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Who's Got Next?

The San Jose Lasers mop up the Reign in the season opener

By Todd S. Inoue

I didn't renew my Golden State Warriors' mini-plan this year. There's a logjam at point guard. Their draft pick, Adonal Foyle, is coming off a broken foot. They shipped off their main chess piece, Chris Mullin, to Indiana. Latrell Sprewell isn't talking to the press, and Joe Smith will take a pay cut to get out of his contract. No way I'm forking $700 to root for Mark Price and Todd Fuller.

On Tuesday night last week, the Golden State Warriors lured only 5,000 fans to the 16,000-capacity San Jose Arena and lost a preseason match to the Denver Nuggets. The following night (Oct. 15), the San Jose Lasers filled 10,801 arena seats and mopped up the Seattle Reign, 90-70, in their season opener.

Not one ABL player kicked a cameramen, wrote an illiterate book, made a bad movie called Kazaam or earned $10 million last year for sitting on the bench. The ABL is afflicted with an illness unknown to most of pro sports: a will to win and a love of athletic competition. The top ABL players make $145,000--a comfortable living, but not more than a human resources coordinator at a high-tech firm. It almost makes you want to cheer just for the novelty of it all.

During the sports-crazy fall, the San Jose Lasers are underdogs in the local professional sports news department, enduring competition from the World Series, pro football and basketball. Then there's the other women's basketball league--the summer-league WNBA--which satiated the market with Lisa Leslie, Jamilah Widemann and Zheng Hiaxia two months ago.

But you couldn't discern a whiff of resentment from watching the Lasers on last Wednesday. The season-opener at the arena came complete with lots of technical support. Before tip-off, the lights lowered and a video showed a highlight reel of last season. The Joe Sharino-composed Lasers theme song blasted from the speakers. A laser-light show set the tone, and the players ran through the tunnel one by one out onto the parquet floor, bathed in a spotlight and a heroine's welcome.

Clipping Starbird's Wings

Bigger roars came after tip-off. The Lasers worked a stingy defensive press Rick Pitino would be proud of, resulting in 26 Reign turnovers. On the offensive end, Sheri Sam and Charlotte Smith anchored a powerful front court, spending quality time sprawled on the floor chasing after loose balls. Guards Jennifer Azzi and Sonja Henning drove lanes like a Camaro on 101, drawing charges and dishing no-look passes.

In coach Angela Beck's nine-woman rotation, rookie Kedra Holland-Corn provided instant offense, scoring 23 points off the bench. Anita Kaplan shared time with draft pick Clarisse Machanguana, a center who can run the court and post up.

Katryna Gaither snagged eight rebounds and put up nine points in less than 20 minutes. Australian standout Shelley Sandie came through with three clutch baskets and a steal.

Meanwhile, Azzi matched up against former Stanford standout Kate Starbird and held her scoreless for the first nine minutes. During a frenetic fourth period, Azzi stole an in-bounds pass and in one motion, while drifting out of bounds, tossed the ball backward over her head to Smith. The Lasers converted the turnover, extending the lead to 15.

"I think we have enough good players to start two teams," Azzi said afterward. Coach Beck agreed, adding that they'd try to up the team's conditioning and work a 10-woman rotation in the future.

Since opening night, the Lasers have dropped decisions to the Portland Power (82-66) and the expansion Long Beach Stingrays (98-91). The next two games will test the team's resilience: a rematch against the Venus Lacy-powered Stingrays (Oct. 24) and a face-off with the reigning ABL champs, the Columbus Quest (Oct. 26).

Oct. 24: Long Beach Stingrays, Event Center, 7:30pm
Oct. 26: Columbus Quest, Event Center, 4pm
Nov. 2: Seattle Reign, Event Center, 6pm
Nov. 7: Portland Power, Event Center, 7:30pm

For more information, check the Laser's web site. Tickets available by calling 408/271-1500.

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