In the Eastern Conference, the Charlotte Sting added former ABL forward Charlotte Smith. Like Michael Jordan, the 6-foot Smith starred at North Carolina. Like Jordan, she can dunk. Like Jordan, she converted a game-winning jumper in the closing moments of an NCAA championship game (in 1994) for the Tar Heels. Unlike Jordan, she may not start. The Sting lineup is that potent, especially Andrea Stinson (15.0 points, 4.5 assists per game last season) at guard and Rhonda Mapp (10.1 points) at center. Charlotte, which made the playoffs the last two seasons, ascended to championship level by drafting the backcourt of 1996 Olympian Dawn Staley and Stephanie White-McCarty of NCAA champ Purdue.
The New York Liberty also prospered in the draft. Former ABLer Crystal Robinson shot better from three-point range (44.2%) in 1997-98 than the Liberty did from the field (42.5%) last season. Michele VanGorp, a 6'6" rookie center from Duke, shot 62.0% for the NCAA runner-up, and fellow rookie center 6'2" Tamika Whitmore of Memphis was Division I's leading scorer, with 26.3 points a game.
Point guard Suzie McConnell Serio of the Cleveland Rockers is more than a coach on the floor. She's a coach off the floor as well, having earned her 200th career victory when her Oakland (Pa.) Catholic girls team won its western Pennsylvania league championship in March. The Rockers will be more sedate this year without their top scorer and rebounder, 6'5" Isabelle Fijalkowski of France, who's taking the season off after playing almost constantly here and in Europe for the last two years. You can't coach height, especially when it's not on the roster.
The Detroit Shock caused tremors as a 17-13 expansion team last season. Coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline's outfit, led by 5'9" guard Korie Hlede of Croatia, will be hard-pressed to improve on that record. Last year's other new club, the Washington Mystics, will improve upon their record—it was 3-27, one of the worst in the history of U.S. pro hoops—but probably not their attendance, which, at 15,910 a game, was tops in the WNBA. The top pick in the draft, Chamique Holdsclaw, who already has visited the White House three times as a member of national champion Tennessee teams, may be the first lady of basketball by season's end.
This year's other expansion team, the Orlando Miracle, has raw talent in guards Shannon Johnson (late of the Quest) and rookie Nykesha Sales. With Taj McWilliams, the ABL's career blocked-shot leader, at center, the Miracle will surpass Washington's three victories of a year ago. Still, Orlando's best days, just like the WNBA's, are to be found in Tomorrowland.
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