Monday, July 7, 2008

Review: the 1997 WNBA Elite Draft

Remember this fine lady?

The Elite Draftees were a second class of draftees. One step below the allocated players, the distinction of this group was that it wouldn't be required to attend any combines or tryouts.

Liberty: 4th pick

Kym Hampton (7.5), Vickie Johnson (17)

Hampton graduated from Arizona State in 1984 and was already in her mid-thirties when she was drafted. She was a great field goal shooter, which made up for her 69 percent free throw shooting. In 2000, when she stepped into training camp, she noticed swelling in a knee, swelling which ended her basketball career.

Vickie Johnson, the second round pick, would stay with the Liberty for nine years. She went to San Antonio in 2006 and is currently playing for the Silver Stars. She would become the first Liberty player ever to reach 2,000 points and at the end of 2007, she was first all-time in Games Played. Picking up Johnson in the second round was a wonderful pick by the Liberty.

Comets: 5th pick

Wanda Guyton (0), Janeth Arcain (23)

Guyton graduated from the Univesity of South Florida in 1989. After some pro experience overseas in Italy and Germany, Wanda Guyton had a great first year with Houston, both in rebounds and rebound percentage. Unfortunately, back spasms were a problem for Guyton in 1998 and she only played one game for Houston that year, then finished her WNBA career in Detroit in 1999. She is probably best remembered for landing on her head fighting for a rebound during a playoff game in 1997 against the Charlotte Sting and being carried off on a stretcher.

A New York Times article implied that players like Hampton and Guyton hoped that the WNBA would pay well enough to keep them from having to play in Europe. Waived by the Shock in 2000, Guyton went back overseas and played her final six years in Germany, supposedly playing her last game in November 2007. (But her name is still on the roster!)

As for Janeth Arcain, the Brazilian played eight years for Houston, although she did not play in 2004 in order to prepare for the Olympics. A great shooter and ball-handler, Arcain was another integral part of that four-year Comets dynasty, but she was overshadowed by the presence of so many other great players. She would play overseas in Spain after she finished her WNBA career in 2005, and played her final game in the summer of 2007, on the Brazil squad at the Pan-American Games.

Sting: 3rd pick

Rhonda Mapp (8), Michi Atkins (--)

Rhonda Mapp graduated from Maryland in 1992. She would play four years for the Sting, from 1997 to 2000 and shoot 47.9 percent from the field as a center during her career. At the end of 2000, she was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks but never made her way into the starting rotation.

Then it began to fall apart. Mapp missed the 2002 season for "personal reasons", then was booted from the league near the end of the 2003 season for violating the anti-drug program, and would not be allowed to reapply for two years. She played for an Israeli team in 2003-04. What happened after that is unclear, but as of 2007, Mapp owned two women's wear stores and was opening a third in Charlotte.

Michi Atkins graduated from Texas Tech in 1996. She played briefly for the Israel League, and her WNBA career was over before it started, as she was waived by the Sting in 1997 without playing a game. She now works for TD Ameritrade in Texas.

Rockers: 2nd pick

Isabelle Fijalkowski (7.5), Lynette Woodard (-1.5)

Isabelle Fijalkowski played only two years for Cleveland -- but they were very good years. Fijalkowski had a field goal percentage over 50 percent. Then a contractual dispute sent the French center right back to Eurpoe, where she played until 2002.

Lynette Woodard had a lot of great accomplishments. She graduated in 1981 as the major scorer in women's college basketball. She helped the US win a gold medal in Los Angeles in 1984. She was the first woman Harlem Globetrotter. But by the time she got to the WNBA, she was 37. She played one year for Cleveland, one year for Detroit, and then retired.

Sparks: 8th pick

Daedra Charles (-0.5), Zheng Haixia (2.5)

Daedra Charles graduated in 1991 from Tennessee, played for the Olympic Team in 1992, and was a member of three US national teams. After playing overseas, she'd play for the Sparks in their inaugural year, but it was the only year she played. She would be waived by the Sparks the next year.

Afterwards, she would coach at high school, in Detroit and Auburn before being signed this year to coach at her alma mater, Tennessee. Charles is a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

At the time she was signed, Zheng Haixia was the tallest player in the WNBA at 6'8" tall. (Margo Dydek would later exceed her in height; Haixia is tied for second.) She started in 1983 as the youngest player on her team and participated at the Olympic level. She might be arguably the best woman's player China ever produced. She is currently a coach in the Chinese Women's Basketball Association (WCBA).

Monarchs: 6th pick

Judy Mosley-McAfee (-1.5), Mikiko Hagiwara (-1)

Mosley-McAfee would only play one season for the Monarchs, and then go to Europe to play for a team in Hungary. Her only distinction in the WNBA would be that she was the first player from the University of Hawai'i to play in the WNBA, having graduated in 1990. She sort of disappeared after that.

As for Mikiko Hagiwara, her only distinction was that she would be the first player in WNBA history to be traded, in mid-1997 to Phoenix. She would conclude her career in Phoenix in 1998, where she would only play in 10 games. She has been a coach in Japan since 2001 and has coached the Japanese Women's National Team.

Starzz: 1st pick

Dena Head (-5.5), Wendy Palmer (-1)

A graduate of Tennessee in 1992, she would play in Europe before heading to the WNBA. She would play two years for the Starzz in 1997-98 and one year for the Mercury in 2000 before retiring. She was a great free throw shooter, but didn't provide much offense, with her best year 1997 where she averaged 5.7 points per game. After her WNBA career, Head would serve as an assistant coach at Central Connecticut State University until 2007.

Wendy Palmer graduated from Virginia in 1996 and would go right to the WNBA the next year. She averaged around 17 points a game while with the Starzz, and was traded to Detroit in the 1999 season. Palmer was a top ten career rebounder whose last active year was with the Seattle Storm in 2007. She was not re-signed in 2008 after the achilles tendon injury she suffered the year before deceased her production.

Mercury: 7th pick

Bridget Pettis (-5.5), Nancy Lieberman-Cline (-2.5)

Pettis graduated from Florida in 1993. Bridet Pettis had two good years with the Mercury, but she wasn't the best field goal shooter and starting with 1999 her minutes and production began to wane with each successive year. She ended her WNBA career with Indiana in 2003. Pettis continued to play overseas and tried a comeback with Phoenix in 2006. She would be hired as an assistant coach for the Mercury in 2007.

Nancy Lieberman-Cline went to Old Dominion, but did not graduate. She might be the only WNBA player who also played in the Women's Pro Basketball League, which existed from 1978 to 1981. By the time she got to Phoenix, she was already 39 and her best years were behind her. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Lieberman-Cline would go on to coach the Detroit Shock and is currently a basketball commentator.


Rebecca said...

VJ plays for San Antonio, not Sacramento.

Wendy Palmer is no longer with the Storm, as they declined to re-sign her.

pt said...

Rebecca, thanks for the corrections. I've added those to the main body of text.

I'm assuming the reason that Palmer was not re-signed was due to the achilles tendon injury she had suffered the year before.