Shaky WNBA leaves ex-members of Fire considering options

VANCOUVER, Wash. Ñ Lindsey Yamasaki watched more than 50 WNBA hopefuls play basketball this week at The Hoop and lamented the sorry state of her league.

'We just don't have the draw and support men do,' she says.

Yamasaki, a former Oregon City and Stanford star, played last season for the Miami Sol, which has been disbanded. Blazer owner Paul Allen has disbanded the Portland Fire. The Utah franchise has moved to San Antonio because its owner didn't want to lose any more money, and Orlando has transferred to Connecticut, where the team will play in a casino's arena.

Yamasaki and others will be part of a WNBA dispersal draft, at some point.

'Until the league is completely stable and growing, it's going to be like this,' Yamasaki says. 'You're never sure what's going to happen.'

Team owners are still in collective-bargaining talks with the players, and the three-day WNBA combine, supposed to start Thursday, may be scrapped.

'Everything is iffy until the collective-bargaining agreement gets done,' says Shaquala Williams, a Portlander who played for the University of Oregon before she was released by coach Bev Smith last season. 'I heard it may not get done until April 27 or 28, and training camps (scheduled to open April 27) may start late because of it.'

Former Fire players Alisa Burras, LaQuanda Barksdale and Jenny Mowe were among the 55 players at this week's WNBA Exposure Camp, run by their agents, Michael Abraham and Trisonya Thompson-Abraham.

Abraham spoke to the players, many of whom would be happy just to get an invitation to a WNBA camp, explained the instability of the league, and told them to play hard and make an impression.

'I'm not worried,' says Barksdale, who had two-week offseason stints in China and Turkey. 'If I don't get drafted, I'm still confident I'll get picked up by somebody's camp as a free agent. Either way, you have to go in and prove yourself.'

Allen extinguished the Fire when he opted not to pick up his option to buy the team.

'It is disappointing not having a team. You have to deal with it,' Barksdale says, remaining optimistic.

'These past seven years, they've laid a good foundation for women's basketball,' she says. 'Maybe there will be another league in the future, along with the WNBA. We're starting to get a little more respect from the public.'

Burras played in Korea, winning the league championship on a team that included WNBA superstar Tamika Catchings. Burras made good money. 'The most important thing,' she says.

Burras says the players 'haven't heard anything' about the WNBA's status for 2003. 'We're just playing it by ear,' she says. 'A lot of people are worried about the league and things going on.'

Yamasaki did not participate in this week's camp. But the 22-year-old, who graduated from Stanford last fall in architecture and urban design, plans to continue her basketball career as long as possible.

She will miss Miami.

'It's like a college team, like another family. It was hard to hear I wasn't going to meet up with those girls again' she says. 'Miami was such a great environment.'

Williams, 22, hopes to be a first-round draft pick in the April 16 college draft. She recently signed with agent Jim Tanner of Washington, D.C., and will put off pursuing a law degree to play basketball. She graduated from Oregon in sociology.

'I'm looking at pro ball as an opportunity, preparing myself for whatever's there,' Williams says. 'I have a backup plan. Basketball is not my be-all, end-all.'

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