Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Moore Leads Minnesota to Lopsided 90-71 Win at New York

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – To take on an old phrase by reversing it and playing on the word – Magnificent to the Core.

That would be the Minnesota Lynx, holders of three WNBA championships in the last six years and by an eyelash just missed a fourth at the finish to the Los Angeles Sparks last season.

The Lynx, with a veteran lineup that’s been together quite a while, fended off the New York Liberty here on the road in Madison Square Garden Thursday night with a collection of spurts that put the Western Conference group at 2-0 in the young season while the home team took its first loss to drop to 1-1 and suffered a roster loss with California grad Brittany Boyd suffering an Achilles tendon injury.

It was bad business as usual for New York in the front part of the season where a a history of mishaps have occurred, one even to former UConn great Rebecca Lobo, and one recently two years ago to Rebecca Allen of Australia.

Speaking of bad, the two losses, the one in the standings and the one likely off the roster, pending an MRI in the wake of the fourth quarter mishap, ruined the birthday of “Bad Boy” Bill Laimbeer, the Liberty coach who starred for the NBA Pistons in Detroit’s Bad Boy era winning several NBA titles.

Laimbeer acknowledge the injury to be related to Achilles but deferred any speculation until results from Friday’s examination of Boyd is known.

Despite wins on the weekend to launch the WNBA’s 21st season, both coaches were not in a pleasant mood over each team’s performance.

Laimbeer was back on the stump with more of the same campaign lingo after his team got trumped Thursday, allowing those runs and a reversal of the Liberty’s fortune that saw the New Yorkers hit the locker room down just 43-40 after two periods.

“Execution,” Laimbeer returned to a familiar theme from Saturday’s struggle to win here over the depleted San Antonio Silver Stars, whose No. 1 overall draft pick Kelsey Plum, the NCAA scoring record breaker out of Washington, was held out the first two games due to an ankle sprain.

“We didn’t execute appropriately. We didn’t run our plays the way we’d been working all week in practice. We have to be more disciplined and we weren’t tonight. And against a good team you have to execute every time or you’re going to get beat.”

Though Georgetown grad and now veteran Sugar Rodgers had a game high 20 points, 19 of those came before the half and then Minnesota found a way during the the break to clean up that problem, defensively.

Tina Charles, the former UConn star of New York who was held under double digits just once all last summer, scored just six points and the Liberty as a team were held to 35.3 percent from the field, a defensive statistic on the Lynx side that when they hold teams under 40 percent, which was the 36th straight time since 2011, the Lynx are 85-1.

The 19-point differential was Minnesota’s biggest here though several summers ago when the two played across the Hudson River at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., during the MSG upgrade, the all-time rout by 26 in the series was achieved on Aug. 27, 2013, by a score of 73-47.

“Tina was sick the last couple of days, she wasn’t able to play her way through it and that hurt us big time because that is our normal go-to player,” Laimbeer said.

Boyd had 16 points, shooting 60-for-10 from the field in 15 minutes, 48 seconds of play before getting hurt.

Minnesota, meanwhile, had a scoring fiesta, tying a record for the franchise with seven different players connecting on three-point attempts.

The entire starting lineup was in double figures led by another UConn great in Maya Moore, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Sylvia Fowles had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Lindsay Whalen had 12 points and dealt five assists, and Rebekkah Brunson, another Georgetown alum, and Seimone Augustus each scored 11.

Natasha Howard and Renee Montgomery each scored seven points as the Lynx showed depth getting 28 points from the bench.

Brunson, a rebounding machine as is Fowles, with four fell just one sort of becoming the fifth player in WNBA history to collecting 3000 or more off the backboards.

“We had some lapses in assignments,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve described the early action. “Sugar Rodgers running free in the first half, we fixed that in the second half. We were good on offense, just keeping it simple. Don’t over think it.

“We are a great defensive team, for the most part we played defense pretty well. The balance of what we did was really, really good.”

Reeve, a former La Salle star in Philadelphia, who is from South Jersey across the Delaware River, was once an assistant to Laimbeer with the former Detroit Shock and he helped her land the Minnesota job when he was part of the NBA Timber Wolves organization.

She knew Laimbeer had been an unhappy camper in Saturday’s opener.

“We knew how New York felt about the game, what they were going to do,” she said. “And we responded to that and had great energy from start to finish.”

Reeve had 12 people at the game, including some former La Salle people from her era, which usually happens when the Garden is considered the key homecoming stop of the three seaboard visits that also including games in Washington against the Mystics and at Connecticut against the Sun.

She also told the Guru she has yet to hear from USA Basketball on whether she might be appointed as a national aide to Dawn Staley, the NCAA championship coach who will head USA Basketball’s World Championship and Olympic efforts.

“I know they are starting to consider the staff,” Reeve said. “You know I would do anything for Dawn.”

Reeve coached Staley as an assistant when both were with the former Charlotte Sting and both served last summer on the staff of Geno Auriemma when USA won another Olympic gold medal, this time in Rio in Brazil.

Moore, and three other Lynx players, Whalen, Fowles, and Augustus were on the USA squad.

Moore said of Thursday’s win, “I’m just glad to see us make movements from game one to game two,” she said. “There was a lot of energy in the building today so I think once we put some stops together in the fourth quarter, we were able to defend the lead.

“We played with great poise and were able to open up a lead.”

Minnesota will next stay on the road to visit the Dallas Wings on Saturday while New York begins a road trip West on Tuesday visiting the Phoenix Mercury.

Elsewhere in the WNBA, the game here was the only one on the league slate. On Friday night, the Atlanta Dream at 1-0 visits the 0-1 Chicago Sky, which fell to Minnesota on the road last weekend.

Phoenix at 1-1 visits 0-2 San Antonio, who is hopeful of having Plum ready for the home opener in Texas.

Washington steps up after following up New York on the weekend openers, beating San Antonio, by visiting the Los Angeles Sparks, who will have their championship ring ceremony before the game, now that everyone will have returned from their overseas offseason commitments.

On Saturday, Connecticut, which fell to Atlanta in the Sun’s home opener to go 0-1, which visit Indiana seeking a first win, while likewise the Fever, which is off to an 0-2 start.

Minnesota at Dallas was already mentioned.

Chicago turns right around to visit Atlanta Sunday and Washington moves on to Seattle, so much more will be known by the end of the weekend the real state of improvement of the Mystics, who now have Elena Delle Donne in the fold.

The league is dark on Monday and the other Tuesday game has the Sun staying on the road visiting Minnesota.

The Lynx could still be unbeaten by then and it would not be presumptive to start counting down Minnesota’s magic number to clinch another playoff spot.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Despite Acclaim, New York's Kiah Stokes Seeks Improvement

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

When informed of the recent preseason acclaim lavished upon her, New York Liberty center Kiah Stokes reacted like she was sentenced to drink a pint of Castor Oil.

In the preseason poll by WNBA general managers, the rapidly improving Stokes, a former UConn star, received votes for defensive player of the year and was labeled as one of the players who could enjoy a breakout season.

“I haven’t proved myself yet in this league,” Stokes said during a conference call Wednesday. “It’s nice to get recognition. I also know that I have to keep working hard and getting better every time I step on the floor. I also have to continue to be more physical and aggressive defensively and offensively.”

Stokes has come a long way in a short time. In a city known for its skyscrapers, the affable and athletic 6 foot, 3 inch Stokes stands as tall as the Empire State Building.

She shuts down the lane, builds a moat around the basket and intimidates opponents with her breathtaking shot blocking ability. Just one game into her third season with the Liberty, Stokes is fifth all-time in franchise history in blocked shots with 106.

“I have to continue to work hard to be a better defender and rebounder,” said Stokes, who ranked seventh in the WNBA in rebounds (7.4) and was sixth in blocked shots (1.4) per game last season. “Instead of jumping over people for rebounds. I am making more of an effort to box out. I just want to improve my game.”

Stokes and the rest of her New York Liberty teammates are excited to return to action Thursday night against the Minnesota Lynx. The game from Madison Square Garden begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Both teams are 1-0.

Fifth-year Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance following their harder-than-necessary 73-64 win over a shorthanded San Antonio squad missing three of its top players, including No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum, last Saturday.

