Before the Draft

With the 2018 WNBA Draft behind us, we slowly ease into the 2018 WNBA season, the 22nd for the league. As part of the journey through the remaining offseason and this summer, I will be working on filling in missing information on the WNBA’s players and draft selections.

Most players have a Wikipedia page with most of their information filled in, but many are incomplete if not missing entirely. For the first pass through, I will be focusing on ensuring the following pieces of information are filled in for each player and draftee in their basketball biography:

  • Birth date/place
  • Height/weight (latest professional stat listed)
  • High school
  • College
  • WNBA draft details
  • Playing years
  • Position
  • Number(s)
  • WNBA team tenures
  • WNBA All-Star selections
  • Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame election
  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame election

For a good, complete example of this information, see the page of Vicky Bullett, one of the league’s initial player allocations, which is a great place to start.

When the league first started, before there was a draft of any kind, each of the eight teams was assigned two players in the initial player allocation. Overall, the allocations were made in no particular order and somewhat randomly, though geographic considerations were made when choosing a team for each player. The three faces of the league heading into the first year were Sheryl Swoopes  (Texas Tech), Lisa Leslie (USC), and Rebecca Lobo, fresh out of the University of Connecticut. Each of these players first signed with a team close to their alma mater, with Swoopes going to the Houston Comets, Leslie to the Los Angeles Sparks, and Lobo to the New York Liberty. Each of these players has continued to be a major part of basketball, so it’s no surprise that their pages are relatively complete.

Other players who were allocated to teams close to where they played college ball were the aforementioned Bullett (Maryland) and Andrea Stinson (NC State), who both went to the Charlotte Sting, and Penny Toler (Long Beach State), who joined Leslie in Los Angeles. Otherwise, geography does not seem to be much of a factor in the remaining allocations, though position does. Each team was allocated one guard and one center or forward.

Cynthia Cooper quickly became the first star of the league after being allocated to the Houston Comets. Cooper led the now-defunct Comets to the first four WNBA Championships, along the way being named league MVP in 1997 and 1998, Finals MVP the first four seasons, scoring champion the first three seasons in the league, and voted to the All-WNBA First Team in the first four seasons of the league.

Ruthie Bolton also made an impact on the league, playing in Sacramento from 1997 to 2004, named to the All-WNBA First Team in 1997 and voted an All-Star in 1999 and 2001. She was a part of two gold-medal U.S. Olympic teams (1996, 2000).

The 16 initially allocated players in the league had a major impact on women’s basketball, with 12 inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and four to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Cooper – ’10, Leslie – ’15, Swoopes – ’16, Lobo – ’17). Additionally, four of these players were voted part of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players in 2011 and the WNBA Top 20 @ 20 in 2016 (Cooper, Leslie, Swoopes, and Teresa Weatherspoon). Weatherspoon — perhaps most famous for “The Shot” in Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals — signed initially with the Liberty, where she played until 2003, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1997 and 1998, along with being voted an All-Star four times (1999 – 2002). Weatherspoon returned to the Liberty’s coaching staff in 2014 where she serves now as Director of Player & Franchise Development.

I tweeted recently about the impact of foreign players in the WNBA Draft in the past 18 drafts, but the first two foreign players made their impact on the initial player allocation.

Michele Timms out of Australia was allocated to the Phoenix Mercury, and Russian-born Elena Baranova went to the Utah Starzz (now the Las Vegas Aces). Timms made history in 1989 as the first Australian to play professional basketball internationally (Lotus München, Germany). She led the Australian national team to their first Olympic medal (bronze) in 1996 and then silver in 2000 in Sydney. She played five seasons for the Mercury, earning an All-Star nod in 1999. Baranova played for the Unified and Russian Olympic teams, earning gold in 1992 for the Unified Team and bronze for Russia in 2004. She spent three years in Utah before moving to the Miami Sol in 2001, when she was voted an All-Star in the league.

Other players in the initial player allocation whose information was incomplete are:

  • Janice Lawrence Braxton, who won two national championships at Louisiana Tech in 1981 and 1982 and played three seasons for the Cleveland Rockers (1997 – 1999) and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
  • Michelle Edwards, who like Braxton played the majority of her career in Cleveland and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
  • Bridgette Gordon, the Lady Vol standout who played two seasons for the Sacramento Monarchs and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
  • Jennifer Gillom, who played the majority of her career in Phoenix, voted an All-Star in 1999 and awarded the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award in 2002. She earned a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic games as a player and again as an assistant coach in 2012. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • Lady (Hardmon) Grooms, who was initially allocated to the Utah Starzz but spent seven seasons in Sacramento before moving on to coaching.

The initial player allocations laid the foundation for the remainder of the 1997 WNBA Draft (and the league itself). The 1997 Elite Draft and college draft are next in line, but I have already made one update for Tina Thompson, who was announced as a member of the Class of 2018 for the  Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in March along with Katie Smith, who will be covered in a future draft. Updates will be coming for the remainder of the 1997 draft.

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