Takako Kato likes Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz, and she thinks Salt Lake City is a pretty place, so the 5-foot-11 forward, one of Japan's top three players and a former Olympian, paid her way from Japan to this weekend's Utah Starzz free-agent tryout camp.
Toni Solomon, a 5-foot-5 point guard, has family in Utah and has gone as far as she can in basketball in New Zealand, so she spent $2,000 in airfare to try out for the Starzz.Both players, along with Tatiana Kavvadia of Greece and two of the four locals in Saturday's camp, made the cut for this morning's final session. Solomon, however, will not play on Sundays because of religious convictions, so she'll not be at Salt Lake Community College today and would have a hard time in the WNBA, which has Sunday games.
Sixty players received invitations to the Starzz' camp, 50 accepted and 48 showed up, each paying her own travel and living expenses (a WNBA rule) to chase her dreams.
The Starzz could have three or four spots available on their training-camp roster, but coach Denise Taylor said she doesn't have to keep any of the tryout players. She said she's looking for the best athletes in this tryout camp, and, "We still could use outside help, a point guard maybe, but whatever sticks out and would fit into our system. This just gets you to the next step - training camp," she emphasized. "There are only 111 jobs."
The 10 WNBA teams are each allowed 11 rostered players during the season, 16 in training camps that begin May 12.
Locals who made the cut were Kamie Siddoway and BYU NCAA 3-point champion Kari Gallup. Two other locals, BYU's Tresa Spaulding Hamson and Utah's Reggie Jewkes, were not chosen. Jewkes was to fly to the Phoenix Mercury tryouts today.
Kato came with an interpreter and a biography sheet. She was 1991 Japan Basketball League Rookie of the Year, 1994 JBL MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, named among the league's best five 1992-94 and played on the championship team from 1991-97. Next season, she will be a co-captain.
In '97-98, Kato averaged a career-high 16.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game and had 43 steals in 16 games. As a '94 Olympian, she scored 12.6 with 6.2 rebounds in eight games. The in-ter-pret-er said that, because most Japanese are short, all-around play is most important.
Taylor said the Detroit Shock, an expansion team required to hold open tryouts, had 300 in camp this weekend, and the expansion Washington Mystics expected 250-300.
Training camp begins May 12, and the regular-season opener is June 11, when Utah hosts the Los Angeles Sparks for a battle of the league's two biggest players, L.A.'s 6-foot-8, 264-pound Zheng Haixia of China and the WNBA's No. 1 draft pick, Utah's 7-foot-2, 223-pound Malgorzata Dydek of Po-land.
STARZZ NOTZZ: Dydek has already become such a celebrity that Jay Leno's staff has called to inquire about having her on The Tonight Show. Taylor says the Starzz don't want the Dydek story to "turn into a circus. There may be some closed practices." . . . The Starzz' new assistant coach, Fred Williams, was on his way last Tuesday to be on the KJZZ-Ch. 14 NBA playoffs TV show, where he was to announce the night before the WNBA draft that the Starzz would select Dydek No. 1. But Williams' car was sideswiped, and he hit his head on the window. He got the license number of the hit-and-run car, and when police found it, they realized its occupants were wanted for an earlier robbery.