Tina Charles led five Liberty players in double figures, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. It was nearly a wire-to-wire victory for the Liberty, who fell behind 1-0 and then led the rest of the way, peaking with an 18-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. The Liberty held a distinct advantage in fast-break opportunities, outscoring the Stars 15-2.

The Liberty won’t give back the victory, but it since it has championship aspirations, each player understands that the effort has to be better.

“Our team heard (Laimbeer’s) message loud and clear,” Stokes said. “We expected more. Practice has been great this week and his words as well as our performance has lit a fire under us. (Playing Minnesota) is a great test for us. We have to step up fight, work hard and be more intense.”

Several outlets have these two teams meeting in the WNBA Finals later this year. This is the first of three meetings against the Lynx, who also opened the season with a 70-61 win over the Chicago Sky last Sunday at the Target Center.

The schedule comes at the Liberty fast. Starting with Thursday night’s game, seven of New York’s next eight games are against teams that qualified for the WNBA playoffs last season.

“It’s exciting and we’re really looking to show what kind of team what we’re made of,” Stokes said. “Really, we are taking one game at a time and we’re going to focus on that. I don’t even know we play after Minnesota.”

Meanwhile, the Lynx are fueled this season by last season’s tough ending where it lost the championship at home to the Los Angeles Sparks. However, as Seimone Augustus pointed out, the Lynx never struggle to find motivation even though it has three championships in the last six years and have been the WNBA’s gold standard during that span.

“The media gives us something to motivate us,” Augustus said. “Some years we’re not ranked high enough in preseason or people say that we’re too old. We always find little things to get us going. We understand that with New York, a lot of their players pose different problems. We believe that if we can make Tina Charles’ night difficult, then hopefully it can disrupt New York’s offensive flow.”

In its win over Chicago, the Lynx was led by Sylvia Fowles, who scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. It was her 108th career double-double.

She also swiped four steals and blocked three shots. Despite that, competitive Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame, she believed that Fowles should have had at least 15 boards. Reeve and Laimbeer coached together in Detroit.

The Lynx held Chicago to 35.3% shooting (24-of-68) from the field. Minnesota has won 35 consecutive games when keeping its opponent under 40% shooting, including 84-1 since the 2011 season. Minnesota dished out 23 assists on 24 made baskets led by Maya Moore with six dimes.

“Everytime we play New York, it’s always intense,” Augustus said. “It’s funny how we always have a few days off to prepare for New York leading into the game. It’s never a back-to-back or play one game, then have an off day, and play New York.”

Twitter Debut A Hit 

The WNBA had its first live streamed game on Twitter on Sunday as part of a new three-year deal with the social platform featuring the Dallas Wings at the Phoenix Mercury. It was a smashing success as it received more than 1.1 million unique viewers and an average minute audience (AMA) of 62,459.

“The numbers were outstanding for the first time,” Minnesota guard Lindsey Whalen said. “It’s a digital and a hand-held world. The more we can put our game into people’s hands, the better it’ll be. The more people that can access our games, the better it is for us. I am excited to see where the league and technology takes us. Big credit to the league for (the Twitter deal).”

The next game streamed on Twitter will be Friday night when Phoenix visits San Antonio beginning at 8 p.m. Hopefully that game will feature the debut of Kelsey Plum, who missed last week’s games at New York and Washington.

“It’s great that we’re getting more eyes on the game, which can help get more fans in the stands,” Augustus said. “The deal with Fan Duel opens up a whole new world for us. We want to continue evolve as a league and bring awareness that women’s basketball is going on.”

Mystics Head West

After their sterling 89-74 season opening win over the Stars on Sunday, the Mystics begin a three-game road trip Friday night at the reigning champion Sparks (10 p.m.). After that, the Mystics visit Seattle on Sunday (7 p.m.) before Elena Delle Donne plays her first game in Chicago since being traded from there on Wednesday, May 24 at 12:30 p.m. It will be the first of a home-and-home against the Sky, who visit the Verizon Center on Friday, May 26.

Delle Donne tallied 24 points and four rebounds in just over 23 minutes of action in her Washington debut. Delle Donne was 8-12 from the field, including 8-9 from inside the arc. Guard Tayler Hill and forward Emma Meesseman each scored in double figures, tallying 15 and 13 points, respectively. The Mystics outrebounded the Stars 39-22 overall and 14-6 on the offensive boards. Washington finished with a 21-6 advantage in second chance points.

“It’s a good start,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said following Sunday’s game. “It’s a win. Particularly at home, I think it’ll get people excited about us. Far from perfect, some defensive lapses occasionally, especially in the second quarter. I thought we got our defensive mojo back in the second half.

"We held them to 35 percent in the second half. I don’t think we played great, but yet we scored 89 points and held them to 74. They’re certainly going to be a whole lot better when we see them later in the year when they have [Kelsey] Plum, [Moriah] Jefferson, and [Kayla] McBride. We’ll take the win.”

Magnificent Monique

One of the best performances of the opening weekend was turned in by San Antonio veteran forward Monique Currie, who turned back the clock. Now in her 12th year, Currie finds herself leading the WNBA in scoring with a 27.0 point per game effort.

Currie led all players in scoring against the Mystics, amassing a career-high 31 points. Her previous career-high was 28 points vs. Connecticut on June 8, 2008. Her 18 first-half points ties her first-half points career-high. Currie previously scored 18 first-half points twice with the Mystics - June 8, 2013 vs. Minnesota and May 16, 2010 at Minnesota.

Despite the two losses, Currie remained optimistic that the Silver Stars will be formidable and contend for the playoffs this season.

“I think its a few things; we're young, we're missing three players who play a big role in this team, and that makes a difference,” Currie said. “Even still, I think we have enough talent and enough work here that we can still win games. We can't bank on when players will return, but I think everybody needs to step it up a little bit. We're going to go back home, and keep working. Our home opener is this weekend, so we'll try to get a win then.”

Taurasi Signs Contract Extension

Three-time WNBA Champion, seven-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA Finals MVP and 2009 WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi signed a multi-year contract extension with the Phoenix Mercury Tuesday afternoon.

“As long as Diana Taurasi wants to play in the WNBA, we want her in a Mercury uniform,” said Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman.  “As we’ve said before, she is the heart of our franchise, the first face on our Mount Rushmore, the best winner and competitor in the women’s game.  The trajectory of our organization changed the day we drafted her 13 years ago, and we are excited she will be here into the future.”

Taurasi owns the most 20-point games in league history (191), the most 30-point efforts (41), the single-season record for scoring average (25.3 points in 2006) and total points (860, 2006).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Washington Takes WNBA Opener As Delle Donne Scores 24 in Mystics' Debut

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

WASHINGTON -- Other than the chance that the current occupants over nearby 1600 Pennsylvania Ave might take umbrage, the WNBA Washington Mystics these days could be excused for throwing caution to the wind and start blaring that old Democratic campaign theme song “Happy Days Are Here Again” over loudspeakers from the rooftop of their headquarters here at the Verizon Center.

Actually, there haven’t been many happy moments over the years the since the creation of the Mystics, who are celebrating their two decades of existence this season.

But it was all joy and elation Sunday afternoon following Washington‘s season and home opening 89-74 win over the depleted San Antonio Silver Stars as the Mystics’ new star Elena Delle Donne, the former Delaware great, was bordering on breaking out in a downright giddy persona not seen a lot publicly throughout her notable career.

Delle Donne, who became an instant star and rookie of the year in 2013 when she was picked overall No. 2 by the Chicago Sky, arrived here this past winter in a three-team mega deal involving the Mystics, New York Liberty and her former team in the Windy City.

What’s not to like by the 2016 Olympian’s debut less than two hours from her Wilmington home as she scored 24 points, shooting 8-for-12 from the field, including connecting on her’s and the game’s first shot, though in a rarity she actually missed a free throw in her nine attempts and did get into some foul trouble.

Coach/General Manager Mike Thibault, whose was hired in the winter of 2012 after being let go at the end of a decade of success but no title guiding the Connecticut Sun, was mostly pleased with his new offensive machine that includes other prominent parts such as young but veteran Washington stars Emma Messemann of Belgium and Tayler Hill as well as new addition Kristi Toliver, the former Maryland great who helped the Los Angeles Sparks win the WNBA crown last season.

