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This is the first in what will be a series of posts called And One, where the goal is to take a deeper look at some of the figures in women’s basketball history who aren’t often mentioned or may not be well-known to newer fans of the game. The series starts with a feature on two-time WNBA champion Tangela Smith.
I’ve spent a lot of time this WNBA season talking about movement up a couple of leader boards that, even at the time this is being written, are still very fluid: games played and blocks. Nine of the 25 players who lead the league in career regular season games played all-time are currently active in the league, led by Sue Bird, who is swiftly approaching DeLisha Milton Jones’s record of 499 games. In terms of blocks, two of the best to ever swat the ball away are a game or two away from booting a couple players out of the top 5. Sylvia Fowles (555) is currently tied for fifth with Tammy Sutton-Brown, and Brittney Griner (553) is just behind in seventh.
And that brings me to the focus of this feature: the next player in front of them is fourth all-time in blocks, Tangela Smith. Tangela also broke Vickie Johnson’s record for games played during her career and spent some time building her lead atop the board, though she has since been passed and is currently seventh all-time with 463 games. She finished her 15-year WNBA career in 2012 in the top 10 in points, rebounds, blocks, field goals, and minutes, and she is still top 20 in each of those categories.
So, who is Tangela Smith?
Growing up in the Chicago Housing Authority projects, Tangela made a name for herself playing at George Washington High School on the southeast side of Chicago. In 1994 she was named a Kodak High School All-American and a WBCA High School All-American.
She went on to play college ball at the University of Iowa for legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer in 1994. Stringer made the move to coach at Rutgers after Smith’s freshman season, but Smith remained to play for Angie Lee. Tangela and the Hawkeyes went on to win the Big Ten regular season championships in 1996 and 1998 and the Big Ten conference tournament championship in 1997. The final three years of her time at Iowa, the Hawkeyes appeared in the NCAA Tournament, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1996.
While in college, Smith played for the United States 1997 Jones Cup Team in Taipei. She averaged 8.0 points per game en route to a silver medal finish.
After being named All-Big Ten first team in 1996, she finished out her time at Iowa as the 1998 Big Ten Player of the Year, a 1998 Kodak/WBCA All-America honorable mention. She is still top 10 in points (1,598), rebounds (859), and blocks (235) for her alma mater.
The timing for Tangela coming out of college couldn’t have been better; the WNBA was entering its second season, so she had a great chance to play professional basketball in the United States immediately after college.
The Sacramento Monarchs had the #2 and #12 overall picks in that draft, and after taking Ticha Penicheiro with their first pick, the Monarchs went bigger by selecting Tangela Smith in the second round. That was the beginning of Smith’s historic and winding career in the WNBA.
Tangela spent her first seven years in Sacramento and put up solid numbers (11.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG), helping turn the Monarchs into a perennial playoff team competing for a spot in the WNBA Finals. After being swept in the conference semifinals in 1999 and 2000, Sacramento made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2001 before falling to the defending (and eventual) champion Los Angeles Sparks. They made it to the Conference Finals again in 2003 and 2004.
In her early years in the WNBA, Tangela also won two titles overseas, helping lead Botasspor to a Turkish league title in 2001, followed by a Korean league title for Shinsegae Coolcats in 2002.
Following the 2004 season, Tangela was traded to the Charlotte Sting. Unfortunately, the Sting were on a downward trend, going 17-51 in those two seasons, but 2006 was Tangela’s one and only All-Star nod. She was a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad that handed the West its first loss.
The Sting folded after the 2006 season, and things may have looked up-in-the-air for Tangela, who would be entering her tenth season. The Minnesota Lynx acquired her rights in the 2007 WNBA dispersal draft, but she would never play for the Lynx. Instead, the Phoenix Mercury made a major move with their #1 overall pick.
After drafting Lindsey Harding with the first overall pick, the Mercury made an unprecedented move, trading Harding to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for Tangela Smith. This was the first and only time the top pick has been traded on draft night.
The 2007 season turned out to be a major turning point for the Phoenix Mercury. After having drafted Cappie Pondexter the previous year and bringing in NBA coach Paul Westhead, the Mercury went on to have their best season, finishing 23-11. Smith continue to put up solid numbers (13.1 PPG, 1.6 BPG, 31.5 MPG), and she had her best rebounding year, grabbing 6.5 boards per game. She started every regular season game and all nine of the Mercury’s playoff games that year, putting up even better rebounding numbers (7.8 per game). Phoenix would go on to win their first championship that year, giving Tangela her first ring.
Though the Mercury struggled in 2008, they returned to form in 2009, including what was arguably Smith’s best season in the league. She led the league in blocks (57) and three-point percentage (45.2% on 93 attempts), solidifying her role as a stretch forward who was a shooting threat with a tough inside defensive presence. She also led the league that year in effective field goal percentage (52%), and once again her game only raised in the postseason. Her EFG% raised to 65.8%, averaging 9.9 points per game along with 5.8 rebounds. The Mercury earned their second championship after a legendary five-game Finals against the Indiana Fever.
Here’s a look at Tangela’s blocking and shooting abilities, where she blocks a shot on the perimeter and follows it up with her own half-court bucket:
Okay, so her bucket didn’t count, but her ability to block the shot and bring the ball up for a long-range shot is similar to what we see in the league today in players like Breanna Stewart and Candace Parker.
Late in the 2010 season, she also broke Vickie Johnson’s record for games played, playing in her 411th regular season game. Bridgette Pettis and DeWanna Bonner commemorated the achievement, presumably out in their front yard:
The trade for Tangela (known by Phoenix fans as “Tan”) is considered to be the best in the history of the Mercury organization, and if it weren’t for the depth of stars on the 2009 roster or the timing in her career, she may be more widely talked about still — though, without all that depth, the championship may not have come — but she did play a key role in that Finals series that was well-documented by Ben York for Slam Online.
Tangela would play two more seasons in the league, signing with the Indiana Fever in 2011. She had a down regular season, but as reported at the time by Mechelle Voepel, stepped up big in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Dream. In the next game against Minnesota, she also put up a career-high 6 assists. That year she was also a finalist for the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time. She finished in San Antonio in 2012, playing in her final 15 regular season games.
She closed out her WNBA career with 463 games played and career averages of 10.9 PPG off of 42.3% from the field and 34.3% from beyond the arc, along with 5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 BPG, and 1.0 SPG. To this day, she holds several top-25 spots on the leader boards:
Following her playing career, Tangela has found a new calling coaching at the college ranks. She joined Western Michigan University as assistant coach in September 2014. During her time there, she gave a great interview touching on her professional career:
After four seasons there, she just recently joined Northwestern University as assistant coach, announced on July 6.
Tangela Smith’s career may not get a ton of mentions, but her impact on the league and the legacy she has left behind is undeniable. A power forward who stretched her game on both ends of the floor as her career went on, she left her mark on several franchises (along with their players and fans).
And, when it comes down to it, there are only so many players who can break out a pair of WNBA championship rings for an interview.
This is the second in a series of posts called And One, where the goal is to take a deeper look at some of the figures in women’s basketball history who aren’t often mentioned or may not be well-known to newer fans of the game. The series continues with a feature on Olympic gold medalist and five-time WNBA All-Star Shannon Johnson.
We’ve seen a ton of elite-level passing in the WNBA this season. Combine that with some of the best scorers the league has ever seen, and the assists start to rack up. Four of the top seven all-time assist-per-game leaders are active in the league currently. Courtney Vandersloot and Sue Bird, both averaging about 5.55 assists per-game over their careers, are behind only Ticha Penicheiro (5.72). Lindsay Whalen (4.94) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (4.87) are sixth and seventh, respectively. Teresa Weatherspoon (5.27) and Dawn Staley (5.08) fill in the gap. Just last night, Vandersloot had 15 assists en route to a triple-double, creeping up on Penicheiro’s WNBA record of 16 (which she achieved twice!).
That said, if you peruse any of the league assist leader boards, you’ll come across a name that we don’t talk about as much as we should: Shannon Johnson. Better known to fans as “Pee Wee”, Johnson finished her 11-year WNBA career with 1,424 assists (8th) and an average of 4.05 per-game (15th). A five-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, her story is a fascinating one to follow.
From small-town Hartsville, South Carolina, Shannon Johnson faced hardship. Growing up in Lincoln Village apartments in Hartsville, Johnson was raised by her aunt for her first six years until her mother was able to regain custody and provide for her and two siblings. Johnson has said that growing up in a small town saved her from the distractions of a bigger city, and she quickly found her love for sports. She first played volleyball in sixth grade, and as the shortest player on the team, that was where she first was given the nickname “Pee Wee”, a moniker that would stick with the 5’7 guard through her professional career.
In seventh grade, she began playing basketball and was playing for the high school JV team by the following year. During her time with the high school team playing point guard, Coach Patricia Hewitt worked closely with Johnson to develop her skill and maturity; they practiced under a sign in the gym that read “Dedication, Determination & Desire,” and the hard work led to AAAA state championships in 1990 and 1992.
Johnson stayed close to home, playing college ball an hour southwest of Hartsville in Columbia at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks struggled in their first years in the SEC under legendary coach Nancy Wilson. The team struggled for conference wins during her time there, but Shannon left a legacy for the women’s basketball team:
By the time she left Columbia, Shannon was a three-time all-SEC player, AP All-American in 1995-96, and a finalist for the Wade Trophy. During this time, she also helped the USA’s Jones Cup team to a 9-0 finish for gold in 1996, followed by a 6-0 record good for a gold medal at the World University Games in 1997.
Coming out of college in 1996, there was not yet a WNBA to play in, so her professional career began overseas and in the ABL. During her 12-year overseas career, she played in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Poland, and Russia, including two championships in Span — including a Queen’s Cup MVP honor in 2002 — and a 2008 Queen Cup Championship in Italy.
Stateside, Johnson was drafted by the Columbus Quest in the inaugural year of the ABL, and she would remain with the team for the duration of the league, winning championships in 1997 and again in 1998. She was also named an ABL All-Star in 1998. She was coached by Brian Agler, now head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, and played with the likes of Tonya Edwards and Katie Smith. Johnson and Smith would meet up again in the next chapters of their professional playing careers.
As the WNBA had officially outlasted the ABL, Johnson joined the league and was assigned to the Orlando Miracle in the 1999 WNBA Draft. This was the first year for the Miracle under head coach Carolyn Peck, coming off of leading the Purdue women’s basketball team to a national championship.
In her first season in Orlando, Shannon started all 32 games, averaging 35.8 minutes, 14.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.6 steals, making her mark as a solid two-way guard in the league and earning her a spot as a reserve in the WNBA’s first All-Star game at Madison Square Garden along with teammates Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams (now McWilliams-Franklin, assistant coach for the Dallas Wings). She led the East along with McWilliams and Sandy Brondello, each scoring eight points.
