March 22, 2012
By DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
Tiffany Hayes, Skylar Diggins, Odyssey Sims and Alyssa Thomas know they are part of a special club.
What do these four immense talents have in common?
They are all left-handed - and they've all been instrumental in guiding their teams to the regional semifinals of the NCAA women's basketball tournament that continues this weekend.
"I always thought of it as something unique," Hayes said. "Never thought of it as something bad. I never wanted to change it. I always thought being a lefty was cool. I'm the only lefty in my family."
Thomas did in fact change. Growing up she was a righty until the day she saw her older cousin play basketball. He was a left-hander.
"I saw the light," Thomas said laughing. "When I was young I saw him play and I really wanted to be like him, so I started doing everything with my left hand."
It's paid off for the Maryland sophomore, who was honored as the ACC player of the year after averaging 17.1 points.
Not everyone wants to be a lefty, though. There is a story about former WNBA star Lisa Leslie. Growing up she was the only lefty on her junior high school basketball team, so she decided to switch over to the right side. The switch did seem to work out for her, as she was the WNBA MVP three times and helped the U.S. win four Olympic gold medals.
Even so, being left-handed does have its advantages on the basketball court. Starting at an early age, players are usually taught to force opponents to their left when dribbling since a majority of athletes are predominantly right-handed.
"Lefties, they are hard to play against," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It takes you a little bit of time to get used to them. It throws you all off what you're used to doing."
Coaches, like Auriemma, can drill in scouting reports not to force this talented group to the left, but all it takes is one mental mistake and then it's an easy basket.
"Sometimes people forget, and my eyes light up," Diggins said. "It just takes a split-second."
The other thing about left-handers that has impressed Auriemma is their incredible shooting prowess.
"I almost never have seen a bad left-handed shooter," he said. "For some reason lefties have a beautiful stroke."
ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson, a lefty herself, has a theory on why left-handers are so talented on the court, especially at the point guard spot.
"When you look at that group you see great ball distributors, great shooters, the likes of Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims and how they deliver the ball," she said. "The brain works according to what hand is dominant, left-handers are able to multitask better."
Many also are creative and artistic.
"Just look at some of the famous lefties out there - Lady Gaga set the standard for creativity. Being creative is a natural asset for a point guard. The things that Skylar and Odyssey can do are amazing."
While Baylor, Notre Dame, UConn and Maryland clearly wouldn't want to lose their four stars it would be something to see them playing on the same team. Throw in Tennessee's Taber Spani and Thomas' teammate Anjale Barrett, and it would be a very formidable group.
Diggins laughed at that idea of an all-lefty team.
"It definitely would be a fun group to play with," she said. "We'd be pretty unstoppable."
Certainly if this group did play together and won a national championship, President Barack Obama would be happy to invite them to the White House. After all he's a lefty himself.