“I’ll tell you guys what I told our players,” said Thibault at his postgame briefing. “It’s a good start. It’s a win, particularly at home. I think it will get people excited about us. Far from perfect. Some defensive lapses, occasionally.

“I don’t feel we played great, though we scored 89 points and held them to 74. They’re certainly going to be a whole lot better when we see them later in the year when they have (Kelsey) Plum, (Moriah) Jefferson, and (Kayla) McBride.

“But we’ll take the win. Mo Currie was great for them today. I’d like to say it was just a payback against us but she did the same yesterday to New York so she’s on a roll. I’m happy for her, but not today,” Thibault quipped about the former Duke star who played with Washington for eight seasons through 2014.

“I thought we did a lot of good things. We moved the ball pretty well, offensively. We didn’t make some of the shots we’ve been making but Kristi and Emma have had about a practice and a half or two practices with us and I think that will get better,” he said.

“Although we’re not looking forward to playing L.A. (Friday) and Seattle (Storm, Sunday), we’re looking forward to going on the road and have some private time together to work on some stuff. Training camp become a mish mash of a lot of meetings and media and league things, so it would be nice to just get back to basketball.”

Once concluding his opening remarks, though further down the road, the questions from media members could start over almost anything and anyone, considering the new-look Mystics, Sunday meant cutting to the chase to gush about Delle Donne.

Though it can be said, if you’ve seen one Delle Donne 24-point performance with the Mystics, you’ve seen them all, that only holds up until next time.

“We have a rule. If you violate while she’s shooting a free throw, we’re going to fine you $25 a piece. We almost had one of them do it earlier in the game. But they’re all going to fine her for missing a free throw because it’s such a rare thing.

“I thought it was good. She got in foul trouble a little bit. We’re not going to play that kind of lineup all the time, necessarily. But we wanted to play kind of a little bit smaller lineup today with her today at center. Although we gave up a couple of things because of it, teams are going to have a hard time guarding us at the other end because of what she and Emma can do.

“So we’re going to give up something to get something. She’ll get better once she gets used to our defensive system of staying out of foul trouble. I thought she kind of got there a little bit late. But I thought it was a great start to come and get 24 points in your debut, that probably sets a pretty good tone for things.

“But I was kind of impressed how the ball moved for us in that regard. She facilitates for everybody else, too.”

A crowd of 6,126 watched the game, a figure that could grow considerably if Washington gets to show they are serious contenders for a title.

Part of that crowd included a chunk of Delle Donne’s fans from her area and alma mater, which Sunday made news naming Georgetown’s Natasha Adair as the Blue Hens’ new coach. She will be introduced Monday morning at a press briefing at Delaware.

Delle Donne was on the search committee, though she did not address the process Sunday. But she did salute the advantage of now playing near home, a chance lost in 2013 when Washington finished with the worst record in 2012 but failed to land any of the top three slots in the lottery.

She did admit to having nerves despite her long list of career accomplishments.

“Certainly. I thought I got here at 11:45,” she smiled of arriving early for the 3 p.m. tip. “For sure there were nerves. I didn’t sleep great. I was jittery. And just ready to get here. It was one under my belt but  that was amazing.”

Usually when Delle Donne scores quickly it’s a sign for things to come. “Thank God. I can breathe,” she said of making her first shot. “I was able to breathe.

“It’s exactly what I was hoping for and even more. This team has great chemistry but when you get here and you feel it, it’s even better than I imagined. So many options.”

As for her personal fans, “I knew the Delaware faithful would show up. There was no doubt in my mind. Mother’s Day. It didn’t matter. I knew they’d be here. That’s my crew. That’s my family. Delaware always makes me proud and I knew they’d show up.”

The Bob Carpenter Center has sold out when Chicago played preseason games there as well as when USA Basketball played several exhibitions.

Now, it’s easy for that crowd to come down here, though it would not be surprising to see Washington follow Chicago’s lead and play games at Delaware in the future.

“It’s truly a home game. Literally a home game. Delaware doesn’t care that it might be two hours. It’s home for them. Everybody showed up.”

 As for her true home family, they all went to dinner Saturday night.

Despite having had posted some titanic performances with Chicago, Delle Donne said she is not thinking about the potential to score even better with the Mystics.

“I don’t really look at numbers. I know a lot of players look at numbers and coaches look at stats. For me, I look at the end number – the Mystics had more than the other team. That’s all I worry about. Game to game, obviously there’s other numbers that are going to be different. There are going to be ups and downs but as long as the Mystics are on top, that’s the number I care about.”

As for the numbers from everyone else that helped put Washington on top, Meessemann had 13 points and Hill had 15, while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored eight, and Toliver had eight and dealt four assists out of the starting lineup.

Tianna Hawkins had nine points off the bench, while Ivory Latta scored six and former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud scored four.

Another contingent in the crowd consisted of Old Dominion fans and former coach Karen Barefoot, newly named at UNC Wilmington, who came to support rookie Jennie Simms, who did not get into the game.

San Antonio dropped its second straight as Plum, the new NCAA scoring leader and overall No. 1 draft pick out of Washington, remained sidelined with a sprained ankle. Second-year pro Moriah Jefferson did not play either due to a nagging foot injury, while McBride, a former Notre Dame great, is still overseas with Turkey playing for a title.

New coach Vickie Johnson, a former New York Liberty star, is 0-2 waiting for her first official victory.

Currie, who was the only player for the Texans in double figures, scored 31 points, following up her 23 on Saturday against New York at Madison Square Garden.

The Silver Star next host the Phoenix Mercury on Friday and the team is hopeful Plum will be ready for the home opener.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Liberty's Laimbeer Stews Over His New Yorkers' Play in WNBA Opening Win Over San Antonio

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – Well, as the summer moves along each of the 12 WNBA franchises will offer several matinee events targeted to the younger set as has been the norm for most of the history of the women’s pro basketball league, that began its 21st season Saturday in three different cities.

Apparently, though, veteran New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer has taken the aforementioned concept and reversed it with a new idea: Unhappy Camper Day.

Though most of the Madison Square Garden crowd of 8,207 left the fabled arena pleased that their home team grabbed a 73-64 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars, that statistical result, not the score, was one of the few positive things about the triumph Laimbeer noted following an arrival that took a bit longer to occur than his normal postgame drill following a victory.

Laimbeer was in vintage form dating back to his days with the former Detroit Shock, which later became the Tulsa Shock, and now the Dallas Wings, when the Motor City bunch rang up three WNBA titles.

“Sorry, I’m an unhappy person and I let them know about it,” said Laimbeer, one of the stars of the NBA championship Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” era, opening his remarks.

“I hope this was the worst game we’ve played all year long. It was awful. We didn’t execute the things we were suppose to, we didn’t box out, we gave up way too many offensive rebounds, we missed free throws (20-27) all over the place.

“And our second unit had a chance to extend the game and didn’t do it. I had to put Tina Charles back in for doing that, she sat so long, this is the year I want to play her a lot less. Instead of taking care of business, it became one-on-one basketball, we didn’t execute anything, and we had missed assignments all over, and that’s bad.

“Our starters didn’t play great, but however, we got a lead, and we should extend that lead with our bench, and collectively, top to bottom it’s the worst effort we could have put forth tonight. And I told them so in strong language.”

Off of finishing with the best record in the East and third best overall, New York is viewed as a title threat with a younger roster with much talent. But to Laimbeer’s point, titles aren’t won based on what teams say about themselves or others say about them in training camp.

“They want to be all-talk, they can be all-talk, they won’t go anywhere,” Laimbeer said, saying that a lack of complete chemistry for now until the new additions get acclimated, is not an excuse. “They have to execute every minute they’re on the floor, do their assignments they were trained to do, do it on time, and collectively as a group.

“If they don’t, then they’re going to win nothing. Fortunately, San Antonio was short-handed. If they had their full squad, we probably would have lost the game. We can’t play like that and compete for a championship. And I told them so.

