Friday, June 8, 2012

Virginians in the WNBA

The Phoenix Mercury hired Avery Warley to rebound, and six games into her WNBA career, the former Liberty star is doing it as well as anyone in the league.

Through six games, the 6-3 Warley's is averaging 6.3 boards per game, 12th in the WNBA. But that number is coming in just over 16 minutes per game. Her average per 40 minutes is 15.4, second only to Chicago Sky star Sylvia Fowles (16.0) in the entire league. It all continues to make Warley, an undrafted free agent, one of the pleasant surprise stories of the young season.

Of course, this is merely a continuation of what Warley, the Big South's all-time leading rebounder, did so well for the Lady Flames. Last season, Warley's rebounding rate - the percentage of an opponent's missed shots she corralled - was the second highest in all of Division I.

The only question was whether she would get a real opportunity in the WNBA. One of the frustrating things about this league is that, with small rosters and little turnover, there are relatively few openings for the incoming talent we enjoyed watching so much in college. Of the 36 players chosen in the April WNBA draft, only 14 made opening-day rosters. In fact, more undrafted free agents made teams (4) than third-round picks (3). Makes us wonder why the WNBA has a three-round draft. One of these days, we'll get around to explaining why the WNBA shouldn't have a draft at all.

But back to Warley. There's a big difference in guarding Big South post players and guarding Candace Parker, and the increased degree of difficulty is reflected in some of Warley's other numbers. Despite ranking seventh on the Mercury in average minutes played, Warley leads the team in personal fouls and fouled out of one game in just 19 minutes. The better Warley can get at limiting her fouls, the more time she's likely to earn on the floor.

And the more rebounds she's likely to haul in.

Other WNBA players with Virginia ties:

Monica Wright, Minnesota: Third-year pro and former All-American out of Virginia is averaging 8.9 ppg coming off the bench for the loaded defending champion Lynx. Last week's game at Washington gave her a chance to play in front of her father, Gary, who suffered a heart attack last year and was unconscious for five days.

Kristi Toliver, Los Angeles: The former Maryland star and Harrisonburg native is enjoying a breakout season, averaging 20.5 points (5th in the league) on 50 percent shooting while dishing out 5.0 assists per game as the Sparks' lone point guard. Also turned in the most roller-coaster performance of the season last week against Tulsa when she set a league record with 14 turnovers, then wiped out a four-point deficit with five points in the final 16.7 seconds, including the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Jasmine Thomas, Washington: Ex-Duke standout guard and Fairfax native went off for a season-high 17 points and added 3 steals in just 16 minutes in Sunday's 94-86 loss to Connecticut.
Tamera Young, Chicago: The former James Madison star is contributing  7.2 ppg and some tenacious defense. Top reserve (28 minutes per game) and a consistent contributor for the much-improved Sky (4-1).

Kara Lawson, Connecticut: Veteran former star at Tennessee and West Springfield High has been as solid as ever for the Sun (11.4 ppg, 47-percent shooting) and is coming off an 18-point performance in Sunday's 94-86 victory over Washington.

Ticha Penicheiro, Chicago: Ex-Old Dominion point guard and 15-year WNBA veteran logged just 3 minutes in the Sky's season opener and has been sidelined ever since with a left calf injury.

Sharnee Zoll, Los Angeles: Former Virginia star and the ACC's all-time leader in assists appeared to have finally found a WNBA home with the point guard-starved Sparks. But after dishing out 14 assists with just two turnovers in two preseason games, Zoll tore an ACL. She had surgery on Monday, and two days later, she was cut. Still, there are indications that the Sparks haven't severed ties with Zoll completely, and Zoll took news of her release with class on Twitter:

Love being affiliated with the @LA Sparks organization! Got some amazing flowers today and an amazing amount of loyalty and support!
DeMya Walker, New York: Ex-Virginia star and 12-year WNBA vet logged a season-high 24 minutes in Sunday's 87-72 victory over Indiana. Averaging 3.0 ppg and 3.7 rpg heading into Tuesday's game against Atlanta.

Lynetta Kizer, Maryland. One of only three third-round draft picks to make an opening-day roster, the ex-Maryland star and Woodbridge native is averaging 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in limited minutes (8.4) for Tulsa.

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