Some semi-randomly connected thoughts after points-a-palooza:
*-So if you watched Tuesday’s first game of the WNBA finals, you may understand why such games can be difficult to write a good column about. Because they’re really so exhilarating to experience live that recounting them never seems to do them justice.
Plus, the Mercury’s 120-116 victory didn’t have that one or two players who were really the focus; so many people played well. Katie Douglas’ 30 points and the way she did so many clutch things right – save missing that last 3-pointer, where she had to create her own shot – was a key figure, but so was Ebony Hoffman for the Fever.
And the Mercury really showed its versatility and depth; it was a team performance that wrapped up why Phoenix can be such a fun team to watch.
I’ll flat-out admit I was surprised that the Fever could score that many points. I feel I really underestimated Indy in that regard.
*-Watching Douglas hit the game-tying 3-pointer in regulation just made me flash back to so many great moments in her career … it’s been 10 years since she was a sophomore on Purdue’s national-championship team, and I remember thinking then, “She’s going to be a great pro.”
Two years later, she led Purdue to the national-championship game, falling short to Notre Dame. And after that game, one reporter proclaimed to those of us remaining on press row that Douglas wouldn’t be picked in the top 10 of the WNBA draft and likely would not make it the league.
Before I could pause and think of something more diplomatic to say, I just blurted out: “You’re full of (bleep).”
It wasn’t the best way to have a reasonable discussion, of course, but it was exactly how I felt. Another colleague/friend agreed with me, and naturally we still make snarky jokes about it. I sent my pal an e-mail after Game 1 of the WNBA finals saying, “I really wonder if Katie Douglas will ever make it in this league.”
*-However … the Douglas naysayer actually wasn’t far wrong in where Katie was picked: She did make the top 10, but barely, as she was No. 10. And guess who was No. 11 that year: Penny Taylor.
Back then, we all thought the college class of 2001 was very strong, but when you also add in players like Taylor and the No. 1 pick, Lauren Jackson, who didn’t go to college in the United States … it really was an outstanding. Consider:
1. LJ, 2. Kelly Miller, 3. Tamika Catchings, 4. Jackie Stiles, 5. Ruth Riley, 6. Deanna Nolan, 7. Svetlana Abrosimova, 8. Marie Ferdinand, 9.Coco Miller, 10. Douglas, 11. Taylor
*-One player who really stands out on that list is the person who was rookie of the year in 2001 … but whose career was soon over, much to her continued grief. And that’s Stiles, whose body began breaking down on her in earnest that season and just never let her have the career she’d dreamed about.
I talked to Jackie before the Final Four this spring, as the event was back in St. Louis. That’s where it was in 2001, of course, when Riley’s Notre Dame team won it all, Douglas’ Purdue squad was runner-up and Stiles’ Missouri State team lost in the semifinals. (Abrosimova’s UConn team also fell in the semis that year, although her college career had ended early because of an injury.)
Jackie is not at peace with how basketball ended for her; in fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it torments her. She is very open about that, almost painfully so, but that’s Jackie. There is not an insincere fiber in her being, and she doesn’t try to hide how hard this has been for her.
My friend and the best sports writer in the world, Joe Posnanski, recently spent some time with Jackie and will offer his take on her struggle with not being able to play anymore. I’m not sure exactly when he will write it, but I’ll be sure to post a link to it here.
Jackie is still basketball royalty in the Midwest, though, as no one has forgotten what she did. And this is especially the case in her home state of Kansas. Jackie and several other current/former players will be taking part in an event called “Hoops for Hope” in Ashland, Kan., on Oct. 30, to raise money for cancer research and preventative care.
I’ve never been way out to Ashland, Kan. – it’s a bit of a haul from where I live in the Sunflower State – but I will be going out there along with broadcasting friends Patti Phillips and Brenda Van Lengen for this game.
Stiles and Riley are going to serve as coaches in this event, as is former WNBA great and current Prairie View A&M coach Cynthia Cooper. Former college players from the Missouri/Kansas/Nebraska region will join area high school players to compete in the game, which hopes to raise $100,000.
Jackie might not be still be able to play, but she’ll always be a hoops legend in Kansas.