Rookie Race: Looking back at the WNBA’s closest Rookie of the Year votes

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Arike Ogunbowale #24 of Dallas Wings hugs Napheesa Collier #24 of the Minnesota Lynx after the game between the two teams on August 22, 2019 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minneosta. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Arike Ogunbowale #24 of Dallas Wings hugs Napheesa Collier #24 of the Minnesota Lynx after the game between the two teams on August 22, 2019 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minneosta. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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PORTLAND, OR – JUNE 20: Tamika Catchings #24 of the Indiana Fever drives from the outside during the game against the Portland Fire on June 20, 2002 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. The Fever won 81-72. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2002 WNBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/WNBAE/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR – JUNE 20: Tamika Catchings #24 of the Indiana Fever drives from the outside during the game against the Portland Fire on June 20, 2002 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. The Fever won 81-72. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2002 WNBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/WNBAE/Getty Images) /

2002: Tamika Catchings (Honorable Mention)

Ultimately, 2002 was not one of the closest Rookie of the Year votes when the final numbers came out, but passing up the chance to write about this rookie class would be a missed opportunity.

Tamika Catchings was the third overall pick by the Indiana Fever in 2001 but was unable to play while she recovered from an ACL tear, so she joined a heralded Draft class as part of a legendary group of rookies in 2002. Sue Bird was drafted first overall by the Seattle Storm, followed by former Connecticut teammate Swin Cash to the Detroit Shock. Stacey Dales (Washington Mystics), Asjha Jones (Mystics), and Nikki Teasley (Los Angeles Sparks) rounded out the top five.

Catchings and Bird had historic rookie seasons. Each was an All Star in their first year, followed by selections to the All-WNBA First Team, making them the first two rookies to earn that honor.

Catchings was second in scoring (18.6 points per game) only to Chamique Holdsclaw (19.9), while Bird was second in assists (6.0 per game) behind only Ticha Penicheiro (8.0). Catchings helped lead the Fever to their first appearance in the Playoffs, and the same can be said for Bird and the Storm. Both were also top-5 vote-getters in the MVP race, Catchings finishing third and Bird in fifth.

The group behind them were productive as well. Cash was a top-15 scorer and top-10 rebounder in the league in her first season, while Dales joined Catchings and Bird in the All Star Game, and Jones contributed off the bench for the Mystics. Teasley was a balanced scoring and passing threat starting for the defending champions, and she had her moment in the spotlight after burying a game-winning three to win another title for the Sparks.

Ultimately, there was no stopping Catchings. After being named WNBA Player of the Week in both the first and last weeks of the season, she won Rookie of the Year with 48 of the 60 votes, followed by Bird (8), Cash (3), and Teasley (1).

After their rookie season…

Teasley went on to win a title that postseason with the Sparks, and she continued to be red-hot in 2003, winning All-Star MVP. She played a total of seven seasons in the WNBA.

Dales played for three seasons with the Mystics followed by two with the Chicago Sky before announcing her retirement in 2008 to focus on her broadcasting career. She was a part of the very first Sky lineup, scoring the first points for the franchise in 2006.

Jones went on to a lengthy career, most notably with the Connecticut Sun from 2004 to 2012. After coming off the bench during their Finals runs in 2004 and 2005, she was a double-digit scorer as a starter from 2007 to 2012, when she earned two All Star nods. She finished out her career in Minnesota in 2015, where she ultimately got her ring.

Catchings played 15 seasons with the Fever, where she became the face of the franchise and a perennial All Star. She never missed an All Star Game, was a seven-time All-WNBA First Team member, five-time Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 WNBA MVP, and 2012 WNBA Finals MVP when she finally led the Fever to their first title.

She added on an incredible three Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Awards and selections to the All-Decade, Top 15, and Top 20@20 Teams. When she retired after the 2016 season, she was the league’s all-time leader in rebounds and steals and was second all-time in points. She is still the league’s all-time steals leader (1,074). Her jersey has since been retired by the Fever.

Bird, likewise, became the face of a franchise that turned around. Although out this season, she is still an active member of the Storm, who she has helped take to three titles, earning 11 All Star nods along the way. She has been named to the All-WNBA First Team five times and joined Catchings on the All-Decade, Top 15, and Top 20@20 Teams. She is still the league’s all-time assists leader (2,831) and will look to play in her 17th season in Seattle in 2020.

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