Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Unfamiliar territory

Not in any time of its 10-year history the Minnesota Lynx have been in this position:

First place.

The team that finished tied last season with the league's worst record. The same team that only won a combined 20 games over the course of two summers, is the same team that is currently the WNBA's only unbeaten squad in less than a month of play.

"We are just here to win," says Lynx center Nicky Anosike.

One can excuse Anosike for her not dwelling on the past --- she wasn't around the last few years because she was winning consecutive championships at Tennessee.

The same for Candice Wiggins, who have spent the last four years compiling points on her way to becoming the Pac-10 and Stanford's all-time leading scorer. Ditto for Charde Houston, who spent her collegiate years at Connecticut.

Nonetheless, all three first-year players have played a huge role in the Lynx's early-season success: Anosike as a starter, and Wiggins and Houston providing strong bench support.

"It's fun to watch these players compete," Minnesota Coach Don Zierden marvels. "We knew (prior to drafting the three) that they were going to be high energy players. They have done everything we've asked of them, and exceeded expectations."

More importantly, Zierden is getting production from almost every Lynx player on this year's roster. "Every night a different player stepped up," he points out. "We are getting production from everybody in different ways."

Because of this, two-time All-Star Seimone Augustus' role has changed. She still is the team's marquee player, but she is no longer have to be its savior as well.

"I'm feeling great about the Lynx and what we are doing here," says Augustus. "I just hope that it continues throughout the season."

Zierden believes that it can: "Everybody has accepted their roles," he notes. "That's big right now."

And since the rookies have no knowledge of the past, they are putting it on.

"We know our roles," admits Anosike.

"I'm still learning," continues Wiggins, an early Rookie of the Year candidate, who has played some solid point guard since her arrival. The 5-11 rookie, who mostly played forward at Stanford, led all players with 12 assists in Minnesota's win over visiting Phoenix on the last day of May.

"I don't think people see me as a point guard," says Wiggins, "but I played a lot of point guard in college. I can do a lot better."

Houston, who was originally pegged as a defensive addition, has posted two double-double games thus far. "I have the ability to score," she remarked of her 18 point-13-rebound performance vs. Phoenix -- all in a reserve role.

While I am not calling for early downtown parade tickets, I do like Minnesota's start, and believe it eventually will lead the Lynx to its first playoff berth since 2004.

FURTHERMORE -- The U.S. Olympic women's basketball team is three-fourths set. Nine players, including Augustus and Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter, were selected May 31. The others include: Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Thompson, Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker. The roster mixes internationally experienced youth and veteran leadership.

"I love the combination of players that we have," says U.S. Olympic head coach Anne Donovan. "We've really covered the gamut in terms of experience and we have a tremendous balance of perimeter and post play."

USA Basketball Vice-President Renee Brown, who also chaired the selection committee, adds, "We know it will not be an easy road to the gold medal in Beijing -- the rest of the world has gotten much better over the last four years. However, we feel that this group will continue to represent their country with pride and honor and compete at the highest level that is expected when representing USA Basketball."

For Augustus, Fowles, Parker and Pondexter, this will be their first Olympic Games.

"It is definitely one of my goals I had growing up (was) to be part of the Olympic team," admits Pondexter, who plays for Phoenix in the WNBA. "I'm excited and looking forward to it."

"I wanted to win a national championship in college, but I think the Olympics is (at) the top of the women's game," believes Augustus. "It is going to be a very competitive field, but hopefully we can pull out with the gold."

Three more players are expected to be added to the USA squad by July 1.


David Zingler said...

I enjoyed the story...It's great to see the Lynx out to a great start...we need some pro basketball excitement in the Twins Cities!

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