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.

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


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