In the first part of the countdown of the 10 Biggest Moments in Women's Hoops for 2010 yesterday, we covered numbers 10 through 6.
Just to refresh your memory, we made the decision that since women's basketball is a niche sport; we're going to review the year not only in terms of what created a buzz among die hard fans, but also what garnered mainstream attention. Accordingly, some of the "purist" women's basketball fans may disagree with some of the top five rankings. Nevertheless, in our estimation, the following five stories actually struck a balance between die hard and mainstream discussion making them the kind of stories that almost any basketball fan is aware of even if they weren't following closely.
So with another tip of the hat to Casey Kasem's Top 40 skills, the countdown rolls on.
5. Redemption in the form of an Oatmeal & Orange Colored Ball: Marion Jones Joins the WNBA
Ex-convict does their time, leaves prison, busts butt to get in shape, and becomes an All-Star.
Okay, that's Michael Vick's story...but except for the All-Star part, it was also the story of Marion Jones.
The Tulsa Shock rookie guard captured the nation's attention with the pre-season questions of whether her signing was a novelty and PR signing by a new franchise, or did she deserve the chance. As the season progressed, and Jones did not get a great deal of playing time while the Shock management traded away the players that came from Detroit with the team, Shock fans began to become upset, although more with management than Jones herself. Jones did what she needed to do this season; she worked hard, she said the right things, supported her teammates and made public appearances all over. Her perseverance was rewarded in the last game of the season, when she received her first WNBA start, and produced. She finished that game with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and only 1 turnover.
A sign of things to come? We'll find out this season.
4. A Giant Shadow Is Cast on the Big 12: Brittney Griner Explodes on the College Scene
She's 6'8" tall and has an 86" wingspan. She can run the floor with ease, dunks from a standing position in the lane, and has amazing instincts on the defensive end.
No one had seen anything like Brittney Griner when she began her career last fall at Baylor University, debuting against - of all teams - Tennessee. She scored 15 points that day, and had the first four of a ridiculous 223 blocks she accumulated over the season. She progressed throughout the season, dunking in multiple games, and showing dexterity and an increasing repertoire of post moves. Then came Texas Tech...
Those that did not know Griner also learned about her in a non-flattering light. Griner and Tech's Jordan Barncastle got under each other's skin all season, and in a clip seen all over the country, Griner charged her opponent and swung her fist, breaking Barncastle's nose. The outcry for suspensions and expulsions could easily have been too much for a freshman to handle, but Griner - with the support and assistance of Coach Kim Mulkey - came through it, and did not let it affect her NCAA tournament play. In fact, she set a tournament record with 14 blocks in one game vs. Georgetown. She led Baylor to a Final Four in her first season, before falling to undefeated and eventual champion UConn.
Controversy continued to surround Griner in the summer, as she turned down an offer to play with the USA National team without explanation. The question as to whether she will eventually play for the USA in international competitions is still unanswered.
Griner has come back stronger than ever this season, and Baylor sits at #2 behind UConn in both polls, their only loss this season being a one point game to those Huskies in Hartford, CT. If that game had taken place on a neutral court or at Baylor, we might be talking about Griner as being the one that ended UConn's victory streak.
Whatever the situations that have faced her thus far, Brittney Griner has accepted all the challenges, and grown from them. It's hard to remember that she's only a sophomore in college still, barely 20 years old. 2011 and beyond should be big for Brittney Griner.
3. The Lightning Rod of the WNBA: Love Her or Hate Her, There's Only One Diana Taurasi
You wouldn't be totally off base if you compared Diana Taurasi to Kobe Bryant. They have performed at incredible levels on the court, have won multiple championships, have generated more than their fair share of controversy, and live for the victory. I'd say a very accurate comparison.
Her fans love her no nonsense aggressive style. They love the way she "plays like a guy," fearless, attacking, taking no prisoners. Her detractors say she has too much attitude, that she's a smart ass, that she plays dirty, and she whines when things don't go her way. The truth is....they're both right. And that's what makes Taurasi the #3 "Moment" of 2010.
On the court, she led Spartak to the Euro League title and the USA Senior National team to a gold medal at the World Championships. She also led the Mercury through a difficult, somewhat disappointing regular season, but into the playoffs, while leading the league in scoring at 22.6 ppg.
