If their pre-season moves are any indication, the Phoenix Mercury are ready to come out of the gates shooting when their season opens May 15.
In addition to announcing the formation of an all-male training squad to challenge the WNBA champion Mercury, General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale recently signed two potentially key players to training camp contracts: Ashley Paris, and Lenae Williams.
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But another player signed to a Mercury training contract, 6-foot-1 guard Lenae Williams, could and should get plenty of time on the court this season, and not just because, at 30, some say she's moving toward the sunset of her career.
We'll argue she's just a late-bloomer. Williams was initially drafted by the Detroit Shock in the second round of the 2002 WNBA draft, and her performance wasn't mind-blowing: 2.7 points average per-game. After appearing in 27 games for the Shock, Williams was traded in 2003 to the Phoenix Mercury, who didn't put her in a single game. So Williams went to France and played for the USO Mondeville team last season -- and she kicked major butt. With an average of 17 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game, she was Mondeville's leading scorer.
That might not sound like much of an accomplishment, considering the contrast in the caliber of play between the WNBA and the European leagues. (If you don't see the contrast, just look at the results of the last four summer Olympic games, where the American women of the WNBA pretty much slaughtered their international competition for the past four gold medals.) But to Williams' credit, she was high scorer on a French team that also includes Mercury point guard Temeka Johnson, who averaged 9.6 points per game with the Merc last season.
But for anybody who thinks Williams is going to walk on court and take over as head guard, we've got two words for you: Diana Taurasi. Taurasi, last year's WNBA MVP, is still the hot-shot cornerstone of the Mercury, so in Williams, we're again looking at a promising player with a training contract who may end up warming the bench for much of the season, unless Taurasi gets into foul trouble.
That's fine by us. The Mercury's got some stellar starters, including Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Tangela Smith, and DeWanna Bonner. With players like Penny Taylor, Temeka Johnson, and now Paris and Williams behind them on the bench, the Phoenix Mercury could be in a position to successfully defend their WNBA title.
The Mercury's season opener (against the Los Angeles Sparks) is Saturday, May 15, at US Airways Center. Visit www.phoenixmercury.com for ticket information.