Johnson remained with Orlando the next three years, getting her career high scoring average of 16.1 PPG in 2002. She also had 5.3 assists per-game in 2000 and 2002, but her career high in that category wouldn’t come until the team moved to Connecticut and became the Sun in 2003. That year she started all 34 games, averaging 5.8 assists and 12.4 points. She earned All-Star nods again in 2000, 2002, and 2003, and she was named to the All-WNBA Second Team in 1999, 2000, and 2002.
Prior to the 2004 season, Shannon was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars. That year would prove to be perhaps the biggest in Johnson’s basketball story. Though she could not have known the future Gamecock connection, Shannon has said that future Hall of Fame point guard Dawn Staley was a role model for her, and after playing a pivotal role for the gold medal-winning World Championship team in 2002, she joined Staley on the 2004 Olympic team. The two played together in Athens, where they won another gold medal for the United States. Prior to the Games, she was featured in a WNBA.com profile detailing her accomplishments up to that point.
Johnson’s career continued in San Antonio for three years total until she signed with the Detroit Shock in 2007, reuniting with Katie Smith. Coming off a WNBA Championship, the Shock made another run to the WNBA Finals where they fell to the juggernaut Phoenix Mercury. Unfortunately, as a reserve, Johnson’s minutes (16.9 per-game) and production dropped significantly, but she got another chance the following year, playing for the Houston Comets.
In what would be the final season for the Comets, Johnson started 32 of 33 games, averaging 30.7 minutes and 7.7 points and rocketing back up to 5.1 assists per-game. After Houston folded, Johnson became a free agent and signed with the Seattle Storm, playing her final year for the coach she started out playing for, Brian Agler. Finishing off her career coming off the bench, her statistics went down, but her impression on her teammates and the fans was still huge as shown in this video from the time of her retirement:
She wrapped up her career with 352 games played and career averages of 10.1 PPG off of 39.5% shooting along with 4.0 APG and 1.4 SPG. Her name is still all over the WNBA leader boards:
Post-WNBA, Johnson was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Northwestern State University for one year, and then she faced another difficult period until she got her next opportunity. In her intervening years between coaching jobs, she said, “I felt like basketball was taken away from me.” But that “Dedication, Determination & Desire” stuck with her and brought her back to Hartsville, South Carolina, where she became the head women’s basketball coach at NCAA Division II Coker College in September 2015. Kent Mahoney of the Hartsville Messenger wrote a great article on her full-circle story last February.
A small guard from a small town, Shannon “Pee Wee” Johnson’s imprint on her home city and the game of women’s basketball continues to be big.
This is the third in a series of posts called And One, where the goal is to take a deeper look at some of the figures in women’s basketball history who aren’t often mentioned or may not be well-known to newer fans of the game. The series continues with a feature on Olympic gold medalist, four-time WNBA All-Star, and Women’s Basketball Hall-of-Famer Natalie Williams.
Your defensive possession isn’t over until you secure the rebound. There’s no doubt that players who can dominate the boards are integral to any basketball team. On the other end of the floor, offensive rebounds can give a team another opportunity to score. In this year’s league, we’ve seen Rebekkah Brunson officially take over as the top rebounder all-time, currently with 3,348 total rebounds in her 15-year career. Active players are dominating the boards in ways not seen before; in terms of total rebounds, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles, Candice Dupree, and Sancho Lyttle are all in the top-10 all-time with years ahead to move up.
In terms of rebounding percentage, Cheryl Ford leads all-time, but active players Courtney Paris, Fowles, Brunson, and Charles are all top-10. Perhaps with the exception of Fowles, these players all prove that being the greatest rebounder is not always about being the tallest player on the court. Brunson is an athletic 6’2 power forward with great timing. And, in the history of the league, it’s hard to find a player more athletic and better at using their strength and ability than Natalie Williams.
Natalie Williams was born in Long Beach, California, but her legacy in Utah started when she attended Taylorsville High School, leading both the volleyball and basketball teams to state championships. Her dominance started in high school, as the following feature from those days demonstrates:
Though she has said her basketball role model was USC great Cheryl Miller, the 6’2 Williams took her talents as a two-sport standout to UCLA. She was a scholarship player on both the volleyball and basketball teams, the rare athlete to excel in two sports in college.
From 1990 to 1994, she dominated at both sports — even having played for both squads in the same day — leading the Bruins to the 1990 and 1991 National Championships in volleyball and earning All-America honors. Her skills were so extraordinary, she was also recruited for the softball and track-and-field teams during her time on campus. All the while, she was a two-time All-American in basketball, All-Pac-10 her last three years in school, and 1994 Pac-10 Player of the Year. In her freshman year, she established herself as a force on both ends of the court, averaging 23.4 PPG on 57.0% shooting from the field, 13.1 RPG, 3.0 SPG, and 1.0 BPG.
With a tremendous leaping ability and strong build, she won the boards consistently. She had six games with at least 20 rebounds, getting 32 points and 25 rebounds in a game against Arizona State her senior year. She left LA with 68 double-doubles during her time there, including 10 in a row in the 1992-93 season, and she is still top 10 in points, rebounds, field goals (total made and percentage), free throws, and blocks. Coming out of college, she was considered a lock for the 1996 U.S. National Volleyball Team.
But, when she didn’t make the team, she turned her attention wholly to basketball, and 1996 was a great year for that. She was the leading rebounder (7.0 per game) for the 1996 U.S. Jones Cup Team which won gold. That same year, the ABL tipped off its first season in the winter, and Williams joined the Portland Power.
In her first season, she led the league with 12.5 rebounds per game, and on January 9, 1998, she had a league record 22 rebounds in a game. Though she was traded to the Long Beach Stingrays in 1998, the team folded shortly thereafter and she returned to the Power until the league ceased operations. In those years, Natalie was a 1998 ABL MVP and two-time All-ABL First Team selection.
Then, she turned her attention to the WNBA. In 1999, she was drafted third overall by the Utah Starzz, and Williams got the chance to return back home.
Though the Starzz struggled to find their footing in the early years of the league, Natalie’s arrival made an impact. By 2000, they had the league’s sixth-best record, but the tough Western Conference in the old Playoff format meant they were left out as fifth-best in the West. Regardless, Williams had her best WNBA season statistically, putting up 18.7 PPG on 49.0% shooting from the field and nearly 80% from the free throw line, 11.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, and 1.2 SPG. She put up a 20.8% total rebounding percentage and a 25.7 PER, which was fourth-best in the league.
By the following year, the Starzz finally made the Playoffs, though they lost 0-2 in the Conference Semifinals. In 2002, Natalie recorded the league’s first 20/20 game, putting up 22 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. The Starzz made it to the Conference Finals before falling to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Sparks. After the 2002 season, Natalie was traded to the Indiana Fever, a move that would take her far from the more familiar West Coast. Having worn #24 in Utah, Natalie changed to #12 upon joining another legendary #24, Tamika Catchings.
She continued to average double figures in scoring in 2003 and 2004 in Indianapolis alongside 7.5 and 6.9 rebounds per game, respectively. She started all 102 regular season games for the Fever in her three-year tenure, helping lead the Fever back to the Playoffs in 2005, where they would eventually fall to the Connecticut Sun in the Conference Finals.
By the end of her career, Natalie had racked up four All-Star nods (1999 – 2001, 2003) and three-straight All-WNBA First Team selections. During her professional playing career, she was also part of the 1998 World Championship team, earning gold while averaging 12.3 PPG and a team-best 9.6 RPG. After being named the USAB Female Athlete of the Year in 1999, she finally got her shot at the Olympics in 2000, once again earning gold for the United States. She finished out her time with the national team with gold in the 2002 World Championships.
After just seven seasons in the league, Natalie left her mark on the record books, and her name still shows up all over the leader boards:
For her impact on the league, she was a finalist for the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, Top 15 Players, and Top 20@20. Though she left the WNBA after the 2005 season, she has not left the game of basketball by any means. From 2005 to 2008, she was a WNBA regional scout and assistant coach for the Skyline High School (Utah) girl’s basketball team, winning state championships in 2006 and 2008.
From 2009 to 2011, she served as a mentor for Athletic Quest, a recruiting service which helps prepare athletes for college. Williams got her first head coaching gig with the Juan Diego High School girl’s basketball team, and in 2013 she was named the UHSAA 3A Region 10 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, adding to her collection of accolades. She finished her time there with a 55-11 record overall before moving on to found the Natalie Williams Basketball Academy (NWBA).
As Director and Head Coach, Williams oversees 14 youth teams and five elite high school club teams, scheduling camps and organizing tournaments. The NWBA mission is to “empower young athletes of all ages through positive and fun training”, and Natalie continues to impact the next generation of women’s basketball stars.
Perhaps one day one of her players will challenge her spot on the WNBA record books, but they can’t take away her spot in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, where she was inducted in 2016 alongside fellow NCAA and WNBA great Jackie Stiles.
Whether it’s from missing out on the 1996 Olympics, from the ABL folding, or from being traded away from her home state, if Natalie Williams demonstrated over her basketball career, it’s this: she can rebound.
This is the fourth in a series of posts called And One, where the goal is to take a deeper look at some of the figures in women’s basketball history who aren’t often mentioned or may not be well-known to newer fans of the game. The series continues with a feature on four-time WNBA All-Star and 2000 WNBA Most Improved Player Tari Phillips.
After spending time in Minnesota as a role player coming off the bench, Natasha Howard has made a strong case for a Most Improved Player award so far as a much more impactful starter for the Seattle Storm. Averaging just 11.7 minutes in 2017, she tallied 4.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, and she faded to the background of a championship team overrun with All-Stars and Olympians. But this year in Seattle, all of her statistics have gone up, now playing 26.5 minutes per game and putting up consistent numbers: 12.9 PPG on 54.4% shooting from the field, 3.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 2.0 BPG.
That jump after switching teams is impressive but not unheard of. In fact, it’s eerily reminiscent of the jump made by the league’s first Most Improved Player, Tari Phillips.
It doesn’t take much digging to find what is and has been most important to Tari Phillips. Throughout her story, her family, her faith, singing, and sports are interwoven.
Born in Orlando, Florida, she grew up loving to sing, especially gospel music, and she loved sports. Though she started playing soccer, in her teenage years she picked up a basketball and started practicing shooting in any way she could. She almost immediately broke out, leading her junior high school team to an undefeated season, and as soon as she got to Edgewater High School, she was playing for the varsity team immediately. She rounded out her high school career averaging 24.5 points and 18 rebounds her senior year en route to a runner-up finish in the state championship.
A promising player out of Florida, leaving home wasn’t easy, but it was hard to not be drawn to the powerhouse that was the University of Georgia, led by head coach Andy Landers. The Lady Bulldogs had an incredible run in the years leading up to Tari Phillips’ arrival, making it to at least the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament from 1983 to 1986 and including a Final Four in 1983 and a runner-up finish in 1985.
