Thursday, February 7, 2008

Goings and comings

As the world Wednesday watched Shaquille O'Neal travel coast to coast via a one-for-two trade between Miami and Phoenix in the NBA, here in Minnesota, we saw our own goings and comings.

First, the going: Third-year forward Kristen Mann was selected by the expansion Atlanta Dream Wednesday. She was left unprotected by the Minnesota Lynx.

A 2005 first round pick by Minnesota, Mann's gradual improvement began to show near the end of her rookie year, and continued last summer. Then she posted a career-best 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds as she played in all 34 regular season contests. For her career, her numbers are 6.3 points, 3 boards and 1.6 assists in 91 WNBA games.

This is what Coach Don Zierden feared: losing a player that was beginning to fit into his long-range plans. Because each team could only protect six, it was bound to happen.

"It is a very disappointing day for us," he said yesterday. "We lost a player."

Although he supports expansion, and knows that yesterday's draft was necessary to give Atlanta a start on forming its first roster, losing Mann is little consolation. "We appreciate everything Kristen has done for us," continues Zierden. "We wish her the best in Atlanta."

The newest WNBA franchise, the league's 14th team, also took advantage of one of the new provisions in the recently-signed collective bargaining agreement. Each team can now designate an unrestricted free agent as a "core" player, giving them exclusive negotitating rights to her in exchange for an offer of a one-year, fully guaranteed contract at the maximum salary.

That player for Atlanta is Betty Lennox, left off Seattle's protection list.

Given the history between Lennox and new Storm coach Brian Agler, who drafted, coached and uncermously traded her when the two were in Minnesota, it was expected that her days in Seattle were numbered. Also, the fact that she was a free agent, meaning that the Storm did not have to protect her.

If she stays, the Dream has a star to build around.

Atlanta also traded its fourth pick in this spring's draft, and guard Roneeka Hodges (formerly of Houston) to the Storm for Seattle's eighth pick and veteran guard Iziane Castro Marques.

If she stays, Atlanta's starting backcourt consist of Marques and Lennox.

They also traded the 18th overall pick, and forward LaToya Thomas, who Atlanta picked from Los Angeles, to Detroit for second-year guard Ivory Latta.

If she stays, Latta may get the minutes she couldn' t in a veteran-loaded backcourt in Detroit last season. Also, concerns about her small frame emerged too much last season, which is one reason why she fell so low in the 2007 WNBA Draft.

Atlanta completed its trading day by getting the 24th overall pick from Indiana in exchange for agreeing not to select specific unprotected Fever players.

Overall, the Dream didn't do too bad in their expansion draft. They also picked up a center (Katie Feenstra from Detroit), up-and-coming forwards in Mann and Carla Thomas (from Chicago), and a starting backcourt in Lennox and Castro Marques. Guard Kristen Haynie (Sacramento) and centers Ann Wauters (New York) and Chantelle Anderson (San Antonio) could be suitable reserves.

Earlier yesterday, all major and minor colleges announced their 2008 football recruiting class. Wednesday was the first day high school seniors officially can submit their letters of intent.

Five players earlier signed letters in December, and joined 26 others to Minnesota.

We still don't know how good a coach he is, but Gophers Head Coach Tim Brewster showed us on the onset that he can out and get some players.

"I love to recruit," says Brewster. "I got a staff that loves to recruit. Every day we are going to recruit."

The team's meeting room in Bierman Building like an overflowing bathtub, as Brewster said such adjectives as "tough," "very physical," "passionate," and "very special" over and over during the afternoon gathering with local reporters. Mel Kiper has nothing on him.

"We got a number of athletic kids," gushed Brewster. "We are looking for (defensive) guys who are tough and loves to play the game."

"He could have went anywhere in America," the coach says of linebacker Sam Maresh of Champlin Park (Minn.) High School, one of four in-state recruits that signed with Minnesota.

Brewster gave all the credit to Assistant Coach Tim Cross for the school landing four kids from the same Skyline High School in Dallas, Texas: Keanon Cooper, Da'Jon McKnight, Spencer Reeves and Troy Stoudermire, Jr. "Tim was solely responsible in getting these four kids, particularly Cooper."

I'm not a draft nut, nor do I get goose bumps over national signing day in any sport. I am under the belief that you can't judge how good a recruiting class is until a couple of seasons down the road.

"All the answers are not in this recruiting class," concurs Brewster, "but the next three to four (classes)."

Nonetheless, it was impressive, and gave the fledling Gopher football program some much-needed positive news. Especially coming off the program's worst season ever.

"I want to create an envirnoment conducive to winning," he concludes. "All these freshmen have a chance. If they can help us win ball games, they are going to play. I don't rule out any of the 31 kids from playing the first game next season."

This will be the first sign if these signees were indeed steals for Minnesota, that the supposedly other schools lost out on, or those schools thanking their lucky stars that they didn't get fooled as the school in the state of 10,000 whiners.

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