Katie Smith factor at work
NEW YORK -- "Well, at least none of the players got hurt," is the frequent statement regarding All-Star games, and Wednesday's game was no different.
All appeared to leave the All-Star game in good health, including the Timeless Torches and Old Skool Crew (dance teams comprised of older, dance-impaired folks). As did Maddie, the costumed dog mascot who came the closest of anyone associated with the Liberty to actually getting some game time. At least Maddie was on the floor in uniform. Becky Hammon, in street clothes and on crutches, was the Liberty's only player representative.
So, in this lost season for New York, it figures that Liberty fans finally got to see the East end the West's All-Star dominance 98-82 ... but didn't have any Liberty players to cheer for. Although they did give rousing ovations to past Lib favorites such as the retired Teresa Weatherspoon and Rebecca Lobo, as well as Vickie Johnson, now with San Antonio.
And there was Tamika Whitmore of Indiana, the twice-removed Liberty player (traded from the Liberty to the Sparks to the Fever).
Suffice to say, though, the New York crowd didn't get to do the "L-I-B-E-R-T-Y, lets go Liberty!" cheer.
Turns out the East didn't need to have a local star to get the job done. It didn't even need injured stars Nykesha Sales of Connecticut and Tamika Catchings of Indiana.
The East still maintained a strong Connecticut connection with coach Mike Thibault, All-Star Game MVP Katie Douglas and Lindsay Whalen (who made the West defenders look like statues a few times with her drives straight to the rim), Margo Dydek and Taj McWilliams-Franklin. The Suns are leading the East, and Thibault and his players brought a definite businesslike attitude into this game.
The East also won because it played harder and better. The West never seemed to get into the game. Especially by the fourth quarter, when Sacramento coach John Whisenant was looking for players to go in, and several gave him that, "Uh, gee, sorry, but ... no" brush-off that nice tourists give New York City panhandlers.
"We didn't do anything special -- played just a little harder, got back on defense a little bit and knocked down shots," said Smith, who had 14 points. "And we share the ball so well in the East, it was fun to play.
"It was odd to stand there chatting with [West players] on the bench. I don't know what the East was like before this. I know with the West, it was fun but it was serious. You weren't just giving up layups and not playing defense. We'd sprint back and try to make shots and compete. If you want to win this game, you just have to do a couple of little things: share the ball and get back. There isn't that much difference between the two conferences."
But stats tell a different story. Officially, seven of the WNBA's nine champions have been from the West ... although it's really eight. Houston was in the East when it won its first title in 1997, then moved to the West. The only geographical East team to win it all in the WNBA is Detroit, which traded for Smith last year in the hopes that she can help the Shock get another title.
Coach Bill Laimbeer asked Smith to switch to point guard this year, a move appreciated by her teammates and anyone who follows pro sports. It's relatively rare for a veteran superstar in any sport to so enthusiastically change positions. And not only change, but also essentially learn a new position.
"It frees me up to be in the two-spot," fellow Detroit All-Star Deanna Nolan said, "and also now we have another scorer out there [on the perimeter] who really knows the game. Katie came in and sacrificed by playing [point guard]. That's one of the signs of a great leader. And it's great to play with someone who's the kind of player she is."
The Shock's other All-Star, post player Cheryl Ford, said she also appreciates what Smith is doing at point guard.
"It's been a huge transition for her, but she's doing well," Ford said. "I like her being there, because she asks us what we want to run."
Smith said she's still trying to get the hang of it every day, but she really didn't mind making the move.
"It's a work in progress, a challenge, but it's been fun," Smith said. "It's a whole different mind-set. I believed I could do it, and it's the best thing for this team.
"To be a point guard is tough, and by no means am I the best point guard ever. I still have a lot to learn. I'm really still a pseudo-point guard. But ... I do pride myself on being a basketball player, bottom line."Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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