So, Tari’s college career started out in Athens, Georgia, coming off the bench the majority of her time there. She started 21 of 64 games, averaging 6.4 PPG on 46.1% shooting from the field, and she brought down 3.2 RPG during that time. She helped get the Lady Bulldogs to the Sweet Sixteen in 1987 and 1988, but growing dissatisfaction with the team led to her leaving Georgia. She has said in the past an ankle injury she felt was ignored, combined with homesickness, motivated her decision to return home to Orlando to play at the University of Central Florida.
Having just joined NCAA Division I from the Division II ranks in the 1984-1985 season, the Knights weren’t a well-established program at that time. They had made it to the AIAW Elite 8 in 1982 and the NCAA Division II Tournament in 1983 and 1984, but after head coach Joe Sanchez left the program to take over the head coaching job at Wake Forest, the team started a downward trend. In the fourth and final year under head coach Beverly Knight, the Knights went 10-15 overall and 4-9 in the American South Conference, but Phillips left her mark regardless, leading the team in scoring and rebounding. Her record marks of 25.3 PPG and 12.4 RPG were made up of 15 double-doubles, a 45-point performance against Lamar, a 41-point game, a 37-point game, and a 23-rebound game.
Having honed her singing voice in her father’s baptist church growing up, she was often asked to sing the national anthem before men’s games as well. She graduated from UCF with her name splashed all over the Knights’ record books even with just one year on campus, and she was inducted into the UCF Hall of Fame in 2003 on those merits.
After finishing out her college eligibility, Phillips looked ahead to a professional career. The NBA’s Magic laid down roots in Orlando at the end of her time at UCF, and she has said in the past she would run in to players like Scott Skiles and Sam Vincent on the courts around her hometown. However, in 1991 there was no WNBA or ABL, so Tari looked to overseas clubs for a chance to play professionally.
In 1992, she played for her first professional team, playing for Las Palmas Gran Canaries in Spain. The next year she played for Clearmont Ferrand and Strasbourg in France. She also played in Turkey and Sicily for Acer ERG Priolo, where she would lead her team to an Italian League championship. In 1993, she led the U.S. in the World University Games with 18.8 PPG and 11.0 RPG in a bronze medal finish, and in 1995, she got the opportunity to participate in the first National Team trials. Phillips was one of 24 players invited for the opportunity to join the U.S. National Team which would train for a year to compete in the 1996 Olympics. Though Tari didn’t make the final roster, her chance to play in the United States was just around the corner.
In 1995, Tari got the call that the American Basketball League (ABL) was being formed, and she would get her first shot with the Seattle Reign. She averaged 14.0 points and 7.4 rebounds in that first season, establishing herself as a solid frontcourt player. Here’s a fun found video with highlights from that time, featuring several shots of Phillips (#42) scoring in a variety of ways:
Tari was the All-Star MVP in 1997, coming off the bench for 18 points and 11 rebounds. She finished out her time in the ABL playing for the Colorado Xplosion alongside another dominant post player, Sylvia Crawley. She was an All-Star again in 1998, when she got the opportunity to defend her MVP performance near home at the arena at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
Tari wrapped up her time in the ABL with an average of 13.9 and 8.0 rebounds, and upon making the move to the WNBA, she immediately got the opportunity to return back home. Drafted with the eighth overall pick by Carolyn Peck and the Orlando Miracle, Peck sang Tari’s praises as a solid scorer. Phillips was brought in with several established professionals and winners, including Sheri Sam, Taj McWilliams (now McWilliams-Franklin), Carla McGhee, Elaine Powell, and Shannon Johnson.
Unfortunately, Phillips didn’t get a ton of minutes in her first WNBA season, averaging 10.5 MPG and recording 4.1 PPG and 2.1 RPG. But, just as with her time in college, Tari’s opportunity in the WNBA was just around the corner.
In the 2000 WNBA Expansion Draft, Tari Phillips was unprotected and ended up being pulled from her hometown across the country when selected 12th by the Portland Fire. Though she had dreamed of playing in front of her friends and family, the move was perhaps the only chance she would have to play a major role in the league. But she would never get the chance to play for the Fire.
Instead, she was traded to the New York Liberty. Head coach Richie Adubato had seen her play in Italy and was impressed by her ability to lead that team. The Liberty were already without Rebecca Lobo, recovering from her ACL injury from the 1999 season, when they received the devastating news that center Kym Hampton was forced to retire due to damage to her right knee sustained from 15 years of playing professionally. Hampton, an acclaimed singer herself, can be seen in this video singing with Phillips, Crawley, and Charlotte Smith:
And just like after every other move in her career, Tari took full advantage of the opportunity in New York. During the 2000 season, she started 30 of the 31 games she appeared in, making a huge statistical jump to help guide the Liberty back to the WNBA Finals. Here’s a look at the increase in production and efficiency Tari saw from 1999 to 2000. To put these numbers in perspective, compare with the jump Natasha Howard — who many consider to be the front-runner for the 2018 Most Improved Player — has made from 2017 to 2018 (as of August 2), listed on the right.
She helped push the Liberty to to the top of the Eastern Conference with a 20-12 record, tied for the fourth-best finish in the league overall. The Liberty returned to the WNBA Finals in back-to-back seasons and for the third time in franchise history. She kept up her production in the 2000 postseason, averaging 16.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.1 APG in 31.7 MPG. Her effort that season earned her an All-Star nod and the league’s inaugural Most Improved Player award.
Tari found her groove with the Liberty, upping her scoring to 15.3 PPG in the 2001 season, and she maintained her numbers throughout her time in New York, also earning All-Star selections from 2001 to 2003 and an All-WNBA Second Team in 2002. In 2002, she also got an opportunity to play for Team USA in the World Championship, replacing the injured Tina Thompson and earning a gold medal.
After the 2004 season, Phillips became an unrestricted free agent and moved west to sign with the Houston Comets, who she would close out her WNBA career with. She returned to a bench role in her final three seasons, but according to coach Van Chancellor, she was pivotal in the 2005 Playoffs. Partway through the 2007 season, she was waived after playing seven games, ending her time playing in the WNBA.
Despite her winding path, Tari has still left a mark on the WNBA’s record books, still among the league’s leaders in several categories:
Though she may have missed out on theater or singing opportunities due to conflicts playing basketball, she took advantage of the opportunities she did get along the way. She performed the national anthem at NBA and ABL games as well as at overseas events, and she also sang the anthem ahead of the 2001 WNBA All-Star Game and before a Comets home game later in her career. And that may just be the perfect encapsulation of her career: though her basketball journey doesn’t look like a typical path, when presented with an opportunity — whether moving from Georgia to UCF, from the ABL to the WNBA, or from Orlando to New York — she always kept faith she was being guided in the right direction, and she stepped on the court and made it count.
Offense is at an all-time high in the WNBA this season, in part due to the elite level shooters across the league. Rookie duo Victoria Vivians and Kelsey Mitchell have entered the league ready to drain threes at a record pace, LaToya Sanders is threatening season records for shooting percentages, and Diana Taurasi continues to extend her dominance as the league’s all-time leader in three-point field goals.
In a season where scoring is up and the schedule is condensed, there is perhaps no better place to put points on the board than from the free throw line. The all-time leader in free throw percentage is Elena Delle Donne, who — though shooting a low (for her) 89.7% from the line this season — has had a streak of 59 consecutive free throws in her career and has made 93.5% of her career free throws. The leader this season (considering players who have made at least 25) is Taurasi, who has made 153 of 166 free throws, good for 92.2%.
In the history of the WNBA, there have been many other great free throw shooters, but no one has made a claim quite like one of the original players in the league, Eva Němcová.
Eva Němcová was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on December 3, 1972. Both of her parents were Olympic athletes; her father, Zdeněk Němec, competed in the discus throw in the 1960 Summer Olympics, and her mother, Jiřina Němcová, competed in the high jump in the 1956 Summer Olympics and in the discus throw in 1956, 1960, and 1964.
From a young age, Němcová began competing for Czechoslovakia in international play. In 1989, she competed in the European Championship for Cadettes (now the Under-16 Championships), helping lead Czechoslovakia to an undefeated record and championship over Romania with 14.3 PPG. In the following year, she averaged 8.8 PPG in the FIBA World Championship for Women en route to a 4-4 overall record and fourth-place finish.
She continued to compete for the National Team throughout the early 1990s, including competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics, where Czechoslovakia finished sixth. She put up a balanced effort, averaging 14.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 1.2 APG.
After her time playing in the United States, Němcová continued to compete in the European Championships, leading Czechoslovakia to their first gold medal finish in 2005, putting up 11 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 1.4 APG. She also had the game-winning basket in the 72-70 championship game win over Russia.
She also competed in France before her time in the United States and most recently won an Italian League Championship while playing for Stem Marine Parma, averaging 10.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 2.1 SPG.
Němcová was drafted fourth overall in the 1997 WNBA Draft by the Cleveland Rockers. Before her, Elena Baranova of Russia was allocated to the Utah Starzz, and in the Elite Draft, Isabelle Fijalkowski of France was also selected by the Rockers.
In the eight-team league that first year, the Rockers finished 15-13, which was fourth in the Eastern Conference but fifth overall. Unfortunately, only the top four teams advanced to the Playoffs in that first year, so the Rockers missed out. However, this was Němcová’s best statistical year, with 13.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 1.4 SPG on 33.7 MPG and 47.3% shooting from the field. Her effective field goal percentage of 53.6 was third-best in the league, and she finished the season with a 104 offensive rating. She led the league in three-point shooting, making 43.5% of her shots from beyond the arc. Němcová was named to the All-WNBA First Team in the first year of the league.
Led by Fijalkowski and guard Suzie McConell-Serio, the Rockers improved to 20-10 in 1998, good for first in the Eastern Conference and second only to the 27-3 Houston Comets, now in the Western Conference. Němcová put up similar numbers in her second season but even improved on her three-point shooting, up to 45.2% to lead the league again. Her efforts led to an All-WNBA Second Team selection. The Rockers were eliminated by the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Semifinals 2-1 in their first Playoffs appearance.
In what would be her final full season in the WNBA, Němcová became the ninth player in the league to 1,000 points in 1999. Unfortunately, the Rockers failed to compete consistently, finishing 7-25 and ending Linda Hill-McDonald’s stint as head coach.
In the following two years, Dan Hughes took over as head coach and the Rockers returned to the Playoffs, including an Eastern Conference-best 22-10 finish in 2001, but Němcová only played in 22 games over these two seasons due to an ACL injury sustained on July 1, 2000.
Before her injury, though, Němcová set a mark that has yet to be broken. From June 14, 1999, to June 5, 2000, she made 66 consecutive free throws. Both Elena Delle Donne and DeWanna Bonner have come close, each with streaks of 59 free throws. In fact, in 1999 she made 62 of 63 free throws for a league-best 98.4% from the line. That mark is still second only to Becky Hammon’s 2014 season, when she made all 35 of her free throws.
