FOR `TWEENER,' FAILED WNBA TRYOUT
MEANS BIDING TIME IN LEAGUE ABROAD
Monday, October 30, 2000
Section: SPORTS PRO BASKETBALL 2 POINTS AN
Sylita Thomas SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
(Editor's note: Sylita Thomas, a 6-foot-2 forward
from Petersburg, Va., is in her second pro season after starring
at Georgetown University. Thomas is writing about her experiences
once a month in The Washington Times.)
AANEKOSKI, Finland - The obvious question:
Why aren't you in the Women's National Basketball Association?
The short answer is I guess I don't have the
ability to he in the WNBA at this point in my career.
The long answer is more complex. Being a new
league, the WNBA is not nearly as sophisticated and advanced as
its parent, the NBA. The WNBA is a work in progress, from the scouting
and coaching to the product on the floor, and personnel decisions
are not always based on ability alone.
Other elements sometimes help detennine whether
you make a team in the WNBA. It helps if you come from a big-time
college program that has marketed you. It also helps if your college
coach is influential and, from what I've seen and heard, if you're
a member of the altemative-lifestyle club.
If you're from UConn or Tennessee, the nation's
two premier womens basketball programs, deserved or not, you're
granted the benefit of doubt from the WNBA.
I don't mean to knock the players from UConn
or Tennessee. Those programs produce some outstanding players, dominate
the college ranks and are celebrated accordingly. They usually have
seven or eight high school All-Americans on their rosters going
against teams that might have one or two.
But as you go down their rosters, their seven
or eight stars do not always stronger pro candidates than a star
from a less-publicized program.
If anything, a star player from UConn or Tennessee
may not be as developed as one from a less-heralded program because
of each team's balance.
Last summer, for example, I saw Paige Sauer
playing with the Los Angeles Sparks after being on the end of the
bench at UConn. She was not good enough to play in college, but
she was good enough to be with one of the best teams in the WNBA.
Things like that make you wonder. Would she have been in the WNBA
if she had played 35 minutes a game at George Mason University?
I came out of an elite academic institution
more known for its men's than women's basketball team. I played
solid basketball at Georgetown, making the Big East all-star team,
but probably failed to reach my potential.
I'm what the WNBA regards as a "tweener,"
a 6-foot-2, 160-pound wing/post. I'm a good perimeter shooter, but
I'm not a slasher. I'm a good rebounder, but I'm not a banger. As
the WNBA sees it, I don't have a clearly defined position.
I have been around the WNBA block, so to speak,
having attended tryouts in each of the last two preseasons.
I performed well in the Washington Mystics'
invitation-only tryout in 1999. To me, the competition seemed ordinary,
and at least two players from the tryout made the team's final roster.
I didn't make the team, and I think it was
because I was not from a Top 25 program. The tie, or the hint of
one, goes to the players from the highly publicized college programs.
The WNBA also has embraced a good number of players from overseas.
These players come up through the club/professional ranks in their
countries, which is different from America's high school/college
These players are professionals by our standards,
although many end up competing for U.S. colleges before going to
The WNBA has a few truly special players: Cynthia
Cooper, Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes.
But a fair number of the players in the WNBA
are indistinguishable from the players, like myself, trylng to get
a foot in the door. I attended three tryouts last spring: with the
Indiana Fever, the Orlando Miracle and the Mystics a second time.
I played well at each tryout, but the WNBA, like God, works in mysterious
The last tryout, in Orlando, was especially
disappointing, considering I had paid to be there before a coaching
staff that was only there in body. It was a waste of time, money
and effort, and I came out of it feeling cheated.
I'm sure I'm not the only player who believes
she can play in the WNBA, and the other players who believe that
probably are right as well. Despite the hype, the WNBA's overall
quality of play is not very high, and why certain players are there
and certain players are not is part of the maddening process.
I plan to hop aboard the WNBA's merry-go-round
again next spring. Until then, I'm focused on my business with Huima.
Although our team is only 1-2 in league play,
we have reached the finals of the Finnish Cup. I'm leading the league
in scoring at 26.7 points and I'm fifth in rebounding at 8.7.
I have purchased a television set, along with
a VCR, and ordered cable, so things are not as quiet as they were.