Commentary

Lynx hope youth serves them well

Rookies, second-year players must grow up fast with shortened rosters

Originally Published: June 1, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Candice WigginsBarry Gossage/Getty ImagesThe Lynx will rely heavily on second-year player Candice Wiggins, who averaged 15.7 ppg in 2008.
If Minnesota's Candice Wiggins ever needs some advice from an older teammate -- you know, somebody who has been there, done that, seen it all in the WNBA -- then she can always turn to …

Well, let's see. There's, um … and then there's, uh … and we can't forget …

OK, there are a few players on the Lynx roster who actually qualify as experienced. Anna DeForge is Minnesota's "grand dame" at age 33, with seven years in the WNBA. The Lynx player who has been in the league the longest -- eight seasons -- is 30-year-old Kelly Miller, who was traded during the offseason from Phoenix.

Christi Thomas has played in the WNBA for five seasons, Roneeka Hodges for four and Seimone Augustus and Raffaella Masciadri for three.

And that's the exhaustive list of "grizzled" veterans for the Lynx, none of whom is really known as the talkative, take-charge leader type. Meanwhile, the rest of the Lynx players are either rookies or sophomores in the league.

Their experience level is reminiscent of a line from the "Mary Tyler Moore Show," when Mary Richards, Minneapolis' most famous fictional resident, is trying to claim she's not as na´ve as everyone thinks.

"I've been around. … Well, OK, I haven't been 'around.' But I've been nearby."

At this point, the young 'uns for the Lynx can't even say that. Four players have a grand total of one season of experience apiece: Wiggins, Nicky Anosike, Charde Houston and LaToya Pringle, who was with Phoenix last season.

Then there are four Lynx rookies: Renee Montgomery, Quanitra Hollingsworth (who is only 20), Rashanda McCants and Emily Fox.

Minnesota got closer to its 11-player roster Saturday, waiving second-year player Kamesha Hairston, who played for Connecticut last season, and rookie Aisha Mohammed. But no matter who else is cut, it's still going to be a lot like the kiddie corps for Minnesota. Again.

[+] EnlargeNicky Anosike
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesNicky Anosike averaged 9.2 ppg and 6.8 rpg last summer in her first season in the WNBA.

"We are extremely young this year," Wiggins said during a conference call last week. "We got even younger [than last year]; I didn't think it was possible. We're looking at it as kind of to our advantage. We do have to grow up really fast. But there are things we don't really know any better, so that's how we play.

"I think it will be an exciting team to watch. There's something good about youth."

Yep, that's Wiggins: Little Miss Sunshine. She never sees the crack in the sidewalk, just the flower growing out of it. Which is fortunate for the Lynx, because Minnesota is not like Chuck E. Cheese, where a kid can be a kid. The Lynx will have to play older than they actually are if they are to have any success.

"One advantage we do have is Nicky, Charde and I are a year older," Wiggins said. "We're excited and we're confident in ourselves."

Last season, the Lynx went 16-18 with Wiggins as the stellar sixth woman. She had the second-highest scoring average (15.7 ppg) among the league's first-year players, behind WNBA MVP and rookie of the year Candace Parker (18.5 ppg) of Los Angeles.

Anosike (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Houston (8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) were important contributors, too. Wiggins and Anosike, in fact, have more the natural personality of leaders than any of the older players with the Lynx.

Overall, the league had a 2008 rookie class that wasn't just strong at the top but also had depth. Chicago's Sylvia Fowles averaged 10.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg, and she also was outstanding for the U.S. Olympic team.

Tasha Humphrey (Mystics) and Matee Ajavon (Comets, now Mystics) both were 2008 rookies who averaged at least eight points a game last season.

Even a team as experienced as Detroit got a lift from two rookies last year on the way to winning the WNBA title: the well-known Alexis Hornbuckle and the less-known Olayinka Sanni.

Parker, of course, recently had a child and is scheduled to come back to the Sparks later this summer. Coach Michael Cooper talked Wednesday about how Los Angeles will have to "work" her back into the lineup. But one suspects with Parker, young and healthy as she is, it won't be all that much work.

For the rest of the sophomores, it's time to show how quickly they've progressed on the learning curve. Especially for those with the Lynx.

"The growing process makes us closer," Wiggins said. "Because we all are very young, so we depend on each other to learn whatever it is on the court that we need to do."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.