Though her time was short in the WNBA, due to both its timing in her life and her injury in 2000, she left a legacy as one of the league’s first European players and one of the most efficient scorers in the league.
Her name shows up on a number of other career leader boards as well:
Beyond just the statistics, given the influx of European players in the WNBA over the past 20 years, perhaps her greatest influence was exposing more people stateside to the elite play of international players.
Defense wins championships. While scoring is at a high in the WNBA this season, the two top teams in the league are two of the top three in defensive rating. The Atlanta Dream were third-to-last in offensive rating through the regular season, but they were able to climb their way to a top-two finish on the strength of their defense, leading the league with a 97.1 defensive rating.
In the pantheon of great WNBA players, there are few who have won multiple championships. Even fewer managed to win three championships, and Cheryl Ford provided a major spark for the Detroit Shock to reverse their path from the worst team in the league to three championships in six years. And she did it all leading with defense. Her playing career was cut short by injury, but she left a big imprint on the league regardless.
Cheryl Ford was born on June 6, 1981, along with her twin brother, Daryl, in Louisiana. Though their father was not a part of their life growing up, he clearly had an influence on Cheryl’s size and athleticism. Raised by her mother, Bonita, Cheryl learned at age 8 her father is 14-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA MVP Karl Malone.
Though it would seem basketball was in her blood, Cheryl didn’t start playing seriously until eighth grade. A couple years later, she would meet her father for the first time, but even as a high schooler she said she wanted to make her own name in basketball. Cheryl and her father’s history and relationship was documented in a piece on Outside the Lines.
And that she did.
Ford went on to be named a WBCA All-American in high school in 1999 and committed to play at Louisiana Tech University. One of the most successful women’s basketball through the 1980s and ’90s, Ford made her mark as a strong all-around player. Over her four years, she averaged 10.4 PPG shooting 49.9% from the field, 7.9 RPG, and 1.3 BPG. In her junior and senior years she was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, and in 2003 she was named an AP Honorable Mention All-American. With 1,068 rebounds, 173 blocks, and 334 free throws, she is still top-10 all-time in Lady Techster history in all three categories.
After a standout college career, Ford was drafted 3rd overall by the Detroit Shock in the 2003 WNBA Draft. After the folding of the Miami Sol in 2002, the Shock had also acquired the rights to Ruth Riley in the Dispersal Draft earlier. The Shock, who were the worst team in the league in 2002, finishing 9-23, were looking to add pieces to turn around the franchise and win their first postseason game.
But no one could have known the impact Cheryl would make as a rookie. Led by head coach Bill Laimbeer, who took over at the end of the 2002 season, the Shock made a historic turnaround from “worst to first”, and Ford was impactful in unprecedented ways.
Ford averaged 10.8 PPG on 47.4% shooting from the field along with 10.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.0 BPG. She was named an All-Star and All-WNBA Second Team member as a rookie and helped lead the team to a 25-9 regular season record to lead the WNBA. In her first postseason run, she continued to assert herself as the team’s top rebounder, averaging 10 per game along with 8.4 points. Though the Shock hadn’t won a playoff game before, they ran through the 2003 Playoffs with just 2 losses to win their first WNBA Championship, unseating the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks.
That championship run made Cheryl the first player to win Rookie of the Year and a WNBA Championship in the same year. The only other player to do that since is Maya Moore, who similarly was a major piece in turning around the Minnesota Lynx who went from 13-21 in 2010 to a 27-7 record in 2011 en route to their first championship.
Though Ford’s rookie season was historic in several ways, it wasn’t her best statistical year. After a two-year downtick for the Shock, Cheryl put up her best numbers in 2006, averaging 13.8 PPG on 49.8% shooting from the field, along with 11.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, a 113 offensive rating, an 86 defensive rating, and a 24.9 player efficiency rating. If that wasn’t enough, she kept those numbers up in the postseason, recording 13.4 PPG on 52.3% shooting, 10.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, and 1.3 SPG.
Her stellar play helped take the Shock to their second league title and her second All-WNBA Second Team honor. In 2005 and 2006, she also led the league in rebounds (322 and 363, respectively) and rebounds per game (9.8 and 11.3, respectively).
In 2006, Cheryl also had the honor of competing for Team USA in the World Championships, earning bronze after a rare United States loss to Russia in the semifinal round.
The first five years of Cheryl’s career were undoubtedly her prime. An All-Star in 2003 and 2005 – 2007, she was also top-ten in defensive rating every year from 2003 to 2007 and led her team in rebounding in the postseason each of those years. Her play alongside teammate Swin Cash during this time earned a nod in Bleacher Report’s Top 10 Tandems in WNBA History in 2011. The 2007 season saw the Shock return to the WNBA Finals, though they would fall 2-3 to the red-hot Phoenix Mercury (see And One: Tangela Smith).
Her high level of play backed up the motto “Expect Great”:
Coming off their first runner-up finish, the Shock were primed to return to the Finals in 2008, and Cheryl’s numbers were steady as usual. Unfortunately, her season was brought to an unfortunate end during the infamous Shock/Sparks brawl on July 21 when she sustained an ACL injury trying to restrain teammate Plenette Pierson.
Remarkably, the Shock still ran through the Playoffs to win their third title in 2008 without Cheryl, but the injury really began the downturn in her playing career. She returned in 2009 and still put up good numbers, though they were down from her career averages. The Shock would relocate to Tulsa in 2010, but injuries kept Cheryl from playing for the Shock again after the 2009 season.
Cheryl also played for the Dallas Fury of the National Women’s Basketball League during the WNBA offseason, winning a championship in 2004, and she played for multiple teams overseas, even after she stopped playing in the WNBA. She attempted a return to the league with her old head coach Bill Laimbeer, this time in New York, but she was released by the Liberty in 2013.
Though her time in the WNBA was relatively short, she quickly established her legacy as a dominant rebounder. Her name remains at or near the top of several of the career leader boards:
Though much of the attention on Cheryl Ford early in her life may have been on her relationship with her father, it didn’t take long for her to make her own name in basketball. With three WNBA titles in six years, she is and will remain one of the most efficient champions in the history of the game.
Looking at the WNBA Finals, the veteran face of the Seattle Storm is undoubtedly Sue Bird, who has spent all 17 years of her career with the franchise. On the other hand, both the Storm and the Washington Mystics have players who have bounced around between several teams in their careers. Most notably, Monique Currie has spent most of her 13-year career in the nation’s capital, but she has also played for the Charlotte Sting, Chicago Sky, Phoenix Mercury, and San Antonio Stars. On the other coast, Noelle Quinn has been most consistently in Seattle, but she has also played for the Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics, and Phoenix Mercury. One of the two will get their first ring this year.
For players who spend several years in the league, it’s not uncommon to move at some point. But today’s subject is on the more extreme side, having played for seven teams in her 10-year career. A WNBA champion in her own right for the Seattle Storm, today’s “And One” profile is on ABL and WNBA guard Sheri Sam.
Sheri Sam was born in Louisiana, playing high school basketball for Acadiana High School. Growing up with a love for sports, she has said her passion for basketball really kicked in when she started getting recruited to play at the college level. In 1992, she took her talent slightly north to play for Hall of Fame coach Jim Foster at Vanderbilt University.
The Commodores enjoyed their most successful season in 1992-93 with a Final Four finish, but it was tough on Sheri. After limited playing time, she went to her coach with the intention to transfer for a bigger role elsewhere, but Foster challenged her to face the adversity and work for more minutes at Vanderbilt:
She accepted that challenge and left college as a Kodak All-American, Naismith Trophy finalist, AP Third-Team All-American, and All-SEC honoree her senior year. She helped her team to the NCAA Tournament her final three years in college, including an Elite Eight finish in 1996.
Her final two years she led the team in points, rebounds, and steals, including 20.4 points-per-game her senior year, and she’s still top-10 in program history in career scoring average (12.6 PPG) and field goal percentage (54.6%). Her accomplishments led to her induction into the Vanderbilt Hall of Fame in 2011.
While in college, she also had two opportunities to represent Team USA in the Jones Cup. She was a part of the 1995 team that won bronze, and the following year she led the Jones Cup team in scoring (13 PPG) en route to a gold medal finish.
Sheri came out of college in 1996 with the United States on the precipice of the women’s basketball movement. Unlike years before, playing professional women’s basketball stateside was a viable option for Sam, who signed on with the Olympian-laden ABL and became an All-Star while playing with the San Jose Lasers. She played all three seasons for the Lasers before the league abruptly folded at the end of 1998.
Little could she know this was just the first of many movements in her professional career.
That following summer she moved to the WNBA and was drafted 20th overall by the Orlando Miracle ahead of the league’s third summer of action. She put together a solid rookie campaign, averaging 11.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.3 steals in 34.0 minutes played per game, starting all 32 games.
Unfortunately, she was waived ahead of the 2000 season, forcing her to make another move. She quickly signed with the Miami Sol, where she would play the longest stretch of her career in the WNBA, and she seemed to find a life there:
In 2002, still with the Sol, she had her best individual season, averaging 14.5 points on 43.4% shooting from the field, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.2 steals in 33.5 minutes-per-game. She earned an All-Star nod, voted in as a reserve for the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
When the Sol folded after the 2002 season, she left Miami as the franchise’s all-time scoring leader with 1,303 points in her three seasons there, but more moves were in her future.
Sam was selected by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2003 Dispersal Draft, but she was traded just a year later in a Lynx effort to get hometown hero Lindsay Whalen. That trade would send Sheri out west to Seattle, her third team in as many years and fifth professional team in the United States.
2004 would turn out to be a historic year in Seattle. A deep roster with a loaded starting unit, led by Anne Donovan, the Storm finished the regular season 20-14. Sam started 32 of the 34 games played, logging just under 30 minutes on average and putting up 9.1 points and 4.1 rebounds-per-game. The Storm pushed through the Playoffs, sweeping Minnesota (Sam’s previous team) and knocking out the Sacramento Monarchs in three games to get to the Finals.
Seattle faced off against the Connecticut Sun (the relocated Orlando Miracle, Sam’s first team) for three games, winning two straight to earn the franchise’s first championship. Sam was a consistent contributor for the Storm in the postseason, averaging 7.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 31.0 minutes-per-game. Despite the adversity, she played through the challenges to get her first ring in the United States.
But the movement didn’t slow down in the back side of Sheri’s WNBA career. She signed with the Charlotte Sting as an unrestricted free agent for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, averaging double figure points both years and a career high 5.1 rebounds in 2006. Unfortunately, once again her team folded.
The Sting disbanding resulted in Sam getting picked up by the Indiana Fever in the 2007 Dispersal Draft. She played more limited minutes off the bench that year, but she was a solid producer in the Fever’s playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals, logging over 30 minutes with 8.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on average.
