Aug. 28, 2006
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – When the WNBA Finals tip off Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) at The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.), the best-of-five series will have a decidedly Notre Dame flavor, as three Irish basketball alums will help lead the Detroit Shock in search of its second title in four years when they face the defending league champion Sacramento Monarchs. Sixth-year center Ruth Riley (’01) and second-year forward Jacqueline Batteast (’05) will suit up for the Shock, who are coached by Bill Laimbeer (’79).
Notre Dame is one of only four schools in the country with multiple players competing in this year’s WNBA Finals, joining Georgia (three), LSU and Old Dominion (two each) in that elite club. Riley and Batteast also are two of four BIG EAST Conference alumnae in this year’s title series, joining former UConn forward Swin Cash (now with Detroit) and former Georgetown forward Rebekkah Brunson (now with Sacramento). Only the Southeastern Conference (six) has more players in the WNBA Finals, with the Big Ten Conference (three) is the only other league with multiple representatives.
The WNBA Finals open with the first two games in Detroit (Game 2 is Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET) before the scene shifts to Sacramento’s ARCO Arena for Sunday’s third contest (4:30 p.m. ET). If necessary, the fourth game would be played in Sacramento on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 9 p.m. ET, while a fifth and deciding game would take place back in Detroit on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET. Every game in the WNBA Finals will be televised live to a national audience on ESPN2.
Riley has averaged 8.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during her six-year pro career, including 7.3 ppg., 4.9 rpg. and 1.4 bpg. this season. Her numbers are even higher in the postseason, where she is logging 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 21 career playoff contests. She was the Most Valuable Player of the 2003 WNBA Finals, when she scored a career-high 27 points in the decisive third game as the Shock dethroned the Los Angeles Sparks, 83-78. That made her the only women’s basketball player ever to be named Finals MVP at both the college and professional levels, following on the heels of her NCAA Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player citation in 2001. That year, she led Notre Dame to its first national championship, closing out her All-American career as the only women’s basketball player in school history to record more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds during her tenure (2,072 points/1,007 rebounds). She also walked away from the Golden Dome as the consensus National Player of the Year and earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology.
Riley added another bauble to her trophy case in 2004, earning a gold medal as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team that went undefeated at the Athens Games. That made the Macy, Ind., native one of just six players in women’s basketball history to win NCAA, WNBA and Olympic titles in their careers. In addition, Riley was selected as a starter on the WNBA Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 2005.
Batteast has showed marked improvement in her second professional season, and first in Detroit, averaging 1.4 points and 1.0 rebounds in 26 games since she was acquired from the Minnesota Lynx in a trade back in April. The 2005 BIG EAST Player of the Year and 2004 Preseason WNIT Most Valuable Player, Batteast ranks fourth on Notre Dame’s career scoring list with 1,874 points, including a career-high 16.9 ppg. as a senior in 2004-05 when she earned Kodak All-America honors. The South Bend product wound up graduating from Notre Dame in 2005 with a degree in film, television & theater, not to mention top-five spots on 16 of the school’s career statistical charts.
Laimbeer had never been a head coach at any level prior to his hiring as Detroit’s skipper midway through the 2002 season. However, it didn’t take him long to mold the Shock into a champion, as Detroit went from “worst-to-first” in his first full season, improving by 16 games to a 25-9 record that culminated with the franchise’s first WNBA title. For his efforts, Laimbeer was tabbed the league’s Coach of the Year. All told, he has amassed a 90-70 (.563) record in his four-plus seasons on the sidelines in the Motor City, guiding the Shock to four consecutive playoff appearances (2003-06) and two trips to the WNBA Finals.
Laimbeer was a member of Notre Dame’s 1978 NCAA Final Four squad, and was a captain on the 1979 Irish club that reached the NCAA Mideast Regional final before bowing to eventual national champion Michigan State (led by future NBA legend Magic Johnson). Later that year, Laimbeer graduated from Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in economics and was chosen in the third round of the NBA Draft (65th overall) by the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, it was his 11-year run with the famed “Bad Boys” (aka the Detroit Pistons) for which he is best known. From 1982-93, Laimbeer was a four-time NBA All-Star, emerging as the franchise leader in career rebounds (9,430) and guiding the Pistons to consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. He also is one of just six Pistons to have their numbers retired, watching his No. 40 hang in the rafters at the very same Palace of Auburn Hills where his current team, the Shock, plays.
— ND —