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.

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.

CRYING TIME

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.

WILL SPARKS FLY?

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

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