May 08, 2008

Where Do We Go After Stanford’s Greatest Team Ever?

A reflection on this year and next by Warren Grimes, a devoted Cardinal fan

This year’s team had its greatest player and greatest leader ever – Candice Wiggins – and its greatest pure post player ever – Jayne Appel.  It had phenomenal freshman Kayla Pedersen, who stepped up in big games against the first two number one seeds we played (Maryland and U Conn).  And that was not all.  It had two ACL-recovering guards who played exceptionally – JJ Hones, who set records in her assist/turnover ratio and had a career day (23 points) against Maryland, and Ros Gold-Onwude, who played tenacious defense, rebounded aggressively, and hit crucial outside shots in big games (especially against Pitt in the regional semifinals).  The last two members of the 7-person rotation were unflappable and consistent defenders, great rebounders, and opportunistic scorers – Jillian Harmon and Jeanette Pohlen.  I know that the New Zealand Olympians are very glad to have Jillian – she's putting up points against world class teams.

With all the athletic talent on this year's team, their defense and, on offense, their passing and teamwork were what brought them to the end game.  Inside-out passing (reflected in the high number of assists for Appel and Pedersen) was impressive and fun to watch.  The outside shooting that may have been lacking last year and earlier this season was back – Stanford made 8 threes (at a 38% clip) against U Conn and 14 threes (at a 50% clip) against Maryland.  And it wasn’t just Wiggins – in the same two games, Wiggins made 8, Hones 7, Pedersen 4, and Gold-Onwude 2.  The U Conn and Maryland games showed Stanford at its best.  The team really came together for those games.  

  So all of these players will be back next year – except for CW.  If we can’t get her back, maybe we could kidnap Kristi Tolliver to play for us next year.  What a great player – and like CW – a great leader.  Tolliver, other than Wiggins, was by far the most impressive perimeter player in the tournament.

  What did Wiggins bring to this team?  Not much really ... just: leadership, intensity, creativity off the dribble with great slice and dice moves, solid defense with a nose for the ball, quick release and accuracy on three point shots, rebounding (13 against U Conn!), ball handling against pressure, great post game interviews, etc.  Well, on closer examination ...

So the team will have to look to a number of players to replace Candice’s portfolio of skills.   Take leadership.  I think there are a number of budding great leaders on the team.  Jayne Appel and JJ Hones come to mind, but others will develop as well.  As for ball handling and creative moves to the basket, no one is likely to be Candice’s equal, but Ros and JJ will be supplemented by a returning Melanie Murphy, and these players all can put the ball on the floor if the defense overplays.  We will be a passing team next year, perhaps even more so than this year, but we will need players who can opportunistically drive to the basket (and make that wonderful triangle cut to the basket past the high-posted player).  

  Then there’s the excitement of our new players, led by Nneka Ogwumike, and the return of Michelle Harrison, who played a lot as a freshman.  Not to mention the future potential of returning players such as Jeanette Pohlen, who has a great instinct for the game and is capable of assuming a more prominent role next year.  Next year’s team will have a lot of experience, some great athletes – and the tradition for winning deep into the tournament that Candice brought.  And we still have Tara VanDerveer – there’s no better coach out there.  The potential is there for another great year...


Anonymous said...

I agree completely in all respects, but I'd like to add some thougts.
On leadership: I see Jillian and Morgan as solid team leaders because of their maturity. Jillian will bring the additional perspective of her international experience.
On the posts: Sarah could be a solid addition to that outstanding group.
On coaching: Yes, Tara is the greatest, but she's more than capably complemented by Amy, Kate and Bobby.
What's ahead for 2008-2009? A team with 11 terrific returning players and four promising freshmen. Tara will be challenged to give them all their due, but she'll be up to it. Most coaches would love to have such a challenge.
Bring on the new season!

Anonymous said...

go card!! cant wait until next season!!

Anonymous said...

definately, jil would make a great leader, and she was a teram captain with CW this year.

Anonymous said...

Two things to notice about the 2008-9 time are: how BIG it is, and then how widely the talent is distributed. Here is the whole list, ordered by size:
6-5 Sarah*
6-4 Jayne*
6-4 Morgan
6-4 Kayla*
6-3 Ashley
6-3 Michelle
6-2 Nneka*
6-1 Jillian*
6-0 Jeanette*
5-11 Hannah
5-10 Grace
5-10 Ros*
5-10 JJ*
5-9 Mel*
5-8 Lindy

The 9 (nine!) names with asterisks are players who can be expected to start at some point in the season -- and there could be others. It's a huge challenge for the coaching staff; but on the other hand, almost never will there be fewer than 3 players over 6 foot on the floor!