Commentary

San Antonio has talent to improve mark

Hammon, Johnson return to 1-3 Silver Stars; Wauters could follow next month

Originally Published: June 22, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

The WNBA is supposed to work in Texas. It's a gargantuan state that mass-produces Division I women's hoops prospects, it has some of the top college programs in the country, and it's hotter than the blazes there most of the summer. So unlike in Minnesota, it's not hard to lure folks to spend time indoors watching basketball in June, July and August.

[+] EnlargeBecky Hammon
Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesSan Antonio fell to 1-3 after back-to-back losses, a pair of games Becky Hammon missed as she competed for Russia's national team.

And, of course, the WNBA's first dynasty was in the Lone Star State. But the Houston Comets disbanded last December, a victim of the economy, and left heartbroken fans there to face this summer "team-less" for the first time in 13 years.

As one devoted WNBA fan in Houston recently told me via e-mail, "I'm kind of lost right now. With the Comets gone, I haven't been able to shift my loyalties elsewhere."

Which is totally understandable. Houston fans can follow former Comets players. But while they might root for those players, it's probably pretty hard to form attachments to their new teams.

So how does San Antonio -- which faces Phoenix in the ESPN2 game of the week Tuesday night (7:30 ET) -- fit into this? Well, the Silver Stars are now the WNBA team of Texas (by way of Utah), and perhaps some of the Comets fans eventually might transfer their affection about three hours' west on Interstate 10.

Emphasis on "perhaps." It's not easy to just "decide" to love another team, even if it's geographically close. You can't just snap your fingers and presto, you're using your former favorite Comets T-shirt to wash your car, while outfitting yourself in silver and black. You can't just be expected to suddenly know that "Perperoglou" was not the final word for the National Spelling Bee winner, but is Erin Buescher's married name.

And even if you are well aware that Helen Darling has triplets and Megan Frazee is a triplet … well, that isn't necessarily going to translate into being a Silver Stars fan, either.

Still, we can assume there are erstwhile Comets supporters who will give it a try. Even if now doesn't look like the greatest time to jump on the San Antonio bandwagon. Admittedly, the Silver Stars are not off to a good start at 1-3. But …

They were runners-up to Detroit in the WNBA Finals last season, and they have all of the key pieces back save post Ann Wauters. She is supposed to be joining the team sometime in July if she feels well-rested enough after playing here in the United States and overseas so long without a break.

San Antonio standout guard Becky Hammon, who will try to prove that rest isn't an issue for her, just had a detour to the European championships in Latvia, fulfilling her obligations to the Russian national team. (The bizarre affiliation that we had assumed ended with the Beijing Olympics, but didn't.)

[+] EnlargeVickie Johnson
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesVickie Johnson will retire after this season, her 13th in the WNBA.

Hammon missed road games against New York and Connecticut this past weekend, both losses for the Silver Stars, but is expected to be back in back in San Antonio for Tuesday's contest. By this point, everyone surely has formed an opinion on this Hammon-Russia alliance, and there's not much reason to poke that hornets' nest again. What's done is done, and Silver Stars fans are just going to be glad to have her back.

Hammon and forward Sophia Young are the only players who typically can always be counted on to give the Silver Stars double-digit points production (except when one of them is in Latvia), and what the next few weeks will show is where else the offense might come from consistently. Having Shanna Crossley back this season -- she missed 2008 with an ACL injury -- should give San Antonio an extra outside threat that takes some pressure off Hammon. However, Crossley is currently sidelined with a sprained knee.

This is the final season for veteran guard Vickie Johnson, who like Hammon missed the past two games. VJ was out because of a death in her family.

At least so far, it's safe to say we haven't seen a very cohesive San Antonio unit this season. But this team has personalities that seem to mesh well. The Silver Stars will be vying to get it together and keep it that way until Wauters returns.

And maybe as the season goes along, some of the Comets fans -- to varying degrees as they attempt to replace the irreplaceable -- will try to get on board, too.

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.

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