Next rookies not as well known as predecessors

Originally Published: October 22, 2004
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

OK, I don't like to brag, but the truth is ... last season, I correctly picked who would be selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft. No, really. I swear, I said, "Diana Taurasi is going to Phoenix and ... "

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What's that? You say that everybody in the universe correctly picked that? People in the middle of the Amazon jungle? People in other galaxies? Even the two Titanic survivors found still floating in a life raft, having survived 92 years on three packages of crackers, as reported by the "Weekly World News"?

Fine, whatever, maybe it wasn't great insight. It was, in fact, obvious. It would have been a big shock if anything else had happened. And, frankly, the next three picks were predictable, too.

All of which stands in direct contrast to this season, when, as San Antonio coach Dan Hughes said, "There are probably more questions than there are answers."

Last year's draft was seen as "loaded" with potential immediate difference-makers, led by top-four picks Taurasi, Alana Beard (Washington), Nicole Powell (Charlotte) and Lindsay Whalen (Connecticut).

Taurasi, Beard and Whalen did what their teams expected. However, Powell didn't work out in Charlotte and has since been traded to Sacramento. The No. 5 pick, Shameka Christon by New York, didn't step in as a big impact player as a rookie. But the No. 6 pick, Nicole Ohlde by Minnesota, did.

This year's senior class isn't getting anything near the same kind of enthusiasm from WNBA coaches and GMs ... but I still think there are impact players among these rookies.

What's interesting is that many of this draft's projected top players did not get on the "big stage" during the NCAA Tournament many times, if at all.

One of the expected top picks is Mississippi State's Tan White, a 5-foot-7 guard who led Division I in scoring this season. Her team didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament the past two years, though, and it's not as if Mississippi State is on television a lot during the regular season. Outside the SEC, not a lot of folks know much about her game.

Those in the SEC also are well aware of the potential of Kara Braxton, whose career at Georgia never played out as expected because of suspensions and her giving birth to a son just over two months ago. But Braxton is 6-6 and reportedly played very well in draft camp. Interested WNBA teams will have to consider whether her discipline problems were mostly because she didn't adjust to a collegiate/scholastic environment.

If that's the case, one might suggest she might have a more successful time playing professional basketball. At the same time, so much is done for student-athletes that you also have to wonder whether someone who had problems in a college setting can be reliable when there aren't a lot of caretakers. Braxton, who has the responsibilities of a mother now, will have to answer those questions. Odds are, her height and skill level will be enough for some team to take her with a fairly early pick and be willing to risk potential troubles.

Angelina Williams of Illinois went to the NCAA Tournament just once, in 2003, and the Illini lost in the first round. Houston's Sancho Lyttle had a second-round loss last season and one in the first round this year. Florida State's Roneeka Hodges went to the NCAA Tournament with LSU her freshman, sophomore and junior years, then again as a senior after transferring to the Seminoles.

How much were any of those players seen in college by most people?

Kansas State's Kendra Wecker got considerably more TV airtime in the Big 12, but her team didn't get past the second round of the NCAA Tournament the past three years. Fellow Big 12 player Dionnah Jackson of Oklahoma made a Final Four trip, but that was her freshman season in 2002, when most of the attention was on the older Sooners such as Stacey Dales-Schuman. OU also hasn't gotten past the second round the last three years.

Sandora Irvin made it to the second round her first three seasons, where TCU was eliminated by Duke, Connecticut and Georgia. This year, TCU fell in the first round to Oregon.

Jacqueline Batteast and Notre Dame made the Sweet 16 twice, but the Irish went out in the second round this year. Liberty's Katie Feenstra did get some attention this season when her team made the Sweet 16. That came at the expense of Penn State's Tanisha Wright, who spent her first three seasons in teammate Kelly Mazzante's shadow, then was on the team Liberty upset in the first round this year.

Potential top picks who've probably gotten the most boost from the NCAA Tournament are Janel McCarville, with Minnesota's Final Four run last season, and Kristin Haynie, who helped lead Michigan State to the Final Four this year.

Another player who got considerable exposure both in the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament is LSU's Temeka Johnson.

None of this is to suggest that WNBA coaches/scouts are extremely swayed by what players do in the NCAA Tournament. But I do think it makes an impact on their judgment.

Further, just as there are different levels of talent, there are different levels of talent evaluators. Some seem to watch all players while looking for specific traits, and if they don't see them, they lose interest in that player. Others appear to observe players for whatever talents they do have. This is reflected, typically, in what kind of team the coach prefers to have.

One thing about several of the players mentioned above – and others who likely will pop up on the draft board – is that they might have carried very big loads in college. Some of them might excel in different ways once they're out of their college systems. So this draft might be more about individual players than the programs they come from.

So ... who will be No. 1 this year? I don't know. My "mock" draft – yeah, everyone has to do one – has McCarville in that spot. But I'd be happy to hear the opinion from another galaxy.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.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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