After years of flying under the national radar, Kamesha Hairston finally got her moment in the sun Wednesday.
Hairston became the second-ever Temple player to join the WNBA when the Connecticut Sun selected her 12th overall at the league’s annualdraft.
There is no question that Hairston and Candice Dupree, the sixth overall pick of the Chicago Sky in last year’s draft, have raised the profile of Temple women’s basketball by being selected in the first round of consecutive WNBA drafts.
But for Hairston, making it to the next level is a sign of yet another significant accomplishment.
It caps off a season in which she successfully stepped out of Dupree’s shadow and became the leader of a Temple team that was expected to experience a decline without its former all-American forward.
After spending two seasons as the Owls’ secondary scoring option behind Dupree,
Hairston led Temple to a 25-8 overall record, the second-highest win total in program history.
In an article on WNBA.com, Hairston was asked what it was like to go from the “Scottie Pippen” role during her sophomore and junior seasons to the “Michael Jordan” role this season.
“It was my turn to lead,” Hairston said. “I was capable of doing those things in the past, but when you have another great player, you’re not asked to do as much. This year I tried to lead in every category and I tried my best.”
Obviously, it’s not fair to compare Dupree
and Hairston to Jordan and Pippen, a duo that led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA Championships in the span of eight seasons.
But for Hairston, who excelled as “Jordan” this season, her senior campaign was reminiscent of the year when Pippen stepped into the captain’s role for the Bulls after Jordan retired from the NBA to take a crack at baseball in 1993.
While Jordan struggled to hit sliders in the minor leagues, Pippen established himself as a viable leader for the Bulls during the 1993-1994 season, setting career-highs in points and rebounding.
Pippen finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting that season and was named to his fourth consecutive All-Defensive
Team, while leading a less-talented Bulls team to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Like Pippen, Hairston set career-highs in scoring and rebounding in her only season
without Dupree. She was named the Atlantic Ten Conference Player of the Year and was voted to her third consecutive A-10 All Defensive Team, while leading a less-experienced Owls’ squad to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
As a member of the Sun, Hairston will most likely return to a supporting role this season unlike Dupree, who was expected to lead the Sky as soon as the expansion team drafted her last year.
Depending on how quickly Hairston adjusts to the professional game, she could eventually play a Pippen-like role with the Sun. The 6-foot forward is joining a Sun team with five players – Nykesha Sales, Margo Dydek, Lindsay Whalen, Katie Douglas, Taj McWilliams-Franklin – who were named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team last year.
Connecticut finished first in the Eastern
Conference with a 26-8 record last season
before losing to the Detroit Shock in the conference finals. Sun coach Mike Thibault has led Connecticut to two WNBA Finals appearances (2004, 2005) during his four-year tenure with the team. The Sun has never missed the playoffs under Thibault’s watch.
Thibault and Temple coach Dawn Staley were assistant coaches on the 2006 USA Women’s Basketball Team. Staley told WNBA.com that Thibault is the “best coach for” Hairston and the Sun are a “perfect fit” for her.
“She is very athletic,” Staley said of Hairston. “She will be able to create her own shot, pull up and get to the bucket. [Thibault] is getting a complete player, one who’s not afraid to mix it up. She is athletic on both sides of the basketball.”
Athleticism on both sides of the ball is another attribute that Hairston and Pippen
share. Shock coach Bill Laimbeer would know.
Laimbeer played against Pippen several times as a member of the Detroit Pistons.
He told the “Detroit Free Press” last week that Hairston was one of the best players he saw at the pre-draft camps.
Laimbeer would note that there is one major difference between Jordan and Dupree
and Pippen and Hairston.
By the time Jordan and Pippen played against each other as opponents, both future Hall of Famers were on the downside of their careers.
That won’t be the case when Dupree and Hairston go head-to-head. The former Owls will meet four times this season, with the first matchup coming in Chicago on May 31. It will be the beginning of what will hopefully become a long-running rivalry between the two Temple alums.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.