“There’s no rust. We have to learn what it really takes. We don’t have it. We’re all talk right now. Whether their actions will come around for us to be an elite team, and a consistent elite team, well then that’s what we’re going to find out.

“They have it within them. They have it in their locker room to be able to do it. It’s a matter of them willing to pay the price. They have to do the little things. Kiah Stokes had a terrible night. Awful. She’s in terrible shape. She can’t get the ball she got last year. I told her that in front of everybody too.

And as of last year, when the WNBA changed the playoff system so that the best eight teams without regard to division affiliation qualify, the onus now is that every game on the schedule is equally important.

New York was only third best overall last year despite being best in the East and the Liberty off a first-round bye, fell at home in a one-and-done deal to the Phoenix Mercury in the second round.

Meanwhile, following Saturday’s game, the WNBA schedule makers certainly didn’t make May an easy opening month for the Liberty, who on Thursday night host the runnerup Minnesota Lynx, winners of three titles in the last six years and almost a fourth in that period when they fell at home in the last second to the Los Angeles Sparks in the decisive Game 5 last October.

Then its on to the Mercury and Seattle Storm before returning home here on May 30 to host the Sparks.

“I’m not going to sugar coat anything this year,” Laimbeer said. “We’re going to talk about what reality is and if you want to compete for a championship, this is what you have to do. You have to do your business individually and collectively and you have to get it done. That’s how we’re going to do business. We play like this against Minnesota, we drop by 30. Facts.”

On the other side, former Liberty star Vickie Johnson had her official WNBA coaching debut ruined in the wake of the loss by San Antonio, which had to sit overall No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum (right ankle sprain), who set NCAA scoring records with Washington. Former Uconn star and second-year pro Moriah Jefferson was also sidelined with right knee soreness.

Former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride is still overseas.

Plum is not likely to play Sunday, also, when San Antonio travels a short distance South from here to help the Washington Mystics launch their season Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. In the Verizon Center, where former Delaware star and league sensation Elena Delle Donne will make her local debut following a mega trade with the Chicago Sky, her former team, and New York.

The deal landed former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn, a native New Yorker and former Rutgers star, back with the Liberty and a second tour of duty, though she says while being thrilled to be back here, her previous Liberty stint cannot be used for comparison with the current one.

“Different players. Different chemistry,” said Vaughn, who was one of the players praised by Laimbeer, who bemoaned she did not see the ball more in Saturday’s game.

Vaughn had seven points off the bench, shooting 3-for-5 from the field. Charles had a team-high 12 points for New York, while Shavonte Zeallous and Brittany Boyd each scored 10 points.

Stokes, a former Uconn star, had just two points, while Sugar Rodgers scored seven among the starters, who got 11 points off the bench from Epiphanny Prince, another former Rutgers star. Cierra Burdick, a former Tennessee stars who is another Liberty newcomer, scored 10 points.

On the San Antonio side, former Duke star and league veteran Monique Currie scored 23 points, Isabelle Harrison scored 10, both off the bench, while Alex Montgomery, a starter and former Liberty star, grabbed 11 rebounds.

Rookie Nia Coffey, a first-round pick out of Northwestern, played 16 minutes, 21 seconds, and had three points and five rebounds.

Friday, May 12, 2017

WNBA begins Season No. 21 as a Worthy Follow-Up to What No. 20 Delivered

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

The WNBA’s 21st season promises to be exciting with big names moving to new cities, electrifying rookies joining the league and dynamite storylines.

Elena Delle Donne is the newest Washington monument. San Antonio’s Kelsey Plum enters the league as the No. 1 overall pick after an awesome record-breaking career at the University of Washington. The Los Angeles Sparks are looking to repeat as champions while the Minnesota Lynx are looking to bounce back from a Finals heartbreak.

If it means anything, the Lynx was picked to win its fourth WNBA championship in seven years according to the 15th annual 2017 WNBA.com GM Survey released Thursday.

The Mystics are probably the most fascinating team to watch this season. In addition to acquiring Delle Donne from the Chicago Sky in exchange for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and this year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, who became South Carolina’s Alaina Coates, the Mystics also added veteran Kristie Toliver, a member of last season’s Sparks championship squad.

“I think they're very intriguing,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said during a conference call Wednesday. “When you look at what Elena Delle Donne has already accomplished in the WNBA, being a former MVP, and now you add to that being back to what she calls home.

“I was watching her reading the letter to the fans in D.C. and to her teammates and coaches, and just how excited she is. So to think that there is another level to her game, possibly, with her being in a place where she feels even more comfortable than she did in Chicago, is something exciting, to think about.

“And Kristi Toliver, as well. We watched her in the Finals. I mean, she is a championship-minded player. She plays at a very high level, and I think can bring a mentality to Washington that they've needed. That killer instinct, that player who can help them elevate to the next level. So definitely a very intriguing team. As far as how long it will take to come together, I think a lot of that will depend on the point guard position. Just, you've got so many options there.”

The Mystics already had some nice building blocks in place with veterans Ivory Latta, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman, and Natasha Cloud.

The Mystics could produce plenty of points this season with arguably their most talented team in franchise history. Even though Meesseman will be in and out of the Mystics lineup this summer because of the European championships, head coach Mike Thibault doesn’t appear overly concerned.

“Emma will fit in just because she's been here long enough to know how we do things,” Thibault said and previously noted at last Monday's preseason game he was aware of the situation since last winter. “She's comfortable with how we play and what we do and with the majority of the teammates that are returning. Kristi's a very smart player who picks up things quickly. The way we are playing kind of fits what she's already done. We're probably playing a little bit closer to how L.A., stylewise did last year. So I think that will fit her.

“It's going to take us a while just to develop the on-court chemistry you'd like. Luckily those two have played together all winter. So that should help. But as long as we're playing our best basketball when it counts, I guess that's probably all that matters.”

Ninety-two percent of GMs viewed the Mystics as the team that made the best offseason moves overall, and the same number considered Delle Donne to be the one player acquisition who will make the biggest impact.  Similarly, 67 percent of general managers picked the Mystics as the most improved team.

The Mystics main competition in the Eastern conference could come from the New York Liberty. Half of the league GM’s believe that the Liberty will lead the Eastern Conference in victories for a third straight season. It should be a fun summer along the Interstate 95 corridor as both teams are loaded.

The Liberty also benefitted from the Mystics acquisition of Delle Donne as they gained Long Island native Bria Hartley and Kia Vaughn, who played at Rutgers and is entering her second stint as a member of New York, as part of the three-team trade involving the Sky.

Tina Charles is back to terrorize the league again. Last season, she became just the third player in league history to lead the league in both scoring (21.5) and rebounding (9.9) in the same season. One of the biggest moves was resigning Sugar Rodgers, who averaged 14.5 points (more than her previous two seasons combined) and knocked down 86 3-pointers.

A full season of Epiphanny Prince and an improving Brittany Boyd makes the Liberty a solid contender to finally breakthrough and win the title this season.

Of course just leading the East for the Liberty is not the only thing they need based on last season’s playoff change in which the top eight teams qualified without regard to division affiliation.

Under the old system, New York might have made the finals, but with just the third best overall  record, the Liberty, who had a first round bye,  were knocked off by the Phoenix Mercury 101-94  still early in a one-and-done deal in Madison Square Garden in the second round  at home as Diana Taurasi scored 30 points.

Meanwhile, out West, Maya Moore decided not to play overseas during the offseason in an effort to rest, refine, and recover. That is a scary thought that Moore, who is just 27, is entering the prime of her career and has another level that can she raise her already superb and indescribable game to.

“It's scary to think of Maya rested, more focused than ever, coming off of what could be described as a heart-breaking loss in the Finals,” Robinson said. “So if there is another level to Maya Moore's game, then watch out, WNBA, because she's already an elite player. But definitely as Maya can find another gear, she can really start to establish herself, if not already, as one of the greatest to have ever played in this league.”

The Sparks added Odyssey Sims from Dallas. They still feature the most potent low-post combination in Nneka Ogumike, the regular season MVP, and Candace Parker, who is beginning her 10th season.

The Sparks also made the smart move of re-signing defensive stalwarts Alana Beard and Essence Carson, the former Rutgers great, to keep their core together for another championship run.