The following summer, Sheri signed with the Detroit Shock — the team that knocked out the Fever the previous season — for what would be her final season in the WNBA. She averaged career lows in limited minutes off the bench but ended her WNBA career with another ring as the Shock won their third championship.
Sam continued to play overseas, including stints in Greece and Israel before transitioning in to coaching. She was an assistant on the staff at Eastern Illinois University from 2014 to 2017 and has moved in to a different role as Athletic Director at Mercy High School in San Francisco this year. You can hear more about her new role in the latter part of her interview on the 90% Mental podcast.
From her challenging time in college to a professional career full of uncertainty, Sheri proved herself as a constant, valuable component throughout her career. With career game averages of 10.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals, Sheri Sam’s legacy in the WNBA is one of consistency, ever-present on the career leader boards:
Last season saw coaching greats Geno Auriemma and Sylvia Hatchell eclipse the 1,000-win mark on their careers, inching up on the women’s basketball record 1,098 wins held by the legend Pat Summitt. C. Vivian Stringer is now just one win away from 1,000 this season, and just behind her are the retired Jim Foster and Jody Conradt, both with 900 wins or more, and defending national champion coach Muffet McGraw will look to hit that mark this season.
But when you go down the list of Division I coaching greats, there’s a coach with 865 wins who is too often overlooked. Today’s “And One” profiles former University of Montana Lady Griz head coach, Robin Selvig.
Several of the most successful Division I coaches have started and ended their careers with the same school, but few were born and raised in the state where they made their careers. Selvig comes from a small city just south of the United States-Canada border called Outlook, Montana.
A tremendous athlete in his own right, he won the state long jump title as a junior; he followed that up with wins in the long jump, triple jump and high hurdles his senior year. He took his talents further out west to the University of Montana, where he played college ball from 1970 to 1974, playing the last years under legendary Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcoate.
During his time in Missoula, Title IX would become law in 1972, and Selvig has admitted he wasn’t too aware of the Lady Griz program being built there during his time. Men’s and women’s athletic programs were still generally separated around that time.
Though he didn’t know where it would take him, Selvig has said he realized he wanted to go in to coaching around his junior year, though even then women’s basketball hadn’t crossed his mind. He started in coaching while finishing his degree at Montana coaching the freshmen team in the 1974 – 1975 season. That following year would start his brief time away from the University of Montana.
In 1975, Selvig was hired on at Plentywood High School — just 20 miles southeast of his hometown — as coach of the men’s basketball team. Or so he thought. When the previous coach decided to remain on for another year, Selvig was asked to instead take on the girl’s basketball team which had not had any success in its first years. During that time he was also an assistant for the boy’s basketball team.
When the University of Montana women’s basketball coaching position opened up in 1978, the candidate pool was filled with future success. Tara VanDerveer interviewed in Missoula while looking for her first head coaching gig, as did Pat Dobratz. VanDerveer ended up at the University of Idaho before moving on to Ohio State and eventually Stanford, while Dobratz spent time in Washington before succeeding VanDerveer in Idaho, where she would make her name and compete yearly with Selvig.
Looking back, the opportunity to coach the girl’s basketball team for a few years in Plentywood perhaps set his future path in basketball. That experience, along with his life-long Montana connection, landed him the job as the fourth Lady Grizzlies head coach starting in 1978.
And so began the process of building a perennial success out west, which didn’t take long.
Coming off a 7-13 season, the Lady Grizzles finished Selvig’s first year even at 13-13, and just two years later he’d notch the program’s first 20-win season at 22-8, followed by a 22-5 finish. The following year the Mountain West Athletic Conference was formed with the University of Montana as an inaugural member, and Selvig and the Lady Grizzlies’ success on the national stage began.
Many people look for 20-win seasons to indicate years of success. For the Lady Grizzlies through the ’80s and ’90s, that was simply the standard. After two years of 22 wins each, Montana won their conference with consecutive 26-4 seasons, including trips to the NCAA Tournament and a first-round win in 1984.
After finishing 1984-1985 season 2nd in the conference with a 11-3 league record, Selvig and team finished off the ’80s with just two more conference losses and six more finishes atop their conference, including the merger into the Big Sky Conference, where Montana competes to this day. Selvig was named the Mountain West Athletic Conference Coach of the Year each year except 1985.
Despite what could be considered a rough start to the ’90s with two second-place finishes for the Lady Grizzlies, those early years featured perhaps their most dominant player, Shannon Cate (now Schweyen), who was named a Kodak All-American in 1991-1992 and remains their all-time leading scorer with 14 30-point games (including a program-record 41-point performance) and 2,172 career points scored. They once again made the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind Cate.
They resumed their conference dominance by finishing first in the Big Sky from 1993 to 1998. From 1985 to 1998, they finished each season with at least 23 wins including nine seasons of 25 wins or more.
The 1998-1999 season would be the worst in Selvig’s 38-year career, finishing 12-16 and 5th in the conference, but it was just one down year. The following year he led Montana to another 22-win finish atop the Big Sky Conference. Over the years, Selvig was noted for his on-court personality, pacing up and down the floor and passionately coaching from the sidelines. He turned Dahlberg Arena in to a feared place to visit in women’s basketball, going 511-61 at home.
In the summer of 2016, looking ahead to the following season, Selvig has said he didn’t feel the same excitement he had in the past. And he knew it was time to move on. He announced his retirement on July 27, 2016 after 38 seasons as Lady Grizzlies head coach.
He finished with an overall record of 865-286, good for 10th all-time in NCAA women’s basketball coaching history for number of wins and a 0.752 winning percentage, 14th all-time. Along the way, he compiled a number of conference feats:
Selvig led the Lady Grizzlies to 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 7 second round games.
Along the way, Selvig was assisted on the bench by former players. Annette (Whitaker) Rocheleau spent 32 years on Selvig’s staff after playing for him in his first few years as head coach, and Trish Duce coached with him for over 20 years after playing for him in the early ’90s. Shannon Schweyen (formerly Cate) spent 24 years as an assistant to Selvig before taking over the Lady Grizzlies program in 2016 following his retirement.
And that is perhaps his greatest contribution to the game: just as he was brought on as a native of the area to continue the university’s tradition of building programs around the state’s best, he built the majority of his rosters and staffs from the best the state had to offer.
In that sense, he built a culture of success that brought 865 wins to not only the university but the state of Montana itself.
The past few years have seen a few of the greatest scorers and rebounders in NCAA Division I women’s basketball. In 2016, Rachel Banham tied the single-game scoring record, putting up 60 points on 19 field goals against Northwestern. The following year, Kelsey Plum finished off her career setting a new single-season scoring record with 1,109 total points, also overtaking the career scoring record with 3,527 points in her four years at the University of Washington. Just behind her is the second all-time scorer, Kelsey Mitchell, who finished off her career at Ohio State last year with 3,402 points, including a record 497 three-point field goals over her four years. On the boards last year, both Natalie Butler and Teaira McCowan passed Courtney Paris’s 2006 single-season rebounding record; McCowan had 544 boards, while Butler set the new record with 563 total.
Of course, the three-point line and increased number of games helps a lot of today’s players overcome the long-held records; when we look at averages, no one has ever dominated in both the scoring and rebounding columns like Mississippi Valley State University’s Patricia Hoskins.
Patricia Hoskins’ roots trace back to Greenville, Mississippi, where she played at O’Bannon High School in the early ’80s. At 6’2, Hoskins played center for the Lady Waves — sometimes called the “Green Wavelettes” — who enjoyed success in the state her junior and senior years. Beating their opponents by more than 35 points per game, O’Bannon went 30-1 in the 1984 season before running in to No. 3 Benton in the state semifinals.
The Lady Waves were down by 16 early in the third quarter, but head coach Mark Sampson switched to a full-court press that gave O’Bannon the opportunity to play catch-up through much of the second half. With just under six minutes left, Hoskins tied the game up at 55 and even took a three-point lead on a score by Hoskins later in the quarter, but Benton would storm back to win on a late pair of free throws. Hoskins led with 28 points and 13 rebounds, and those kinds of numbers would become standard for her.
The following year was about revenge. The O’Bannon girls quickly rolled to a No. 1 ranking. After starting 12-0, Hoskins — who was off to a hot start with 28.4 points and 17 rebounds on average — told the local Clarion-Ledger that the team was relishing their time on top: “It’s the biggest thing that could ever happen to a little country school like this.”
Hoskins had already put up career highs that season of 39 points and 24 rebounds on separate occasions, and she was garnering interest from over 70 schools — including powerhouses Louisiana Tech and San Diego State — as one of the best bigs in the country.
But Hoskins and O’Bannon’s sights were on revenge in the state tournament. They faced Benton on February 27, and though the score was tight again, ultimately Hoskins’ 30 points would lift O’Bannon over the Lady Bulldogs 64-57.
Ultimately, though, the Green Wave’s result was the same. They met up with No. 6 Belmont in the state 2A semifinal game, and despite 26 points and 18 rebounds from Hoskins, O’Bannon fell again. Hoskins was an All-Tourney selection, but her high school playing days were over after a successful 26-2 senior season.
Perhaps the top prospect out of Mississippi in the 1985 class, Hoskins ultimately chose to stay close to home, signing with Mississippi Valley State University, just 43 miles down the highway from Greenville. The Delta Devilettes were coached by Jesse Harris, who had come over from the men’s basketball team as an assistant when the women’s team was reinstated. Harris was coming off of a 9-18 season.
And there’s no doubt Hoskins was immediately their best player. Five games into her freshman season, she averaged 23.2 points and 12 rebounds. Valley finished the year 12-14 on the back of Hoskins, who averaged 25.0 points on 50.0% shooting from the field, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. Her rebound average is still fourth-best for a freshman in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
Each year saw improvement from Hoskins. In her sophomore season, she was named SWAC Player of the Year and led MVSU to its first conference tournament championship with MVP honors. The Delta Devilettes finished the season 21-7, with Hoskins contributing 27.0 points and 17.0 rebounds per game. That rebounding average is fifth all-time for a single season and tops for any sophomore in Division I history.
Hoskins was once again SWAC Player of the Year in her junior campaign, as MVSU improved upon the 1987 season with a SWAC regular season championship and Coach of the Year honors for Harris. Hoskins played through an ankle injury for a portion of the season but still managed to improve her scoring average, putting up 27.9 points per game. Her rebounding margin fell to (a still astounding) 12.7 per game. For a center, she shot an impressive 36.7% from beyond the arc in the first official year of the three-point line in women’s basketball.
Of course, it was her senior season when Hoskins would cement her prominent place in the record books. Though the Delta Devilettes struggled more in conference than previous years, Hoskins was once again SWAC Player of the Year and had her most productive year. She put up 33.6 points and 16.3 rebounds while grabbing 2.7 steals per game. Her No. 42 jersey was retired after her final game.
