Shock fall short in new home
Relocated Tulsa franchise plays well in second quarter but loses to Lynx
TULSA, Okla. -- Admittedly, there was a lot about this that felt understandably strange. Here's the Shock, but not in Detroit. Here's a former Shock assistant, but she's coaching the Lynx. Here's Marion Jones playing three minutes and then talking to reporters from France?
The Tulsa Shock, relocated from the Motor City and coached by Nolan Richardson, started the season Saturday in the franchise's new home, the BOK Center. Fans, many of whom arrived quite early, had yellow Shock T-shirts waiting in their seats.
WNBA president Donna Orender, having been at the Mercury-Sparks thriller earlier in the day at Phoenix, also made it to see the Lynx-Shock game. Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale was here, too, getting a loud ovation when she was introduced to the crowd. Understandable, as in these parts Coale is more famous than any of the Shock or Lynx players themselves.
With the exception of Jones, a globally recognized sports figure whose fall from grace has been well-chronicled and whose attempt to put a happier ending on her athletic career via the WNBA has its cheerleaders and its critics.
Jones played just 3 minutes, 19 seconds in the Shock's 80-74 loss, but said afterward to a large media group -- which included some international reporters -- that she was willing to do whatever was needed.
"Whether it's on the court playing defense and rebounding, if it's getting the rest of the players hyped up and ready to go on the bench," Jones said. "However Coach Richardson wants to see me best help the team."
Jones, a 34-year-old rookie, last played competitive basketball for North Carolina in 1997, having won a national championship with the Tar Heels in '94. As Sam the piano player said in "Casablanca," a lotta water under the bridge.
Jones now has three children, has lost five Olympic track and field medals because of performance-enhancing drug use, and has served time in prison for perjury. One can say, certainly, that Jones brought her troubles upon herself because, as she said, "I made some pretty big mistakes."
But one could also say that considering PEDs revelations and penalties in many other sports, including Major League Baseball and the NFL, Jones has paid a higher price than many others who've done much the same thing she did.
"I love it for her. I'm an optimist; the glass is always half full for me," Minnesota's Candice Wiggins said of Jones. "When you can see a situation turned around and there's something positive at the end, that's good."
Added Lynx player Rashanda McCants, who like Jones is a former Tar Heel, "I used to look up to her as a kid, and it's nice to see her get another chance."
Jones acknowledged that the skill level of players today as opposed to a decade ago is vastly improved. While she still looks speedy on the court, making her athleticism really work for her in a basketball sense is a tall task.
"I'm learning as I go; I know it's going to take time for things to come together for me," said Jones, who added that she was not satisfied just to have made the Shock's 11-player roster. "We're disappointed with the loss; we're all competitors and winners. Every day in practice, you try to get better. I'm going to keep practicing and working hard.
"I understand the interest; I get it. If this is bringing additional attention to the team and our league, I accept that. But I'm a competitor as well. I want to see the team win and see myself contribute to the win."
The Shock can look at the second quarter as a template for how Tulsa can try to win this season. Trailing 22-12 after the first period, the Shock put Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell" philosophy into practice for at least most of the second 10 minutes of the game.
Tulsa outscored the Lynx 24-14, sparked a lot by reserves Natasha Lacy, Amber Holt and Chante Black. They helped Tulsa fire up the crowd and tie the score at the break, 36-36.
Meanwhile, the Lynx aren't in a new city or incorporating a former track star or anything, but they've got their share of stuff they have to get used to as well. Lindsay Whalen is running the show on court now, with former Shock assistant Cheryl Reeve as head coach.
Whalen, who came in a trade with Connecticut; free agent Hamchetou Maiga-Ba; and rookie Monica Wright joined returning Lynx players Charde Houston and Nicky Anosike in the starting lineup.
Seimone Augustus and Wiggins are still sidelined as they recover from injuries, but both were vocal and active on the bench helping the Lynx.
"This team is so together at the start of this season, and I feel like I did contribute in this game even if I couldn't play," said Wiggins, who projects to return around May 27, with Augustus hoping to be back sometime after that. "I would tell Monica anything I saw to help her. Really, I think Seimone and I felt like we played in the game because we were so into it."
Wright, the No. 2 draft pick behind Tina Charles, joined the former UConn star in having a sparkling rookie debut Saturday. Charles had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Connecticut Sun's 74-61 victory over Chicago. Wright, out of Virginia, had 18 points.
Houston led the Lynx with 21 points, while McCants had 15 and Whalen and Maiga-Ba 10 each. Anosike might have had a quiet offensive game with five points, but her defense (five blocks) and rebounding (nine) were ferocious.
"I was happiest that at such an early stage of the season, we came together and handled adversity the way that we did," Reeve said. "We were like glue in the second half after coming unglued at the end the first half."
Reeve said it was a little odd being on the opposite side of players she coached and cared about at Detroit, such as Kara Braxton, Plenette Pierson, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shavonte Zellous.
"I really tried to suppress any feelings I had, and it was difficult," Reeve said. "The love that we had for each other in Detroit ran pretty deep. But once we were in the game, it was about winning. So it wasn't hard once it started. Still, do I want them to do well? Sure, just not against us."
How well can the Shock expect to play this season? Tulsa certainly had some good moments Saturday. Amber Holt and Black, traded to the Shock from Connecticut in April, combined for 24 points and 14 rebounds off the bench. Braxton had nine points and nine rebounds. Pierson, who missed all of last season after suffering a shoulder injury in the opening game, had 13 points, as did Shanna Crossley.
Having won two championships while in Detroit, Pierson and Braxton are used to being at the top of the league and contending for titles. They realize that in Tulsa, not having key players like Deanna Nolan, Katie Smith and Cheryl Ford with the Shock anymore, it might take a while to get back to the level they've been.
"When we found out Katie, Cheryl and Deanna weren't coming, we knew had to step up," Braxton said. "I think we just have to focus on taking bigger roles.
"The fans have welcomed us here. The crowd we had here tonight -- it was just awesome. It's a new place, and it's going to be hard starting out. But once we put everything together, we should be fine."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.