From Down Under to top

Women's basketball: No one stands taller in the WNBA, or the world, than Lauren Jackson.

July 08, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Ten years from now, if she has her way, you won't have to look hard to find Lauren Jackson. In fact, at 6 feet 5, with a head full of blond hair, you won't be able to miss her.

The world's best female basketball player figures to return Down Under to take things easy and live life on her own terms, maybe even posing nude for an Australian photo magazine, something she has already done.

"I think that I'm going to be on the south coast of Australia, just chilling," Jackson said yesterday. "I think that's where I'm going to be. By the beach. No worries, mate."

The rest of the WNBA might be inclined to start a collection to send Jackson, the star forward of the Seattle Storm, back home as soon as possible.

Jackson, the league's reigning Most Valuable Player, is making her case for a second straight award, ranking second in the WNBA to Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw in scoring. Jackson scored 22 points and had seven rebounds in last night's 72-69 loss to the Mystics.

Jackson, in fact, ranks in the top 10 in 21 offensive and defensive categories, and while players such as Holdsclaw, the Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings and Los Angeles Sparks' Lisa Leslie might be better known, Jackson may be better than all of them.

"There's no question that Lauren is the best player," said Seattle coach Anne Donovan. "Her versatility, her strength and her power game when she goes inside, and her ability to shoot the three and put the ball on the floor and defend set her apart from any other player in this league.

"Then you throw in that she's 6-5 and she's 23 years old. There's not a player I take over Lauren if I'm starting my roster."

Said Jackson: "I'm 23 years old and I've got a very long career ahead. My goal has always been to leave the basketball court and my career knowing that I did something special and I achieved something special. I'd like to hear that and I'd like to think that people would put me in that category, but I don't think I'm the best player in the world.

"Individually, there's a lot of great players in this league. I'd just like to have done something a little bit special and a little bit different."

While her recent nude appearance in the Australian magazine has brought her more attention than her game, her numbers back up the claim that she is the world's best player.

She is already the youngest player in the eight-year history of the WNBA to score 1,000 points and her string of 68 consecutive games with 10 points or more is the second longest in league history, trailing only Houston's Cynthia Cooper, who scored in double figures in 92 straight games.

"Even if she doesn't score a point, she still dominates a game, just by being out there," said Seattle guard Sue Bird. "You could say the same about Chamique and Tamika and Lisa Leslie. To me, it's that Lauren's 23 and she's the youngest out of all of them. I think the sky's the limit and she's just getting better."

Jackson, who has shifted to power forward this season from center, is an inside-outside threat unto herself, hitting 45 percent of her three-point attempts.

It is Jackson's versatility that will be key for her Australian national team in its hopes to upset the United States squad in next month's Olympics in Athens.

It was in the 2000 games in Sydney that the basketball world first learned of Jackson, as she scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the gold medal game against the United States in a losing effort. She caused a bit of a stir during the game by accidentally pulling Leslie's hair extensions. Leslie took vocal offense, and their rivalry will be noticed in Athens.

"We're just different people," Jackson said. "I think she [Leslie] knows that I didn't do it on purpose. She'd be silly not to. She's a great player and that's all I'm going to say about it. I've got no ill feelings toward her. I don't think about her too much."

As for the nude pictures, which appear in Black + White, they're a part of a pre-Olympic display of Aussie athletes. But Jackson's have been the ones that have drawn the most interest, with representatives of David Letterman and Jay Leno reportedly contacting her for appearances.

Jackson said she was surprised by the reaction in the United States, calling herself "naive" for thinking the pictures wouldn't cause a stir in this country.

Nonetheless, she said she would do them again if asked.

"I'm really happy about the photos and I'm glad that I did it," she said. "I really enjoyed the experience and the photos are really beautiful. I'm never going to see myself in that light again, so why not?"

No worries, indeed, mate.

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