There's no way to sugar coat the fact that this summer for the Shock was made extra lengthy, and not just due to the record-breaking temperatures in Oklahoma. Tulsa started the season with three from 2010 opening day on their roster. Marion Jones, Amber Holt and Nolan Richardson were the only holdovers from that inaugural day. By the end of 2011, only Amber Holt can say she's spent two full seasons in Tulsa.
Roster changes abounded (again) and even hit the coaching staff this season in July. With Richardson forced to head back to retirement, Edwards took the reigns and brought in two new assistants, Kathy McConnell-Miller and Tracy Murray. As of today, Edwards' status is still unknown, as the interim head coach was never untagged as a temporary fix, but also not released from her duties.
The team earned a dubious record of 20 consecutive losses, a WNBA record, and finished up 3-31 - three games 'worse' than the 2010 Shock. So when it boils right down to it, there's not a lot to say about the season, other than it was long, it was rough, and I bet everyone is glad it's the offseason.But, you know I can't finish off year two in Tulsa with just that - I'm giving out AWARDS! That's right, AWARDS! Ha.
"I had some players that have worked their tails off to get better one day at a time," Edwards summed up the season. "I wish we would have had more time together, who knows what would have happened. But I definitely think we needed to be rewarded a little better than what we got rewarded for what we put into this."
So here are some 'rewards'. No, it's not a fancy Tiffany & Co. trophy with the signature blue box. Rather, it's more like a homemade ribbon of excellence just from me, but still. It's a reward, right?
Teresa Edwards scoffed when asked who she would rank as the most valuable on her squad, and for good reason. It's rather hard to focus on an individual's accolades in the midst of a rather dismal year. In this instance, I think I'll agree with Edwards and defer from picking one.
Instead I'll say what I think was most valuable was the team mindset in the face of adversity. The drive, the optimism in the face of defeat, the determination to keep on playing in the hopes of picking up a few more wins, the camaraderie in the locker room and beyond. (And everyone sighs, awwwww....)
But really, if I had to pick an organization MVP I think I'll go with Volt T Fox. Volt celebrated his second birthday with a bang, hosting a mascot party. Later in the summer he got his very own bobblehead, which I am glad to say I have. What doesn't scream "MVP" more than a mascot getting the first bobblehead rather than a player?
This one is actually somewhat legit - not only did Edwards think Tiffany Jackson was most improved for the Shock, but that she should be considered most improved in the league. The panel of 40 voters gave her some respect in a season that saw her numbers climb extensively. T Jack, as I've decided upon for a moniker, finished second in the national voting tied with Matee Ajavon.
Jackson, who played but 9 games in Tulsa in 2010 after being traded for Plenette Pierson, increased her statistics across the board. Her minutes jumped from a career in the teens to 33.9 minutes a game. Jackson started all but two games for the Shock, averaging career-highs of 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. She glided past the 1,000-point mark midway through the year and notched 11 double-doubles.
Edwards was pretty adamant in not wanting to single any players out other than Jackson as her Most Improved. But I did manage to get a cheeky 6th Woman answer out of the interim head coach.
"Liz became [Tulsa's 6th Woman]," Edwards said. "To be honest with you, I thought she did better when she came off the bench because she was most of the time pissed at me. So it was good. Get the most out of her."
After beginning her first season in Tulsa in the starting lineup, after an early injury she was relegated to the sidelines. And after she recovered from the injury, Lizzie's appearances as a starter and time in the lineup dwindled. The 6-8 center was on the court for the opening tip 11 games all year. Only guard Andrea Riley, who came back from having a baby in the spring, started less games as a regular contributor. Lizzie's 11 starts only beat C-section having Riley by one game, in fact.
It's hard to argue with second overall pick and all-star Cambage, so I won't.Besides being concussed in the early-going of the season, she had to deal with a shoulder boo boo, getting relegated to the bench (see above), and getting knocked around quite a bit as a nice "welcome to America".
She finished the year averaging 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 20 minutes a contest. Only teammates Jackson and Ivory Latta put up more points than Cambage, and it was a close call for the team scoring title. Oh yeah. And she's Tulsa's first all-star since team relocation, so ... maybe I'm not the only one who likes rookies? (Thanks for the replacement pick, Ms. Richie!)
As everyone knows, fellow rookie and first round pick Kayla Pedersen was also one of my personal favorites of the year, much to the chagrin of Edwards. But really, you can't go wrong when you can talk about playing quiddich instead of basketball with the players in the locker room.
And back to that other rookie, I'm going to pick Ms. Pedersen in this spot. And no, it's not just because I love the rookies, as some people say. Ok, maybe that's a little bit of it, but who else are you gonna pick??
Pedersen started the season playing a major role for the Shock, starting and playing expansive minutes. Through a 12-game stretch that started June 10th, she played at least 30 minutes in every contest and finished with double-digit points in nine of those games. Her court time was diminished from late-July on, as she was hampered by a mystery injury to her leg that was oftentimes described as fatigue and normal wear and tear.
However, even with her lessened minutes, Pedersen managed to affect the game any time she was on the court, hustling to lose balls, forcing turnovers and overall dogging opponents with her D. She finished her first year averaging 6.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 23.8 minutes a game.
Coach of the Year:
Oh, so many to pick from...so little time...
Tracy Murray, the last to enter in the tumultuous coaching scene that is Tulsa's bench, gets my vote. Not only do I think his presence of testosterone might be a nice little addition to an estrogen charged locker room, but his knowledge of the game from a player, commentator and coach perspective was welcome. But perhaps more than that, Tracy seems to be a positive presence even after the season has ended for the Shock. He tweets regularly with every single woman on the team that has an account. They joke with each other about their game, he doles out 'fatherly advice' to his twitter daughter Lizzie and seems to be an overall good guy. And anyone who tweets is high on my list!
As for the head coach position, Edwards made one last statement to the media on her status going forward after the final game at the BOK.
"I think I have to take a self-assessment. I'm a free bird, I like to do what's good and feels natural for me," she said. "Right now I'm just going to rest. I'm going to figure out how I feel, reassess everything that I've been through. If it feels good, I'm going to do it. If it doesn't, then we'll see what happens."
So far, we're all just waiting to see what happens. But for now, the Tulsa faithful cross their fingers that the Draft Lottery Whammy decides to skip over them in 2012 and a first overall pick lands in T-Town, regardless of who's the one making the selection
of Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike.