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June 16, 2006 at 4:49 PM

Block this

I’ve been quasi arguing with Storm guard Betty Lennox about these rookies this season.
My question is always the same — where’s the typical “veteran” lesson or welcome to the league? Seems the top four, at least, are waltzing in and lighting up the place. Ah, actually they are waltzing in and lighting up the place.
Seimone Augustus (Minnesota) and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix) have had 30-plus-point games and were each named player of the week. They’ve torn up veteran championship teams like Houston and Sacramento. And I just can’t believe everyone is rolling over like this.
True, I haven’t seen every game, so I don’t know what the situation was with every sparkling night the rookies have had. And I understand the incoming talent is way, way better. But I’m not giving in to Lennox’s belief that you have to simply give respect.
Bump that and these rookies.
That’s why I was happy to witness Storm forward Lauren Jackson’s defensive emergence during her team’s past two wins. The 6-foot-5 Aussie gave rookies Augustus and Candice Dupree, the sixth overall draft pick, the kind of “Welcome to the WNBA” that a sportswriter likes to see.
Jackson stuffed both of their shots back into their face.
The Augustus one was sweet. It was in the first quarter and Jackson twisted her body sideways to bring down the hammer, making everyone say, “Oh!” As in, haven’t seen anyone do that to Augustus before.
True, Augustus finished with a career-high 32 points, the best outing from a Lynx rookie since Lennox in 2000, when the latter had 31 points on the road against Washington.
But Augustus, a 6-foot guard, won’t forget that block.
And Dupree, a 6-2 post, had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds in Chicago’s loss, but again, things like being shoved to the ground with an imprint of the league’s logo on your forehead have a way of waking you up at night. (Plus Jackson hit two three-pointers against Dupree’s coverage).
Don’t get me wrong. The league needs these rookies to star in order to attract attention and keep the momentum of its 10th season rolling. Yet, it’s all rubbish if they continue to look this much better than the youthful veterans like Jackson and teammate Sue Bird, the youngest members of the All-Decade team at 25. Even Bird continues to get schooled by veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro (Sacramento). It’s the kind of thing that would make former Sonic Gary Payton happy, a man who never allowed a rookie to just roll up and showboat without at least feeling his presence.
Jackson even stated that her defense is what she was most happy about in the Sky win. She finished with a game-high 27 points, 10 rebounds (a team-leading four offensive boards), four assists, and six blocks in 30 minutes. Jackson’s personal best for blocks is eight against the relocated Utah Starzz (San Antonio) set in 2002.
“I’m probably most proud of the blocks because I haven’t been blocking that many people lately and the rebounds because I haven’t had a double-double this year,” she said after the game. “Our focus has been defense and like I said in our last few games, if I don’t score I don’t care as long as we win.”
Jackson’s not scoring in double digits in the two games before Chicago did bring attention to the difficulty of another talent of hers. She owns the league’s second-longest streak of scoring 10 points or more in 84 games, which ended in the 2005 season opener.
The power forward said she respects it a little more after suffering through three games this season where she finished in single digits.
“Yeah, I do, but I hopefully I can get it going again,” she said.
If not, watching her stop everyone else’s shot, especially the newbies, is just as good.

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