Off the court, she posed naked for ESPN Magazine's "The Body" issue, left Russia for Turkey, and most recently became wrapped in a drug test/use controversy that is still being sorted out at this time. I ask you, what other WNBA player would have a positive drug test put her on the front page of a newspaper? No one I can think of.
I'll leave you with one final point. Want further proof she's polarizing? A good friend of mine, a staunch supporter of the WNBA tweeted last night, "I invest enough time defending Women's Basketball. Diana Taurasi can defend herself."
2. The Near-Perfect Storm: Undefeated at Home, the Seattle Storm Goes Undefeated Through the Playoffs to Win the WNBA Championship
Forget South Beach. Perhaps LeBron, Bosh and D-Wade took a look out west this past WNBA season, saw Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Swin Cash and what they were doing to the rest of the WNBA and said "hey, maybe we should try that."
The Big Three resides in Seattle.
Jackson scored 20.5 ppg, Bird was second in the league in assists at 5.8 apg and was the master of the big shot. All Cash did was score 13.8 ppg, with 6 rebounds per game, plus bring high energy at all times.
By the time the WNBA season ended, Brian Agler could claim an accomplishment never done before and probably never to be done again: He has won championships in two different women's pro basketball leagues. Agler was more than X's and O's to this team though. He pulled together a bench like no previous Storm team had, convincing former starters like Le'Coe Willingham and Svetlana Abrosimova that they would be happy winning off the bench in Seattle. He knew when to play and when to sit his big three, and got exceptional performances from the other pieces, including undersized post Camille Little and all-purpose wing Tanisha Wright.
The Storm went through the regular season with a 28-6 record, undefeated 17-0 at home. They lost only 2 games to other teams in the Western Conference. And when the playoffs came, they did it again, sweeping Los Angeles, sweeping Phoenix, and sweeping Atlanta to claim the franchises 2nd WNBA championship.
They were amazing. Perfect at home, and nearly perfect overall. Only one team was better than Seattle in 2010. Which brings us to #1.
1. Can It Get Any Better Than This? The UConn Huskies Win a 2nd Straight National Championship and Break the UCLA Record of 90 Consecutive Wins
Geno Auriemma had a year for the ages. No we're not talking about having his first grandchild, even though if you ask him that would be the highlight of 2010. We're talking about the USA Senior National team coach winning Gold in the Czech Republic on the heels of his second straight undefeated national championship season, and the continuation of a consecutive win streak that would eventually surpass that of the UCLA men's team record of 88 wins.
They beat all that have come to take them on. We're not just talking cupcakes either - they beat the Pac-10's Stanford twice. They beat the Big 12's Oklahoma and Baylor (Baylor in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons). They beat Florida State, North Carolina and Duke from the ACC. They won the Big East regular season and conference tournament. They were, in a word, perfect.
Tina Charles won her 2nd title, and celebrated by being the #1 draft choice in the WNBA, and eventual rookie of the year. Kalana Greene won her 2nd title, and played until the WNBA conference championships with the New York Liberty. Then there's Maya Moore...well, see yesterday's article to see what her 2010 was like! Think about this, Tiffany Hayes, now a junior, has NEVER lost a college basketball game. Neither has Caroline Doty.
The 2010-11 Huskies is a different group. They are younger and less experienced. They have more injuries already than last year's team did the whole season. And the streak is still going on, but may reach its end, maybe even as early as tonight at Stanford. Who's to say it won't go on through the year? Who's to say they won't win another championship even if the streak does end? At this point, I wouldn't put anything past the dynamic combination of Moore and Auriemma.
One thing I do know is no other women's team or player had a feature story in Time Magazine, or has both received phone calls from and visited with President Barack Obama. The only one, the number one Moment, the Biggest Story, the Best of 2010 did though...the Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team.
So there you have it, the 10 Biggest Moments in Women's Hoops for 2010. There were certainly plenty of other candidates that didn't make it, including the USA Senior National Team's success, Tina Charles' year in both college and pro ball, and the injuries that hampered the WNBA season.
Finally, the one other story I left out, because I didn't want it to seem loaded with self-importance that isn't there, is the rise of the internet and social media as a way of promoting the game. Blogs like Swish Appeal and more, Facebook, Twitter, Internet Radio....all took off in 2010, and we thank you the followers for allowing us to exist.
Here's a toast to a Big 2011. And as Casey would say, "keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!"