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.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sun Home Opener: Connecticut "Paints" Phoenix

By Mel Greenberg

– No, I’m not having trouble knowing where I am as I begin this report.

It’s just that depending which local paper you read in these parts concerning the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, any of the previous three datelines have appeared to lead off reports on the professional women’s basketball court action at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment establishment.

A few days ago in the nation’s capitol, we gave you a basic news story in lieu of one that might have appeared in print because of the ongoing, but soon-to-end, mandated hiatus from a certain major metropolitan newspaper.

The fact the Connecticut Sun burned the Phoenix Mercury, 85-68, in the Mohegan Arena Saturday afternoon, in a battle of teams with solar origins, is incidental until more surplus time-off is similarly extinguished.

By the way, anyone reading this who has knowledge and/or expertise in equestrian events, specifically the Devon Horse Show in suburban Philadelphia, please contact this author immediately.

Apparently some people running our sports dept. (you know where) are interested in finding out what happens when a so-called expert writer is switched from covering jump shots to four-legged animals jumping gates.

But back to the narrative.

There’s not much to say about Saturday’s game because unlike a year ago, when Diana Taurasi proved she could be the same Darth Vader for the Mercury as a budding professional as she was as a collegian for the University of Connecticut, the Sun went through a shaky start and then went on to dominate the action the rest of the way.

How does a 42-10 advantage in favor of the Sun in the paint sound?

It sounded pretty good to veteran Connecticut forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and even felt better, as she scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Nykesha Sales, another former UConn star, had a strong second-half to finish with 21 points, and Katie Douglas also scored in double figures for the Sun with 11 points.

Anna DeForge led Phoenix with 20 points, and Taurasi scored 19 on a day in which the sellout crowd of 9,341 cheered her presence, but also jeered her on the foul line, showing newly developed loyalties to its own team.

“Last year, we were just a prop,” recalled Sun coach Mike Tibault.

Of course, Connecticut went on to collect props throughout the WNBA after advancing to the championship round and nearly beating Seattle before falling to the Storm in the deciding third game in the Northwest after each team had taken one of the first two contests.

This time around, the Sun, who raised the Eastern Conference championship banner in a pre-game ceremony, are picked to repeat last year’s achievement.

So for precise details on the game, go to WNBA.Com or your favorite media roundup, although some quotes will surface later in this report.

In the spirit of traveling to the casino, there was a little gambling involved in our trip here, some 200 miles northeast of Philadelphia near New London.

The first decision was which mode of transportation.

Amtrak originally indicated a sellout on all trains heading through New London, but later in the middle of Friday night, had a one seat indication.

Maybe the president of the U.S. has a point about Amtrak needing new management, because it did not clarify that either one seat was left on the entire train or I was entitled to buy one seat in coach.

Coupled with that ambiguity were some other barriers forcing a decision.

Example, when one arrives in New London, the fine folks who run a great operation here, have not figured out how to make transportation less than the $60 round-trip cab fare for the 20 miles each way between Mohegan and the train station.

One could get off in New Haven and rent a car, except it’s a holiday weekend and all categories were sold out in advance.

Unfortunately, the other option was jettisoned hours earlier when I withdrew a bid for celebrity chauffeur services from New Haven Register sportswriter Karen Tucker.

Option two became intriguing when it was determined a really, really cheap flight was available, round-trip, on short notice through Southwest Airlines to either Hartford or Providence, each location an hour away.

Yet another reason why a competitor continues its slide as the Rapidly Diminishing Dominant Airline in Philadelphia.

Of course, there’s also the real ongoing gamble: What are the odds a checked suitcase will arrive the same time I do on either end of the trip?

Also, when the rental car is factored in, although reasonable, the combination is the same as the train trip.

Sooo, we decided to roll the mythical dice, and attempt to drive here.

Well, surprise, surprise. We hit the highway jackpot because we made it here in near-record time, slightly over four hours, even with the usual New Haven tieup on I-95, although we found a nice scenic detour along the waterfront that helped ease the aggravation.

Driving also meant some other critical choices: Ipod or XM radio, which is playing cool programming all over its mega-dials this weekend.

We opted for Ipod with our 250-song 80s play list.

Counting Flowers With the Votes

Soon after our arrival here (yes, we are staying on site tonight, meaning there’s a bunch of restaurants from which the postgame media crowd will choose), we headed to the interview room where new WNBA president Donna Orender kicked off balloting for the All-Star game.

Nykesha Sales was photographed casting a vote, although she pointed out it was “an acting job” because players don’t vote.

Orender announced a new promotional partner for the balloting: 1-800-Flowers.Com.
To which we suggested a theme for the effort: Put your petal to the mettle.

Banner Afternoon

Soon thereafter, the Sun had a pre-game ceremony raising the banner.

Former star backup point guard Debbie Black was in the house for the event. Now an assistant coach for Ohio State, the one-time St. Joseph’s sensation in the late 1980s, was here for the festivities.

McWilliams-Franklin said her focus during the ceremony was for the game at-hand.

“Last year we lost 9 out of our first 11, something like that. You don’t want to start out the season like that, she added.
“I never watched the banner go up. I just focused to the other end of the court. It’s great for our fans. But I really wanted to be into the game. I wanted everybody to be into it and not worry about the hoopla going on, even though it’s our accomplishment.
“That (ceremony) tends to fire the other team up. Because they didn’t get one. And they want one. And they always use that as a starting point.”

