To her friends and basketball fans in her homeland of Poland, 7-foot-2 Malgorzata Dydek is known as "Ptych."

It means "Big Cake." Cake is the Polish nickname for a blocked shot.Dydek is big on cakes - among the many other basketball and people skills the second-year Utah Starzz hope to reap from the WNBA's 1998 No. 1 overall draft choice.

The 24-year-old Ptych, also known as "Margo," "Mega" and "Large Marge," joins the Starzz' other important draftees Olympia Scott (drafted No. 11 overall), LaTonya Johnson (No. 21) and Tricia Bader (No. 31).

Those four plus trade acquisitions Chantel Tremitiere (from Sacramento for Lady Hardmon) and Fran Harris (from Houston for Karen Booker) and free-agent guard Kari Gallup (BYU, NCAA 3-point contest winner) give '97 league doormat Utah a slam-dunk of a second chance at this WNBA thing.

Which is important to restoring a fan base that, thanks to a 7-21 record and last-place finish in 1997, has slipped from 2,500 season tickets a year ago to a current level of 1,800, while the WNBA reports a 60 percent overall increase from an average of 2,500 to an average of 4,000 in 1998.

And the towering Dydek is one of the keys.

The modest WNBA rookie can dunk easily and did so a number of times to please the crowd at last Thursday's Starzz Delta Center scrimmage but hasn't done it yet in an American game.

"They like," she said of the fans and the dunk.

"I don't like."

But Dydek said she will do it in competition. "Yeah, when I have the opportunity."

An anticipated crowd of about 5,000 is hoping that opportunity will come during Thursday night's season opener. If not, they'll just have to settle for a mega-matchup as coach Denise Taylor and the Starzz play host to the Los Angeles Sparks (14-14 last year) and their own giantess - Haixia Zheng of China. While six inches shorter than Dydek, Zheng, at 254 pounds, has a 30-pound weight advantage over the slender-built Pole.

Like Dydek, Zheng (who requested that the order of her name be Americanized to first-name first, rather than the traditional Chinese family name first) has an enchanting personality to accompany uncommon physical size.

Zheng (last year's league field-goal percentage leader, .618) and WNBA showpiece Lisa Leslie (league rebound champ, 9.5 a game), who just returned from playing on the winning USA team in the FIBA World Championships against the Starzz' 6-5 Elena Baranova and her Russian team, made the Sparks a WNBA marquee team, if not a playoff team, last year.

The Starzz, who return '97 WNBA shot-blocking (2.25 a game) champion Baranova (fourth in WNBA rebounds, 7.4; fifth in 3-point percentage, .377), who was named Sunday as World Championships MVP, and All-WNBA second-teamer Wendy Palmer (No. 2 in rebounds, 8.0; No. 4 in scoring, 15.8), should at least have a solid front line as they simply try to move up in wins and standing from last season.

Other returnees are guards Dena Head, Tammi Reiss and Kim Williams and forward Greta Koss.

Half the team is new.

After 7-21, that looks like good news, though the Starzz last week committed 56 turnovers in two exhibition-game losses to '97 playoff team Phoenix while the Mercury was missing five players participating in the Worlds in Germany.

Turnovers were Utah's bane last year when the Starzz made 18.7 a game. While that was only fifth-worst in the league, it was magnified by the fact the Starzz were the youngest, shortest and poorest-scoring team in the WNBA. They were also the second-poorest shooting in the league.

"Mega," 6-2 Scott and 6-0 Johnson are reasons for hope as the Starzz open the season with three straight home games (with the expansion Washington Mystics Saturday and the New York Liberty and Rebecca Lobo Monday).

All three Starzz draftees were on a list of top 10 draft possibilities compiled by the league prior to the draft, and it was surprising for the Starzz to get all three.

Most WNBA-watchers thought the Starzz needed point-guard help (those turnovers) in the draft, but Bader and the trade for Tremitiere (who played more minutes than any other WNBA player, 37.5, for Sacramento) were the Starzz' answer to that.

Dydek, Scott and Johnson provide help in different ways - Dydek with blocks and rebounds and superb free-throwing, Stanford's Scott with hard-nosed all-around (two-time All-Pac-10, 17.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) determination and Memphis' Johnson with offense (21.9 ppg, .405 3-point shooting), experience (four NCAA tourneys) and strong defense.

But professed improved games from Head, Reiss, Williams, Baranova and Palmer and new skills from high draftees and acquisitions is no guarantee the Starzz will suddenly bolt to the top of the league.

"Everyone is making a big to-do about how improved we are," says Taylor. "Well, we ought to be better. We were the worst in the league."

"It's a new team," Taylor says. "Our goal is to improve upon last year," says Taylor. "Obviously, we're in this business to win."

