May 7, 2011

Before Geethu... A look at the WNBA

I must admit that, for an avid-NBA addict, I have been pretty blind towards WNBA-related issues. I knew little (and cared little) about who was who in the league, little about who won the championships and who took the MVP awards. But with news that India's legendary center Geethu Anna Jose has became the first from the country to get a tryout with the WNBA, I feel that it is due time to get a brief look at the league that Geethu could potentially join.

Geethu completed tryouts with three WNBA teams - Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks, and San Antonio Silver Stars between April 27 - May 3. You can click on the above link to know how she did, but to recap, her tryouts went very well and she has left the coaches impressed. There is a good chance that she could be picked to play for the world's best woman's basketball league, but even if she doesn't, the experience she has had in the last few days of practicing with the best coaches will help her and help others in India to follow on her footsteps. If not Geethu, someone from India will make it big soon. It's about time.

The WNBA will enter only its 15th season in 2011. There are a total of 12 teams in the league, and the top four of the six from each conference move on to the playoffs. Each team is allowed a roster space of 11 players.

So firstly, let's take a look at the three teams she tried out for, which I will follow by how Geethu could fit into each squad if she makes it. As it was disclosed earlier, Geethu, at 6'2", plays Center in India, but will have to play small or power forward in the WNBA. One thing that stood out about her trials last week was how the coaches tested her on her perimeter skills.

I will reiterate once again that I'm a mere amateur at WNBA issues and have shamelessly stolen most of the information below from Wikipedia. I will welcome any improvements on the notes below from WNBA experts.

Chicago Sky: The Sky are the only Eastern Conference team Geethu tried out with. Sky play at the AllState Arena in Rosemont Illinois. They are led by head coach Pokey Chatman and their best player is dominating Center Sylvia Fowles, who leads the team in points, rebounds, and blocks. Fowles was part of the All-WNBA first team as well as the All-WNBA Defensive team. The Sky are one of the newer teams in the league, as they were formed in 2005, and they haven't had a very successful history in the league so far, as they have never made it to the WNBA Playoffs. Last season, they finished with a 14-20 record, and were the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
If Geethu joins this team, I guess she will have to fight for the back-up forward spot with 5'11" Eshaya Murphy. Since this is a weaker team than the others, Geethu has a better chance of getting more playing time with them.

Los Angeles Sparks: One of the most storied franchise of the WNBA, much like the other LA squad, the Lakers. The Sparks are in the Western Conference and are one of the original teams of the WNBA, as they were formed in 1997. Since then, they have gone on to win 2 WNBA championships (2001 and 2002) and 3 Conference titles (2001, 2002, 2003). The Sparks play at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, and they are led by head coach Jennifer Gillom. The Sparks have several well-known players on their roster, such as highly touted youngster Candace Parker (who suffered a major injury last season), legendary big Tina Thompson (who led the team in points and rebounds), and point guard Ticha Penicheiro, who led the WNBA in assists last season. But the Sparks didn't do too well as a team, finishing 4th in the West and losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Sparks are perhaps the most 'attractive' franchise for Geethu in terms of their popularity and success, but with their depth, especially with the return of Candace Parker, there might not be space for Geethu to truly get big minutes and experience. Her best shot would be a back-up forward role, something like what Betty Lennox currently has for the team.

San Antonio Silver Stars: The Silver Stars were formed as the Utah Starz in 1997, and then relocated to San Antonio to become the Silver Stars in 2003. They currently play at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Led by Dan Hughes, the Silver Stars had a slow start to their franchise, but have been better recently, as they represented the Western Conference in the WNBA Finals in 2008. Last season, the Silver Stars ended in third place in the West but were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. They are led in points by power forward Sophia Young, but their best player is perhaps talented point guard Becky Hammon.
This team looks like a good fit for Geethu - they have a balanced offense, with four players averaging in double figures last season, and may have a vulnerability in the back-up forward spot. Geethu could easily fit into the minimal role that was played by Ashley Battle last season, and with improved performances, she could challenge for more minutes.

Outside those three teams, the other teams to watch in the WNBA are last year's finalists Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream, as well as the winners of the two previous years, the Phoenix Mercury and Detroit Shock. If Geethu qualifies, some of the best players that she will face will include Diana Taurasi (Mercury), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), and Geethu's opponent from the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Australian legend Lauren Jackson (Storm).

So that is the scenery with the WNBA... Don't want to get too far ahead of myself here - but even if Geethu fails to qualify, at least finding out more about the league was a good learning experience!

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