Same Time, New Year
Lindsay Whalen was also a bit player in last season’s game, entering as one of the top draft choices but overshadowed by the darling of Connecticut fans. By season’s end, the former Minnesota star was one of the best rookies of the year behind Taurasi.

“Different in the column, different in the feel,” Whalen said of becoming acclimated to the WNBA action and of being on the winning side against Phoenix, Saturday. “It was good.”

A year ago, Taurasi, fresh off winning a third straight NCAA title, being picked for the Olympic team, and becoming the No. 1 pick in the draft, was mobbed on the court by the media for pre-game interviews, and then held a separate interview session after the game to facilitate activities.

On Saturday, she was just one of the team in the Phoenix dressing room.

“Obviously, we just didn’t get the job done. We’re going to have to go to Phoenix and get re-settled and re-focused.”

As for the Sun, Taurasi observed, “They’re the most balanced team in the league. Lindsay is coming into her own right now. You can tell.
There’s no weakness. They had a whole year together and they all came back.”

As for us, we had planned to be in Washington Wednesday for Mystics coach Richie Adubato’s first game against his former New York Liberty team.
But events may dictate otherwise.

Either way,

Until next post:


Friday, May 27, 2005

Holdsclaw Sparks Los Angeles Over Former Team

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ On a night that Lisa Leslie, one of the WNBA’s elite stars, was in single digits with eight points and eight rebounds, Chamique Holdsclaw, another premium talent, tormented her former Washington Mystics’ squad with 27 points and 10 rebounds Thursday night to help the Los Angeles Sparks to an 84-75 victory in the MCI Center that Holdsclaw had called home for the previous six seasons in the WNBA.

The native of New York was traded on March 21, per her request for a fresh start, in exchange for all-star DeLisha Milton-Jones, another all-star, and a first-round draft pick.
Her 10th point Thursday night made her the sixth player in WNBA history to score 3,000 career points.

The victory gave the Sparks a 2-1 record in the early season, while the Mystics fell to 1-2 in the game between cross-conference teams.

Milton-Jones was part of the equation in Thursday night’s game when the tough defender drew her sixth foul to leave the contest with 1 minute, 2 seconds left in the game and the Mystics trailing 76-73.

It was a call that did not sit well with new Washington Mystics coach Richie Adubato, who may be donating some cash to charity today for comments made afterwards in the post game press conference.

“They have a new rule that you can’t touch people in the backcourt,” Adubato said. “But sometimes your better judgment says, `73-70, it’s a great game, I may not call this little touch foul that’s going to put the star out of the game and hurt the other team.”

Tamika Whitmore, who once played for Adubato with the New York Liberty until last season, added 21 points for the Sparks, and Nikki Teasley scored 11.

Charlotte Smith-Taylor led the Mystics with 17 points, Chasity Melvin scored 16, and rookie Laurie Koehn out of Kansas State sizzled with 15 points, shooting 4-for-7 on three-point attempts.

Overall, Washington set a WNBA record with 15 treys, breaking the previous mark of 14, and statistic that helped the Mystics build a 40-28 advantage late in the first half until the Sparks whittled the deficit to 40-36 at the end of the period.

Los Angeles was able to prevail, in part, with a 30-for-33 effort from the foul line, while Washington was 6-for-12.

Unlike the Sparks’ previous visit for an exhibition game several weeks ago, the amount of jeers for Holdsclaw was quite reduced.

Prior to the opening tip, new part-owner Sheila Johnson, a co-founder of the Black Entertainment Television network, who gained control of the Mystics Wednesday, promised the crowd that this would become the “best Mystics franchise ever.”

The Mystics were without second-year star Alana Beard, who is still hobbled with a right-ankle sprain. She is expected to return Wednesday when Adubato will face his former team for the first time this season, which will occur here.

Meanwhile, new Sparks coach Henry Bibby was pleased with the way the his team recovered from Wednesday’s 68-65 loss in Minnesota to the Lynx.

“They felt the loss last night (Wednesday) and that was what I was hoping for,” Bibby said. “We haven’t had that before. Last night was hopefully a little wake-up call to let them know, `You aren’t as good as you think you are, and you gotta go out and play every night, that league has gotten better each year, it doesn’t matter what you did two-three years ago. It’s what’s you’re doing now.”

Although Bibby had preferred a zone defense, he said he was ready to change things up once Washington proved the Mystics could hit three pointers.

As for Holdsclaw’s game in which she had her third straight double double, Bibby said, “She’s just a quiet player. She doesn’t demand the basketball. It’s kind of Lisa Leslie’s team.

“She’s come in and kinda of likes not being the high profile player. She quietly gives you tough baskets every night.”

Holdsclaw said of her performance, “I’m happy to redeem myself for last night’s game (in Minnesota).”

WNBA musings.

Former Boston Celtics star Dave Cowens was announced as the coach of the expansion Chicago team which will begin play next summer.

Bibby was unaware of the news but reacted by saying, “I’m sure that’s going to be a physical team, push, hold, take charge and all of that if they’re going to take on the personality of Dave Cowens.