Within a two-week span, she put up two 55-point games against Southern University and Alabama State. That is still the seventh best mark in Division I women’s basketball history, and she is the only player to have multiple games in the top 15 all-time. Her 908 points in her senior campaign is tied for 19th all-time in a season, but 33.6 points per game is still the highest single-season average.
Her career wound down with even more records in her name. Her 28.4 point-per-game career average is best all-time — the next closest player is Sandra Hodge at 26.7 — and her rebound average of 15.1 is second only to Drake’s Wanda Ford at 15.5. Of players with at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, she leads the rebounding category with 1,662, but she is second overall to Brittney Griner, who put up 3,283 points and pulled down 1,305 rebounds.
At the time, Hoskins’ career scoring mark of 3,122 points was a Division I record. Twelve years later, Jackie Stiles surpassed that mark with 3,393 points. Griner later passed Hoskins, as did Mitchell (3,402) and Plum (3,527), who is now the all-time leading scorer.
Hoskins’ playing career ended sooner than she had hoped. She was not invited to try out for the United States national team in 1992 or 1996, despite her record-setting performance in college. Hoskins voiced her frustration at the lack of recognition of her game. She played professionally during a short stint in Italy, and ultimately her playing career ended there. But her mark on that game, still looming over the record books two decades later, won’t fade.
Though it’s impossible to truly compare players from different eras of the game, Hoskins’ scoring averages speak volumes. For perspective, consider projecting out Hoskins’ scoring averages. In her 1989 senior season, she averaged 33.6 points over 27 games. Had she played 35 games like record-holder Plum, she would have had about 1,177 points, about 68 more than Plum. Stretching her college career from the 110 games she played to match the 139 games Plum played, Hoskins’ total would have reached about 3,945 points, over 400 points more than Plum’s current record of 3,527 points.
The rebounding side is no different. In her sophomore season, she averaged 17.0 rebounds over 28 games. If she had maintained that average over six more games to match the 34 games played by single-season record-holder Natalie Butler, Hoskins would have had 578 total rebounds, 15 better than Butler. Similarly, assume she maintained her 15.1 rebound-per-game average for 29 more games to match the 139 games that Courtney Paris (all-time leading rebounder) played. Hoskins’ total would have gone from 1,662 boards up to about 2,070, which is 36 better than Courtney’s record.
Of course, that doesn’t take anything away from what Hoskins or any of the record-holders did in their careers. Each player’s path is different, and any additional games can alter a person’s career entirely. But, it’s important to understand the dominance of a player like Patricia Hoskins. At a time when the opportunities available to women’s basketball players were even scarcer than they are today, it’s all too easy for the legacy of players like Patricia Hoskins to slip through the cracks.
Hoskins was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 2001, followed by the Mississippi Valley State University Hall of Fame in 2006. Despite a lack of national recognition, the legacy of dominance Patricia Hoskins is indisputable.
When I started Across the Timeline just under six months ago, I was excited to tell the stories of women’s basketball years gone by. I remember thinking, “This is going to present some major challenges, but it’s an important mission.” What I didn’t realize is that this would be so much more than just digging up information; it would be a journey of discovering the misinformation already out there.
I’m going to talk about some of that journey now through a series of examples of just how difficult and disheartening it has been with a focus on the WNBA, since that has been the focus of the summer. And, don’t worry; the title of this post will become clearer as we go, and the story has a happy ending.
I started my efforts on the WNBA’s website, trying to get a sense of how much the league already has put together there. When you get to the home page, nothing really stands out, but there are a couple places you can go.
First, under the Players menu, there is a Historical Players link. This takes you to a page that just lists (at least, presumably) everyone who has ever played in the league and isn’t still currently playing.
Okay, so this is something. It looks like a nice index of players, and each one is a link to that player’s bio. I haven’t really made use of this page myself (Google tends to be a quicker way to get you to the same place), but even here, on what should be a very easy feature to execute, we can find at least a couple slip-ups rather quickly.
This is a player many fans of the WNBA may not know much about. She was 32 years-old when the league started, and she only played 38 games over two seasons for the New York Liberty. But, the problem here is that her name is Trena, not Trina. It’s easy to make a spelling mistake, but it should not be acceptable for a professional sports league (which touts itself as the greatest in the world in women’s basketball) to publish pages with the names of its players (or coaches, officials, etc.) spelled incorrectly. It’s disrespectful at the very least and could easily lead to the propagation of bad information.
But let’s scroll back up to the top of the alphabet.
No, there haven’t been two players named “Monique Ambers” in the WNBA, and to my knowledge, there’s never been a player in the league whose name is all lower case. Credit where it’s due: Monique’s name is spelled correctly at least once, but this kind of mistake exemplifies the sloppiness that is the WNBA’s online presence. It’s a lack of care underlining so much of what you’ll run across.
And if you try to go to many of these players’ pages, it gets worse. Here’s a snapshot of the page for five-time All-Star and gold medalist, Shannon Johnson:
Shannon has no photo, and her bio (“…is a guard for the Orlando Miracle.”) is wrong on its own but also contradicts the fact that higher up on the page she is listed as a guard for Seattle. You can get to career totals and averages, but no game logs are available. This look is pretty common for historical players.
Let’s take a step back. From the WNBA’s menu, you can also go through the More menu, drill down to WNBA 101, and from there click on History.
This is actually a decent-looking page. Although somewhat brief, you can find summaries of all 21 champions in the league along with interesting photos. Then, you keep scrolling:
What could be a similar section on WNBA All-Star games is instead a desolate hint at what might have been. The section starts off with a photo of Maya Moore from the 2017 All-Star Game and a summary of her performance. But — and I checked my notes here — it’s 2018, and there was an All-Star Game this summer. There’s no mention of that, but I suppose the current season doesn’t count as history yet. Fine. But where’s every All-Star Game from before 2015?
The rest of this page is nice, but there’s so much more to the history of the league. An obvious omission: how about league records?
Records are a major part of understanding the history of the WNBA and the biggest events of the past 22 summers. Think about the excitement of Liz Cambage’s 53-point performance or how much time we spent on the edge of our seats wondering if Courtney Vandersloot was going to match or beat Ticha Penicheiro’s single-game assist record of 16. And on the other side, there are those games this past season when the Liberty and Fever only managed a couple of points in a quarter, inching up on less desirable records.
If I want to find NBA records, I can relatively easily find a comprehensive guide of the league that has 58 pages just on records. I haven’t been able to find anything close for the WNBA that is generally available in this same manner. Sadly, the best open resource I have been able to find is a Wikipedia page. Major props to the users who have maintained that page pretty successfully, but it’s far from enough.
First of all, it’s not easy to verify the information here. It’s a nice starting point, but you still have to do the leg work to cross-reference this information to be sure it’s correct. Secondly, it’s just incomplete. I’d like to be able to find regular season records, postseason records, and All-Star Game records separately, for example.
The one thing the WNBA will give you is all-time leaders, essentially a nice-looking table of player stats which you can sort by season types and eight stats.
This is a great tool, but what I can’t figure out is why I can’t sort by all the statistics listed here. Want to know who the all-time leader is in games played? It looks like the data is here, but that isn’t a sortable stat here. Fortunately, Basketball Reference can give you some good detail on season and career records in the WNBA, but you won’t find game or postseason records there either (yet). To seek out single-game records and data, we’ll have to check the game logs and box scores.
During the 2018 season, you can go through the WNBA schedule and find box scores for every game played so far. It’s incredibly useful to get a quick view of the complete statistics for a game along with play-by-play and recaps. But what about box scores from prior seasons?
I wish I had grabbed a screen capture, but prior to the start of this season, you could get to WNBA schedules from prior seasons just like the current year’s, which meant it was easy to get to those box scores as well. The look-and-feel of the schedule page changed slightly ahead of the 2018 season, and now that capability is gone. So, we just have to be a little more clever.
If you look at the URL for a game’s box score page, you can see there’s a pretty simple structure being used:
That means that as long as you have old schedules at your disposal, you can freehand the corresponding URL and get to a box score of interest. For example, Riquna Williams scored a then-record 51 points while playing for the Tulsa Shock in a road game against the San Antonio Silver Stars back on September 8, 2013. And here’s the box score: http://www.wnba.com/game/20130908/TULSAN/.
That’s great! I can get a full view of that game to better contextualize her record-breaking performance. I can even see who the officials were, how many technical fouls were assessed, and the attendance of the game.
But don’t get too excited; box scores are rarely complete. Even the one I just linked to has no information on how many minutes each player logged. Wouldn’t it be great to know how many minutes Riquna played to get 51 points? You’ll have to go through the play-by-play data manually to figure that out, but you can still get to a lot of information here. What’s important to understand, though, is this is actually a pretty exemplary case. In my work compiling both attendance numbers and game-by-game player statistics, here are just a few examples of (really, really) bad box scores on the WNBA website.
First, let’s go to June 14, 2000, when the Washington Mystics played a road game against the New York Liberty: http://www.wnba.com/game/19990614/WASNYL/. This is fairly tame, but for some reason coaches are listed in the box score as if they are players, there are unnecessary blank rows, and good luck finding the attendance; it’s just missing for no apparent reason.
Now take a trip back one year to a August 21, 1999, game between the New York Liberty and Cleveland Rockers. This one is fascinating to me: http://www.wnba.com/game/19990821/NYLCLE/. Apparently, the game never ended! But of course it did:
I know you're sitting there stunned that they never finished that game, but, don't worry, they did. Cleveland won 66-56. @chasitymelvin, who isn't even listed on the WNBA's box score in the previous tweet, actually had 11 points. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
— Kurtis (@fromkurtis) September 3, 2018
Lastly, jump to August 26, 2006, when the Sacramento Monarchs played in Los Angeles during the Playoffs. Here’s the link to the box score: http://www.wnba.com/game/20060826/SACLAS/. I’ll give you a second to look it over.
Whoops! There’s absolutely nothing there. Beyond being terribly frustrating when trying to aggregate data from these box scores, it’s such a strange and unprofessional oversight to me. It’s not like you could even make the case that this isn’t a particularly interesting game; it was the second game of the Western Conference Finals that Sacramento won to get to the Finals!
Fortunately, for any of these incomplete or missing box scores, there is a solution, tough as it may be: the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Type in the URL for a website, and you’ll get a chart of all the snapshots available for that web page over time. Starting here and drilling down a bit, we can dig up that August 26, 2006 box score we were looking for before. It’s still not as complete as the modern box scores — and don’t get me started on the missing attendance again — but it’s better than nothing.
When you’re really desperate, you can go one level further. Searching for the “Mystics” in newspapers from June 15, 1999, you can find a valuable clipping, but you have to do the work from here. This one happens to be from The Daily Oklahoman:
With all these disparate options, you can actually put together complete data sets of WNBA game-by-game attendance and postseason game-by-game statistics. I’m still working on game-by-game statistics for regular season games, and if you thought this was winding down, you’re sorely mistaken.
