Five Reasons to Look Ahead

The graduating senior class for Stanford Women's Basketball was special - no doubt. We know how much they lifted the program every year the played on The Farm, but their departure does not mean the end for Tara's troops. In fact, we can think of five fantastic reasons you can and should get excited about the 2004-05 season just around the corner, with plenty of breakout talent ready to elevate Stanford hoops.

During her time on The Farm, All-American Nicole Powell has rewritten the record books for the Stanford Women’s Basketball Team. Whether it was points, rebounds, or assists, Powell’s name has been etched in the history books and will go down as one of the greatest players to ever don a Cardinal jersey. However, with her graduation this June, many critics and fans alike are expecting the Stanford Cardinal to suffer a severe decline next season and predict it will be a long climb back into the elite ranks of collegiate basketball for coach Tara VanDerveer’s ball club.

Despite the gloom and doom attitude that has possessed many fans, The Bootleg is here to tell you that the Stanford Cardinal will not completely fall off the radar screen next year. While Powell has left the Stanford program for the WNBA and fellow seniors Katie Denny and Chelsea Trotter have graduated into the real world, VanDerveer will have several gifted players returning, in addition to a spectacular freshman class, highlighted by a backcourt duo ready to set the collegiate scene on fire. Consider the talent on next year’s squad: nine High School All-Americans and six State Player of the Year recipients. Contrary to popular belief, Stanford will have a strong squad next year and should surprise many on the national scene. Here are five reasons why Stanford fans will be looking forward to the 2004-2005 basketball season:

1) Brooke Smith

Brooke Smith enters the 2004-2005 basketball season with the distinction of being Stanford’s first and only transfer player for coach VanDerveer and her timing could not have been any better. With the news that 2004 would be the last year center Chelsea Trotter would don a Stanford jersey, Smith looks to replace Trotter’s points, rebounds, and toughness in the paint in the upcoming year. As a First Team Parade High School All-American, the Bay Area native elected to attend Duke University, signing a National Letter of Intent her senior year. However, homesickness and playing time her freshman year caused the talented center to re-evaluated her priorities. Within weeks of Duke’s run to the Final Four in 2003, Smith had decided to transfer closer to home and matriculate at Stanford.

What should Stanford fans expect from Smith come basketball season? One of her weaknesses going into Duke was her conditioning and stamina. She failed to receive a significant amount of playing time in Durham, NC because she wasn’t prepared for the fast pace of collegiate basketball. She was getting pushed around in the paint and often a step too slow on defense. However, Smith used her redshirt year wisely, hitting the weight room and improving her overall quickness. With her stamina and strength significantly increased, Smith appears ready to make an impact for the Cardinal. The redshirt sophomore has a variety of moves in the post and when she can’t find a good shot to hit, she has the ability to pass to an open teammate out on the perimeter. It will be exciting to see what the 6’3” center will bring to the team and while a starting position is by no means guaranteed, expect Smith to get significant minutes throughout the season.

2) Post Rotation

Traditionally, Stanford’s strength has always been in its guard play – whether it be a potent transition offense, crisp passing, or deadly three-point shooting. However, next year’s team has a chance to shift the focus away from the backcourt and to the frontcourt. While there is no dominant player up front for Stanford, it is the collection of individuals who will make Stanford so difficult to match up with next season. Whether VanDerveer wants to go with height, speed, athleticism, shotblocking, or finesse, the team has the versatility to mix and match until the right combination is found. Leading the crop of post players will undoubtedly be the seniors, Azella Perryman and T'Nae Thiel. A starter for most of her career, Thiel is known for her defensive work in the paint, often assigned to shut down the opposing team’s best post player and though frequently at least two to three inches shorter than her opponent, Thiel gets the job done. Perryman has had an inconsistent career at Stanford, shining at times with her offense, rebounding, and athleticism; however, Perryman has also found herself to be a defensive liability, limiting her minutes on the court. Hopefully Perryman will be able to step up her defense in order to gain more playing time – she is a tough minded athlete who will not back down to anyone and that is the attitude Stanford needs to adopt next year.