“We feel like Odyssey can provide us quality minutes at the point and on the perimeter,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “I don't know if she'll be starting for us, I can't tell you that right now. But she'll play quality minutes.

 “When we knew Kristi was going to Washington, we knew we lost a really good player and somebody that had come off of an extremely good season, both individually and her part of the team. So we needed to find a way to replace her. Not that we could replace her with Odyssey, but we also feel like Odyssey is a really good player on her own behalf.”

The Atlanta Dream will without Angel McCoughtry for an unspecified length of time as she announced that she will be resting during the upcoming campaign. Tiffany Hayes could emerge as the leader of the Dream after coming off of her best season of her career in which she averaged 15 points per game. She will be counted to lead a young team that features Elizabeth Williams, who was named the league’s most improved player last year, and Layshia Clarendon.

McCoughtry won’t be the only big name missing this season. The Mercury will be without standout DeWanna Bonner, who is pregnant and will sit out the season.

 The Connecticut Sun won’t have forward Chiney Ogwumike, who will miss the season as she continues to recover from Achilles surgery. Obviously, the biggest absence will be that of Tamika Catchings, who retired from a long career with the Indiana Fever and now has a job in the front office.

Some other familiar faces in different places this season include Candice Dupree (Fever), Danielle Robinson (Mercury), Lynetta Kizer (Sun) and former Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who is now the Fever’s head coach. A major addition occurred for Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who as you guessed it got married recently.

Also longtime Connecticut Sun GM Chris Sienko, who also held a similar position with the former ABL franchise in that state, departed and coach Curt Miller added his duties, while Amber Cox, who served stints with the Mercury and collegiate Big East Conference, is now with the Mohegans as vice president of the Sun and the organization’s National Lacrosse League entry.

“I'm really eager to see -- I guess it's Diggins-Smith now,” said ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn great who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September. “I'm eager to see her this year in Dallas. Such a young group now that is around her.

“That's another team that I think people are kind of watching because you don't really know quite what to expect from them with so many new faces on the roster and anticipating her being back at the top of her game, which I'm eager to see because she was having such a great season a couple years ago before she got hurt.”

 “We saw it again in stretches last year. So I'm eager to see if she can, once again, be one of the elite players in the WNBA.”

The answer to that question and many more will be revealed when the Silver Stars and Liberty tip off the season that runs through September 3rd.

The Sparks and Seattle Storm, with reigning rookie of the year Breanna Stewart, plus the Sun and Dream, will also open Saturday, while Sunday’s card will feature the Mercury and Wings, the Fever and Storm, the Sky and Lynx, and Delle Donne with the Mystics opening at home against the Silver Stars.

Fearless predictions
Playoff teams in order: Lynx, Liberty, Mystics, Sparks, Mercury, Storm, Fever and Wings.
MVP: Maya Moore, Lynx
Defensive Player of the Year: Briann January, Fever
Rookie of the Year: Kelsey Plum, Silver Stars
Coach of the Year: Mike Thibault, Mystics
Most Improved Player: Tiffany Mitchell, Fever
Finals: Lynx over Liberty

Five Must Games To Watch
Lynx at Liberty, Thursday, May 18: Possible championship preview and an early gauge for both teams.
Mystics at Sky, Wednesday May 24: Delle Donne’s first game against her former team in Chicago.
Liberty at Mystics, Thursday, June 29: First meeting between the two Eastern Conference favorites.
Sparks at Lynx, Thursday July 6: First meeting between the two heavyweights since last season’s memorable WNBA Finals.
Fever at Mercury, Wednesday July 19: Dupree returns home to Phoenix.

WNBA Games On Twitter
The second day of the season marks the debut of live WNBA games on Twitter. The matchup between the Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, May 14 (6 p.m. ET) will be available at wnba.twitter.com and via @WNBA. The WNBA will live stream 20 regular-season games per year on Twitter in 2017, 2018 and 2019. This is cool and interesting. Kudos to the WNBA for expanding its brand.

Fantasy game
The WNBA and FanDuel announced today a new partnership that will make FanDuel the official, one-day fantasy partner of the WNBA. The partnership is FanDuel’s first with a women’s professional sports league and the WNBA’s first official one-day fantasy offering.

New awards
The WNBA has announced new awards beginning with the 2017 season. For the first time, the league will present a Coach of the Month award, an addition to the list of in-season honors that includes Players of the Month and Rookie of the Month. Also new in 2017, the WNBA will name a Basketball Executive of the Year at the end of the season.

Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru also contributed to this report.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Guru's WNBA Report: Washington's Sunny Outlook has a Philly-Area Accent

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

WASHINGTON – If the WNBA Washington Mystics really get it going this season as the roster overhaul might suggest, a strong dose of Philadelphia area connections will be part of the formula.

Assistant coach Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star, national championship coach at Old Dominion, and a few previous WNBA coaching stops, has been a mainstay who was retained when Mike Thibault took over the team after having had a decade of winning with the Connecticut Sun.

In recent seasons former Cardinal O’Hara and Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud has been one of the younger additions after Thibault became enamored of her game with the Hawks and drafted her in the second round.

Now, of course, comes former Delaware great Elena Delle Donne, quickly established as a league superstar with Chicago when drafted second in 2013, who was part of one of the mega-deals pulled by the Mystics.

Cloud was spending the offseason playing in Australia, where she’s been for several years, when word began to seep that Delle Donne might be headed to the nation’s capital, within two hours at worst of her home in Wilmington, Del.

 “I knew a little bit early,” Cloud said Monday night after the Mystics fell to the WNBA runnerup Minnesota Lynx, 74-59, at the Verizon Center in their only home preview and second and last overall preseason contest.

Washington will open its 20th anniversary season Sunday afternoon here against the San Antonio Silver Stars, who have overall first-round pick Kelsey Plum, the NCAA scoring record breaker out of the University of Washington.

The Texans will also be in New York Saturday to help the Liberty open their 21st season, the same as the WNBA, at Madison Square Garden at 3 p.m., the same start time as the game here in Washington.

“It’s our job to keep it low key,” Cloud said of the early rumbles that Delle Donne might be headed East.  “You never know what’s going to happen. Things could not work out. Situations can happen.

“But when (Thibault) told us his master plan of what was going on, it’s exciting. I played against her in high school (Ursuline Academy). Elena is one of the top players in this league. She’s just so versatile. There’s so much she can do.

“For us to have the power we have now on offense, it’s going to be a fun season.”

Monday night was supposed to be Delle Donne’s local preview after the team won its other game at Indiana against the Fever.

But she didn’t play, the boxscore saying groin as a reason for not playing. Had the game counted, Thibault indicated she likely would have been on the court.

Delle Donne is also on the Delaware search committee for her former coach Tina Martin’s replacement but said she hadn’t met anyone yet who is in the mix to follow the longtime mentor, who the school recently announced her retirement.

However, Martin said in the Wilmington News Journal at the time of the news that she was retiring from Delaware but not necessarily from coaching.

The Mystics were missing several key part of their roster with Emma Meesseman still playing overseas as well as new arrival and former Maryland star Kristi Toliver, who had player for the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks.

In the Washington do-over an interesting note has occurred. The 2013 draft was billed as the three-to-see with overall number one pick Brittney Griner going to the Phoenix Mercury, Delle Donne to Chicago, and Skylar Diggins-Smith to the then Tulsa Shock, which became the Dallas Wings last season.

The Mystics, which had the worst overall record the previous season, lost out, though with the fourth pick landed former Ohio State star Tayler Hill, who has been a significant contributor.

“As it now turns out,” Thibault noted before Monday’s game, “four of our starters could be people who were part of that 2013 draft.”

Thibault had a busy weekend, spent in North Carolina where his daughter Carly, an assistant coach with NCAA runnerup Mississippi State, got married. His son Eric is an assistant on the Mystics.

“The good news is I get my checkbook back,” Thibault quipped about the weekend.

Working the family and league situations the same time, Thibault said the original planning got disrupted because, “the league wasn’t supposed to start his early until they told us it was starting this early, even though it’s not an Olympic year.”

Cloud started against Minnesota and has started for most of her brief WNBA career.

Incidentally, former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware, who went to see Delle Donne play at their alma mater, the Blue Hens, is likely to see a few games this season and also plans to talk to the Mystics squad at some point, Thibault related.

He recently was at the NBA-brother Wizards’ game here and got a big ovation when introduced.
In Monday’s game, Tianna Hawkins scored 14 points for the home team and Cloud scored 11, while rookie Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, another former Maryland product on the local roster, was scoreless in 16 minutes, 14 seconds of playing time.

On the other end, while change is a theme in the WNBA, the Lynx, with three championships in the last six seasons, and a near fourth that died on a last second shot by Los Angeles in Minneapolis in the fifth and final deciding game, is still a force with its core in place.

Former Connecticut star and Olympian Maya Moore, who was part of last summer’s USA gold medalists with Delle Donne and Lynx teammates Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, and Lindsay Whalen, did not play because of a similar groin injury as Delle Donne’s.

But former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson had 14 points, Fowles 11, Natasha Howard off the bench with 11, while Whalen had six points and matched Fowles with 19 on the plus/minus category.
Also on the roster trying to make the team is former Harvard star Temi Fagbenle, who would be the third Ivy Leaguer to make a WNBA roster and second Crimson member after former All-Star Allison Feaster.
“I think we’re in a good space as a group,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star from South Jersey near Philadelphia. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had fairly decent health. Got a glimpse of them tonight.

“I think they’re ready, ready to play. Obviously Maya wasn’t out there but it’s a group that I think had a great training camp. They were all there on time and we got a lot of work done.”

Over the years Washington and Minnesota had very competitive games playing out of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference. Last season those designations became moot since the top eight teams regardless of conference affiliation made the playoffs.

“That’s what I like about coming here in the preseason,” Reeve said. “We know we’re going to be challenged in every way. It’s just a tremendous learning experience playing against these guys.

"Obviously they’re well coached and have a ton of talent.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting summer in D.C.”

It was noted to Reeve how every time the Lynx failed to repeat after winning the previous season, they came right back to reclaim the crown the next.

“That’s been the one constant. They’re very, very resilient. Very, vey prideful. We respond very well to adversity. And hopefully this season will be no different to the response of how our season ended.”
Whalen agreed about her team’s long-running stability.

“You know, we still feel good,” Whalen said. “We’ve had some stuff we’ve worked on but for this time of the year, it was good to play against a good team like Washington. They always make it tough on us. My thought is we were able to make some good plays tonight.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

WNBA Draft 2017: Guru Says Glitz Bumped Away Tradition in New Look

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – In some respects, Thursday night’s WNBA draft as the first event of Season No. 21 was a bit comparable to aspects of the new PBS-TV documentary series The Great War about World War I.

In an early setting, once war is declared, it is very celebratory stateside as enlistees join the armed forces to go to France though later on once overseas the setting is different.

As the annual influx of new talent got plucked off the college pile at least in the first round all was celebratory yet one knows in a few weeks some of the names called or even more than some will either have it all end in a small daily transaction notice or will bounce around a few teams until opening day and by then the festivities at Samsung 837 will seem so long ago.

From what the Guru could gather, this was not a draft for traditionalists among the masses.

Unlike some of the settings of the past, most recently the Mohegan Sun Arena, the scene for those covering live sprawled over several floors.

But in presenting new looks to the broadcast, the scene of each pick sitting with coaches friends and families at reserved roundtables and then walking to the president, in this instant Lisa Borders, to have a picture taken with the new team jersey was not to be.

Actually, as part of the car-wash for draftees, to use ESPN speak, it was to be, but it was to be off to the side and not frontal screen to the delight of fans of the various teams.

For those of us who have covered all of these there was some suspense as to who would do the announcing in the second round – the job handled in the past by longtime deputy Rene Brown, who left the league after last season.

As it turned out, Borders went into overtime making announcements but a new problem arose for the masses because the TV talent, not of their doing necessarily, was busy rehashing the first round while picks were going on in the second round.

More of the media were actually the blogging world as compared to a time many of the national papers used to come to the metro area, when there were many national papers.

Some of the local papers were there – the New York Times has again become a regular – but not as many as the days of yesteryear.

The scene also become more TV and less fans since the general populace was not allowed to be part of this one considering the size of the place, which as mentioned sprawled over several floors but there were limitations to navigate on each floor.

And of course adding to appearance of a mass show of coverage was the in-house WNBA media machine, social and all other things and all the staffing that entails.

And no one has noticed close up but while Mississippi State was the team that bounced UConn from its long-running win streak, South Carolina has for the moment removed the Huskies from existence after replacing them as NCAA champs.

Dawn Staley has become a cottage industry though as she responded last week at the Union League in Philly for the presentation of her Dawn Staley guard award when asked if she had gotten worn out – you don’t feel worn out after you win a national title.

It was a nice touch to have Borders bring up Staley as the former WNBA great, the coach of the NCAA champions, the USA Women’s Olympic coach and then let her announce to the surprise of absolutely no one Washington’s Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Don’t know how costly it would be but remotes from several team watch parties might have solved the no-fans-in-the-house complaints and also show more of a universal enthusiasm for the 21st season.

Of course, as the Guru bad luck for instant research would have it, an oversight managed to have Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald, his one local in the mix, not listed among the draft prospects in the guide.

But she was not a surprise pick because the Guru knew several days ago Indiana had her on their lists the same way Washington had gotten very high on Saint Joseph’s Natasha Cloud several years ago.

Once the draft got under way, Staley again was master of the news with three of her players taken in the first round.

But how quickly it seems people forgot that a year ago UConn actually went 1-2-3 with Breanna Stewart, Moriah Washington, and Morgan Tuck being the first three picks.

Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes announcing a pick was also a nice touch as the league tied its past its future.

And there were names not announced here who will sign training camp contracts with possibly three or four making opening day rosters. Remember one of the most famous or the most famous walk-ons was Becky Hammon.

That said, perhaps more in the next 24 hours, since this is the top story on the draft coverage on our package, the Guru recommends below Lamar Carter’s breakdown team-by-team of the picks, the Guru’s own local feature on Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald taken and the fact that two of the three Owls all-time scorers are now Indiana teammates, and Mike Siroky’s SEC accent story.

For the moment, this is a wrap. -- Mel

WNBA Draft 2017: Team-By-Team Analysis of the Picks

By Lamar Carter (@iamlamarcarter)

NEW YORK, N.Y. --- After all the success that accompanied the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season in 2016, the league officially kicked off the next stage of its history with Thursday’s WNBA Draft at Samsung 837.

Samsung’s flagship location in New York City was a fitting place for the league to host this year’s event.

 The building’s three levels hosted the main draft coverage on the first floor (with Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo & LaChina Robinson doing an excellent job as always); the invited prospects, social spaces, and several media stations on the second floor; and individual player photo sessions on the third floor.

The event possessed a very celebratory vibe and for good reason: the league seen as a novelty in 1997 was bringing in another group of elite athletes and exceptional young women, ready to do their part to keep two decades’ of momentum going.

With that said, let’s take a look at the selections (teams listed in order of their first selection of the day):

1. Kelsey Plum (Guard / Washington)
5. Nia Coffey (F / Northwestern)
25. Schaquilla Nunn (F / Tennessee)

San Antonio did what everyone in the women’s basketball community expected they would do and took Plum, Washington’s all-world guard and the newly minted scoring queen of the NCAA (3,527 career points and 1,109 points as a senior).

Pairing Plum with second-year guard Moriah Jefferson and a healthy Kayla McBride could give the Stars an exciting triple threat in the backcourt. Coffey could contribute on both ends as well if the forward can replicate her All-Big Ten level production (2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds) in the pros.

2. Alaina Coates (C / South Carolina)
9. Tori Jankoska (G / Michigan State)
21. Chantel Osahor (F/C / Washington)
33. Makayla Epps (G / Kentucky)

After losing 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne to Washington in the offseason, the Sky began the process of retooling by taking frontcourt players with two of their four picks.

Coates rebounds extremely well, is strong around the basket, and brings a winner’s mindset to the Windy City after being a major part of South Carolina’s recent emergence. Her ability to get back on the court, along with how well Osahor’s offensive craftiness and rebounding prowess translate to the league, will determine how long it takes Chicago to succeed without Delle Donne.

