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WNBA MIKE TERRY

It's a Tough Season for Rookies

June 19, 2003|MIKE TERRY

General managers and coaches expected low yields from the 2003 class of rookies, and they are living up (down?) to expectations.

Among the new faces, only Detroit's Cheryl Ford is off to a great start.

The Shock has played only five games, but Ford -- averaging 11.4 points and 11.2 rebounds -- has helped Detroit, which won nine games last year, to a 4-1 start and first place in the Eastern Conference.

Also looking solid is Gwen Jackson, who went to San Antonio in the trade that sent Natalie Williams to Indiana.

The 3-6 Silver Stars are struggling in the highly competitive Western Conference, but Jackson is averaging 9.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. She is also showing the standout NCAA tournament she had in March for Tennessee was no fluke.

After Ford and Jackson, the stats fall off dramatically. No other first-year player, not even top pick LaToya Thomas, is averaging as much as seven points or four rebounds a game.

The biggest disappointment has been Sacramento's Chantelle Anderson, seen by some as the WNBA's next great center.

She has had a slow recovery from off-season foot surgery and the 6-foot-6 Anderson, who was expected to allow Yolanda Griffith to move to her natural power-forward position, has averaged only 2.2 points in six games and not even a rebound per game.

There is plenty of season left. But there's not much evidence to suggest that more is coming from the 2003 class.

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New York Coach Richie Adubato defied conventional wisdom by not breaking up the Liberty's aging core of players after the Liberty lost in the WNBA finals for the fourth time.

But there are signs that may be changing.

Longtime starting point guard and Madison Square Garden fan favorite Teresa Weatherspoon was on the bench Tuesday as the Liberty defeated Sacramento. It was the first time in Adubato's five seasons as the Liberty coach that Weatherspoon was not on the court in a winning game.

At 37, Weatherspoon could find a permanent spot on the pine. Never a big scorer to begin with -- averaging 6.2 points a game overall -- she is averaging 2.1 points this season, meaning the Liberty is virtually playing four-on-five when New York has the ball.

In addition, New York's other guards -- Becky Hammon (17.3), Vicky Johnson (9.4) and rookie K.B. Sharp (5.3) -- are all having more productive seasons and are worthy of more minutes than Weatherspoon. Even if Weatherspoon is averaging a team-best 3.3 assists.

Weatherspoon's lack of offense is more glaring because the Liberty's offense as a whole is struggling. New York is averaging only 65.6 points a game, ninth in the league. Defensively, the Liberty gives up 67.1 points a game and (as of Wednesday) joins Connecticut as the only Eastern teams being outscored by opponents

Weatherspoon is one of two WNBA players (along with Charlotte's Andrea Stinson) to have started or played in every game her team has played since the league began in 1997. Her emotions are always on the surface, and she probably will have a difficult time accepting a role as a reserve.

But she is leaving Adubato little choice if the Liberty is to battle resurgent Detroit, Indiana, Charlotte and Connecticut for an Eastern Conference playoff slot.

And if Weatherspoon gets eased out, does that mean Johnson, Tari Phillips and Crystal Robinson will start looking over their shoulders?

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