Freshman Kristen Newlin came onto the collegiate basketball scene as an unknown entity, a product of growing up in Riverton, Wyoming, a small town of just over 10,000 people. However, much to the delight of the coaching staff and fans, Newlin turned out to be one serious player. At 6’5”, the forward/center displayed the athleticism and skills necessary to become an important member of the Cardinal rotation. After a promising freshman campaign where she earned All Pac-10 Freshman honors, look for Newlin to contribute even more during her sophomore season. Freshman redshirt Eziamaka Okafor, a 6’0” forward out of Rolla, MO, has been plagued with injuries left and right throughout her whole Stanford career. Though she only played a total of two minutes last season, look for her role to increase tenfold. Her biggest strength is her rebounding and with the departure of Powell, VanDerveer will be looking for anyone to step right in and snatch any loose balls off the boards. The only question will be if Okafor has completely recovered from her ailments – if the answer is yes, then Stanford opponents beware of this athletic young player crashing the boards. Transfer Brooke Smith, discussed earlier, will add to an already solid and athletic crop of players, and can be counted on to provide solid minutes in the paint. With Thiel, Perryman, Newlin, Okafor, and Smith, Stanford will have the quickness, athleticism, and depth to challenge any team in the nation in the post.

3) Candice Wiggins and Cissy Pierce

Not since Jamila Wideman and Kate Starbird have two players created such a stir for Cardinal basketball aficionados. The McDonald's High School All-Americans will enter Stanford with quite a loaded resume. Cissy Pierce hails from Littleton, CO, where she averaged 18.1 points and 8.9 rebounds a game for Heritage High School as a senior. The 5’10” guard will contribute immediately to the Cardinal, as her speed and athleticism are unparalleled. Pierce’s ability to create her own shot, whether it be by slashing to the basket or shaking off her defender for a jumper, will add to an already dangerous arsenal of scoring threats for coach VanDerveer’s squad. In addition, her love for the transition game will showcase her smooth ball-handling skills and fine passing. Though she is slated for the shooting guard position, VanDerveer will most likely try her out as a potential replacement at the point.

Pierce’s classmate, Candice Wiggins, is a consensus Top 10 national recruit, and with good reason. At 5’11”, the Southern Californian product has the prototypical body for a wing player, with the ability to score from all sides of the court. As one of the leading scorers in California this season at 30.7 points a contest, Wiggins has a knack for putting the ball in the hole, whether the basket comes off of a three-pointer or a deep drive to the hoop. If Wiggins appears to resemble Powell at times, it is because this all-around athlete is just as talented in the backcourt as she is in the post. Her athleticism and speed make her a versatile player for the Cardinal, allowing her to play either guard position or in the paint with ease. While Pierce is the odds on favorite to take over as the point guard for the Cardinal, do not rule out Wiggins, as her court vision and passing are superb as well, though it would appear her natural position would be on the perimeter. As the Stanford Cardinal enter the Post Powell Era, fans can be rest assured that the future of the program appear to be in the great hands of these two high school All-Americans.

4) Sebnem Kimyacioglu

SHEB-num kim-YA-zhe-oh-loo. Learn the pronunciation of this talented guard because fans will most certainly have a need to yell out her name correctly next season. For three years, the versatile junior has had her name mispronounced by everyone - from the all-knowing fans to the announcers who make it a living to know the game and the players. During her time on The Farm, Kimyacioglu has been the consummate role player – grabbing errant rebounds, playing hounding defense, hustling for loose balls, and occasionally hitting a timely three-pointer with little fanfare. However, with the graduation of Powell and Trotter, the need for a scorer will be imperative and look for the local product out of Mountain View, CA to step up her game and fill the void for the Cardinal next season. Though Kimyacioglu only scored 6.7 points a game last year, she averaged 12.4 points when Powell sat out with injuries, totaling 11 games over the last two seasons. Furthermore, during the Cardinal’s Italian tour against professional clubs before the 2004 season began, Kimyacioglu was the team’s leading scorer, averaging a little over 18 points a game. She has the purest stroke on the team and has shown the skills to put the ball on the floor and take it to the hoop. Kimyacioglu has the ability to be a consistent scorer for Stanford, but has always deferred to her elders. However, in her last year in a Stanford uniform, Kimyacioglu should feel compelled to lead her team and take on the responsibility that comes with being a senior, meaning shooting the ball often and with confidence. Kimyacioglu will still play tough defense and get hustle for loose balls, but look for her to shoot the ball when the opportunity arises.