3. Evelyn Akhator (F/C Kentucky)
4. Allisha Gray (G / South Carolina)
10. Kaela Davis (G / South Carolina)
23. Breanna Lewis (C / Kansas State)
26. Saniya Chong (G / Connecticut)

Gray and Davis rounded out the trio of national champion Gamecocks to go in the first round of the Draft and give the Wings a pair of players that can be effective in a variety of positions.

In Akhator, Dallas provided the first surprise of the Draft but after averaging a double double last season (15.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG) in the SEC, Akhator has a chance to make an impact on a team that can use all the impact players it can get.

6. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (G / Maryland)
18. Jennie Simms (G / Old Dominion)
27. Mehryn Kraker (F / Wisconsin-Green Bay)

Washington added a pair of athletic wing players from the DMV area and a member of one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Combined, the trio provide size, length and scoring ability to a Mike Thibault-led team that wants to excel on both ends of the floor. For Walker-Kimbrough and Simms in particular, playing close to their college homes should help with the transition into the pros.

7. Brittney Sykes (G / Syracuse)
19. Jordan Reynolds (G / Tennessee)
31. Oderah Chidom (F / Duke)

Despite dealing with multiple season-ending injuries during her career, Sykes produced enough as a redshirt season (nearly 20 points and eight rebounds per game) for the Dream to take her with a top-10 overall pick. At full strength, Sykes can score and defend at a high level - skills she will be able to enhance around franchise cornerstone Angel McCoughtry.

8. Brionna Jones (C / Maryland)
13. Shayla Cooper (F / Ohio State)
16. Leticia Romero (G / Florida State)
28. Jessica January (G / DePaul)

Jones gives the Sun a quality frontcourt player to fill the void of losing Chiney Ogwumike to offseason surgery. The Maryland product averaged a double double as a senior (19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds) and led the country in field goal percentage the past two years. A 1,000 point scorer and Olympic medalist (silver in Rio with Spain), Romero’s ability and experience should serve her well in her transition to the league.

11. Sydney Wiese (G / Oregon State)
35. Saicha Grant-Allen (C / Dayton)

The rich get richer in Los Angeles as the defending champions pick up Wiese, a tough guard with size (6-1) and range (Pac-12’s all-time leader in three pointers made). Wiese will benefit from learning from the likes of Candace Parker, Essence Carson and Alana Beard on a team that will be looking to build upon last year’s run to the title

12. Alexis Jones (G / Baylor)
24. Lisa Berkani (G / France)
36. Tahlia Tupaea (G / Australia)

Everything that was said about Wiese and the Sparks can be applied to Jones and the Lynx. The perennial title contenders pick up a top flight point guard (all-conference in the ACC at Duke and Big Ten at Baylor) who should be able to grow her game under coach Cheryl Reeve and veteran point Lindsay Whalen.

14. Lindsay Allen (G / Notre Dame)
34. Kai James (C / Florida State)

In Allen, the Liberty get a pass-first floor general that can effectively run a team. Allen’s numbers as a senior (9.6 PPG, 7.2 APG) speak to a player that can make others better while still providing consistent offense. Also, her experience playing in a system like Notre Dame’s on one the premier stages in women’s basketball should make playing in the toughest media market a big easier to handle.

15. Alexis Peterson (G / Syracuse)
30. Lanay Montgomery (C / West Virginia)

Peterson gives the Storm an option that, if she develops, could keep the seemingly ageless Sue Bird fresh and on the floor longer. The Syracuse guard and ACC Player of the Year checks all the boxes (ability to score, facilitate and defend) for an ideal lead guard and should make a great backcourt mate alongside Jewell Loyd.

17. Erica McCall (F / Stanford)
20. Feyonda Fitzgerald (F / Temple)
22. Ronni Williams (F / Florida)
32. Adrienne Motley (G / Miami (Fla.))

Some may argue that McCall should have heard her name called earlier but the Stanford post lands in a great spot: on a playoff team with veterans in the frontcourt (Erlana Larkins, Devereaux Peters, and the recently acquired Candice Dupree). Leading a Final Four team in multiple categories (points, rebounds, blocks) is a great sign for McCall. In Fitzgerald, Williams and Motley, the Fever have picks with track records of consistent point production.

29. Alexis Prince (G / Baylor)

Phoenix was the only team in the Draft with one selection and the Mercury added Prince, a 6-2 guard that can create her own shot toward the basket or hit from the outside. Her versatility will be needed for a Phoenix team that just made the playoffs last year.

WNBA Draft 2017: Temple's Fitzgerald Taken by Indiana in the Second Round

(Guru’s note: This report will be updated during Friday)

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK -  Temple's  second and third all-time women's basketball scorers behind Philadelphia Sports Hall of Famer Marilyn Stephens are about to become training camp teammates in the WNBA.

Senior Feyonda Fitzgerald became the fourth Owl in the history of the women's program to be picked  in the draft when she was made the eighth choice in the second round and 20th overall by the Indiana Fever Thursday here night.

That means she is now on the same team as Candice Dupree, the former Temple great she passed this season when Fitzgerald finished with 1,824 points ahead of Dupree (1,698), who was dealt to Indiana several months ago after becoming a multi-all-star in Phoenix with the Mercury.

The mega-deal also involved the Connecticut Sun along with Phoenix.

Dupree went to the then-expansion Chicago Sky in 2006 as the sixth overall pick of the first round before later moving on to Phoenix where she helped the Mercury become WNBA champions.

Fitzgerald, a native of Norfolk, Va., is a month removed from a disappointing finish to her collegiate career when Temple fell short by one point to eventual Elite Eight participant Oregon in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

However, she can now bask in the glow of becoming the second pick out of the program who was a recruit of Tonya Cardoza following Shey Peddie, who was a second round pick by Chicago in 2012.

Ironically, both picks were made by new Indiana coach Pokey Chatman, who was let go by the Sky after last season. She replaced Stephanie White who return to the colleges last winter taking the opening at Vanderbilt.

Fitzgerald was not one of the ten invitees here by the WNBA in terms of likely first-rounders so neither she nor coach Tonya Cardoza were on the scene at Samsung 837, the glitzy high-tech showcase in Manhattan's meat packing district by the High Line Park, when the picks were made.

The selection may look as a surprise to persons here using the handout draft guide since an oversight managed to have Fitzgerald omitted among the list of prospects.

However, there were indications in recent days that the Big 5 player of the year who gained several postseason accolades and all-American mention was a draft target of the Fever.

Dupree played for Dawn Staley, coach of the new NCAA champion South Carolina squad that had three players taken here in the first round.

Kamesha Hairston was the other Temple draft pick, taken by then-Connecticut coach Mike Thibault as the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 draft who also played for Staley, who also was recently named USA Women's Olympic coach for 2020.

Peddie never made an opening day roster. Several other Temple players who were not drafted have played with WNBA teams.

Chatman took one of the most honored collegians from the area in 2013, picking former Delaware superstar Elena Delle Donne second overall, and in 2015 made Rutgers’ Betnijah Laney of the state of Delaware a second round pick.

Fitzgerald averaged 17.3 points per game and 7.3 assists this past season in leading the Owls to a second-place finish behind Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference and a first NCAA appearance since 2011.

She is the first Big 5 player drafted since Saint Joseph’s Natasha Cloud went in the second round of the 2015 draft to Washington and since has become a Mystics mainstay and will enjoy Delle Donne as a teammate after the Wilmington native was dealt in a major offseason trade to Washington.

Indiana didn’t have a first round pick but added Stanford star Erica McCall as the 17th overall selection ahead of Fitzgerald since the Fever had three picks in the second round.

Fitzgerald set season (232) and career (635) records for assists.

“It was another opportunity to see a good point guard,” longtime Fever general manager Kelly Krauskopf said of the move to Fitzgerald. “You can never have enough of those and we were excited to get her. She’s a scoring point guard, but she averaged seven assists a game.

“She creates for herself and she creates for others. There was clearly an admiration for her skillset so far as scoring and handling the ball. She has a high IQ and we’re excited about bringing her to camp.”

