis, but the No. 4 choice has produced respectable offensive numbers (12 points, 48 percent from the field, 70 percent on free throws) while still being pesky enough to grab four offensive rebounds a night.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, los Angeles Sparks, Stanford, 6’2” -- The consensus No. 1 draft pick ranks among the league’s top 10 in: FG percentage, rebounds, blocked shots, free throw attempts per 40 minutes and double-doubles. She absolutely demolished the Indiana Fever to the tune of 22 points and 20 rebounds, one of five games in which she’s eclipsed the 20-point plateau. When a good rhythm accompanies her natural size and athleticism, watch out, world. The girl can play!
One Last Thought
University of Tennessee Lady Vols Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt has been spotted lately at the Tennessee Titans’ opener and earlier at an Indiana Fever-Atlanta Dream game, checking out protégé Tamika Catchings, no doubt.
Coach Pat is looking a lot more robust these days than she had been while still on the bench.
Summitt’s impact on the WNBA is still being felt, as Catchings is but one of 11 former Lady Vols currently holding roster spots.
Maybe the Lady Vol exes and the best of the rookies can play an exhibition game for charity once the playoffs have ended. Perhaps Coach can lead her ladies one last time in a low-stress environment.
Hey, why not add a couple of the stronger college teams (Baylor? UConn?) and make it into an Event.
Honor Pat Summitt and support Alzheimer’s research…sounds like a win-win proposition…
Which, of course, means that it must violate NCAA rules.
Oh, well…just a thought.