For women's hoops, four stars shine brightest

In March 2010, the committee that chooses the Wade Trophy for the Player of the Year in women's college basketball will winnow its list to twelve finalists. Is it possible that a single team could get four of those twelve players?

There is precedent for a single team getting three of the twelve finalists. Last year, in the wake of its dominant and undefeated season, the University of Connecticut had three team members on the final list: Renee Montgomery; Tina Charles, and Maya Moore, the ultimate winner. Montgomery has graduated, but both Charles and Moore seem preseason favorites for the award. If U Conn has another dominant season, backcourt player Tiffany Hayes, on this year's Wade Watch List, could well join Charles and Moore on the finalist list.

As a matter of balance, it seems unlikely that the committee would choose four finalists from a single team. The committee is made up of people from various regions, a factor that weighs against multiple selections from a single team. Certainly success on the basketball court will sway votes. So it could happen, and Connecticut might be the first school to get four finalists. But from this writer's perspective, this year's Stanford team could well be the team with the strongest case for three -- or perhaps even four -- finalists. To convince skeptical East Coast committee members, Stanford would need a dominant season. So yes, let's play the games first. But in the meantime, here are some preseason reflections on why Stanford is in a strong position for Wade finalists. Three Stanford players are on the Wade Trophy Watch List, and a fourth could well be added. Here are four Stanford players who seem to have the best shot at being Wade Trophy finalists:

Jayne Appel was the only Stanford player to be a Wade finalist last year. She is the consensus all-time best post player to play for Stanford and winner of last year's Pac-10 POY award. Last season she led the team in points, rebounds, and blocked shots. Her passing game sets her apart from other great post players. Appel had 108 assists, second only to Jeanette Pohlen. If the opposition doesn't double her, Appel can be a one-person wrecking squad, as she proved against Iowa State in the Regional Final, when she scored 46 points, the most ever scored by a Stanford player. Appel is a leader, a gamer, and an unselfish team member who does what the team needs her to do.

Kayla Pedersen, on the watch list this year, is another strong candidate. Pedersen's game is multi-faceted. She did not dominate any statistical category, coming in second in scoring and rebounding for last year's team. She can shoot the three (34 last year at a 34 percent clip), an indication of her versatility on both the offensive and defensive end. Pedersen played primarily on the perimeter last year, an assignment that required some adjustment. If her outside shooting improves this year, opponents will have a handful because Pedersen is also proficient at driving the basket from either side. Pedersen does the "little" things well. Although there are no publicly available stats on this, Pedersen probably leads the team in taking charges and in effective help defense. She's always there, and the coaches know it. Pedersen played more minutes on last year's team than any player other than Jeanette Pohlen.

Jeanette Pohlen, also on the watch list, is the flexible point guard who played a wing position for Charlie Turner Thorne's gold-medal winning national team this Summer. Last year, Pohlen led the team in assists, three-point shooting, and three-point shooting accuracy (37 percent). Her role may shift if JJ Hones assumes more point guard leadership, but flexibility is Pohlen's middle name. Pohlen is a steadying influence and someone who knows how to get the ball up court quickly. She also plays sound defense, with the second highest number of steals last year, after Jillian Harmon. The coaches understood all of this last year and played Pohlen more minutes than any other player.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike is not on this year's preseason watch list, but I have some advice for the committee: watch your backside! Ogwumike is poised for a banner season. Nneka was not chosen as Pac 10 Freshman of the Year last year, perhaps because she did not start in the first half of the season, but anyone who watched her perform in the last ten games would have to wonder. Stanford fans know about Ogwumike's speed and leaping ability, but she has added to her game in a number of ways, including better outside shooting, more confidence in rebounding and more eye-catching interior post moves. Just look at this fall's two exhibition games, in which Ogwumike led the team in scoring both games. If she continues at this pace, it's hard to see how an objective observer could leave Ogwumike off the list of twelve finalists.

All four of these Stanford players have in common their participation on various national teams (as do two other Stanford players – Sarah Boothe and Joslyn Tinkle). They also share a selfless attitude toward team play. They are great fun to watch. The odds of getting four finalists on the Wade trophy list are slim, but if each plays well enough to earn this distinction, Stanford will have a memorable season. After all, in the end, how they play matters more than who ends up being on a list chosen by a group of sports journalists.


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