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Twin Titles Will Bring Plenty of Collectibles

by Paul Angilly
April 13, 2004

Two championships mean twice as many collectibles to chase after for UConn fans this year. If youíre a Husky-maniac, youíve probably already bought some T-shirts and picked up a copy of the April 12 issue of Sports Illustrated (which went on sale this past Wednesday), featuring Emeka Okafor on the cover celebrating the menís national championship. You may have also saved a copy of the Nov. 24 Sports Illustrated, the college basketball preview issue that had Diana Taurasi and Okafor together on the cover.

There will be plenty of other items to collect, including various magazines (almost certainly special commemorative SI issues for both the menís and womenís teams), commemorative books and the sure-to-come videos.

Keep an eye out for autograph opportunities as well -- seniors Taurasi, Maria Conlon and Morgan Valley are almost sure to appear at area clothing stores, car dealerships and possibly a card show now that their college eligibility is up (NCAA rules prevent underclassmen from accepting money for such appearances).

Taliek Brown and other seniors from the menís team could also make appearances, as might juniors Okafor and Ben Gordon -- after they announce themselves eligible for the 2004 NBA draft, as expected. In the past, though, the womenís players have proven far more likely to make autograph appearances than the men.

Usually, the womenís players sign for free at various stores or car dealerships, or for a small ($10 or less) fee at card shows. Keep that in mind before bidding $100 or more on a Taurasi-signed item on eBay (one recent auction for a simple signed photo topped $150). If Taurasi or any of the other players does make a store appearance, plan on showing up early -- they generally sign only a limited number of autographs and the lines form fast.

If youíre looking for trading cards of members of this yearís championship teams, there are a few available.

Taurasiís first card can be found in the team-issued 2000-01 UConn Huskies set. Unfortunately, the school stopped making trading cards for its various sports teams, meant as giveaway items at selected games, after that season -- so thereís no team sets available for the past three womenís national championship years, or for this yearís national champion menís team.

One very important note for eBay bidders -- beware of unlicensed cards!

I canít emphasize that enough. Browsing through some recently-completed auctions, I saw many cards from a supposed company called "AOJ Lithocards." One auction for a supposed "1 of 1" Taurasi card sold for more than $30. I also saw auctions for cards of Okafor and Gordon supposedly made by a company called "Old Judge."

More than likely, these cards were made by someone on their home computer. Iíve seen similar cards of tennis players that were supposed to be promos from a company called "Pro Net" (not to be confused with the legitimate card company NetPro). I made the mistake of bidding on one of those cards, and when I got it, the ink was quite literally still wet.

With advanced photo-editing programs and high-tech color printers readily available these days, itís not hard for someone to get a digital photo of an athlete and turn it into a homemade, "limited edition" trading card. Such unlicensed cards will never have any real value and should be avoided.

That said, there are some legitimate trading cards out there showing this yearís top UConn players.

Itís important to note that while trading card companies must come to a licensing agreement in order to legally produce cards picturing any athlete (and cannot produce cards of college athletes with eligibility remaining), magazines are exempt from that necessity -- a loophole which has allowed Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine to include popular sheets of trading cards from all sports in every issue since 1989.

Last year, SI for Kids made a card of Taurasi during her junior year at UConn. That card (which is part of a nine-card sheet that also includes LeBron James) has been widely traded on eBay since it was issued. Over the years, SI for Kids has also made cards of former UConn players Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters and Sue Bird, all in their Huskies uniforms.

Many other magazines have popped up over the years to take advantage of that licensing loophole and create sheets of trading cards included as part of the magazine.

One recent newcomer to the field is Rookie Review magazine, which has focused on creating cards of many top young prospects. Among the players from various sports featured on Rookie Review cards have been Okafor (on a card with three other players), Gordon (on a solo card) and Charlie Villanueva (shown as a member of his Blair Academy High School team on a card with three other players).

Over the years, companies such as Star Pics, Classic, Front Row, Signature Rookies, Collectorís Edge, Press Pass and SA-GE have produced draft picks sets featuring players in their college uniforms. Among the former UConn players featured in such sets have been Tate George, Chris Smith, Scott Burrell, Donyell Marshall, Rebecca Lobo, Ray Allen, Travis Knight, Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl and Caron Butler.

This past season, however, Press Pass and SA-GE dropped out of the basketball draft pick market, leaving the new Upper Deck Top Prospects set as the only issue to prominently feature future NBA rookies in their college uniforms. Hopefully at least that set will return this year to offer collectors cards of Okafor and Gordon in their UConn jerseys.

Also, expect Taurasi to be very prominently featured in any WNBA sets Fleer offers this summer. Last year, Fleer only released one WNBA set, 2003 Fleer Ultra, but donít be surprised if demand for Taurasi cards prompts Fleer to issue at least a pair of WNBA sets this season.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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