By J.C. Carnahan
The WNBA left town a little more than 10 years ago when the Orlando Miracle packed up and moved to Connecticut following the 2002 season.
Women’s basketball carried on throughout the area though as high school teams went on to win state titles, and both UCF and Rollins College claimed conference championships over the past decade.
But on Monday we were reminded of the WNBA all over again as University of Florida forward Jennifer George, one of our very own around these parts, was taken with the 33rd overall pick in the third round by the defending-champion Indiana Fever.
Most will remember George as a three-year standout at Bishop Moore High School, where she won a state title as a junior. I’ll always remember her excelling beyond her age as a freshman varsity starter at Timber Creek High School during the 2005-06 season.
At Florida, George finished her four-year career shooting 51 percent from the field and averaging 9.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, with a combined 191 blocked shots, 171 steals and 123 assists to her credit.
When I saw George’s name listed with the other WNBA draftees earlier this week, it reminded me of a story I wrote in August 2005 about Edgewater High School alum and 2003 UCF Athletics Hall of Fame member Tari Phillips.
Phillips spent the 1990-91 season rewriting the record books at UCF after transferring from the University of Georgia. She then toured the world as a professional basketball player before becoming the first pick (8th overall) in Orlando Miracle franchise history.
“If they were playing basketball somewhere, I was going to be there to play,” Phillips told me in 2005, then a member of the Houston Comets.
She would win league MVP awards, league championships and Olympic medals in the years leading up to the launch of the WNBA in 1997.
“I always wanted to taste a part of another culture, going overseas and playing in various championships allowed me to do that,” she said. “Those were the best women’s basketball players that the world had to offer at the time.”
Her extensive basketball career ultimately ended in 2007 after making four all-star games and playing nine WNBA seasons with three different teams.
The Miracle only managed to hang around town from 1999-02. But Phillips was beyond thrilled to be a part of the team’s inaugural season and for the chance to play yet again in front of family and friends at the old TD Waterhouse Centre.
“It was a dream come true,” Phillips said. “[My parents] are what I’m blessed and grateful for.”
Like Phillips, George was selected an All-American out of high school and went on to prove that she at least deserves a chance to showcase her talents against some of the best women’s basketball players the world has to offer.
It’s just too bad that we’ll never get a chance to see her play professionally in her hometown.
For more on local sports, follow J.C. Carnahan on Twitter @JCCarnz