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Sunday, January 21, 2018

You Don’t Always Get What You Want ... You Get What You Need

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By Clay Kallam
Correspondent

The annual gnashing of teeth about fans’ All-Star game voting transcends individual sports – there’s always a better player who doesn’t make it and some veteran, or inexplicably popular youngster, who gets on instead.

And that issue is at the heart of a very real dilemma facing the WNBA: Many players who might excite the fans wind up being peripheral figures in the league because coaches rightfully place winning ahead of making the paying customers happy. Why “rightfully”? If coaches don’t win, they get fired, and, equally important, though the league as a whole might benefit from the presence of a particularly compelling package of personality and skill, an individual team’s attendance and sponsorship is much more directly tied to wins and losses than to popular, though relatively less effective, players.

There are a bunch of examples, but we’ll start with a player that few WNBA fans have seen, but would soon grow to love: Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga. Vandersloot is a 5-8 junior point guard who plays with passion and a fierce competitiveness that inspires her teammates and ignites the fans. Her numbers are more than solid—14.5 points per game, 47 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three, 3.6 rebounds per game, 233 assists (to 104 turnovers) on the season, 93 steals – but unless most observers are wrong, her WNBA future is limited.

First, she’s probably not 5-8 (program heights are always a joke), and more important, she’s a half-step slower than the All-Americans who make up the bulk of WNBA rosters. Though she’s explosive, and reasonably fast, and reasonably quick, when she moves up a level, all of a sudden her skill and passion will run into a brick wall made up of bigger, taller, faster, quicker, stronger and more experienced players.

In short, Vandersloot most likely won’t help a team win enough to justify a starting spot, or (possibly) even a place in the rotation, in the shrinking WNBA. If she only could, she would be a fan favorite, provide ESPN highlights with hustle plays, and be a living illustration of the best aspects of women’s basketball.

No coach, though, and no owner, can afford to play someone who won’t help their team win, because that’s professional and/or financial suicide – even if the greater good of the league, and the sport, would be served by such a move.

Another example with more chance to make it is Samantha Prahalis of Ohio State, who’s shorter and more slender than Vandersloot, but quicker and with an even more prominent personality. Of course, a lot of fans don’t care much for the Prahalis show, but that too is part of the fun. One of the great things about Lisa Leslie was that fans hated her everywhere but L.A., and they took great joy in cheering her every mistake and hoping that the Sparks would find a way to lose that night. They would get part of their ticket-money’s worth by booing Leslie with heart and passion.

Prahalis, just a sophomore, has approximately equivalent numbers to Vandersloot in a tougher league: 16.2 points per game, 43.9 percent overall shooting, 37 percent from beyond the arc, 3.6 rebounds per game, 218 assists (to 109 turnovers) on the season, 45 steals. She’s a better bet than Vandersloot to be drafted high and has a better shot of sticking on a roster, but she too must figure out how to navigate a league where the athletes are simply way more physically gifted – but not nearly as skilled – as she is.

As a starting WNBA point guard, Sammy Prahalis will be the player opposing fans love to hate, and her knack for the spectacular and love of the spotlight will make her a tremendous promotional vehicle for the league – if she can make it. Vandersloot, on the other hand, would be everyone’s darling – if she can make it.

There aren’t enough of these kinds of players in the WNBA, and it’s really nobody’s fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Women’s basketball has proportionally fewer superstar candidates than the men’s game, and they need every one to find a way to shine at the professional level. Some, like Jacki Gemelos, are crushed by injury, and others, like Vandersloot and Prahalis, are inevitably relegated to the end of the bench due to DNA that just didn’t deliver enough height, strength, and fast-twitch fibers.

So if you care about women’s basketball, cheer hard for Vandersloot and Prahalis to find a home in the WNBA – they’re the kind of players who give the league its best chance to survive and thrive.

 

Originally published Fri, February 19, 2010


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NCAA DIVISION I TOP 25 COACHES' POLL
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Week: February 7, 2012
RANK SCHOOL RECORD LAST WEEK'S RANK PRESEASON RANK AP RANK POINTS
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
(61)
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
(70)
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
(38)
92
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
(18)
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
(13)
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
(23)
NR-RV
(19)
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.