As the 2012 WNBA season approaches, the Atlanta Dream begins preparations for their biggest season in team history. In just four short seasons, the Dream went from holding the league's worst record of 4-30 in their inaugural season back in 2008 and making a complete turn around by advancing to the WNBA Playoffs for the first time the following season. In the last two seasons, Atlanta have won the Eastern Conference and made a WNBA Finals appearance in 2010 and 2011 only to lose to the Seattle Storm (2010) and the Minnesota Lynx (2011) , who were the best teams in the league in both of those seasons. Entering their fifth season, these young women are hungry to deliver the first professional basketball championship to Atlanta. In order to make the necessary changes, there were a few key moves made in the off-season with the roster and the coaching staff.
Izi Castro Marques, one of the original members of the Atlanta Dream did not re-sign and became a free agent. Shalee Lehning, another original member of the Dream, was forced to retire from the WNBA after suffering an ACL injury last season and unfortunately, her complications prevents her from playing pro basketball again. Allison Bales, another original member of the team and a dominant center on the roster would also retire from the league in order to earn a medical degree. In the coaching staff, Carol Ross would depart after four great years in Atlanta to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks. These were key members to the Atlanta Dream success over the past few years but the team is working hard to bring in key components to help the team return to the WNBA Finals. Another key contributor who was waived due to the Atlanta Dream 11-player roster limit was Coco Miller, who was a productive guard over the past three seasons and was a difficult decision that Coach Marynell Meadors had to make in order to complete the roster for the season opener.
Atlanta hired Joe Ciampi as a replacement for assistant coach. Ciampi was formerly a head coach at Auburn University and the U.S. Military Academy and he posted a 607-213 record, which earned him a spot in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and also registered 20+ win seasons 19 of his 27 years coaching women basketball. Ciampi will bring an extra boost to the Atlanta Dream due to his experience with women's basketball and his winning formula will only help the Dream players continue and grow as athletes. The Dream also acquired two new players in the free agency to replace the loss of Bales and Castro Marquez. Catherine Kraayeveld was the first free agent acquisition this year. Kraayeveld, who is a 7th year WNBA veteran who played with both the Chicago Sky and the New York Liberty, is a forward that brings a three point shooting threat and can also play multiple positions. Atlanta also signed guard Ketia Swanier before training camp. Swanier, who was formerly a guard on the Phoenix Mercury was one of the key members of the 2009 WNBA Championship team and is originally from Columbus, Georgia.
The beginning of the 2012 WNBA season will present a challenge for all 12 teams in the first two months of the year because some of the women will remain in their native countries as they prepare to play in the Olympics in July. The Atlanta Dream have a few players and coaches who will participate in the festivities this summer. Erika De Souza will play for the Brazilian national team in the Summer Olympics, which will keep her from playing for Atlanta until around late July or August. Coach/General Manager Marynell Meadors will serve as an assistant coach to University of Connecticut's head coach Geno Auriemma's staff as the United States will look to win their 5th consecutive goal medal in London this summer. Atlanta Dream forward Angel Mccoughtry will also play for the United States women basketball team for the first time in her young career.
Now, we will take a inside preview of each member of the 2012 Atlanta Dream roster:
Lindsey Harding- #10 (Point Guard: 5th season)
Harding, who enters her second season as a member of the Atlanta Dream, will look to have another productive season for the team. Last season, she averaged (10.5) points per game, (3.2) rebounds per game, and a career high in assists with (4.8) per game. Last year, Lindsey Harding was acquired in a trade to address their point guard issue and she delivered for Atlanta and also had a productive post-season averaging (14.5) points per game and (5.9) assists per game and she made up for Angel Mccoughtry, who was in a lot of foul trouble during the 2011 WNBA playoffs. Harding is a guard who can create big plays by attacking the paint and also is a consistent outside shooter and excels in playing defense against some of the best guards in the WNBA. Harding's production will continue to increase for Atlanta and her veteran experience will benefit the Dream pursuit for another WNBA Finals appearance in 2012.
