The 2011 WNBA All-Star game rosters are packed with names that you’ve come to expect to be voted into the game as starters – the Seattle Storm pair of Sue Bird and Swin Cash who have 11 all-star appearances combined, the seven-time all-star Tamika Catchings from the Indiana Fever, the fourth all-star nod for Cappie Pondexter. On the reserves lists you can find six-time all-star Becky Hammon from the home town San Antonio Silver Stars and a pair of honorees who are making their third appearance in Seimone Augustus and Penny Taylor.
But something unusual on today’s squad is the extraordinarily high number of first-year players, a record 11 women. And of those 11, four are rookies. Maya Moore, Liz Cambage, Courtney Vandersloot and Danielle Adams anchor a strong rookie class that is effectively and indelibly making their mark on the game and the hearts of not only the fans that have voted them in, but the coaches that placed them on the rosters.
Moore, the first pick in the WNBA draft is the only rookie selected as a starter by the fan vote. Moore, one of the always present UConn contingent, is averaging 14.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in her first season with the Minnesota Lynx.
In a season that marks special significance for the league as year 15 is at its midway point and a group of 15 players of the past and present will be designated as the greatest to ever play in the league, the symbolic nature of the day is not lost on Moore.
“[The league is] always in transition, especially now,” Moore said at all-star practice Friday. “There’s just a big wave of young talent, and I think some of the ones that are retired and who are in the 15 are happy to see it. We’re kind of a product of them, and being able to watch them play and have a league to look forward to and to prepare for and strive for.
“Now they can retire feeling like they can be proud of us and watching us come in and try to do the same thing. Hopefully we can be where they are and look back on a new group that’s bringing in a fresh new way. So it really is a really special day to just be able to celebrate that old – not old in a bad way – but the seasoned, potentially hall of fame players down to us as well coming in for our first time. It’s a good buzz, I just feel it in the gym.”
The buzz is not lost on the woman who followed Moore in the draft and who was named a replacement player for the injured Candace Parker. Cambage, who posts 13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game for the Tulsa Shock, voiced her admiration for the group surrounding her on the court as she looked around to respect her fellow all-stars.
“It’s crazy. Imagine if this was a real WNBA team – all these stars,” Cambage said with a sense of wonderment. “I look around and it’s crazy to see the talent and all the hard work. It’s going to be great fun.”
But the fact that rosters of ‘all these stars’is dotted with four talented rookies is not lost on the Aussie either as she spoke of the incoming class.
“There’s four rookies here today and that’s just showing you how great the league is,” Cambage said. “That’s just showing how great the college system is here in America to develop these young players, coming so ready into the league “
Going straight down the top of the 2011 draft board brings you to the third pick, and a third all-star. Vandersloot, the lone rookie representing the East team that has seven first-time all-stars, was a surprise reserve selection to some – and perhaps even to herself on some level. The point guard for the Chicago Sky averages 8.3 points, 4.6 assists and 1.9 rebounds a night.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect it but I’m more than happy to be here,” Vandersloot said. “It’s a great honor for me and the other rookies. We get a chance to play with the top 15 players in the league, some of them, so it’s incredible. It’s fun, you can tell everybody is here to have a good time and it’s a nice little break in between the season just to kind of lay low and then to play with the best players.”
The fourth and final rookie is not another first-rounder and not even the first pick for her team, the Silver Stars. Adams was the 20th woman taken in the draft, but is leading the way for the class of 2011 with a rookie-high of 14.6 points per game and 4.7 rebounds a night for San Antonio. In fact, she led the way for write-in votes on the all-star ballot, with 3,669 fans penning her name in the blank spot. The fact that she was not on the ballot, the fact that the most outstanding player on the most outstanding team in college basketball last season was not a first-round selection gives her fuel for her fire to represent herself well.
“It just tells me that I still have doubters out there and I still need to prove people wrong,” Adams said. “Me working hard and doing what I’m doing in the games is just giving me more and more motivation each day.”
The woman who doesn’t need a chip on her shoulder to help her knock down opponents or big shots is excited to be playing not only for the home-town San Antonio crowd, but relatively close to her Big 12 alma mater of Texas A&M. When she stepped on the court Friday to one of the loudest roars of approval given by the crowd, you could tell that more than just the all-star game was on her mind, but also continuing on the success that has been following her on the court through the calendar year.
“It’s been an amazing year for me. To come off the national championship, getting drafted by San Antonio and now having the awesome career I’m having to start off with, I mean it’s all amazing,” Adams said. “It’s all a blessing from God and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, work hard and just try to bring San Antonio a championship.”
But well before she plays for the hardware most coveted by the all-star city of San Antonio, Adams and the four rookies have another task at hand. To enjoy the weekend that is all-star and to soak in their first experience as an all-star in the WNBA.
“I feel like this league is just coming to a point, it’s a tipping point where people are really starting to – the more exposure, the more people see the game, the more they want to watch,” Moore said. “We have some of the most loyal fans in the country and I feel like it’s just a special time to be in the WNBA right now. I’m just so excited to take a moment to step away from the season a little bit and appreciate the fans, since they brought us here, and celebrate the game and really just have some fun, just enjoy the moment.”
Along with being a year dotted with rookies and first year players, this all-star game has a roster dotted with teammates. For Moore and the Lynx, there are four players who have been selected to the West squad as she’s joined by Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen.
“To be able to share in this excitement with them, it’s a blast,” Moore said of the familiar faces surrounding her. “That’s what it’s all about in team sports. This is kind of an individual thing at times, just being voted in and not really being connected with your team. But to have your teammates here and to have four teammates here it makes it that much more fun to be able to share it with them.”
Whalen, another of the Minnesota contingent, thinks the banner year for the Lynx in the all-star selection process is a direct reflection of the team’s accomplishments in the first half of the year.
“It’s been nice. People have really recognized what our team has been able to do and what our coaches have been trying to do,” Whalen said. “It’s been really nice, it’s been really cool and we’re all thankful to be here and just happy to be recognized for the first half that we’ve put up there.”
Vandersloot is also surrounded by teammates on the East roster, as she is joined by Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince.
“I’m lucky enough to have a couple teammates here with me so it’s great,” Vandersloot said. “Especially because a lot of these girls know each other really well from USA Basketball or just playing together for a while so it’s nice to have a teammate, I’m excited for that.”
For Adams, the teammate on her mind was fellow rookie and fellow Danielle from the Big 12 – Danielle Robinson.
“Me and D Rob, we’re good friends. I mean, we played against each other for two years in the Big 12 and now we’re on the same team,” Adams said with a chuckle. “It’s awesome to have her on the team as quick as she is. I look past all the Big 12 and stuff and now we’re teammates and now we’re just trying to do something for San Antonio.”
For Cambage, the lone player from Tulsa, the teammate talk was also