5) Kelley Suminski

The senior-to-be had an inconsistent junior year, struggling mightily at times, but coming through in the clutch for the Cardinal when it mattered the most. Coming off a sensational sophomore campaign where she earned First Team All Pac-10 Honors, great things were expected out of the native of New Jersey. However, the beginning of the season got off to a rocky start, as Suminski struggled mightily to find her shot. Through the first nine games, she was averaging only 7.2 points; in addition, Suminski was hitting a paltry 25% of her three's, usually a strength in her game. Despite her early woes, the shooting guard was able to right the ship by the time the Pac-10 Conference rolled around and rebounded by averaging 10.2 points and shooting an impressive 42.3% from 3-point land over the next 18 games. Her consistent and solid play was highlighted with a 22-point performance against Washington State in early January. In that game, Suminski re-discovered her aptitude for precision, as she went 4-5 from beyond the arc and was a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe. During the post-season, the sharp-shooter was able to up her game another notch, as she posted 11.1 points a game and hit 43.8% from beyond the arc. However, the biggest moment of her career came in the Sweet Sixteen game against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Down 54-55 with 2.2 seconds left on the clock, Suminski received an outlet pass from Powell at the top of the key and with unwavering confidence, drilled a three that would send the Cardinal into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1997. The “Miracle Shot” will undeniably give Suminski an extraordinary amount of confidence that will carry on over to her senior season. She can draw strength and energy from that shot, knowing that she has the ability to hit the game winning basket in even the most pressurized situations. Next year, Stanford fans should expect to see a confident Suminski take the court. She has improved every area of her game by leaps and bounds as each year progresses and there is no reason to doubt that she will continue to develop into a top basketball player, one who is capable of leading Stanford deep into the NCAA Tournament come March.

With basketball season just months away, many questions regarding next year’s squad have already been answered. The four seniors, Kimyacioglu, Perryman, Suminski, and Thiel, will all need to step up to provide leadership to a team that lost three great leaders in Powell, Trotter and Denny. Although Powell can never be replaced, Wiggins will use her scoring prowess and megawatt smile to ease the pain of losing the Kodak All-American. However, the biggest question all Stanford fans have been wondering has yet to be answered: will Susan Borchardt be staying or leaving? The spunky redshirt junior came into Stanford in the same class as Powell, Denny, and Trotter, though a torn ACL has given her the chance to compete for a fourth year. Will she return to The Farm, or graduate and be with her husband, Utah Jazz center Curtis Borchardt? If the 5’7” point guard returns, the pros would be obvious. Borchardt is a deadly shooter, hitting 43.7% of her three-point attempts. In addition, she can put the ball on the floor and slash to the hoop with relative ease. However, her worth to the team goes beyond just her offensive contributions; Borchardt is awesome on defense and uses her quickness and active hands to shut down opposing guards. She would also provide senior leadership that will be important in creating great team chemistry, considering the squad will be embracing four new faces next season. However, whether Borchardt decides to rejoin the team or not does not take away from the fact that Stanford has the potential to go deep into the NCAA Tournament and the addition of Borchardt would only make the team stronger.

Next year, a Nicole Powell-less Stanford squad will go into the season as the underdog, but everyone knows how the Cardinal responds to that misconception (just ask Missouri, Oklahoma, and Vanderbilt). Until November 2004 hits, keep your fingers crossed that Borchardt will return to Stanford and start learning how to correctly pronounce Sebnem Kimyacioglu.

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