FEAST OR FAMINE: THE CAREER OF AN IVY GRADUATE IN THE WNBA
By Al Mattei
Allison Feaster appreciates how there can be skepticism about the ability of an Ivy Leaguer in modern professional basketball. While she is doing what most of her Harvard classmates are doing what she is doing -- making good money, traveling overseas, doing what she loves -- Feaster does it with a good crossover dribble.
As the only Ivy Leaguer in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), the stereotypes naturally follow her around as readily as the throngs of adoring girls who attend WNBA games.
"I really don't see myself as 'cerebral,' " Feaster said. "It's not me at all: if anything, I need to be even more mentally focused when I'm on the court. Sometimes I don't think the game, and that's something I need to work on."
Feaster has had somewhat of a star-crossed basketball career. She came into the league in 1998 with a reputation for raising the level of play of her teammates. As a senior at Harvard, her heart and determination helped the Crimson -- seeded 16th in the West Region of the 1998 NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament -- take down top-seeded Stanford. It was the first time that a 16th seed beat a top seed in the history of the Division I men's or women's basketball tournament.
The unheralded rookie turned heads when, wearing the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Sparks, she sauntered through the Sacramento Monarchs for 28 points in a 1998 exhibition game. But after only three regular-season games with the Sparks, Feaster broke a bone in her right foot, which kept her out for the remainder of her rookie season.
After two more seasons with Los Angeles, she received a phone call in the off-season while playing for the Aix-En-Provence club in France's women's league. In a multiplayer deal, she had been traded to the Charlotte Sting.
This was a move up for Feaster. The Sparks were especially guard-laden in a league where good shooting and ball-handling were paramount. Feaster, being shipped to the guard-poor Sting, would have a chance to start.
Feaster, a South Carolinian, would finally get a chance to play in front of her family for home games.
Her conditioning would prove to be an asset right away in the 2001 season; new head coach Anne Donovan inserted her into the starting lineup as a small forward and responded with career bests in points, rebounds, steals, assists, and blocked shots in 2001.
And even though Charlotte lost 10 out of its first 11 games in 2001, it made the playoffs as perhaps the hottest team in the WNBA.
"Allison truly wanted to come here and help this team," the Hall-of-Famer Donovan said. "She knew we had a big need. We needed a three-point shooter to come in here and help us. She accepted that; she was eager to fill that hole for us."
And she did, quite admirably. She sank a number of key shots as the Sting beat the Cleveland Rockers and New York Liberty in memorable three-game playoff series in 2001. Her role as a sharp-shooting small forward -- in essence, a third guard -- was solidified.
"Anyone on the court can be a threat in this league, and I consider myself a threat," she says. "I pride myself on the times when other teams point to me and say, 'Watch her.' It also takes great teammates who get me the ball."
Such as Dawn Staley, the U.S. Olympian who might be the finest women's basketball guard of all time.
Feaster kept improving in 2002, making the most 3-point field goals of any WNBA player, helping her team to set a WNBA record for 3-point percentage. Her Sting made the playoffs, but lost out in the first round of the 2002 WNBA playoffs to the Washington Mystics.
Keeping focus on the court has become a source of strength for her, given the uncertainties around her. Since the Charlotte Hornets' move to New Orleans in 2002, the Sting franchise was run out of the NBA league offices.
League sources had the Sting closing up shop as early as 2003, or moving to Chicago. The team played on, even as Feaster gave birth to a baby girl in 2006 and struggled throughout that season to regain her fitness level.
The Sting folded in early 2007, and Feaster, an unrestricted free agent, was not selected in the league dispersal draft of Sting players.
Which means some WNBA franchise out there is going to get a good -- and motivated -- player for 2007.