She bristles at the thought that anyone other than the Starzz organization itself could put any added pressure on them to win. "No, I don't feel no pressure," she says.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Mega file

VITALS

Name: Malgorzata Dydek

Position: Center

Height: 7-2 Weight: 223 pounds.

Born: 4/28/74 in Wolomin, Poland, near Warsaw

Tidbit: 22 inches long at birth; at age 12, Malgorzata was already 6-foot-6.

PROFESSIONAL

- During 1997-98 season, played for Spain's Poole Getafe and ranked first in the EuroLeague in field goal percentage (.614) and blocked shots (2.6 per game). Played for Poole Getafe in 1996-97 also.

- In 1994-95 and 1995-96 played for Valenciennes Orchies in France.

- In 1992-93 and 1993-94 played for Poznan Olympia in Poland.

- Member of Polish National Team.

PERSONAL

Nickname: Dydek was given the moniker "Mega" by a 31-year-old Dutchman, who created and maintains her Web page (see below).

Hobbies: Billiards, reading books (favorite book is Bridges of Madison County), watching videos, going to movies and driving fast.

Pets: German Shepherd named Paco, received as a Christmas gift.

Gift of gab: Speaks five languages: Polish, English, French, Spanish and Russian, the latter four learned during her basketball adventures.

One wish: Would most like to play one-on-one with 6-6 sister Kashka, 28, who played professionally for the Colorado Xplosion of the American Basketball League in 1996-97. Younger sister Marta, 16, is 6-3.

On the Web: While fighting cancer, a man from Den Haag, Netherlands, learned that Dydek had no Internet Web page. Being enchanted with Dydek's play and personality after meeting her, he developed one, (http://diana.announce.com/(tilde)aboveall/dydek.html).

*****

1998 Utah Starzz roster

No., player Pos.Ht. Wt. School Last team

10 Tricia Bader G 5-5 125 Boise State '96 Brisbane

Comment: Quickness and scoring at point

28 Elena Baranova F/C 6-5 182 Moscow Russia, Starzz

Comment: Named World Cup tournament MVP Sunday

12 Malgorzata Dydek C 7-2 223 Poland Spain

Comment: Athletic and skilled

34 Kari Gallup G 5-11 145 BYU '98 BYU '98

Comment: Fundamentally sound, fine shooter

20 Fran Harris G/F 6-0 153 Texas '86 WNBA Houston

Comment: Title experience, also Pan Am and Goodwill Games veteran

11 Dena Head G 5-10 160 Tenn. '92 Starzz

Comment: One of Utah's most-experienced players

24 LaTonya Johnson F 6-0 156 Memphis '98 Memphis

Comment: Enthusiastic scorer/rebounder

15 Greta Koss F 6-1 145 Montana '97 Starzz

Comment: Came off '97 development squad to contribute well

14 Wendy Palmer F 6-2 165 Virginia '96 Starzz

Comment: Starzz' version of Karl Malone

32 Tammi Reiss G 5-6 129 Virginia '92 Starzz

Comment: Improved shooting in game situations in off-season

0 Olympia Scott F/C 6-2 175 Stanford '98 Stanford

Comment: Physical, intense and skilled

Chantel Tremitiere G 5-6 142 Auburn '91 WNBA Sacra.

Comment: Flamboyant, played more '97 WNBA minutes than anyone

23 Kim Williams G 5-6 136 DePaul '97 Starzz

Comment: She got game, extreme quickness

*****

1998 Utah Starzz season schedule

Date Team Time TV

June 11 Los Angeles 7 p.m.

June 13 Washington 7 p.m.

June 15 New York 7 p.m.

June 19 at Washington 6 p.m. Life

June 21 at New York 4 p.m.

June 22 at Cleveland 7:30 p.m. ESPN

June 25 Charlotte 7 p.m. KJZZ

June 26 at Phoenix 8 p.m.

June 30 Houston 7 p.m.

July 2 at Los Angeles 8:30 p.m. KJZZ

July 5 at Sacramento 7 p.m.

July 6 Sacramento 7 p.m.

July 8 Charlotte 7 p.m.

July 11 at Houston 6:30 p.m.

July 13 Detroit 7 p.m.

July 17 at Detroit 5:30 p.m.

July 19 at Washington 2 p.m.

July 22 at Charlotte 5:30 p.m.

July 25 at Cleveland 5 p.m.

July 27 Phoenix 7 p.m.

July 30 at Houston 6:30 p.m.

Aug. 1 Los Angeles 7 p.m.

Aug. 4 Houston 7 p.m. KJZZ

Aug. 6 Cleveland 7 p.m.

Aug. 8 at Phoenix 8 p.m.

Aug. 10 Detroit 7 p.m.

Aug. 12 Sacramento 7 p.m. KJZZ

Aug. 14 at Los Angeles 8:30 p.m.

Aug. 15 at Sacramento 8 p.m.

Aug. 17 Phoenix 7 p.m.

All times Mountain