Peeking Over the Women’s Basketball Horizon
USA Basketball, WNBA Playoffs and Gonzaga on the come up.
by Clay Kallam
The Man in the Moon has been in a partial eclipse lately – but that just means there’s a lot to catch up on.
USA Basketball: The future of women’s basketball in America was on display in Colorado Springs earlier this month, as 62 of the top young players in the country gathered to try out for the Under 17 and Under 18 national teams.
There was a whole lot of talent, as always, but the only player who clearly seems destined for the WNBA lottery and a possible berth on an Olympic team is Chiney Ogwumike, a 6-3 power forward who will join her sister Nneka at Stanford in the fall. Of course, others will emerge from the pack over time, but right now the younger Ogwumike is the best of a very good lot.
And speaking of USA Basketball, there’s a reason it didn’t want to have to pick Under-16 and Under-17 teams: It forces decisions to be made too soon. Most countries can pick out 12 to 15 elite players at age 16, and then start to train them in the very different world of international basketball and FIBA competition. In the U.S., though, there are just too many good players, and it would be great to have more time to make decisions.
And why does it matter? International experience is incredibly valuable, and it’s no accident that 10 of the 12 girls who played for the U-16 team in Mexico City in 2009 wound up on U-17 teams in these tryouts – they have a tremendous advantage because they’ve already played in a FIBA tournament. There was room to add 6-7 Imani Stafford, who could be a pretty spectacular complement to Brittney Griner on the 2016 Olympic team, but who knows which other players might improve enough over the next few years to challenge or surpass the already selected?
But that said, it’s hard for the Selection Committee to replace a girl who has played well for gold-medal winning youth teams, and has played in four or five international events, with a new talent who lacks that experience.
The WNBA playoffs take shape: Yes, it’s pretty safe to say that Tulsa and L.A. are lottery bound, though the latest in a series of Minnesota injuries (Candice Wiggins this time) may cause the Lynx to sink to fifth.
That seems unlikely, though, as Nolan Richardson, as expected, is clueless in Oklahoma, and Jennifer Gillom, as some feared, can’t seem to get the Sparks all pointed in the same direction.
In the East, Anne Donovan, as expected, has done little to inspire New York fans who have been turned off by years of mismanagement by James Dolan and Carol Blazejowski – so the Liberty will need a late-season hot streak to get in to postseason. Steve Key, also a target for disgruntled fans, hasn’t done much with the Sky, though the absence of Shameka Christon hasn’t helped. Like New York, Chicago will need to catch a fire to avoid a place in the Maya Moore sweepstakes.
There’s a reason Spokane’s on the map. The parlous state of Pac-10 basketball in the Northwest is just one reason Gonzaga has emerged as a women’s power, just as the men’s program has.
Sure, it’s helped that Washington and Oregon State have been run by young coaches who have alienated players and fans, and that Washington State doesn’t really care about women’s basketball, but Kelly Graves has quietly built a powerhouse at Gonzaga.
It doesn’t hurt that Spokane is a jewel of a small city and doesn’t get the constant clouds and drizzle of Seattle, Portland and the coastal schools. Once recruits get a look at the community and the campus – and notice the banners hanging in the gym – it’s a pretty easy sell.
Especially when the Pac-10 schools are struggling to compete.