After two seasons of loss after loss, there is every indication that 2017 will be the year the San Antonio Stars rebuild finally pays dividends.
San Antonio Stars
Record last season: 7-27
Finished last in Western Conference and last in the WNBA
Projected Starters/Potential Subs:
Moriah Jefferson/ Sydney Colson
Kelsey Plum/ Roneeka Hodges
Kayla McBride/ Monique Currie
Dearica Hamby/ Nia Coffey/ Clarissa dos Santos
Erika de Souza/ Kayla Alexander/ Isabelle Harrison
The San Antonio Stars have held the worst record in the WNBA for the past two seasons, with a combined record of 15 wins and 53 losses. Furthermore, the Stars have been viewed as in a rebuilding process for those past two seasons after the retirement of the legendary Becky Hammon at the end of the 2014 season.
In 2016 the Stars drafted at number two overall, 4-time NCAA Champion Moriah Jefferson, a 5-foot-6 point guard out of the infamous University of Connecticut. This came at no surprise to the women’s basketball community, as not only was Jefferson the best available player, the Stars had just recently lost their All-Star point guard Danielle Robinson to a season ending Achilles tear. Newly named GM Ruth Riley definitely did not have the start to her first WNBA season in her new role she could have hoped for, but as always with the Stars organization, optimism was at its highest for the young but very talented team to be competitive in the league.
Fate would have other plans though, with a very rough start to the season and the Stars going just 4-12 through 16 games. Adding to the bleeding, leading scorer Kayla McBride went out in the 3rd quarter of a July 2 game against the Minnesota Lynx, sustaining a season-ending right foot fracture. San Antonio went on to win only three more games through the whole season, also notably without starter Dearica Hamby the last nine games due to pregnancy. By end of the season, veteran center Jayne Appel-Marinelli and head coach Dan Hughes both had announced their retirement. San Antonio definitely needed a little bit of positivity. Then came the draft lottery.
The lottery was held September 28, 2016. San Antonio, having been in the lottery the last two seasons, had the best chance to win and roll into the 2017 season with something to be excited about. The ball literally finally went San Antonio’s way. The Stars would pick first in the 2017 WNBA Draft.
Stars’ GM Riley then went to work to this offseason with a lot to accomplish to be prepared for the 2017 season. First, Vickie Johnson was promoted from assistant to head coach. It is safe to say Johnson is familiar with San Antonio, having spent a total of 10 years with the Stars franchise, four as a player and six as assistant coach under Hughes. She played a total of 13 years in the WNBA, was a two- time WNBA All-Star in 1999 and 2001, was inducted into the Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame in 2007, and is a member of the Stars’ All-Decade Team.
Next up for Riley was off-season roster moves. Three-time All-Star point guard Robinson, having rumored to have requested a trade closer to her hometown in the Bay Area, was traded to the Phoenix Mercury for their first round draft pick and center Isabelle Harrison. Center Astou Ndour was traded to the Chicago Sky for a return of center Clarissa dos Santos, who Riley branded “the catalyst for the recent success of the Brazilian national team.” San Antonio then signed free agent center and 11-year veteran of the league, Erika de Souza, who remains the Atlanta Dream’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,034), blocked shots (171) and field goal percentage (.535).
Finally, as draft day approached, the Stars’ roster was starting to resemble a competitive caliber WNBA team. This would be only the second number one overall pick in franchise history, dating back to when the team was located in Utah. When the pick was in, the legendary Dawn Staley announced that San Antonio Stars selected guard Kelsey Plum out of the University of Washington. As Plum officially became a San Antonio Star, speculation was already in place as to how a possible three-guard line-up of Plum, Jefferson, and McBride might work in San Antonio’s favor. Not to be overshadowed, Riley also was able to come away with another first round pick at number five, acquired from Phoenix in the Robinson trade. The fifth overall pick was Nia Coffey, forward, out of Northwestern University.
Plum and Coffey may be young, but their accolades speak for themselves. Plum set the NCAA women’s record for career points (3,527) and points in a season (1,109, 2016-17) and ranks second all-time – male or female – in NCAA history for career points, behind Pete Maravich’s 3,667. The four time All-Pac-12 and two time First Team All- American finished her college career averaging 25.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 37.4 minutes over 139 career games. Plum also broke a 33-year old NCAA career free-throw record by making 912. Coffey was a four-time All-Big Ten First Team selection and set a school record by scoring in double figures in 66 straight games, from January 22, 2015, to January 14, 2017. In 128 career college games, Coffey averaged 17.9 points and 9.2 rebounds in 32.4 minutes. She was an AP All-America honorable mention selection as a senior and ended her collegiate career as the program leader in rebounds (1,183) and free throws made (496).
San Antonio is not unfamiliar with being underrated and this year will be no different for the young team. Coach Johnson has stated that her team will be a very aggressive defensive-minded team, creating offense from their defense and bringing back the excitement of taking a charge. Fans can expect a highly disciplined and quick team, who aren’t intimidated by bigger or stronger women on the court, relying on their basketball IQ and quickness to catch you off guard. Johnson has stated she wants to be scoring at least 83 points a game, acknowledging the firepower she has as far as shooters and passers. As far as the probable small three-guard line up, well it might not create the best matchups for the Stars on the defensive end, but one has to remember you have to be able to stop these young, dynamic, and athletic players who have nowhere to go but up. Some have already predicted they will be the next “Big Three” in the WNBA. That name might not be the best fit but you get the picture.
More WNBA: Atlanta Dream 2017 Season Preview
Quite literally, the sky is the limit for the Stars and I believe they are going to surprise quite a few people this season. There will no doubt be some bumps and bruises, some of them little and some of them very big, but that is to be expected. This might be a bold prediction, but I say the Stars squeak in the playoffs, narrowly beating out some teams in the Eastern Conference for a 7th or 8th seed. As for the future, the Stars are going to be shining very bright in Texas for years to come.