Forward-thinking hopefuls fill Rockers training camp
Saturday, May 15, 1999
By LIZ ROBBINS
PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
Teresa Palmisano spent three years attempting to make it to the WNBA, trying out first and then calling Rockers coach Linda Hill-MacDonald to sell herself.
Finally, she used the direct approach. "This year, I sent her a fax, and put her name in really large letters," Palmisano said with a laugh.
But such persistence was not the only thing that drew Hill-MacDonald's attention. Palmisano's mentor, Pete Newell, the legendary University of California basketball coach and Cavaliers West Coast scout, recommended her to the Rockers.
A 6-3 forward/center six years out of California, Palmisano played her way onto the Rockers' training-camp roster, one of six forwards vying for a spot as the preseason officially opened with a five-hour practice yesterday in Gund Arena.
Five of the 19 players on the roster were not in Cleveland because they were either overseas playing for their national teams or at college graduation. While veteran guard Michelle Edwards was back with the team after signing a contract yesterday morning with the league, Merlakia Jones was absent. Her agent was still negotiating through late last night, and the league would not allow her to practice.
As the morning practice ended, the number of Rockers able to participate dwindled to 12. Forward Alisa Burras, a 1998 graduate of Louisiana Tech, went down with a sprained right knee and was listed as day to day.
By the end of the day, the team had picked up another forward, when 6-0 Deborah Carter signed with the league. Carter played for the Washington Mystics last season, and the Utah Starzz in the inaugural season.
Carter can appreciate the attitude of the five other forwards, who were happy to fill significant roles for the Rockers, no matter how temporary they might be.
Cara Pearson is used to such an itinerant life. Since graduating from Minnesota in 1995, Pearson has been a librarian, a postal worker, a high school basketball coach and a professional basketball player in Finland.
"I'm back doing what I like to do," grinned Pearson, a 6-0 small forward, who was a former graduate assistant under Hill-MacDonald at Minnesota. "I'm here just to fill a role - the do-anything-to-stay-on-the-team role."
Palmisano said she intends to learn all three frontcourt positions in the Rockers' triple-post offense. "That way I can be that versatile utility player," she said.
Tammye Jenkins is fresh off a stint overseas, her passport having recently been stamped in Israel. For the 6-4 forward, eight years out of Georgia, yesterday felt reassuringly familiar. Jenkins was a fourth-round draft pick for the Rockers last year, but was released at the start of the season.
"My biggest setback last year was my arthritis in my knee," said Jenkins. She has since had arthroscopic surgery and wears a sleeve on her right knee. "I'm real honored to have another opportunity, but there are no guarantees."
Karen Wilkins, a 6-1 forward who has played in Sweden, Portugal, Germany and Israel since graduating from Howard, joined teammates trying to pick up the Rockers' offense yesterday.
"We had a lot of teaching because we had a lot of new players," said Hill-MacDonald. "We tried to slow things down. We were throwing a lot of things at them today."
Not that they were complaining.
©1999 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.
The Rockers may have gained four solid athletes in the offseason, but they also lost a key component. Janice Braxton, one of the two original players assigned to Cleveland in 1997, announced her retirement this spring. Braxton average 9.8 points and 5.6 rebounds last year.
The Rockers leading scorer is Isabelle Fijalkowski, who averaged 13.7 points a game, but Cleveland's floor leader is guard Suzie McConnell Serio.
In the 1999 draft, coach Linda Hill-MacDonald took the ABL's Chasity Melvin and Tracy Henderson to add depth to her frontline. The other draft picks -- Old Dominion's Mery Andrade and Tennessee's Kellie Jolly -- were both stars on the collegiate level.
"Now the bar has been raised, and the players have been aware of that since bowing out to Phoenix last year," said Hill-MacDonald.
While the Rockers may have finished first in the Eastern Conference in 1998, they face a vastly different set of teams this season. Namely, Charlotte, which added several big names to its roster, should contend for the conference title.
SI for Women's bottom line: The Rockers didn't get the big-time scorer they needed in the draft, but this solid group of overachievers should still grab the third playoff spot in the East.
Jun. 10 -- at New York, 7:30 p.m.
Jun. 12 -- Los Angeles, 7 p.m.
Jun. 14 -- Detroit, 7 p.m.
Jun. 17 -- at Sacramento, 10 p.m.
Jun. 19 -- at Phoenix, 10 p.m.
Jun. 22 -- Orlando, 7 p.m.
Jun. 25 -- Charlotte, 7 p.m.
Jun. 26 -- Washington, 7 p.m.
Jun. 28 -- Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.
Jul. 1 -- at Houston, 8:30 p.m.
Jul. 2 -- at Utah, 9 p.m.
Jul. 5 -- at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m.
Jul. 8 -- New York, 7 p.m.
Jul. 7 -- at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Jul. 10 -- Charlotte, 7 p.m.
Jul. 12 -- Minnesota, 7 p.m.
Jul. 16 -- Sacramento, 8 p.m.
Jul. 17 -- at Detroit, 7:30 p.m.
Jul. 21 -- at Washington, 12 p.m.
Jul. 23 -- Detroit, 7 p.m.
Jul. 24 -- Utah, 7 p.m.
Jul. 29 -- Houston, 12 p.m.
Jul. 31 -- at Detroit, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 2 -- at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 4 -- at Orlando, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 8 -- at Washington, 4 p.m.
Aug. 7 -- Washington, 4 p.m.
Aug. 12 -- at Orlando, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 14 -- Orlando, 7 p.m.
Aug. 16 -- at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Aug. 19 -- at New York, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 21 -- New York, 2 p.m.
S. McConnell Serio
Coach: Linda Hill-MacDonald (third season with Cleveland)
Top returning players: C Isabelle Fijalkowski (13.7 ppg), G Suzie McConnell Serio (6.4 apg)
Key newcomers: C Chasity Melvin (ABL's Rage), F Mery Andrade (Old Dominion)
1998 record and finish: 20-10 and first in Eastern
Arena: Gund Arena
Average home attendance: 10,350
Colors: Black and blue