clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Starzz to Jazz fans: We got next

Before Utah Jazz fans press the pause button on their passion for their team this summer, before Jazz players pack up and hang "gone fishin"' signs on their lockers, even before the NBA Finals get under way, the Utah Starzz would like to remind you of one thing: They got next.

In other words, the Finals notwithstanding, pro basketball in Salt Lake City will continue through August.Yes, the Starzz of the Women's Basketball Association will call the Delta Center home after the Jazz conclude their finest season ever.

In the WNBA you'll see more defense and fewer slam dunks than you're accustomed to seeing in the NBA. But make no mistake about it, from the top down, the Starzz are a carbon copy of the Jazz.

At least, that's the plan.

While the Starzz may not play like the Jazz nor be as successful right off, the similarities in attitude and philosophy between the two are striking.

It figures, since the same front office people who run the Jazz are the same people who are running the Starzz. Among those performing in dual roles are general manager Tim Howells and the vice president of basketball operations, Scott Layden. O.K., so the Starzz don't have Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone or John Stockton. They do, however, have Stock's sister, Leanne, who is the team's trainer. No kidding.

So don't be surprised when you ask about expectations for the Starzz in their debut season. "To win the WNBA," said coach Denise Taylor, without hesitation. Said assistant Greg Williams: "We want to be the first WNBA champion."

"Our goal is to win," said Layden, "whether it's the Jazz or the Starzz."

What else would you expect from those who work for the same organization that has watched itself climb to unprecedented heights? They expect nothing less for the fledgling women's professional team. And as the Starzz opened preseason camp this week, it's easy to see that they, and the players, are feeding off of the excitement stirred by the Jazz in recent weeks.

Still, considering it's not only a new team but a new league, no one knows exactly what will happen on the court. What if the Starzz aren't immediately successful? Will fans stay away?

The Jazz organization believes women's basketball will thrive in Salt Lake City, both on the court and at the turnstiles.

"Fans in Utah are knowledgeable," said Taylor. "People won't be ready to come off that high when the Jazz season is over.

They'll want more. That will be a plus for us."

Yet Taylor hopes fans understand that the mere fact there is women's pro team in town is a blessing in and of itself. "I hope that they know that with this being our first year, there's going to be growing pains and I hope they'll be patient. (Along with the Jazz in the Finals for the first time) they'll be experiencing history twice in one season.

"The Jazz took a while to build to get where they are," she continued. "It's a process."

How long that process will take for the Starzz in the eight-team WNBA is still a mystery. "We're breaking new ground here," said Layden. "It's exciting to be a part of it. It's exciting for so many people: players, coaches, referees, trainers and fans."

Layden said while ticket sales are going well thus far, it will take a continued, concerted marketing effort to bring fans out for women's basketball.

"It's like any new product," he said. "Get the people out and they'll enjoy it. These are great athletes. Once fans see them and word gets out, it'll snowball."

Layden, who is frequently lauded for his shrewd personnel moves with the Jazz, has had to widen his focus of player-scouting to include women.

"It's been a fun education," he said. "I didn't know as much about the women as I did the men. That's why we hired an experienced coach."

And it should come as no surprise that the same criteria for selecting players for the Starzz is the same as it is with the Jazz.

"We try to bring in the best players with high character," he said. "We've done extensive interviewing an background checks on all these players and we're comfortable with the players we've got."

Starzz players, while Jazz-crazy, are eager to establish their own identity. "I hope fans take us in and enjoy having us around," said forward/center Raegan Scott, an Orem native. "If we get half the support the Jazz get, I'll be happy."

Of course, the Starzz can ride the Jazz coattails for only so long. "The problem is when people compare us to men's basketball.

We play differently," said Scott. "There's more passing and not much dunking, but it's truly a team sport. Don't expect us to be just like the Jazz."

The Starzz will compete in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury and Sacramento Monarchs. The Eastern Conference is made up of the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty.

Each team will play a 28-game regular season schedule with 14 home games and 14 away. Playoffs follow, including the championship game Aug. 30.

"One of the reasons there is a team in Utah is the strength of the organization here that (owner) Larry Miller has built," said Layden. "It's a compliment to us to have a team. And we'll have success."

Taylor's not one for predictions, but she is optimistic. "It's not always the most talented team that wins," she said. "I can't say how many we'll win, but we'll be competitive."