Holdsclaw fills the bill for Mystics

Washington selects Tennessee standout No. 1 in WNBA draft

May 05, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- It's par for the course for a player in a new city to check off a list of appealing things about the new place, and Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw, the first player chosen in yesterday's WNBA draft, held up her end of the bargain.

Holdsclaw, the selection of the Washington Mystics, tossed a bouquet about the enthusiasm of Mystics fans and of teammate Nikki McCray, a former Lady Volunteer. Then the 6-foot-2 guard/forward threw in a line to warm the heart of owner Abe Pollin, who was sitting in the arena he built here.

"I'm used to playing in front of 17,000 people, but that's unheard of at the pro level," said Holdsclaw, speaking by phone from New York yesterday. "Washington set a precedent last year and I'm looking forward to playing in a full arena with a roaring crowd." Then she added she is eager to play at "the new MCI Center."

Pollin quickly chirped: "That was a wonderful thing for you to say, Chamique. You're right at the top of my list."

Holdsclaw, who led Tennessee to three straight NCAA titles, was at the top of everyone's list, even with a draft pool that was loaded with former American Basketball League players, with considerably more experience than the crop of available college seniors.

Though 35 of the 50 players taken in the four-round draft were selections from the now-defunct ABL, Holdsclaw, a two-time national Player of the Year and a four-time All-American, is acknowledged by many to be the best player ever in women's college basketball. She appeared to be the only logical choice for a franchise that won just three of 30 games last season, yet led the league in attendance with an average of 15,910.

"She is a tremendous basketball player and she is going to be loved, not only by this city, but by every WNBA city that we travel to," said Mystics coach Nancy Darsch. "Over time she will become a dominant player in this league. If that happens next month [when the season begins], that's all the better. But it will happen eventually. It will happen over time."

With endorsements added in, Holdsclaw is expected to be the highest-paid player in the 3-year-old WNBA, surpassing the $250,000 annual salary earned by the Los Angeles Sparks' Lisa Leslie, the Houston Comets' Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo of the New York Liberty.

Though it seems obvious that the best player in a draft should end up with the worst team, there was wide speculation that Holdsclaw, an Astoria, N.Y., native, would try to land with the Liberty, her hometown team.

Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski said yesterday that her team did approach Washington about a trade, but couldn't get a satisfactory deal done.

Said Darsch, who coached the Liberty for two seasons before getting the Mystics' job in the off-season: "There were some interesting phone calls, but nothing that tipped the scale. A player like Chamique does not come along often. [General manager] Wes Unseld had a couple of conversations, but I think people were like, `Hey, let's give it a shot. Let's at least give it a try.' It was not something that we were going to give up lightly. That's for sure."

For her part, Holdsclaw, who scored more than 3,000 points and pulled down almost 1,300 rebounds -- both Tennessee records -- said she was thrilled to come to Washington, both for the city and for the coach, who was a former assistant to Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt.

"She [Darsch] has coached some great players and Coach Summitt speaks highly of her and Coach Summitt, in my opinion, is the best coach in the game," said Holdsclaw. "I've trusted Coach Summitt with a lot of decisions and she hasn't led me the wrong way yet. She is ecstatic about Nancy, and I can only feel that also. I know that she's going to get the job done."

The team has planned a rally for Holdsclaw at Union Station Friday at noon.

The Mystics also selected former Alabama center Shalonda Enis, a former ABL Rookie of the Year; point guard Andrea Nagy, who led the NCAA in assists twice while at Florida International; and Australian center Jennifer Whittle, the leading shot-blocker in the Australian professional league.

Stephanie White McCarty and Ukari Figgs, who led Purdue to a national championship, were taken in the second and third rounds, respectively. White McCarty was picked by the Charlotte Sting and Figgs by the Los Angeles Sparks. Holdsclaw's teammate, Kellie Jolly, was taken by the Cleveland Rockers in the last round. North Carolina's Chanel Wright (Western) was eligible for the draft but not picked.

Pub Date: 5/05/99

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