Women's players are getting bigger -- and better
By JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2007
Plus sizes are in. Just look around women's basketball.
Big and tall women are dominating the game. They stand out, and not just because of their size.
"It is kind of the changing of the guard," ESPN women's basketball analyst Stacey Dales said. "The Bigs are really getting it done and have changed our game. They handle the ball well and have good footwork because of their commitment to conditioning."
Plenty of post presence can be seen today and Tuesday when Pitt hosts a Women's NCAA Tournament sub-regional at Petersen Events Center.
Elsewhere, two of the best players in the college game, Oklahoma's 6-foot-3 250-pound Courtney Paris and Duke's 6-7, 225-pound Alison Bales, are examples of bigger being better. Paris has 58 consecutive double-doubles, the longest streak on record in NCAA Division I women's or men's basketball. Bales leads the nation in blocks per game with 4.5. Both are finalists for the Wade Trophy, which rewards the best women's basketball player in the nation.
Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, whose team is the overall No. 1 seed, pointed out that most nationally ranked top 10 teams have a dominant post player.
"I think post players in the women's game are evolving just like the men's game," said Paris, who averaged 27.7 points and 14 rebounds while leading Oklahoma into the Sweet 16 of the tournament last year. "I try to be a dominant center like Shaq, and there was nobody like that before I came around. I hope my play teaches little girls to use their bodies and frame to their advantage and realize there are no limits to their abilities."
Players such as Paris are making a huge impact because of their offseason conditioning, said Dr. Harry Stafford, a team physician at Duke.
"These women are in better shape and more coordinated than they were in the past," he said. "They play year-round, are on AAU teams, and attend camps such as the Pete Newell Camp, which used to be only for big men. Practicing against men has made these women's skills improve, as well as their durability to play at a high level for the entire game."
Dr. Robin West, orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for Sports Medicine, said the perception of big women has changed.
"Big women can be athletic, and it is a beautiful thing to watch," West said. "They are the sought-after players because of what they can do on the court."
There always have been big female players, but now they are more athletic and there are more of them, Stafford said. The starting center on the 1982 Louisiana Tech team that won the first women's championship team was 6-3 Janice Lawrence, but there weren't many players that tall in those days.
Today, however, there are five players 6-3 or taller on the teams comprising the sub-regional at Pitt, including:
• California's 6-3 center/forward Devanei Hampton, who was named Pac-10 Player of the Year after averaging 18.9 points and a conference-high 8.9 rebounds per game.
• Tennessee's 6-4 center/forward Candace Parker. She has the ability to dunk a basketball and can play all five positions.
"Post presence has been the best we have seen in many years," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose No. 1 seeded Volunteers play No. 16 Drake at 7 p.m. tonight. "Post players are more skilled, and coaches are realizing the value of playing from the inside out. When you think about the history of our game, you think about the guard play, but there is something special about post play, especially this season."
Having a quality center creates opportunities for guards, said Pitt guard Shavonte Zellous, whose No. 8 seeded team hosts No. 9 James Madison at 9:30 tonight She said Panthers 6-3 center Marcedes Walker draws double and triple teams, which gives Zellous an open lane.
Walker said she weighs 257 pounds, and it doesn't bother her to tell people her weight, even though college media guides do not list that statistic for women.
"People are surprised to hear how much I weigh when they see what I can do," said Walker, who averages 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. "I try to use my muscle to get in position for rebounds and score points for my team."
Talented post players are not only having an effect on the college game, they are carrying their weight into pro basketball. Seattle Storm coach Anne Donovan, who stands 6-8, said WNBA coaches are eager to draft talented post players.
"The bigs in the WNBA get top dollar," Donovan said. "They have adjusted their games to compete with the faster guards. I think the impact of these players has affected the high school level, too."
There also are at least two significant tall players in WPIAL girls basketball. Pine-Richland has 6-6 center Sydney Wilson. Westinghouse of the City League has 6-6 Shawnice "Pepper" Wilson.
WNBA center Katie Feenstra (6-8, 240) played at Liberty before joining the Detroit Shock. She said a player her size can be intimidating and unnerving for an opponent. She said big doesn't mean slow anymore.
Dr. Stafford agrees.
"It is more acceptable now to be a big woman and an athlete," Stafford said. "They are a joy to watch because of what they can do with the basketball. I know a lot of men who tune in to watch what these players can do. Their games have come a long way."
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