Obviously, the big, big, big news in the WNBA is the question of where Lauren Jackson will go: Seattle or Phoenix? But as we watch and wait for that drama to play out, something else with the Mercury merits mention from me.
Phoenix signed guard Laurie Koehn to a training-camp contract. With 13 teams and 11-player rosters, of course, securing a job in the WNBA is hard enough, let alone when you are a “specialty” player such as the 3-point wizard Koehn. So it’s going to be tough for her to grab a spot alongside her former Kansas State teammate and best friend, Nicole Ohlde.
They have played together overseas. But the news of them being in the same WNBA camp – Ohlde was traded from Minnesota in January _ made me try to remember what stood out as the best combined game I saw the two of them play at K-State. And what came to mind right away was one particular clobbering of Missouri.
Ohlde and Koehn came to Kansas State at the same time – for the 2000-2001 season – but Koehn redshirted because of a foot injury. So she and Ohlde played three seasons together, along with their “Big Four” counterparts Kendra Wecker and Megan Mahoney.
There were very, very, very few games when Wecker had an off-night, but one was Jan. 7, 2004. The Wildcats were playing their Big 12 opener against visiting Mizzou, and Wecker went 1-of-9 from the field. It was the kind of thing that almost never happened, but it turned out not to matter. Because Ohlde and Koehn were hitting from everywhere.
Ohlde went 14 of 16 from the field, while Koehn was 9 of 19, with 7 of those makes being 3-pointers. Ohlde finished with 31 points and Koehn 25 as K-State won by the palindromic score of 95-59. Another thing that sticks with me about that game was how devastated MU’s Evan Unrau looked afterward. It was her senior season … and this was how the Tigers had started their Big 12 slate.
I said to Unrau as she was walking out of K-State’s Bramlage Coliseum something to the effect of, “Look, don’t carry this one with you too long. Because that’s the best I’ve seen those two play so far this season.” And it truly was … when K-State had Koehn hitting from 3-point range like that and Ohlde at her nimble best inside, that was a near-impossible combo to stop.
People who remember that K-State group only from its NCAA tournament second-round losses in 2003 (stymied by shaky nerves and Notre Dame’s defense) and 2004 (steamrolled by underseeded Minnesota) really don’t have the same picture in their heads as those of us who saw the Wildcats every game those seasons.
Which, understandably, is just how it goes. As former Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp always said, you’re ultimately judged on how you do in high-profile non-conference games and in the NCAA Tournament. K-State struggled in both. It’s akin to trying to raise the Titanic to really explain why, so I won’t endeavor to do that in this post.
Rather, I’ll say that much of the time, K-State was a joy to watch offensively in those days, and that particular Ohlde-Koehn knock-out punch of Mizzou was especially memorable. It was not enjoyable seeing the Tigers look so horribly discouraged as they kept watching the ball go in to Ohlde (two points!), out to Koehn (three points!), in to Ohlde (two points!), out to Koehn (three points!) … but from the perspective of watching a duo just click, it was something else.
(An aside: the regular-season KSU-MU rematch that year was a completely different story, even though the Wildcats won that, too. Unrau had 40 points/15 rebounds in MU’s double-overtime 93-90 loss to the Wildcats, who got 26 from Wecker, 23 from Ohlde, 20 from Mahoney and 19 from Koehn in a game that was just phenomenal to witness.)
Incidentally, the fact that Ohlde (March), Koehn (May) and Wecker (December) were all born in Kansas in 1982 always struck me as an amazing coincidence. This isn’t a highly populated state, and I have no idea how you’d even attempt to calculate the odds that three women born here in the same year would all go on to become professional athletes in the same sport.
Wecker is no longer in the WNBA; she’s currently a graduate assistant at Oklahoma. Ohlde, who was drafted by Minnesota and played five seasons for the Lynx, needed a fresh start someplace else. Phoenix should be good for her.
Koehn was undrafted in 2005, but made the Washington Mystics roster and stayed with the team until being waived April 15. She does have a coveted skill. Her career 3-point percentage is 44.9 (92 of 205) is second in WNBA history to Jennifer Azzi’s 45.8 percent (158 of 345).
But Koehn will really have to impress the Mercury and hope the numbers somehow work out in her favor.
***Update on June 3: The Mercury waived Laurie Koehn. It’s so hard for a player like her to make a roster of 11.***