If this season’s late-round picks are looking for inspiration in making a WNBA roster despite the league’s chop to 11-player squads, look no farther than New York. Beginning with Washingtonians C Cathrine Kraayeveld and PG Leilani Mitchell and ending with former Storm F Ashley Battle, the Liberty is a roster of players defying the odds.
Kraayeveld (Lake Washington High) was a third-round pick to San Antonio in 2005 while Mitchell (Kennewick High) and Battle were late second-round selections. Mitchell to Phoenix last year before being traded for this season’s third-round pick (George Washington C Jessica Adair) and Battle to Seattle in 2005 before being waived in June. The Liberty picked her up in 2006 as a free agent.
The trio worked to add defensive muscle and offensive spice to help the Liberty become a perennial playoff contender, finishing 19-15 in 2008. True, they were able to establish themselves when the league was slightly bigger (one team), but the display of drive remains an example.
Couple them with first-round picks Janel McCarville, Shameka Christon, and Loree Moore and all the Liberty needed to return to the Eastern Conference Finals was defense and rebounding, ranking 12th in the league last summer (32.5).
Enter Rutgers C Kia Vaughn (pictured right by Fox Media). Not only will she test fans’ wish for the league to go to regional drafting (and make it retroactive so Minnesotans McCarville and Lindsay Whalen play for the Lynx), the Bronx native is a rebounding/defensive machine. Selected eighth overall, she has no worry in making the roster. Vaughn, who’s 6 foot 4, simply has to get ready for a pounding in the East. But playing physical is something she truly enjoys. (She also plays tough off the court, suing Don Imus for his derogatory remarks in 2007)
She also has to continue to find that inner drive to make herself better, playing in the pros where coach Patty Coyle isn’t going to baby her. With a need to win now, a benching to get the picture isn’t an option. Vaughn will simply get cut and have to fight her way back into the WNBA.
Yet, with Vaughn’s physique and lesson’s learned under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, the post will probably be a better pro than college player. And that’s scary.
The Liberty’s other pick, Duke G Abby Warner, will have trouble making the final cut despite obvious skill. Blame the roster size and perimeter depth, because she probably would make a quality practice player and eventual contributor in the league.
But the young Liberty is starting to grow up and assert themselves in the WNBA. New York has all the qualities to be a hot ticket to attract the area’s basketball junkies — fun personalities, flashy skill, good offense and, with Vaughn in the mix, good defensive hustle. Will it be enough to get past Detroit and advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time since the Becky Hammon days? Maybe give that idea a year, but it’s close.