In 1979 the NBA Finals were still being aired on tape delay. Now think about that while we congratulate Candace Parker, Pat Summitt, and the entire Tennessee Volunteer squad on their 64-48 victory over the Stanford Cardinals on a night where the biggest winner may have been the future of women's basketball. The build-up to the game had all of the necessary ingredients for the game's growth. It had "history" as women's college basketball's marquee school and legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was going for an 8th national title. It had "star quality" in the silky smooth Candace Parker who can shoot, rebound, pass, steal, block, D-up and dunk. It had "pride and guts" as two games earlier Parker dislocated her shoulder in ugly fashion, shook it off, and came back a few minutes later in the same game. It also had a superstar nemisis in Candace Wiggins who has been lighting up the tournament with sublime shooting performances that had her topping 40 on multiple occasions. Candace vs. Candice didn't just offer high skill, but high passion and enthusiasm for the game that could make Dick Vitale cry and Tim Duncan smile. The game itself did not live up to its promise as Wiggins and Stanford did not look like the same team that they were during the tournament. Tennessee's quick hands on defense had a little something to do with that.
But the games slide into the WNBA draft today where Parker, LSU's inside force Sylvia Fowles, and Wiggins are projected to be the drafts first three picks. They continue a trend of rising skill level in professional women's basketball that has seen the likes of Diana Taurasi and Simone Augustus dominate. Today's top draftees and the women's game will also capitalize on the 2008 Summer Olympics which will blend young stars with established vets.
About the WNBA's future, former Laker great Michael Cooper had this to say: "This draft has a lot of the future of the WNBA in it. They're going to be the torch-bearers of where this league goes in the next 10 years." Cooper is also the coach of the Los Angeles Sparks who have that first pick in the draft. Can "Candace vs. Candice", the Olympics, and a new young talent pool propel the WNBA to new heights? Can men with old notions about women's basketball realize that the quality of the game has steadily improved while they weren't looking. Can the 2008 NCAA Women's Finals have a similar impact (relatively speaking!) as Magic over Bird in 1979? While it all remains to be seen, there is no doubting that the future of women's basketball is right now.