Sancho Lyttle- #20 (Forward: 7th season)
Lyttle, who is one of the best players on the Atlanta Dream roster, will enter 2012 looking to continue and help this franchise take it to another level. Last season, she averaged (10.0) points per game, (6.3) rebounds per game, and a career high (2.4) steals per game, which was the most in the WNBA per game. She missed 12 games last season, six were from a commitment to Spain's national basketball team and the other six were from a back injury she suffered while playing for them. Without Lyttle, Atlanta struggled early in the year but when she returned, she brought a defensive presence for opposing players. Lyttle is a great rebounder for Atlanta and have the ability to score in the paint and can be a defensive nightmare for opposing forwards. She was also a clutch shooter and even hit two three pointers for the first time in her career and one proved to be a game winning shot in one of Atlanta's key victories last season. She was named to the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team for the third consecutive year, which is amazing because she only played 22 of Atlanta's games last year and was still productive.
Angel Mccoughtry- #35 (Guard/Forward: 4th season)
Mccoughtry, the star of the Atlanta Dream and one of the best young athletes in the WNBA today, will head into her 4th season looking to win a championship. Last season, she averaged a career high (21.6) points per game, (5.2) rebounds per game, (2.5) assists per game, and (2.2) steals per game and she finished second behind Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi in scoring. She also was selected as a WNBA All-Star and made the All-WNBA First Team Selection and All-Defensive First Team Selection as well. She scored (30) points or more in six games last season, which was more than any other player in the league in 2011. Angel continues to establish herself as one of the premier superstars and she'll be a huge factor in Atlanta's pursuit for a 3rd straight WNBA Finals Appearance. This season, she will continue to play with an intense drive because she wants to win a championship for the first time ever and when she's on a roll, Atlanta is a hard team to beat. Mccoughtry has the ability to create big plays on offense and she's a defensive mismatch for any opposing WNBA team because of her raw talent and ability to dominate in huge basketball games. She missed the first few games of 2011 and she struggled to find her offense in the first half of the WNBA season but after the All-Star Break, she helped the Dream come from a 3-9 record to a 20-14 finish and make the playoffs. She's the superstar of the Atlanta Dream and she'll be a huge part of the Dream's success story in 2012.
Erika De Souza- #14 (Center, 7th season)
DeSouza, who is the only remaining member of the original Atlanta Dream roster on the 2012 team, is a huge presence for the Dream in the paint and that's where she is doing most of her work. Last season, Desouza posted (11.8) points per game, (7.5) rebounds, (1.2) steals per game, and (1.3) blocks per game, which was one of the best among WNBA centers. Desouza is a huge part of Atlanta's defense as well because she makes it difficult for any team to establish any offensive threat under the basket because she immediately makes adjustments in order for her opponent to have a difficult time finishing on strong drives in each basketball game. On offense, her ability to get easy layups and force her way into the paint for easy basket opportunities is one huge reason why Atlanta was one of the most successful offensive basketball teams in the WNBA last year. Desouza's presence will be missed early in the year as she will stay in Brazil to prepare for the Olympics but the Dream will get her back when the run to the postseason. Desouza contributions were huge for the Dream in 2011 and she is one of the most important people that makes the team very successful and tough to compete against. In the postseason, Atlanta will continue to rely on her dominance inside the paint to help take their team to another level.
Armintie Price- #22 (Guard/Forward, 6th season)
Last season, Armintie Price was a key contributor off the bench and also considered as the Dream's "sixth woman" who brought the energy to Atlanta in order to help them win the game, however, when Atlanta started 3-9, Coach Marynell Meadors decided to insert her into the starting lineup and the results have been successful as the Dream won 15 of their next 20 games with Price in the lineup. Price, the former WNBA Rookie of the Year, had her best season to date averaging a career high with (8.5) points per game, (2.8) assists per game, and (1.4) steals per game and her contributions are continuing to pay off for the Dream. Armintie Price is one of the fastest athletes in the WNBA today and her ability to come up with key steals and blocks on defense makes her difficult to defend during games and on offense, her speed and play making qualities allow her to make big offensive plays through any circumstances that the Dream face on gameday. Price was also named to the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team for the first time in her career. In her first season as a starter for the Dream, she'll continue to be effective for Atlanta's offense.
