Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002

Sparks have tough task

Comets among teams gunning for champs

May 25, 2002

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— Sheryl Swoopes shook a defender, accelerated and sank a silky 15-foot pull-up jumper.

It was only an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden, yet the familiar move proved the standout of the Houston Comets was back to her old form a scary prospect for the defending-champion Los Angeles Sparks and the rest of the WNBA.

The WNBA begins its sixth season with Los Angeles trying to hold off the rejuvenated four-time champion Comets. The Sparks feel they need to go undefeated this season just to retain their title.

"I don't think they're looking over their shoulders because I'm back," Swoopes said. "Anytime you're defending champion, you know everybody is going to come after you."

New York gets the first chance, facing the Sparks today in the season debut on NBC.

The Sting will likely stay in Charlotte despite the Hornets moving to New Orleans. Charlotte, which made a surprising run to the finals last season after a 1-10 start, would be the first WNBA team in a non-NBA city.

Dee Brown will coach the Orlando Miracle after hanging up his jersey with the Magic, becoming the second former NBA player among WNBA coaches. Ex-Laker Michael Cooper coaches Los Angeles.

Houston's Van Chancellor is the only coach remaining from the league's first season in 1997.

"It reflects how seriously our teams take the whole idea of winning," league president Val Ackerman said.

Connecticut standout Sue Bird was the No. 1 pick by the last-place Seattle Storm, one of four players taken from the unbeaten NCAA champion Huskies in the top six selections. Teammates Swin Cash (Detroit) Asjha Jones (Washington) and Tamika Williams (Minnesota) are expected to make immediate impacts.

Bird, the consensus national player of the year, led UConn to a 39-0 record and NCAA title last season. "She is a unique rookie," Seattle coach Lin Dunn said. "I've been very impressed with her poise."

Stacey Dales-Schuman, the No. 3 pick from NCAA runner-up Oklahoma, will complement Mystics All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw.

"I'm surprised to see players so young almost seamlessly come in and perform," Stanley said. "Stacey has international competition (Canadian Olympic team) and Asjha is as durable as you get playing four years uninjured."

The Indiana Fever will be much improved with the debut of former Tennessee standout Tamika Catchings and the addition of Nikki McCray in a trade with the Mystics. Catchings sat out last season rehabbing an injured knee.

"Nikki is a veteran, savvy player with tremendous energy and explosiveness," Fever coach Nell Fortner said. "Like Catchings, she makes people around her better."

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