New York is 0-2 after losing a second-straight home game, this time to the Indiana Fever, 67-59. The Charlotte Sting is still looking for the win column after three games, following a 68-58 loss at home to the Phoenix Mercury.

Next stop – Connecticut on Saturday for the annual Diana Taurasi homecoming with Phoenix.

-- Mel

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Unanswered Questions

By Mel Greenberg

Tuesday's announcement that Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson had become part-owner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and will run the team as president left a few unanswered questions, based on the account of the transaction by the Washington Post and Associated Press.

The Washington Times' internet site did provide not coverage of the deal at the time we decided to make some commentary.

What was reported is that Johnson is a philanthropist and chief executive of Salamander Hospitality LLC and is also the former wife of Bobby Johnson, who owns the NBA Charlotte Bobcats and WNBA's Charlotte Sting.

Abe Pollin, chairman of of Washington Sports and Entertainment, sold the rights to the Mystics to Lincoln Holdings, LLC., whose majority owner and chairman is Ted Leonsis.

The group also owns the NHL's Washington Capitals and has a stake in the MCI Center and NBA's Washington Wizards, which Pollin said he does not expect to yield anytime soon.

Sheila Johnson will have a stake in all three franchises, which is believed to make her the first black woman involved in part-ownership of three professional sports teams.

NBA president David Stern, who was at the press conference in Washington along with new WNBA president Donna Orender, said that the price for a WNBA team is $10 million.

That's the fee the Mohegan Indian Tribe spent several years ago to take over the former Orlando team and bring it to their Mohegan Sun Casino and entertainment establishment.

Cynics have noted they probably got their investment back within several days of the purchases due to the daily influx of cash at the complex in Uncasville, Conn., near New London.

Chicago real estate investor Michael Alter also paid that sum for the new team that will begin play next season in the Windy City.

Thus, question No. 1, and remember we're asking these in the middle of the night writing this and not attuned earlier to the news when the announcement was made.

That's the price of enjoying some mandated time off from the print side of our operation.

Back to the question.

Who gets the $10 million -- Pollin or the WNBA?

When the Mohegans bought the team, Orlando had given it back to the NBA, which then owned all the WNBA teams and was in the middle of changing the WNBA business structure to individual control.

The transactions were never reported involving the NBA groups who retained operations of their sister squads such as the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets.

Technically, they had already paid for a stake in running teams at the outset, but perhaps not $10 million.

Alter's purchase involved a brand new team, so that is oboviously purchased from the league.

Potentially, Pollin could have given the team back to the league in a cash transaction before the onwership transferred.

That could mean $20 million has come into WNBA hands through these two recent deals in Chicago and Washington, one reason why the women's pro basketball operation is now perceived much healthier than several seasons ago.

Moving on to question No. 2.

Susan O'Malley held the presidential title and ran the Mystics before the sale and she was able to get Tennessee coach Pat Summitt involved in front-office activities involving player personnel decisions.

So, is O'Malley's involvement totally gone and, if so, will Summitt still hang around especially since her former Volunteer star Chamique Holdsclaw was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks in the offseason?

Audition time?

It was funny in New York on Sunday when Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer mentioned that he would not be interested in an NBA coaching job until his daughter graduated high school.

Asked when that would be, he wisecraced: "In about a week."

The incident is recalled only because on Tuesday night with the Shock trailing the San Antonio Silver Stars late in the game, Laimbeer turned over operation of the team to assistants Rick Mahorn, who is new this season, and Laurie Bird.

Laimbeer decided to try something different since he didn't think he was motivated his team.

The Shock rallied and stayed unbeaten in a comeback almost similar to Afleet Alex's stumble and recovery to win the Preakness, Saturday.

So, maybe he knows that the Shock would be in good hands if another opportunity comes his way.

Incidentally, when Mahorn was a player with the 76ers in Philadelphia, he often attended St. Joseph's women's games in the early 1990s.

Laimbeer's move recalls a time veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta pulled a similar stunt with his Wildcats trailing in a game early in his career.

Perretta took a brief hiatus for several minutes and then called a timeout.

"Now that we know your way isn't working, let's try mine?" he said.

Villanova rallied and went on to become part of Perretta's victory collection which is now more than 500 triumphs.

The Role Model's Role Model

As much as Temple women's coach, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and WNBA all-star point guard Dawn Staley has been a role model to many aspiring young women's players, her own role model is back in Philadelphia as the new coach of the NBA's 76ers.

That would be Maurice Cheeks, who Staley says has always been her favorite when he played for the team he will now coach.

“That's my all time favorite player," Staley said Tuesday from Charlotte after practicing with the Sting.

"I respect him as a player, a man and as a coach, " she added. " I hate to see (Jim) O'Brien go, because I'm a coach.

"Although I haven't lost a coaching job before, I think I have an idea of what that feels like. But, it's (hiring Mo) a no brainer. I just wish it could have happended sooner, another person has lost his job.”

Staley also gave her viewpoint as an observer of the 76ers.

“I'm happy as a fan, as a 76ers fan," the former Dobbins High and Virginia star said. "To have Mo Cheeks on the bench leading the way, I know I'll make it to more games now.”

Staley, by the way, was named on Tuesday's winner of the Wannamaker Award, a top honor to a Philadelphia sports star or team given annually.

It is her second Wanamaker award and she's the only individual woman to have been so honored. The Villanova team was cited two years ago when the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA elite eight and also ended then-powerful Connecticut's NCAA-record 70-game win streak, which occurred in the Big East title game.

As for us, our next game will be in Washington, co-incidentally, Thursday night when the Los Angeles Sparks visit.

Until then,

-- Mel

Monday, May 23, 2005

Shock and Sun Spoil Liberty. Mystics Home Openers

By Mel Greenberg in New York
and Jonathan Tannenwald in Washington

NEW YORK – The Detroit Shock completed a powerful two-game opening weekend sweep at the outset of the WNBA season, Sunday, by building a 15-point first-half lead and holding off the New York Liberty for a 78-71 victory in Madison Square Garden.

The second win in 48 hours for Detroit spoiled New York's season opener and gained a touch of revenge for the Shock's ouster by the Liberty in the playoffs.

It was here last September that a buzzer-beater in the second game of the first round in the playoffs brought Detroit’s defense of the 2003 championship to an official and unhappy conclusion.

“We definitely remember that,” center Ruth Riley recalled the season-ending loss.
“It was a great opportunity for us in that game and we let it go by. Obviously losing on a last-second shot, it’s something you remember in your entire off-season,” she added after scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds against New York.

“Now, we’re a new team, we’re a different team and we’re ready to go.”

The Shock, who got 15 points and 18 rebounds from third-year veteran Cheryl Ford, dominated the boards with a 52-33 advantage, including 17-5 on the offensive end.

The winners’ total off the boards was a team record.

Detroit arrived here fresh off Saturday’s home opener, a 78-67 victory over the defending Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun in Auburn Hills, Mich.

In that game, rookie Kara Braxton, a former Georgia player who was the eighth overall draft pick last April, made her WNBA debut with 18 points. Veteran guard Deanna Nolan, also a Georgia graduate, became the fourth player in league history to score a triple double with 11 points, 11 assists – a team record, and 10 rebounds.

Connecticut recovered to salvage a 69-67 triumph in Washington against the Mystics after Washington had romped over the Charlotte Sting on the road, Saturday, as Katie Douglas scored 16 points, including four foul shots in the final half-minute.

Nolan had 17 points here against the Liberty, Sunday.

Ford said after the Shock triumph over New York that “intensity” is a key to her team becoming successful as it was when the Shock dethroned the Los Angeles Sparks for the 2003 title.

“That’s what coach (Bill) Laimbeer puts on the blackboard before every game,” Ford said. “`Forty minutes of intensity’.

“If we keep that up, and execute our plays and play defense, then nobody can stop us.”
Elaine Powell added 10 points to the Shock attack.

New York launched a second-half rally, erasing the deficit for a short-lived two-point lead at 53-51 with 10 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game.

But the Shock quickly regained the advantage of a three-point play from Nolan and was able
to stay enough ahead of the Liberty in the closing minutes to determine the outcome.

Becky Hammon got 14 of her game-high 24 points in the second half for New York, which shot 31.4 percent for the game.

Veteran Vickie Johnson scored 16 points, and center Ann Wauters scored 14 with a team-high eight rebounds.

“We battled back, but you just can’t shoot the ball like that and win games,” Hammon said of New York’s offensive misery.

Detroit continued to play without Swin Cash, the former Connecticut star who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the playoffs.

Laimbeer has targeted June 3 for her return.

“We’re going to take it slow, because as you see we’re a very deep team. We’re in no hurry and we’re not panicking,” the former Detroit Pistons star said.

“We want her back badly, because she’s a great player.

“This year, we’re very driven, we’re very into each other. The chemistry is outstanding. They cheer for each other. They don’t care who’s doing it out there, as long as somebody is doing it.”

Laimbeer was asked about his interest in the New York Knicks’ NBA vacant coaching job if it becomes vacant, considering his connection to Knicks general manager Isaiah Thomas from their playing days in Detroit.

“I’m having so much fun doing what I’m doing now,” Laimbeer said. “I’m not going to leave Detroit until my daughter graduates high school.

“Then, we’ll see if something comes my way. If something comes my way, then, super, we’ll give it a try,” he continued.

Then asked when his daughter will graduate, Laimbeer smiled and said, “About a week from now.”

Garden Party

The announced crowd of 12,543 persons included former WNBA president Val Ackerman, who resigned in February and was honored by the Liberty.

Former La Salle women’s coach John Miller was seen on press row scouting for the Charlotte Sting.

Former Vanderbilt guard Ashley McElhiney, who will become an assistant women's coach at Alabama, was also seen in the building.
McElhiney coached the Nashville Rhythm, a men’s professional team in the American Basketball Association, last winter until the owner fired her in a dispute over her unwillingness to bench a player.
She was the first woman to coach a men’s professional team.
"It's a good opportunity," McElhiney said of joining the Crimson Tide, a rival of her alma mater in the Southeastern Conference. "I still have a lot to learn."

Sun over Mystics

WASHINGTON _ Greetings from the nation’s capital, where the defending Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun spoiled the Washington Mystics’ home opener Sunday night, 69-67, as both teams finished 1-1 on the opening weekend.

It was a very back-and-forth game, with seven lead changes and a big run for each team in each half. The Mystics raced out to a 11-2 lead in the first five minutes, but the Sun came back slowly and by halftime were up 40-35.

In the second half it was the Mystics’ turn to rally, going from 48-41 down four and half minutes in to as much as 61-56 up with 4:29 to play.

But the home side’s offense fell silent from there, failing to score until a 25-foot bomb of a three-pointer by Laurie Koehn with 11 seconds to play. Koehn hit another long-range three at the buzzer but it was too little, too late.

Adubato At Ease

New Mystics coach Richie Adubato wasn’t too upset after the game, mostly because his team hadn’t really been together until the last few days before the season started.

Ten Mystics played abroad in the offseason, with forward Delisha Milton-Jones – who was acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent Chamique Holdsclaw to Los Angeles – not arriving in Washington until a week ago.

She spent the offseason partly in South Korea and partly in Spain.

Forward Chastity Melvin was another important late arrival, having spent the offseason in Israel where she was named the MVP of that league for the year.

Before the game, Adubato said that “we got through maybe 75 percent of our stuff” in the pre-season and “probably about 50 percent of the playbook.”

“That's all we could do,” he said, “because every time we went in a certain direction we had to re-teach all the new people that came in.”

That philosophy was repeated after the game in Adubato’s press conference, at which there were three TV cameras and a pretty full complement of reporters.

“When the pressure gets on, it’s even harder for the people who are trying to figure out where they are supposed to go,” the former New York Liberty coach said. “The effort was there, but our precision isn’t here yet.”

The punishment for the late-game collapse is not having Monday off, although Adubato said the practice would be late in the day.

“We will go over all of our plays until it becomes second nature to us, and especially in the clutch,” he said.

Size mattered

As for other particulars in the game, the smoke hadn't even cleared yet from the Mystics' flashy player introduction ceremony when it became clear that the home team was at a bit of a size disadvantage against the visiting Sun.

Chastity Melvin, the 6-foot-3, six-year WNBA veteran had to jump the ball against 7-foot-2 Poland native Margo Dydek, in her seventh year in the league.

“There’s no defense for Margo,” said Melvin, who played with Dydek for two seasons in Poland. “It’s all about what Margo wants to do and how she wants to come out and play.”

Neither Dydek nor the rest of her team came out to play early on. The Mystics scored the game's first six points and the Sun missed their first nine goal attempts, managing only two made free throws from Nykesha Sales in the first five minutes. Dydek only took one of those shots.

When the Sun finally scored a field goal, a spinning floater from second-year guard Lindsay Whalen 14:50 into the game, the Mystics led 11-4.

Dydek finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, three assists and four blocks in 20 minutes. She forced the Mystics out to the perimeter more often than they might otherwise have been, as the Sun employed a zone defense when Dydek was on the floor.

“We have a pretty good strategy against her, at least we have had it in the past,” Adubato said referring to when he and assistant Jeff House were with the Liberty in New York. “I can tell you that, but let me put it this way– she has never really burned us and she can have big games.”

At the other end of the height scale, the Mystics’ 5-foot-2 rookie point guard, Temeka Johnson, brought the crowd to its feet on quite a few occasions with fast drives to the basket. The LSU graduate, who took the Lady Tigers to the final four twice, ended the game with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, a game-high seven assists, two rebounds and one steal.

“For her to come in and play the way she played in these two games, right out of college in the pros, was just tremendous,” Adubato said.

Beard still sidelined

Other odds and ends: Mystics guard Alana Beard wore street clothes during the game after warming up in her practice uniform before tipoff. She is still recovering from a sprained ankle, and Adubato said that his best estimate is that she’ll play a week from Wednesday when the Liberty come to town. Beard, on the other hand, said she’s “probable” for Thursday. Believe who you want.

“She’s very optimistic that she can get back, and I’m glad to see that spirit,” Adubato said. “When Kobe turned his ankle [this past season], they said it was going to be two weeks and it was four.”

He added, “I hope she makes a fool out of me.”

Gee Wizards

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Michael Ruffin sat courtside opposite press row and got a loud ovation from the MCI Center fans. Arenas and Ruffin led the Mystics' co-tenants to their first playoff series win since 1982 last month. For many of the 11,155 in attendance tonight, that was the first time in their lives that the Washington NBA franchise made it that far in the postseason.

Sun coach Mike Thibault was assessed a technical foul for arguing with the referees at the 12:47 mark of the first half. He never really quieted down but on more than a few occasions later in the game he pleaded his case to the fans behind the basket instead of to the refs.

Apaprently the so-called 'pocket' motorbikes that caused quite a bit of controversy in Philadelphia last year aren't illegal in Washington. The Mystics mascot, Charm, was seen scooting around the MCI Center floor on one during a second-half timeout.

If you've ever wondered what the black pager-like devices are that the referees wear on their belts, they are used to reset the shot clock.

Holdsclaw, who was in town for an exhibition game several weeks ago will return Thursday night in a game that will count. Milton-Jones, still overseas at the time, did not not play in that contest.

Mel note: Jonathan will be assisting us with reports from D.C. this summer when we are not on the scene due to conflicts in Eastern seaboard games.

-- Later.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

WNBA Season #9 -- Thoughts and Observations.

By Mel Greenberg

What to do on the eve of the ninth WNBA season?

(A.) Figure out how to manage the last 30 megs on my 30-gig iPod (third generation)?
(B.) Watch the late-night HBO movie?
(C.) Say something about the months to come?
(D.) All of the above.

We’ll go with (D), but begin with ©.

Forecasted several seasons ago for extinction in the not-too-distant-future, the WNBA has now matched the proverbial cat with its ninth life and more to come in future seasons as competition for the 2005 championship begins Saturday.

The obvious is out there in preview stories all over the internet:

New president: Former PGA Tour executive Donna Orender, a former all-American player at Queens College.

New coaches (sort-of): Henry Bibby, former Southern Cal men’s coach takes over the Los Angeles Sparks; Former veteran New York Liberty coach Richie Adubato is now running the show in Washington with the Mystics; Dan Hughes, former coach of the defunct Cleveland Rockers, is saddled up with the San Antonio Silver Stars; Patty Coyle begins the season in her own right with the New York Liberty after handling the team on an interim basis after Adubato was dismissed on July 4th weekend last summer.

New players: Wheeling and dealing through trades and free-agency, along with acquisitions through the draft, has most teams with altered profiles, notably Los Angeles where Chamique Holdsclaw is now alongside Lisa Leslie after being traded by the Washington Mystics for DeLisha Milton-Jones.

An excellent story on the Holdsclaw sage can be found in today’s editions of the Orange County Register by our former Inquirer colleague Marcia C. Smith.

I’d give you all the link, but I haven’t figured out yet how to create one in the template on this site in which this copy is implanted.

Speaking of new, the WNBA.COM has undergone a makeover that has new features and a feel that allows various persons following the league to pursue their interests. It will be a little confusing at first, but it will become familiar as you learn where items are from which you derive interest.

Changing the Mix

Judging by opening day rosters, the original charter members of the 1997 season are down to single digits, such as Leslie, and several of those missed full seasons due to injuries and pregnancies.

It’s a healthy mix in which the group is more about who will be with the league in the years to come as compared to who’s been around in years past.

Training Camp Blues

May is the cruelest month in the WNBA season because the late arrivals of American and foreigner players from overseas competition usually means the “real competitive basketball” may not surface for several weeks as teams seek to find their cohesiveness or “chemistry” as coaches will say.

Dan Hughes noted that he has less time now to put a team together than the early days when play began in early June.

That’s not the only difference:

“I see more competitiveness than I saw when I first went to Cleveland, in 2000,” said Hughes, who also coached the Charlotte Sting prior to his days near the shoreline of Lake Erie.
“The teams, the difference between team A, team B, team C and team D, it’s way more comparative.
“When I look at the depth on the team, I see more veteran players in that depth position, in those rotation positions. I see a mixture of youth and veteran play and the middle minutes of a WNBA game are far more substantial to maybe five years ago.”

Leslie Analysis

Lisa Leslie spoke of the evolvement of the league since her rookie season at the WNBA's outset in 1997.

“We see how the collegians coming into the league through the draft are impacting each team,” Leslie noted. “We’re getting faster. Players are jumping higher, shooting the ball better. We’re continuing to do better in understanding what it means to be professionals.

“Everyody doesn’t necessarily make a great impact their first year because it’s a whole shell shock. It’s different. It’s faster. You have a lot of veterans who have been here and are a little more savy.

“You never know how a rookie is going to help you, but they are going to impact a lot sooner than rookies did in the past,” Leslie said.

“Seniors in college are working hard because they know what the next level is. For us, we have to watch the college game to see who the future competition is, and who’s coming in.

“Before, I wasn’t really into it. Now, I know who’s in the draft in this league and what they can do,” Leslie said.

She also got a hands-on experience near the collegiate game broadcasting for ESPN during the winter.

Sunset and Dawn

Meanwhile, down at Charlotte, there's an urgency to win this year as veteran Dawn Staley nears the end of her playing career.

“I try to take it day by day, but I can honestly say if I win a WNBA championship, I am done, Staley told the Associated Press.

“I think I can prepare my body to do another year after this one,” Staley, who coaches the Temple women’s team in Philadelphia in the winter, added. “I just can’t see it after that. I really can’t. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s enough is enough.”

Day After Day

The trick for many teams in the early phase of the season is to stay in the hunt.

“It’s going to be a war every night and we have to be ready every single night because you’re not getting a night off,” New York’s Coyle said.

Well, there will be one, sort of. That will be on July 9 when the WNBA All-Star game appears at the home of the Connecticut Sun.

The competition for positions in that event will be just as fierce as the battle for WNBA supremacy, while ultimately be decided in an expanded best-of-five game playoff format in the championship round,.

The team with the best record will begin that series at home instead of on the road under the old best-of-three format.

We’ll be back Sunday night after this weekend’s activity concludes.

-- Mel

P.S. – Does anyone know a way to safely shave my 8,000-plus song collection on the iPod? :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pearls From the Prez

By Mel Greenberg

The first in the annual trifecta of teleconference previews leading into the WNBA season launched on Tuesday with the outlook on the season and state of the league from a presidential viewpoint.

The Eastern coaches will have their say on Wednesday, followed by the Western coaches on Thursday, and then the ninth season will kick off on Saturday.

Tuesday's question and answer session was different than the past eight seasons because the person talking from the WNBA oval office was no longer Val Ackerman, who stepped down in February, but her successor Donna Orender.

The 100-day start of the Orender era is not even at midpoint, but there is a difference in style.

Ackerman exhibited a stance of cautious optimism, never allowing herself to predict things that might fail to become realities.

Orender, on the other hand, is showing a manner in which she expects the WNBA to be around a long, long time.

It's not that Ackerman didn't believe that. She just refrained from putting specifics on the table in public gatherings.

The former president spoke about growth and expansion without zooming in on potential markets in the conversation.

Orender gave a more aggressive outlook Tuesday when the question quickly came to the fore from the Bay Area in Northern California.

"As we look at creating strategic growth for this league, adding a team to the league in every year following that (the launch of Chicago in 2006.)," Orender said.

While she used the Ackerman approach in saying the league and persons from several markets around the country were in discussion, she mentioned San Francisco as a prime objective and talked about mutual interest from the league and "individuals" that could result in a team.

This certainly had to create a stir in what is a viable women's market. Stanford University has had a strong following in the collegiate women's game. The former American Basketball League had its origins in the Bay Area with a team in San Jose.

Several years ago, San Jose appeared on the way to landing a team, but, according to Amy Love, a member of the local sports council, the investment community backed off in the wake of the demise of the Women's United Soccer Association and uneasiness about how long the WNBA might last.

At the time, the pro women's basketball league was undergoing a change with a new business model and several teams either relocating or closing shop.

However, with the WNBA appearing more stable and some teams nearing or topping the break-even point, financially, perceptions might be evolving also about the league's future health.

Michelle Smith, a veteran sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle, who asked the question on expansion possibilities, might have some extensive reporting on the issue in Wednesday's editions.

Orender also said the league would soon announce some new sponsors, in fact she was ready to name them, Tuesday, but refrained until the deals are actually sealed.

She also noted the league is trying to find solutions to training camp difficulties caused by absent players -- Americans and foreigners -- still finishing up competition in Europe.


This is the time of the year sports agent Boris Lelchitsky dreads the most.

"It's terrible," Lelchitsky said from South Carolina on Tuesday. "Every May 15-20. The phone rings all day long."

The reason: WNBA teams are making their final cuts and Lelchitsky has to try to get his clients placed with either other WNBA teams or elsewhere until they get another shot at a chance to make a pro roster in the U.S.


Keep an eye on the Los Angeles scene as the Sparks try to correct last season's early ejection from the playoffs by the Sacramento Monarchs.

According to a colleague who attended the team's media day on Monday, new coach Henry Bibby proclaimed Chamique Holdsclaw the best player in the WNBA.

In case he hasn't noticed her, the Sparks roster also contains one Lisa Leslie, who arguably already has that reputation, so this could get interesting.

Holdsclaw arrived in a deal from six seasons of agony with the Washington Mystics for Delisha Milton-Jones.

The native New Yorker and former Tennessee star was looking to fit in as part of a system in which she wouldn't have to be the single focus as she was in the nation's capital. Time will tell whether Bibby's proclamation was either to provide and ego boost, or an inadvertent move that might ultimately cause an imbalance to Sparks' chemistry.

Holdsclaw will return with her new team to Washington on Tuesday in a game that counts this time.

She said she was "glad to get that one over with" on a recent visit in an exhibition game, but "that one" didn't have the former Sparks star Milton-Jones involved with the Mystics or second-year star Alana Beard, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Furthermore, most of the local media who were antagonists in Holdsclaw's past were either covering the new major league baseball team or helping with playoff coverage of the brother NBA Washington Wizards.

When a Washington Times writer approached Holdsclaw, she declined to talk about the past and said the interview would immediately end if the discussion did not remain in the present tense.

Swooping it Up

Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor is impressed by the play to date of his veteran star Sheryl Swoopes, who was one of the founding players of the WNBA along with former New York Liberty center Rebecca Lobo and the Sparks' Leslie.

Guys Allowed.

Despite a national sports magazine (SI) that predicted before the college women's season that men wouldn't be hired much as head coaches at that level, former St. Joseph's assistant Joe Logan has landed the Loyola of Maryland job and apparently veteran Texas Tech assistant Linden Weese, who resigned Tuesday, is also about to get a head coaching job.

That's it for now

-- Mel

Monday, May 09, 2005

Mojitos and Defending Champs in the Big Apple

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK _ In the spirit of the eve of the Kentucky Derby, which was about to occur miles away from this major metropolis well below the Mason-Dixon Line, our WNBA friends in the home office introduced us to a Mojito, Friday night, at a Gotham dining establishment.

The libation recalled to mind the fabled Mint Julip, which was probably being sipped in large quantities at the same time in Derbytown.

In a sense, it was an appropriate offering, because one of the purposes of our visit was to discuss a horse race of a different sort – the approaching WNBA season.

On hand prior to our social engagement, were two of the key players involved in last year’s triumphant finish _ the Seattle Storms’ center Lauren Jackson, and guard Betty Lenox, the former Louisiana Tech star who was voted the most valuable player in the playoff finals.

