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Sparks in market for shooting guard in WNBA draft

NCAA champion UConn's center is a cinch to be chosen by Connecticut Sun as the first pick. Then the surprises will begin, L.A. Sparks Coach Jennifer Gillom says.

April 07, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

Life is tightfisted with certainties. It gave us death and taxes, not much else. But women's basketball-wise, it bequeathed Connecticut, a sledgehammer squad whose national collegiate championship win Tuesday was as "no duh" as a gridlocked 405 Freeway come 5 p.m.

In the same category, it bestows another guarantee Thursday: With the first pick in the 2010 WNBA draft, the Connecticut Sun will select center Tina Charles from the University of Connecticut.

Post-college employment with the Sun offers her an easy-distance transition, but while Charles is in charge of the first pick — Sun Coach Mike Thibault has already called her "one of our players" — there are no certainties beginning with the second pick; such is life.

"We're going to see a lot of surprises in this draft," Jennifer Gillom, in her first year as L.A. Sparks coach, said.

About five sure picks will follow Charles in no particular order: Virginia guard Monica Wright, Middle Tennessee State forward Alysha Clark, former Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince, Oklahoma State guard Andrea Riley and Stanford center Jayne Appel.

Curiously, Appel could go second or fall out of the top five. She is considered an equal to Charles in talent and instant impact, but her injury-laced past — shoulder, knee, ankle — could taint her draft stock.

"Her mobility isn't where she needs to be," Minnesota Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve, whose team holds the second and third picks, said in a conference call.

After Charles and Appel, the draft goes to the guards, scorers like Prince, Wright and Riley. For Gillom, getting a sharpshooter who can draw attention away from star forward Candace Parker is paramount.

"We definitely want a shooting guard," she said

Gillom has two first-round picks (eight and 12) and second- and third-round selections to help improve the team's three-point-shooting, worst in the WNBA last season (30%). She also wants to fill the gap left by Lisa Leslie's retirement. "We definitely have to try to replace that, but that's almost impossible," she said.

But Gillom expects only the top five or six picks to have an immediate impact. "After that, it becomes a little bit skeptical," she said.

She might trade up, should an attractive deal present itself. A player like Prince would be an interesting choice. The former Rutgers guard left after her junior season to play professionally overseas, an unusual move but one that Prince, in a conference call, said was best.

"The biggest difference you'll see is me knowing when to pick my poison — knowing when to score and when to get everyone involved, knowing how to run the team better," Prince said.

If the Sparks don't trade up, Prince will probably be gone by their turn, as will Riley and Wright. One mock draft had the Sparks taking Nebraska star forward Kelsey Griffin with their first pick; another tabbed high-scoring Louisiana State guard Allison Hightower.

Much also depends on how new Tulsa Shock Coach Nolan Richardson, of "40 Minutes of Hell" fame, decides to use the seventh overall pick.

Either way, Gillom said, with a veteran crew that advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, the Sparks probably will improve more though free agency than this draft.

"Maybe those players will be a surprise and make an impact right away, but I highly doubt it," she said.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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