Here’s my process for aggregating game-by-game statistics:
And this is where things get interesting and problems still remain.
Here’s a simple one I tweeted about recently: if you total up Tamecka Dixon’s assists in regular season games based on box score data, you get a total of 961 assists. Let’s go to the WNBA’s Assists Leader Board to verify that number. Here’s what is listed for 26th through 30th place:
Uh-oh! There must be something wrong with my data (well, the WNBA’s box scores, but I don’t want to get hung up on that point). Let’s go over to the career totals for Tamecka on the WNBA website and see where my numbers differ.
This is a major issue. The WNBA acknowledges that Tamecka had 961 assists, but she’s missing from the leader board entirely. She should be 29th, right above Kara Lawson. We can all be optimistic and hope this is the only discrepancy, but how can you be sure? (Update: As of September 11, 2018 5:13 PM ET, Tamecka Dixon is now correctly listed at 29th on the Assists Leader Board.)
And there’s still one more issue I’ve yet to resolve. I tweeted about it recently:
You say @TichaPenicheiro had 224 assists in 1998, but if you add up her assist totals in the box scores from each game that season, you get 225.
Which is it? And if it's 224, which game's box score is wrong?
Someone who uses this data
— Kurtis (@fromkurtis) September 3, 2018
I’m not going to post all the data here, but this is the issue, just to reiterate: my totals for Ticha Penicheiro say she had 2,600 career assists, but the WNBA (and Basketball Reference) say she had 2,599. I drilled down by season and found that my totals show she had 225 assists in 1998, but the WNBA says it should be 224. I even got my hands on a 2003 Sacramento Monarchs media guide, and it also says 224. I have confirmed my total from the box scores on the WNBA website, box scores from archived versions of the WNBA website (from the corresponding season or just after), and newspapers from the days just after those games.
This is the player with the second-most career assists in league history. All the numbers are important, but this one is huge. I’ve reached out to the league to try to get this resolved, but I have heard nothing. I’m still verifying more regular season statistics, and I’m fearful I’ll run in to more issues like this.
This is a statement I have struggled to write, but it’s the truth: I don’t trust the WNBA’s information. I started out by pointing out where the WNBA is lacking information because that is terribly important, but what is even more difficult to reconcile is when there is information available, but it’s verifiably incorrect.
If I want information about the WNBA, I should be able to start from the WNBA’s website. But, unfortunately, most of the time I can tell in a few minutes what I’m looking for isn’t there. And now I’m left with the awful truth that even if I find what I’m looking for there, I feel like I have to look elsewhere to be confident in what I’m looking at.
There are plenty of issues facing the league at this time, and WNBA Twitter will be more than happy to fill anyone in, but this is an important one: if you want to be respected and talked about as a league, it’s important that fans and media have easy access to reliable information.
And here’s the smiley, happy ending to walk away with: this will improve. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the WNBA itself will do anything about it, but whatever it takes, I will continue to expand what’s available from Across the Timeline until such time that my work is not needed. Along with covering angles and stories on women’s basketball history that have been left behind, I’m continually working hard on aggregating data you can trust.
Update #2: As of October 28, 2018 at 1:39 PM ET, several of these issues had been corrected:
– The mistakes pointed out in the "Historical Players" listing have been corrected.
– Minor changes to historical player bios have been made (e.g. Shannon Johnson now has a photo!), but many errors still remain.
– The 6/14/99 WAS-NY game box score was at some… https://t.co/b999ZHvwa0
— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) October 28, 2018
With the 2018 WNBA regular season in the books, it’s time to look back at regular season statistics records. The following table breaks down each major individual statistic with the 2018 leader on the left. The all-time leader entering this season is listed on the right. For each stat, the leader following the 2018 season is highlighted in yellow.
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Total||DeWanna Bonner||1,120||Katie Smith
|Per Game||Skylar Diggins-Smith||34.1||Katie Smith||2001||38.56|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Total||Liz Cambage||278||Diana Taurasi||2006||298|
|FG %||Sylvia Fowles||61.9||Tamika Raymond||2003||66.84|
|2-point FGs||Liz Cambage||266||Seimone Augustus||2007||270|
|2-point FG %||Sylvia Fowles||61.9||Alysha Clark||2015||68.89|
|3-point FGs||Diana Taurasi||106||Diana Taurasi||2006||121|
|3-point FG %||Briann January||47.0||Temeka Johnson||2012||53.13|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Makes||A’ja Wilson||192||Katie Smith||2001||246|
|Attempts||A’ja Wilson||248||Angel McCoughtry||2011||287|
|Percentage||Diana Taurasi||92.5||Becky Hammon||2014||100|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Offensive||Sylvia Fowles||122||Yolanda Griffith||2001||162|
|Defensive||Sylvia Fowles||282||Jonquel Jones||2017||280|
|Total||Sylvia Fowles||404||Jonquel Jones||2017||403|
|Rebounds Per Game||Sylvia Fowles||11.88||Jonquel Jones||2017||11.85|
|Offensive REB %||Sylvia Fowles||13.48||Yolanda Griffith||2001||18.95|
|Defensive REB %||Sylvia Fowles||31.33||Chamique Holdsclaw||2002||35.61|
|REB %||Sylvia Fowles||22.38||Jonquel Jones||2017||23.56|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Total||Courtney Vandersloot||258||Ticha Penicheiro||2000||236|
|Per Game||Courtney Vandersloot||8.6||Courtney Vandersloot||2017||8.07|
|Assist %||Courtney Vandersloot||43.42||Ticha Penicheiro||2002||43.05|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Total||Maya Moore||57||Teresa Weatherspoon||1998||100|
|Per Game||Maya Moore||1.7||Teresa Weatherspoon||1998||3.33|
|Steal %||Gabby Williams||3.62||Teresa Weatherspoon||1998||5.59|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Total||Brittney Griner||87||Brittney Griner||2014||129|
|Per Game||Brittney Griner||2.56||Brittney Griner||2015||4.04|
|Block %||Brittney Griner||6.01||Margo Dydek||1998||10.73|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Total||Breanna Stewart||742||Diana Taurasi||2006||860|
|Per Game||Liz Cambage||23.0||Diana Taurasi||2006||25.29|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Offensive Win Shares||Breanna Stewart||5.03||Cynthia Cooper||1997||8.13|
|Defensive Win Shares||Sylvia Fowles||2.91||Sheryl Swoopes||2002||3.82|
|Win Shares||Breanna Stewart||7.75||Cynthia Cooper||1998||10.02|
|Advanced Shooting Efficiency|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Effective FG %||Jonquel Jones||64.21||Nneka Ogwumike||2016||68.66|
|True Shooting %||LaToya Sanders||65.81||Nneka Ogwumike||2016||73.71|
|2018 Leader||All-Time Leader (through 2017)|
|Player Efficiency Rating||Liz Cambage||30.73||Lauren Jackson||2007||35.03|
|Offensive Rating||LaToya Sanders||130.05||Lauren Jackson||2006||135.31|
|Defensive Rating||Jessica Breland||93.68||Tamika Catchings||2007||81.25|
|Usage %||Liz Cambage||30.06||Angel McCoughtry||2011||35.48|
The 15th WNBA All-Star Game is set for this Saturday, July 28, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosted for the first time by the Lynx in their home arena, Target Center. The league followed suit with the NBA, changing the format so that instead of playing East vs. West, the top vote-getters square off against each other in teams picked by the leading vote-getters. In this first year of the format, six players were selected from the Eastern Conference, while 16 were chosen from the Western Conference, so we can already see this format dramatically changes the distribution of All-Star picks.
Because of this change and the game coming up this weekend, it’s a good time to look back on the All-Star games leading up to this season.
Before diving in to the year-by-year results and slicing up numbers, keep in mind that the first WNBA All-Star Game wasn’t held until the league’s third season (1999). Additionally, due to the timing of the Olympics and World Championships, there was no official All-Star Game (ASG) in 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, or 2016. And, to be clear, the rest of this post will only be considering data from the ASGs up to and including 2017. 2018’s selections are not considered in this data since the format drastically affects how the data should be perceived.
Okay, let’s get moving…
In the East vs. West format, the West was utterly dominant. The West won the first six ASGs and after last year’s game led the East 10-4. This makes some sense, given that the league was dominated in those early years by the West. It wasn’t until 2003 that a team from the Eastern Conference won a championship. Overall, the winner of the ASG has been a good predictor of which conference would win the WNBA Championship. Out of 14 years, it was wrong just four times (2003, 2007, 2011, 2014).
|Year||East Score||West Score||MVP||East Coach||West Coach||Arena||Location||Attendance|
|1999||61||79||Lisa Leslie||Linda Hill-McDonald||Van Chancellor||Madison Square Garden||New York City||18,649|
|2000||61||73||Tina Thompson||Richie Adubato||Van Chancellor||America West Arena||Phoenix||17,717|
|2001||72||80||Lisa Leslie||Richie Adubato||Van Chancellor||TD Waterhouse Centre||Orlando||16,906|
|2002||76||81||Lisa Leslie||Anne Donovan||Michael Cooper||MCI Center||Washington, D.C.||19,487|
|2003||75||84||Nikki Teasley||Richie Adubato||Michael Cooper||Madison Square Garden||New York City||18,610|
|2005||99||122||Sheryl Swoopes||Mike Thibault||Anne Donovan||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||9,168|
|2006||98||82||Katie Douglas||Mike Thibault||John Whisenant||Madison Square Garden||New York City||12,998|
|2007||103||99||Cheryl Ford||Bill Laimbeer||Jenny Boucek||Verizon Center||Washington, D.C.||19,487|
|2009||118||130||Swin Cash||Lin Dunn||Dan Hughes||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||9,518|
|2011||118||113||Swin Cash||Marynell Meadors||Brian Agler||AT&T Center||San Antonio||12,540|
|2013||98||102||Candace Parker||Lin Dunn||Cheryl Reeve||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||9,323|
|2014||125||124||Shoni Schimmel||Michael Cooper||Cheryl Reeve||US Airways Center||Phoenix||14,685|
|2015||112||117||Maya Moore||Pokey Chatman||Sandy Brondello||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||8,214|
|2017||121||130||Maya Moore||Curt Miller||Cheryl Reeve||KeyArena||Seattle||15,221|
Let’s start by breaking down a few high-level records and points of interest:
Now, on to some team scoring:
And individual statistics:
I’ve broken down the All-Star selections from 1999 to 2017 by player and year. The image that follows lists the data using the following notation:
Keep in mind that this data is indicative of the official selections, not how the game was actually carried out. For example, Elena Delle Donne was voted a starter in 2013, so she is listed as such, even though she could not play in the game and Tina Charles started in her stead. Tina Charles is still listed as a reserve. (You may need to tap/click on the image to enlarge it.)
Based on that data, there are are a few interesting takeaways:
I’ve compiled selections by team in a similar manner. The same notation is used with conference indicators omitted. Instead the teams are separated by conference (West, then East). (You may need to tap/click on the image to enlarge it.)
