UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne were poised to make history as the first pair of rookies from the same class to start the WNBA All-Star game.
Now, neither will be playing Saturday as both are sidelined with injuries. Griner has been saddled by a sprained left knee, which has forced her to miss the Phoenix Mercury’s last five games. Delle Donne suffered a concussion in the Sky’s game on Wednesday and didn’t even make the trip to Connecticut. She’s home in Delaware.
“Definitely sad that I can’t play,” Griner said. “There’s nothing I can do about that. Day-by-day, that’s my motto. I’m not a trainer, so I’d probably be lying anyway. I’m also sad that Elena can’t be here.”
It’s a tough blow for the league, which has been marketing the two budding stars along with Skylar Diggins since they were drafted with the top three picks in April.
Delle Donne was the leading vote-getter, marking the first time a rookie has led the balloting.
“It’s unfortunate that I am unable to be a part of All-Star weekend,” Delle Donne said. “I was very excited to join the other players for a memorable experience. It’s upsetting not only for me but also for the fans who voted for me. The most important thing for me at this time is to rest and recover for the second half of the season.”
It’s not just the rookies who aren’t playing on Saturday afternoon on ABC.
Veterans Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Becky Hammon — perennial All-Stars — have been sidelined with a variety of injuries. Bird and Hammon have played in every All-Star game since 2003.
FOND FAREWELL — Seattle star Tina Thompson will be playing in her final All-Star game. Thompson previously announced she will retire after the season.
The 17-year veteran has played in a record nine All-Star games and was a last-minute injury replacement for Brittney Griner. She joked on Thursday that she would have “appreciated the break,” but was happy to be part of the festivities one last time.
“I’ll try not to get sentimental with it, it’s definitely an honor to be here,” Thompson said. “To have been here since the start and see this league grow is really amazing.”
The 38-year old Thompson is the league’s all-time leader in points, field goals and minutes. She was the first player selected in the inaugural WNBA college draft and was chosen as one of the league’s top 15 players all-time during the WNBA’s 15th season.
Thompson addressed the fans after the West practiced and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It’s special that she’s here for the final time,” West coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She’s been a big part of this league’s success.”
Diana Taurasi took it a step further, saying “every WNBA arena should retire her jersey.”
RETURN OF REF CAM — Official Lamont Simpson became an overnight sensation when he wore the referee cam during a nationally televised game in June.
The veteran official will don it again for the All-Star game on Saturday.
“The emails and texts didn’t stop coming until about two weeks after I wore it,” Simpson said. “It seems everyone saw it. The players still joke with me about it when I do games now. It really was a great experience and I’m happy to do it again.”
Simpson wore the innovative device, which looks like a pair of glasses, when the Indiana Fever played the Phoenix Mercury. The cam not only provided a different vantage point, it also caught Candice Dupree bumping into Simpson, which resulted in a one-game suspension.
“Maybe we should fly in ‘Pree’ for it,” said Taurasi, joking around. “I’m not going near that thing.”
Taurasi missed Phoenix’s last game because she accumulated her seventh technical foul, which resulted in a one-game suspension.
MINNESOTA TAKEOVER — For the second consecutive All-Star game, the Lynx are fully represented.
West coach Cheryl Reeve has four of her Minnesota players on the roster and her staff on the bench. Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus were elected as starters and Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson were chosen as reserves. The same four played in the 2011 All-Star game.
Augustus was excited again to play with her teammates.
“To get to share in that experience with Maya, Whalen and Brunson, just kind of get to enjoy it, it’s kind of a Los Lynx family reunion,” she said.
Reeve will get all four of them on the court together at some point in the game. Brunson was announced as a starter replacing Griner.
FIRST TIMERS — Surprisingly, Candace Parker is playing in her first All-Star game.
She was selected to the team in 2011, but was unable to play because of a knee injury.
“It’s really cool because I haven’t been able to play because of injuries,” the Los Angeles Sparks star said. “It will be a great time.”
If you count Parker, eight players will be making their debuts in the game. Griner and Delle Donne would raise that total to 10 if they were healthy.
Another first-timer, Washington’s Ivory Latta, is already making the most of her All-Star experience. She hit a half-court shot in practice Friday worth $100.
While there was some question whether Latta’s foot was behind the line, the answer came when an ESPN producer showed Latta video footage that proved it.
“See, I told everyone,” Latta said. “It just means that I’ll have to buy everyone appetizers for dinner.”
Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg