For a team that won only three of 30 games, the worst record in the WNBA last season, the Washington Mystics will get more than their share of television exposure this year. At least nine of their regular season games will be aired on national network or cable TV, including their game today against Houston on NBC.

There is one significant reason for this. Her name is Chamique Holdsclaw, and her game, honed at Tennessee, is off the charts. The Lady Vols won three national titles during her time in Knoxville and she was the first player selected in the college draft, a thrill-a-second star many believe will eventually dominate the league the way no other player ever has.

Clearly, the WNBA needs a marquee name, particularly if it's going to improve on generally low rated games no matter where they're placed on the dial. The addition of a number of stars from the defunct ABL also should help, with games once again being aired by NBC Sports, ESPN and Lifetime.

NBC will have 11 regular season games this season, as well as one game during the playoff semifinals and Game 2 of the best-of-three championship series. If a third game is necessary, NBC will carry that, as well.

The Mystics also will kick off ESPN's 10-game national schedule Monday night with a road game against the New York Liberty. Lifetime, with its all-woman production and announcing crew -- save for Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller -- has 11 regular season contests, three of them involving the Mystics. ESPN can carry as many as five playoff games; Lifetime will have three, including Game 1 of the championship series.

NBC will use Tom Hammond on play-by-play and Ann Meyers doing analysis, with Olympic swimming gold medalist Summer Sanders as a sideline reporter. ESPN again will go to Robin Roberts on play-by-play and has reached an agreement to have Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt handling analysis. Michele Tafoya will do play-by-play for eight Lifetime games and Suzyn Waldman, a New York radio sportscaster, will do three games. Former Washington Post reporter Christine Brennan, now a USA Today columnist, has been assigned three Lifetime games as an analyst.

Locally, HTS will carry six Mystics games, opening the schedule June 19 in Orlando with Dei Lynam and Jody Lavin-Patrick, both hired by the team. WTEM is about to complete a deal to carry a full schedule of games to be aired by three AM stations and corporate cousins -- WTEM, WGAY and WWRC. Capitals announcer Joe Beninati will again do the radio games.

Bad Play

Fox Sports Net's attempt to begin a national top 50 ranking of the best high school football teams in the country, with a nationally televised championship game in December 2000, sounds like an idea that needs reassessment.

First of all, how could you possibly fairly and honestly rank 50 teams from around the country, and please don't cite the college football and basketball polls, either. They're often a farce, too. State high school associations in Ohio, Texas and Florida, where many of the best teams play, are saying they would not sanction their schools to participate, making any ranking even more ridiculous if those states weren't included.

Putting on a championship game would mark another step in further elevating high school athletes to a pedestal that's already too high for my taste, what with all these televised football and basketball postseason all-star games. In most cases, these are meat markets for college recruiters, greedy promoters and TV sales departments looking to make a buck off 16- and 17-year-olds.

I've got no problem with Fox Sports Net airing state championship games on their network of regional cable affiliates because there is intense local interest in such events. But a national championship high school football game? No.

Wanted: Explanation

And speaking of bad television, I wish someone could offer me a cogent reason why the Indiana Pacers-New York Knicks conference championship series in prime time does not include NBC's A-Team of Bob Costas and Doug Collins.

Instead, we're getting Hammond, who can barely get in a word over the nonstop yakking and yukking it up from Steve Jones and Bill Walton. ABC's Keith Jackson always used to say "I'm not the reason people watch, the game is." Perhaps the higher powers at NBC could hire the now-retired Jackson as a special consultant to drum that concept into Walton's red noggin.

For a guy who's always talking about the team concept, he certainly uses the word "I" and "me" often enough, occasionally with outrageous observations that bear little resemblance to reality.

And oh yes, wasn't that a fabulous post-game interview by Ahmad Rashad of Sean Elliott of the Spurs after he'd won Game 3 of the series over Portland with a last-second three-point shot? Rashad had time to ask three questions, not one of them pertaining to the winning shot. Where was Jim Gray when you really needed him?

Free Advice

The word over at WTEM is that the station essentially has agreed to have a long-term on-air relationship with John Thompson. Here's an idea -- let Thompson fly solo from 10 to noon, ditch the wretched Jim Rome show and give Al Koken and Doc Walker the next four hours before Tony K. comes on at 4. . . . Don Imus this week correctly pointed out the bizarre timing of the Boston Globe axing longtime columnist (and NBC tennis broadcaster) Bud Collins the same year Collins wins the prestigious Red Smith Award by APSE, a national association of newspaper sports editors.

CAPTION: Chamique Holdsclaw is reason nine Mystics games will be aired on national network or cable TV.