So, what can we take away from this?
As mentioned toward the beginning of the post, the new All-Star format will likely shake up a lot of these trends since a balance in conferences is not required. I look forward to breaking down data from the new format several years from now when we have played through it at least a few times…
The WNBA released its 16th annual GM preseason survey results. The full survey ranges from predictions about postseason results and player awards to more general questions about the league’s players and coaches. The full results can be found here. I’m going to dive in to some of the major results, and, in particular, how the predictions have played out throughout the years.
Note: The initial version of this post was referencing incorrect data for the 2013 WNBA GM Survey results. The post now reflects the corrected data. Additionally, the initial version only included data from 2008 and onward; data from 2003 – 2007 is now included.
In this year’s survey, 33% of GMs picked the Los Angeles Sparks as champions, while 25% selected the Minnesota Lynx to repeat. In all of the surveys, the GMs picked correctly just two times, each time when predicting the Lynx (2015, 2017). But, they also picked the Lynx in 2012 and 2014 when the Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury took home the championship, respectively. The GMs have selected a Finals winner that missed the Finals entirely in 9 of the 16 seasons surveyed (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016). Interestingly, the GMs have never favored an Eastern Conference team to win the Finals since 2008 and only twice before then, but perhaps that’s just a safe bet, as only Indiana and Detroit (now the Dallas Wings) have won a championship for the East since 2008. Prior to 2008, the GMs predicted Detroit to win it all in 2004 when Seattle got their first championship, and they tied between Detroit and Indiana in 2007 when Phoenix won their first championship.
|Year||Predicted Finals Champions||Actual Finals Champions||Runner-up|
|2018||Los Angeles Sparks||?||?|
|2017||Minnesota Lynx||Minnesota Lynx||Los Angeles Sparks|
|2016||Phoenix Mercury||Los Angeles Sparks||Minnesota Lynx|
|2015||Minnesota Lynx||Minnesota Lynx||Indiana Fever|
|2014||Minnesota Lynx||Phoenix Mercury||Chicago Sky|
|2013||Phoenix Mercury||Minnesota Lynx||Atlanta Dream|
|2012||Minnesota Lynx||Indiana Fever||Minnesota Lynx|
|2011||Seattle Storm||Minnesota Lynx||Atlanta Dream|
|2010||Phoenix Mercury||Seattle Storm||Atlanta Dream|
|2009||Los Angeles Sparks||Phoenix Mercury||Indiana Fever|
|2008||Los Angeles Sparks||Detroit Shock||San Antonio Silver Stars|
|2007||Detroit Shock / Indiana Fever||Phoenix Mercury||Detroit Shock|
|Detroit Shock||Sacramento Monarchs|
|2005||Los Angeles Sparks||Sacramento Monarchs||Connecticut Sun|
|2004||Detroit Shock||Seattle Storm||Connecticut Sun|
|2003||Los Angeles Sparks||Detroit Shock||Los Angeles Sparks|
The Connecticut Sun and Los Angeles Sparks were predicted to get the most regular season wins in their respective conferences. The Sun received 75% of the votes in the East, and the Sparks received 50% of the vote in the West. This would be the first time for Connecticut since 2012 and the first time for Los Angeles since 2006.
Only last year was the prediction correct for both conferences, though there was a tie in the West in the predictions (Minnesota and Los Angeles). In the East, the prediction was correct five times (2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2017), while the Western Conference prediction came to fruition three times (2012, 2015, and 2017), each time when the Minnesota Lynx were selected.
|Year||Predicted Eastern Champions||Actual Eastern Champions||Predicted Western Champions||Actual Western Champions|
|2018||Connecticut Sun||?||Los Angeles Sparks||?|
|2017||New York Liberty||New York Liberty||Minnesota Lynx / Los Angeles Sparks||Minnesota Lynx|
|2016||Indiana Fever||New York Liberty||Phoenix Mercury||Minnesota Lynx|
|2015||Atlanta Dream||New York Liberty||Minnesota Lynx||Minnesota Lynx|
|2014||Atlanta Dream||Atlanta Dream||Minnesota Lynx||Phoenix Mercury|
|2013||Indiana Fever||Chicago Sky||Phoenix Mercury||Minnesota Lynx|
|2012||Indiana Fever||Connecticut Sun||Minnesota Lynx||Minnesota Lynx|
|2011||Atlanta Dream / Indiana Fever||Indiana Fever||Seattle Storm||Minnesota Lynx|
|2010||Connecticut Sun||Washington Mystics||Phoenix Mercury||Seattle Storm|
|2009||Detroit Shock||Indiana Fever||Los Angeles Sparks||Phoenix Mercury|
|2008||Detroit Shock||Detroit Shock||Los Angeles Sparks||San Antonio Silver Stars|
|2007||Detroit Shock||Detroit Shock||Sacramento Monarchs||Phoenix Mercury|
|2006||Detroit Shock||Connecticut Sun||Sacramento Monarchs||Los Angeles Sparks|
|2005||Detroit Shock||Connecticut Sun||Los Angeles Sparks||Sacramento Monarchs|
|2004||Detroit Shock||Connecticut Sun||Sacramento Monarchs||Los Angeles Sparks|
|2003||New York Liberty||Detroit Shock||Houston Comets / Sacramento Monarchs||Los Angeles Sparks|
Maya Moore is predicted to be the 2018 WNBA MVP, with 33% of the votes. Brittney Griner finished next with 17%. This would be Maya’s second MVP award, her first coming in 2014. The GM survey has only been an accurate predictor of this award once in the past 10 years, in 2013 when it went to Candace Parker.
Similar to the Minnesota Lynx for champions, Parker has been the prediction four out of the past 10 years. Moore, Elena Delle Donne, and Lisa Leslie each were predicted twice. Only Delle Donne has actually won the MVP award in that time span, though it came in 2015 when Moore was predicted. Moore finished second in voting that year. The next closest prediction came in 2012 when Parker and Seimone Augustus tied in preseason GM voting and Parker finished as runner-up in MVP voting.
In six of the surveys, the predicted MVP has been from the predicted champions:
In reality, the MVP has been on the championship-winning team four of the past 16 seasons (2009, 2010, 2016, 2017) since the survey started.
|Year||Predicted MVP||Actual MVP||Runner-up|
|2017||Elena Delle Donne||Sylvia Fowles||Tina Charles|
|2016||Elena Delle Donne||Nneka Ogwumike||Tina Charles|
|2015||Maya Moore||Elena Delle Donne||Maya Moore|
|2014||Candace Parker||Maya Moore||Diana Taurasi|
|2013||Candace Parker||Candace Parker||Maya Moore|
|2012||Seimone Augustus / Candace Parker||Tina Charles||Candace Parker|
|2011||Diana Taurasi||Tamika Catchings||Tina Charles|
|2010||Diana Taurasi / Candace Parker||Lauren Jackson||Tamika Catchings|
|2009||Lisa Leslie||Diana Taurasi||Tamika Catchings|
|2008||Lisa Leslie||Candace Parker||Lindsay Whalen|
|2007||Diana Taurasi||Lauren Jackson||Becky Hammon|
|2006||Lauren Jackson||Lisa Leslie||Diana Taurasi|
|2005||Lauren Jackson||Sheryl Swoopes||Lauren Jackson|
|2004||Lauren Jackson||Lisa Leslie||Lauren Jackson|
|2003||Lisa Leslie||Lauren Jackson||Tamika Catchings|
Brittney Griner, with 33% of the GMs’ votes, is predicted to earn her third Defensive Player of the Year honor this season. She earned this award in back-to-back years (2015 and 2016) and has been predicted as the winner in each of the last four years. No prediction on Defensive Player of the Year could be found for 2003 and 2007. In nine of the prior 10 years, Tamika Catchings was nabbed as the award-winner by the GMs, tying with Lisa Leslie in 2009. The prediction has played out correctly in six of the surveys (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015).
|Year||Predicted Def. POTY||Actual Def. POTY|
|2017||Brittney Griner||Alana Beard|
|2016||Brittney Griner||Sylvia Fowles|
|2015||Brittney Griner||Brittney Griner|
|2014||Tamika Catchings||Brittney Griner|
|2013||Tamika Catchings||Sylvia Fowles|
|2012||Tamika Catchings||Tamika Catchings|
|2011||Tamika Catchings||Sylvia Fowles|
|2010||Tamika Catchings||Tamika Catchings|
|2009||Tamika Catchings / Lisa Leslie||Tamika Catchings|
|2008||Tamika Catchings||Lisa Leslie|
|2006||Tamika Catchings||Tamika Catchings|
|2005||Tamika Catchings||Tamika Catchings|
|2004||Sheryl Swoopes||Lisa Leslie|
The GMs predicted A’ja Wilson, the top pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft, to earn Rookie of the Year honors. This category has been the most accurate from the survey results, though it is also the award with the least variety in how it has been chosen since 2008. The prediction has been correct in nine of the last 16 years. In 2009, the GM votes tied between Angel McCoughtry and Marissa Coleman, and McCoughtry eventually won the award. Last year was an exception (Allisha Gray in place of Kelsey Plum), along with:
Except for 2005, 2009 and 2014, the top pick from the WNBA Draft has been predicted to win, and except for 2003 (Cheryl Ford, #3), 2005 (Temeka Johnson, #6), 2007 (Armintie Price, #3), 2013 (Delle Donne, #2) and 2017 (Gray, #4), the top pick has been named Rookie of the Year. To put that in perspective, from 1998 to 2002, the top pick won the award only once (1999: Chamique Holdsclaw). The latest draft pick to win the award was Tracy Reid in 1998 (#7).
|Year||Predicted ROTY (Draft Pick)||Actual ROTY (Draft Pick)|
|2018||A'ja Wilson (1)||?|
|2017||Kelsey Plum (1)||Allisha Gray (4)|
|2016||Breanna Stewart (1)||Breanna Stewart (1)|
|2015||Jewell Loyd (1)||Jewell Loyd (1)|
|2014||Odyssey Sims (2)||Chiney Ogwumike (1)|
|2013||Brittney Griner (1)||Elene Delle Donne (2)|
|2012||Nneka Ogwumike (1)||Nneka Ogwumike (1)|
|2011||Maya Moore (1)||Maya Moore (1)|
|2010||Tina Charles (1)||Tina Charles (1)|
|2009||Marissa Coleman (2) / Angel McCoughtry (1)||Angel McCoughtry (1)|
|2008||Candace Parker (1)||Candace Parker (1)|
|2007||N/A||Armintie Price (3)|
|2006||Seimone Augustus (1)||Seimone Augustus (1)|
|2005||Tan White (2)||Temeka Johnson (6)|
|2004||Diana Taurasi (1)||Diana Taurasi (1)|
|2003||LaToya Thomas (1)||Cheryl Ford (3)|