Yes. And now is the Charlotte Sting's time to pay.
Given the strong finish of the Sting in 2001, they will pick ninth out of 16 teams in the 2002 WNBA draft on Friday, April 19 on ESPN2, starting at 11:30am. Not exactly a primo spot given that there are only a handful of players considered sure-fire first-round picks -- the four seniors from the University of Connecticut who just led the Huskies to the national title and a 39-0 record (guard Sue Bird and forwards Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams); guard Stacey Dales of national runner-up Oklahoma, and guard Nikki Teasley of North Carolina.
But the Sting ought to be glad the draft order is based on their 2001 record (18-14), not where they finished in the playoffs. Otherwise, the Sting would be picking 15th, having finished second to Los Angeles last season.
Still, it's wishful thinking to believe that Charlotte could get Teasley, who is a versatile guard. "My best guess is that she will be taken (by the time Charlotte picks)," says Sting Assistant Coach Trudi Lacey. "She is so unique in that she's a great passer, which is a lost art these days. Her size (six feet tall) allows her to see the floor so well. She also shoots the three."
Other first-round picks expected to be gone by the time the Sting selects are center Michelle Snow of Tennessee and guard Sheila Lambert of Baylor. Lambert wouldn't be a question except that she fractured her fibula and suffered an ankle sprain in an all-star game at the Final Four on March 30.
So, none of these players is likely to be available except for Lambert, and whether the Sting would take an injured player is debatable. What the Sting needs are a point guard to back up Dawn Staley and a power forward to take the place of Shalonda Enis, who will miss all or part of the season because she is pregnant. Her baby is due the first week of May.
While it's possible Enis could make it back by mid-season, the Sting wants to find someone to shore up that spot. Last season Enis and Charlotte Smith split minutes at power forward, both playing key roles down the stretch.
When Houston's Sheryl Swoopes had her son Jackson the first week of the 1997 season, she returned to play in August. But she wasn't down to her playing weight and saw limited minutes.
"If we can fill those positions (Enis's spot and a back-up for Staley), it would be great," Lacey says.
But you can tell she and her fellow coaches know that may not work out because they pick ninth in the first, third and fourth rounds. Their second-round pick went to Phoenix last summer in a trade to obtain guard Tonya Edwards.
"Our thinking is for the first-round pick, we're going to look at the best player available," Lacey says.
Two players they're looking hard at are names that should ring a bell with fans who follow women's basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference. No, they don't play in the league. But they made themselves known when they played the ACC's best team this season, Duke, during the NCAA tournament.
Shaunzinski Gortman and the University of South Carolina (USC) ran into the Blue Devils in the Eastern Regional Championship game in Raleigh. Gortman, a six-foot, one-inch guard from Columbia, SC, led USC in scoring (17 points) as the Gamecocks made a game of it in the second half and briefly led. Though Duke surged ahead for a 77-68 win, Gortman left a strong impression. She made the all-regional team, all-Southeastern Conference (SEC) and finished the season averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. She shot 36 percent from three-point range, converting 52 of 143 attempts.
"Her value comes in that she can play the one, two or three position," Lacey says, referring to point guard, shooting guard and small forward. "She is very good defensively and has a long arm span."
Rosalind Ross of Oklahoma made headlines when she dropped in 26 points against Duke in the national semifinals in San Antonio. With All-America teammate Stacey Dales having a sub-par offensive game, Ross made up the slack, hitting four of eight three pointers and adding 10 rebounds.
A five-foot, nine-inch guard from Milwaukee, Ross offers two of the same qualities Gortman does -- versatility and defense.
"She can play the one, two or three position as well," Lacey says. "She can shoot the three and is a good defensive player."
Another player the Sting is considering is Brandi McCain, an all-SEC point guard from the University of Florida. "She's only five-foot-three but she's very quick and has good range," Lacey says. "She could play back-up point guard."
The Sting had hoped their top draft pick last season (number two overall), Kelly Miller from the University of Georgia, would emerge as Staley's back-up and heir apparent to the position. But that didn't happen in 2001 as Miller saw little action. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, she was among players who weren't comfortable playing overseas. So in the off-season, she has worked with a personal trainer, played on a college tour and in a semi-pro league.
The Sting would like to add players from the draft who will make last season's 1-10 start a distant memory. "Our goals are the same -- to win the WNBA championship," Lacey says. "We feel good about the nucleus we have coming back and the chemistry. The staff has a year under its belt, and we don't have to implement a whole new system. We hope it (the draft) will help us get off to a better start."
When Serena Williams decided to play The Family Circle Cup in Charleston April 15-21, it gave the tournament six of the top 10 players in the world. Anna Kournikova will be there as well, and Martina Navratilova will be playing doubles. . .For tickets to the Federation Cup on April 27-28 at Olde Providence Racquet Club, call 1-888-334-8782. . .The same weekend as the Fed Cup is the 2002 Queen's Cup Steeplechase, Saturday, April 27 in Mineral Springs. If you go, don't miss the terrier races beginning at 10:30am. They're a hoot. For more information, go to www.queenscup.org. . .At least the Charlotte Checkers hockey team understands there's a recession. The team announced recently that it was holding the line on ticket prices for next season. That's more than we can say for the Carolina Panthers, who are increasing ticket prices after a 1-15 season. What marketing school did the Panthers attend? Though the price hike is only 2.8 percent, it's the third straight year of increases. Not good. *