As for starting out this season with the mantle of defending champion, Jackson, also one of the stars of the Olympic runnersup to the United States in Athens, said that things in that regard were not much different than the mindset in Seattle this time a year ago.

“The championship was great, but we have to get back down to business now and training camp is always hard, no matter what,” Jackson said.

“We have a lot of new players on our team, so it’s a huge rebuilding process we’re going through,” she added.

Seattle lost three key players through free agency: forward Sheri Sam, guard Tully Bevilaqua, and center Kamila Vodichkova.

“That’s just the nature of the business, though,” Lennox said. “You’re hardly ever going to see a team with the same faces on it (year to year). We have to put what we accomplished last year behind us, because that’s already been accomplished.

“Now, we are looking forward to accomplishing the same thing again.”

Jackson noted that “We still have Betty, Sue (Bird), and myself and the Storm is trying to rebuild around us. I think we’re going to be fine.”

Ok, we asked the Aussie about the brief hubbub over here at Stateside in early summer when it was learned she had offered bare facts along with other national team members from Down Under in a photographic essay before the games began in Athens.

“There was a bit of controversy over here,” Jackson said, “But at the end of the day, I do what I want to do. I guess I was a little naïve in thinking it wouldn’t cause too much of a stir that I was naked.”

As for Lennox on the team reaction at the time, she opined, “You can do what you want to do off the court, so I’m a supporter.”

“Hey, you liked the photos,” Jackson jested to her.

As for living in Seattle, Jackson noted the city along the waterfront is similar to places in her native country.

Lennox, on the other hand, grew up in Missouri.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit different with more things to do,” she said. “But the people are about the same in that they are always ready to welcome you.”

Jackson credited coach Anne Donovan in making her feel more comfortable in playing inside the post.

“I feel honored to be able to play under her,” Jackson said of the former Old Dominion all-American and Olympic gold medallist.

Lennox talked about her former coach Leon Barmore, a Hall of Famer who is retired but has expressed interest in becoming a coach in the WNBA.

“I think he could do a great job in this league as a coach because he’s one of the legends,” Lennox said. “But where he might run into problems is his aversion to flying. You have to be around him long enough to know, he’s just not good with the planes.”

She mentioned the ongoing travel and the physical play are the key adjustments collegians need to make in making the transition to the pro women’s basketball league.

Jackson said her only problem her first season when she was the No. 1 draft pick, overall, was “getting over homesickness. But that was probably it. Maybe, the age thing, too, because I came in young (at age 19).”

Lennox had a few words of praise for rookie guard Tanisha Wright, the former Penn State star guard who was drafted by Seattle in April.

“I feel like I’m watching me,” Lennox said of Wright’s game. “She does a lot of things I used to do when I was young and I can just see her growing into this league. She’s a great defender and a great competitor, and just having that chip on her shoulder is going to make her a better defender.”

Both players enjoyed the fact that the team spent several days on the road together last week.

“We had a great time, and we needed it to bond together. And we need to stop the two-a-days (practice sessions), the two-a-days are killing us,” Jackson explained.

As for newcomers in the league, Jackson said she was impressed by (Minnesota’s) Nicole Ohlde and (Connecticut’s) Lindsay Whalen besides the obvious addition in former Connecticut star Diana Taurasi with the Phoenix Mercury.

Lennox was quick to inject Alana Beard’s name, the former Duke star with the Washington Mystics.

“She’s a great impact, as well. She’s going to be a great, great player in this league.”

Incidentally, we returned to Manhattan the next day, this time by car, to take in the Storm's exhibition game in Madison Square Garden against the New York Liberty.

The highlight of the trip north on the New Jersey Turnpike was counting billboards (one in total) displaying a massive ad featuring the face of an Inquirer columnist, who now has a radio show in town here.

Although his face looks out in the direction from which airplanes touch down at Newark Liberty Airport, there have been no reports out of the Federal Aviation Administration suggesting pilots are being distracted by the reflective sun-lit glow off the image as they make their final approach to the runway.

Next up: Chamique returns to D.C.

-- Mel

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Bookstore Technology

By Mel Greenberg

Mount Laurel, N.J. at a table in a bookstore cafe located near an A.C. outlet with a high speed wireless access -- Hello all.

This note will be short, since it is originating from a national bookstore chain that will be closing in 25 minutes.

This experiment for about the price of going to a movie was tonight's entertainment to test high speed access out of the office since we are currently off the print edition for the neary future.

But we will continue here and, in fact, for you WNBA fans, we are currently exploring a setup that will enable to get expanded reports from teams and writers at the various cities.

More about it, if we get near a launch.

Meanwhile, Sunday was spent at a delightful afternoon at Villanova's annual women's postseason dinner as coach Harry Perretta served as both the emcee and presenter of awards at the event, as he always does.

A week ago, we were at the Women One awards reception here, actually across the bridge considering my present location, back in Philadelphia where Temple coach and WNBA Charlotte Sting star Dawn Staley was the recipient.

You can find a reported donated by someone who is currently typing this report by going to WNBA.Com, going to the teams option and clicking on the Charlotte Sting website, where the story exists.

That's it for now as the shutdown begins in this store. :)

We'll be back -- highspeed, lowspeed, dial-up, lan connection, or whatever.

-- Mel