Courtney Paris- #3 (Center, 3rd season)
Last season, Paris was a key contributor off the bench and provided the Dream with a spark in the paint and provided some defensive presence similar to Erika Desouza. Paris averaged (3.4) points per game, (3.1) rebounds per game, which was her best career numbers in the WNBA. Paris, a fan favorite of the Atlanta Dream, Great size with quick hands and feet. Dominant force inside, but also has ability to take defenders outside and drop the occasional three, which we have yet to see and she have many great days ahead of her. Paris was one of the best centers in college basketball back in 2007 and Atlanta would love to see that come back on this team. GM/Head Coach Marynell Meadors stated that "As she adjusts to our style, her rebounding and her ability to get offensive rebounds and second chance points will be vital to our success."
Tiffany Hayes-#15 (Guard, Rookie)
Hayes is the Atlanta Dream's second round pick from the 2012 WNBA Draft and she's another guard the Dream acquired to develop some depth at the guard position with the loss of Shalee Lehning and Izi Castro Marquez. Hayes was categorized in college as a long-range shooter who, when she gets hot, can take over the game, but is often characterize as one who didn't show up for the big games. Hayes will come in as a role player who will provide some good production off the bench this year. At UConn, she won two national championships and four Final Four appearances… Finished career with 147-7 record as a Husky… Tallied 23 twenty-plus point performances, including three thirty-plus point performances as a senior… Averaged 14.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game as senior… Led team in steals and ranked second in scoring and rebounding as a senior… Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 Kingston Regional… Finalist for the Wooden Award and Wade Trophy finalist… Associated Press Third Team Al-American… Ranked second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage, fifth in free throw percentage and sixth in steals as senior
Ketia Swanier-#8 (Guard, 5th Season)
Swanier, who is one of our new free-agent acquisitions from the free agency was a former Phoenix Mercury guard and was key to the Mercury winning the WNBA Finals back in 2009. Last season in Phoenix, Swanier averaged 2.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and a career-high 2.3 assists per game… Appeared in 29 games, including four starts… Led the Mercury in assists three times… Led the Mercury in steals six times and she will come in as a role player and relieve Lindsey Harding at point guard during games this season. Like Harding, she plays a up-tempo pace and can hit outside shots and create plays in the paint.
Cathrine Kraayeveld-#33 (Forward, 7th season)
Kraayeveld, who is the second free-agent acquisition of the Atlanta Dream who was a productive player around the WNBA over the past six years. Last season, she averaged 5.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game… Started 15 of 33 games… Led the Sky in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 40.9% from beyond the arc… Ranked 10th in the WNBA in three-point field goal percentage. This is a huge advantage that Atlanta was missing in 2011 and she provides the extra boost off the bench and she's a great defender as well. Kraayeveld can also play multiple positions and you'll see her try different places in the game and she will perform very well.
Aneika Henry-#13 (Forward, Rookie)
Henry, is a rookie forward who can produce big baskets in the paint and she's a pretty productive blocker. Henry is athletic post player with a long wing span who could block shots and run the floor well and in her two-year career at UF blocked 110 shots which ranks sixth all-time. She shot a steady 53.7 percent from the floor during her Gator tenure ... eight career double-figure scoring games and two double-figure rebounding games. The amazing part about her career is that she had never played an organized sport - including basketball - until the ninth grade when she was discovered by a high school coach. She will be another productive member coming off the bench and Atlanta will definitely get a huge effort.
Laurie Koehn- #12 (Guard, 4th Season)
Koehn was brought in as another three point threat for the Atlanta Dream. Koehn, who has not played in the WNBA since 2008, returned to the WNBA looking to help be the Dream's missing piece to a WNBA championship. When she first entered the league back in 2005, Koehn merged as the league best 3 point shooter… led the league in 3 point field goals and she was also known for setting the NCAA’s all-time career three-point leader with (392). while at Kansas State University.
Yelena Leuchanka- #11 (Center, 3rd Season)
Last but not least sees the Atlanta Dream bring one of their key contributors to the 2010 Eastern Conference championship team back to their roster after one season out of the WNBA. Leuchanka, who is entering her second stint with the team is a huge benefit to the team after the loss of Allison Bales. She was very productive two years ago even posting career high numbers as she averaged (4.2) points per game, (2.6) rebounds per game, and was a outside shooting threat for the team as well. With her return, the Dream will have depth at center with Courtney Paris and her as they will play the first half without Desouza.
The Atlanta Dream have an exciting 2012 season coming up and I want all basketball fans around the city of Atlanta to show them women support as they embark on their journey to return to the WNBA Finals.Looking forward to a great season, LET'S GO DREAM!!!!