“We’re ecstatic,” Chatman said of her overall haul. “When you’re sitting in the second round so many things can go so many different ways.

“Fitzgerald, she’s putting them up and she’s averaging seven assists a game. Plays for a fine coach who coached at Connecticut so you know the pedigree is there and just to stay in line with the type of players who have made Indiana successful.”

One is former Arizona State star Briann January, who has also dealt with injuries.

McCall was a surprise to not have gone in the first ten.

“They fit the image of an Indiana Fever basketball player in terms of their motor and energy,” Chatman  said of the four choices who also include former Florida player Ronni Williams and former Miami star Adrienne Motley. “It also shores up some of the core players and also competing to make us better.”

Added Krauskopf, “We were looking for some of the spots to fill. We were looking for some backup help in our training camp in our post area. And some backup help in guard area. All these players are talented players. All of them bring something to the table.

 “Camp is going to be competitive but it’s the WNBA. There’s only going to be 12 roster spots. There’s only 12 teams. There’s a lot of talent out there but we’re really happy with the mix of players that we got.”

 Training camps open a week from Sunday on April 23 and the 21st WNBA season begins May 13.

The Fever will host Washington in a preseason game on May 2, visit the Dallas Wings in another preseason game on May 6 and open the regular season on May 14 at the Seattle Storm.

Should Fitzgerald make the roster, the Fever visit Washington on June 11 at 3 p.m., and don’t visit the seaboard again until July 30 at Connecticut. They don’t visit New York until August 8, and then back at Washington on August 12.


WNBA Draft 2017: SEC Via SC Dominates the First Round

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference, the greatest college  basketball  conference for women, did just fine in the WNBA draft.

The players all know this is not where money will be made – that’s reserved for real seasons in Europe, Asia and Russia – but this is where reputations are enhanced.

After the obligatory pick of the consensus player of the year for the top pick, the SEC had the next three players chosen.

As the only All-American in the conference remains in college, none of them were All-American.

The guards were not first team all-conference by rival coaches. But all can surely play at the next level.

Alaina Coates of South Carolina was No. 2.

She missed the endgame of her team’s championship season, the conference tournament onward, with a severely sprained ankle.

Coates went to a rebuilt Chicago team which traded away Elena Della Donne for former UConn All-American center Stefani Dolson. They have a new coach, Amber Stocks, who had been an assistant with the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks. This was her first draft pick.

Evelyn Akhator of Kentucky was No. 3, the first UK pick since 2015.

She had a splendid two-year career after junior college and was All-SEC. New teammates, and former foes,  Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis  are also headed to Dallas.

Gray was a one-year wonder at national champions South Carolina, after sitting a year out as a transfer from North Carolina.

Her declaration to go pro as soon as she became eligible was undeclared as late as her announcement to join Coates at the draft site 10 days ago, not even known to her school’s sports information department.

At No. 10, the Wings reconnected Gray with SC’s other hired gun, Kaela Davis, also a one-year impact player after transferring in from Georgia Tech and also undeclared to the end.

Both of these guards were eligible for another year of college, but also eligible for the draft as four seasons had passed since high school. Neither earned a degree. But SC can claim three first-round picks nonetheless, another accolade for the national champions and a first in conference.
It reshuffles next season’s SEC season, of course, vaulting Mississippi State to the top of that heap.

The next two rounds are almost all about publicity as opposed to an actual WNBA career. Most of these players will get to a camp or two but most WNBA teams are drafting one-year rights to a player as emergency backups.

Foreign nationals who have not played in US college also begin to be selected as hunches.

In the second round, Tennessee’s Jordan Reynolds, a 5-11 guard, went to Atlanta. Hot shooting Ronni Willams of Florida went to Indiana. At  6-foot, she is a projected guard having played forward this season at depleted Florida.

In the final round, seldom-used 6-3 center Schaquilla Nunn of Tennessee went to San Antonio.

Makayla Epps, an All-SEC 5-10 guard from Kentucky, went to Chicago.

The Players

Coates is a burly center, one of the most feared “bigs” in the college game. When she and A’ja Wilson were together, the inside game was dominated by the Gamecocks.

Despite missing the tournament, Coates said she is blessed to have had four seasons at SC.

“Perfect your craft,” she said, “and show that you can be a really good teammate on and off the floor. How you play is a key factor, but at end of the day, they don’t want to deal with a top-of-the-line player that has a terrible attitude.

“So definitely make sure your style of play is consistent, and that you know how to act on and off the floor, especially for seniors.”

She drank in the entire draft experience.

“It’s really exciting, because I haven’t been to New York before,” she said.

“When the draft is over, my family and I are going to make a trip out of it. I really want to see the Statue of Liberty. For me, when I think of New York, it’s the Statue of Liberty.

“I can’t even lie – coach Staley spoiled us. So I’m probably going to miss that. But also the student section, and all of Gamecock nation, because they’ve just been super supportive.

“You kind of bring some of the old fan base with you wherever you go, but you do get attached to some people and get used to seeing the same people at every game. I think I’m going to miss that the most.”

Akhator, from Nigeria, is a 6-3 post player more suited to forward. She is an outstanding rebounder, dueling with Coates for best in the SEC.

After her apprenticeship at Chipola Community College, Marianna, Fla., she had her pick of the  major colleges after they won the national JC title.

At Kentucky, she stayed with her commitment even as six teammates fled after her junior year and was voted All SEC by the coaches.

She averaged a double-double (15.9 points, 10.8 rebounds), the  best in the SEC in rebounds and 11th nationally. She was fifth in national field goal percentage.

She was first encouraged to play at age 14. Her mom died in 2013, but her youth pastor and high school coach convinced her to play in honor of her mom and the path of life winds on.

 Gray was a home state girl who ended college back in South Carolina (though she attended high school in Georgia, where injuries eliminated her senior season).

At 6-foot even, she is a true guard and will not have the chance to slash and burn as much as she did in college. She thrived in the four-guard offense once Coates went out.

She hit 59 percent from the field in the NCAA eliminations, 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in the six games. Was all-regional and all-Final Four.

She has admired WNBA players for years.

“My favorite player is Diana Taurasi,” she said. “I’ve been watching her since her Connecticut days, and I’ve always just admired her work ethic and the way she can shoot the 3. I’m just honored to make it to this level. I view people like her as legends of the game.”

Her advice to players in college: “Listen to everything your coaches say. You may not see it now, but once you make that decision to leap to the next level, you’ll look back and see that you should definitely listen to your coaches. They know the game, and they teach you a lot.”

Davis, the No.10 pick, is a 6-2 guard who can slash and dash with the bigs.

She is from basketball-mad Indiana. At Georgia Tech, she was all-ACC as a sophomore and had already scored a program record with more than 1,000 points in 52 games.

Her dad, Antonio, played 13 NBA seasons and is an ESPN analyst. She dominated several games down the stretch for the Gamecocks. She and Gray are the first two transfers to win the NCAA title in their first years of eligibility at new schools and leave after one season.

Each were drafted well ahead of the self-proclaimed best guard in the NCAAs, a player from Notre Dame.

 “This year’s team was really special,” Davis said. “We got hit with a lot of different things, a lot of adversity and we found a way to pull it out and win the national championship. So just being part of that amazing group is something I’ll forever cherish.

“It’s a great time to be in women’s college basketball, and I think it’s definitely something I’ll miss.”

Of the WNBA players she admires, she said, “Candace Parker is my god sister, so to have her around is obviously all the influence you need. To grow up and just watch her, just seeing how she came from high school to being as successful as she is in the league, it’s definitely inspirational. She’s a great role model to have.”

She also said the draft visit to New York City was familiar to her.

“My dad played here for a year, so we’ve been here back and forth. I also have some family that lives here, so I’ve been here a few times. I still want to see the Empire State Building.”

Overall, she has an appreciation  of top-level athletes.

“Somebody I’ve always enjoyed following is Michael Phelps,” she said. “His kid is adorable. He lives this amazing life.

“It feels like he’s somewhere different every day, but he’s also someone that enjoys giving back.

“I also follow Elena Delle Donne, and I have a Great Dane as well, so it’s awesome to see how our dogs compare and stuff like that. Her dog is way calmer than mine, which I envy.”