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Stanford's Yamasaki Sending a Strong Message

January 02, 2002|MIKE TERRY

There is much about Lindsey Yamasaki that suggests strength.

Her 6-foot-1 frame isn't overly muscular but is solidly built. Her handshake is firm, her voice strong. And when you watch her move on the basketball court the Stanford senior doesn't bowl over people as much as she explodes past them.

Yamasaki is having a terrific final season for the sixth-ranked Cardinal, who are 12-1 overall and in first place in the Pacific 10 Conference. She leads Stanford in scoring (17.7) and joins teammate Nicole Powell as part of one of the best tandems on offense in the country.

She's one of a handful of elite Asian-American college basketball players. Actually, she's an elite player who happens to be Japanese.

Which brings up another question.

If Yamasaki plays in the WNBA next season, as she's hoping to do, can she be strong enough to carry the weight of expectations that will accompany her?

The WNBA won't say it publicly, but there's no doubt the league's marketing department would love a player of Asian descent who can attract Asian fans to the games.

If Yamasaki can make the pros, she may be an instant focal point. She may not make the immediate impact that Japan's Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki have made on baseball, but the attention will be there.

Yamasaki correctly says, for now, she is concentrating on the season, and helping a young but talented Stanford team get to the Final Four.

"Our potential is unlimited," Yamasaki said. "Look at the Tennessee game, [which is Stanford's only loss]. We didn't play well, and we were right with them. And this year, at least in the top 10, teams seem on the same level--everyone can beat everyone. We have a feeling on this team we haven't had in a long time. We respect one another, we're excited for each other."

She admits, though, a pro basketball future is never far from her thoughts.

"I don't talk about it much. When people ask me, I say hopefully it's in my future; it's something I'm aiming for. But I've had a rough previous three [college] years. And if I finish well with a good season, if I push myself to play the way I think I can, then I have a really good chance.

"It's exciting knowing I could represent a whole different group of people. A lot of the fans I bring [to Stanford] are Asian fans. A lot of the little girls write me and say 'I want to be like you.' I'd never been around that."

Born 21 years ago in Oregon City, Ore., the youngest of three children, Yamasaki led her Oregon City High team to four consecutive state 4A championships.

She entered Stanford in 1998. In her previous three seasons, dividing time between basketball and volleyball, Yamasaki averaged 11.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and battled various leg injuries.

But there were always hints of greatness.

Last season, Yamasaki averaged 12 points, and was second in the Pac-10 in three-point shooting (42.5%) and free-throw shooting (82.2%).

She further honed her game on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the World University Games in Beijing last August.

That experience matured more than her jump shot.

"I was able to step back and be on my own," she said.

"Playing a different role and having a championship experience, that changed my perspective. I stopped worrying about 'me, me, me.' I wanted my team to feel good."

WNBA scouts profess some reservations about her quickness at the professional level. But there is much about Yamasaki's game they like.

"She can break a press, slash to the basket and create her own shot," a Western Conference scout said. "Where she goes in the draft probably depends on the rest of her season, having a good NCAA tournament and a good league tryout camp in Chicago in April. But this has been her best year so far in basketball."

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