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.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Shock Strikes It Rich - For the Moment.

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – If you’re going to beat the odds, you might as well do it at a place in which the house wins substantially either at the casino action next door or in the Mohegan Sun Arena where the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun had been unbeaten at home this season until Saturday afternoon.

The Detroit Shock, scrambling to get back into the playoff hunt, hit the jackpot against the Eastern Conference leaders and WNBA’s best team, 75-66.

The triumph brought the Shock bunch to 9-12, a record that is baffling if one considers Detroit’s effort against the Sun, which finished at 3-1 on the season.

“I think our heart played a role today,” Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said afterwards. “We played really hard from start to finish and we did what we needed to do.

“We didn’t turn the ball over, we controlled the glass, and we were very patient and that was the key to the ballgame.”

Unlike some recent previous Detroit overall adventures, this time the Shock did not crumble down the stretch, especially in the face of another Sun rally that has become a trademark of last season’s WNBA runnersup.

Detroit had a 16-point lead at 61-45 with 7 minutes, 18 seconds left to play in the game when the Sun began to roll, slicing the deficit down to a mere three points at 63-60 with 2:55 to go.

Sun second-year point guard Lindsay Whalen expected her team to prevail again as it drew near the Shock.

“I thought so,” the former Minnesota star said. “I thought, one score, you get a stop, another score and stop, and you’re up.”

The Sun could not get any closer, however, in part on the play of Plenette Pierson, a former Texas Tech star who was acquired on June 29th in a trade with the Phoenix Mercury.

Pierson, a 6-foot-2 forward, scored on an inside play and hit a foul shot that helped stop the Sun charge. She finished with 17 points.

“That’s why we got her,” Laimbeer said. “We have looked at her ever since the (2003) draft. We were unable to get her and took Cheryl (Ford) instead. We have covered her for a long time and today she showed why we liked her.”

Pierson talked about the mind-set of her team heading into the nationally-televised encounter.

“We definitely wanted to make a statement and we wanted to show everybody we can play basketball and tonight we played Detroit Shock basketball,” Pierson said.

She said Laimbeer had told her when she arrived of Detroit’s desires to eventually land her on the roster.

“He told me he wanted me before,” Pierson said. “Finally the time came for me to come here and it has been nothing but great for me.”

As for her heroics late in the game, she added, “That’s my aggressive nature. It’s the key to doing what I do best and that’s going to the basket and try to get easy shots, and they happen to fall for me along with a couple of and ones (foul shots).”

Deanna Nolan led the Shock with 19 points, followed by Pierson’s scoring total, Elaine Powell’s 14 points, and Cheryl Ford’s 11 that helped give her a double double off 13 rebounds.

Margo Dydek had 16 for the Sun, followed by Taj McWilliams Franklin’s 15 points, and Whalen’s 12 poins.

The Sun shot themselves in the foot, but it was an injury-free incident considering that coach Mike Thibault’s team couldn’t hit much of anything off Connecticut’s 27.1 percent effort from the field.

“We had a bad offensive game,” he said. “Similar to the half we had against New York in the first half against New York the other night. We had a lot of good open looks, and we didn’t make them.

“Normally, it’s a strength of our team but when you combine Katie (Douglas), Nykesha (Sales) and Lindsay shooting 5-for-30 among the three of them, it’s hard to win. It’s just hard to win.”

Speaking of victories, the loss prevented the Sun from setting an all-time franchise record for triumphs _ they currently stand at 18-6.

The Detroit domination of Connecticut this season is akin to two seasons ago when the Shock won the title but were 0-4 on the season against the Charlotte Sting.

They were spared any playoff miseries because Connecticut upset Charlotte to win the first round in the East.

Things have gotten a little testy between these two teams recently, especially after the last game when Laimbeer and Thibault made some remarks to each other during the handshakes afterwards.

So the crowd of 8,401 inside the Mohegan Sun Arena wondered what was the cause of Laimbeer taking a timeout with 22.8 seconds to play and the game firmly in Shock hands.

“I wanted to congratulate our team,” Laimbeer said. “I thought they played a very fine ballgame and I wanted to call a 20-second timeout to get everybody together.

“We talked about before the game we are embarking on a new direction as a ball club today and today is the day to step up and show it.”

The Shock return home on Sunday to host Phoenix, a team currently making a run to catch a playoff spot in the West.

Connecticut travels to New York for a Tuesday night encounter with the Liberty in Madison Square Garden.

The Sun still have a one-game advantage on Sacramento for best overall record in the league and also hold the tiebreaker against the Monarchs with a 2-0 sweep.


So where have I been?

Working the print side.
But since several of you have observed my silence here for almost a month, I’ll try to be a little more consistent in cyber space.
In fact,I have a little group participation deal for you fans with local Philly Big 5 knowledge in women's hoops.
Now, the trick is to get to the other side of New York against the weekend crush. 
-- Mel

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

CoSIDA Jake Wade Award Speech

By Mel Greenberg

Hi again after a brief absence due to several activities in town, especially Monday where the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) presented me with their annual Jake Wade aware that goes to a member of the media who has made a contribution to collegiate athletics.

The Inquirer ran a story in Tuesday's sports page, which you can access here.

Meanwhile, as a service to colleagues and SIDs who were not at the luncheon but wanted a copy of the acceptance speech, the text follows. The reference at the start is to Charles Bloom of the Southeastern Conference, third vice president of CoSIDA, who made the presentation.

I'll be back on our normal case in the next day or so live from the WNBA All-Star game in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

-- Mel

The speech follows and according to our sports editor Jim Jenks it took 13 minutes, 57 seconds. It waa six pages and the reference to page numbers was a guide to let them know whereI was in the presentation. Parentheses will indicate descriptions.

Thank you Charles:

Let me apologize if I start getting lengthy.

The office called and said our photographer is running late, and they told me to keep talking until he gets here.

To begin:

A long time ago, at a CoSIDA convention far, far, away in Cincinnati in 1976,

Three apostles – then-Villanova SID Rosa Gatti, then-Penn State SID Mary Jo Haverbeck, and then-Pittsburgh SID Joyce Aschenbrenner, ventured from the East to tell you of a guy in Philadelphia who was going to start a weekly Women’s Basketball Poll.

You responded quickly in numbers, ready to buy into a product, that, to be honest, he had no idea what he was attempting to sell.

And so we come back to the future.

We arrive, according to the computer, with 29 years just completed. There have been 499 weeks of poll reports that include 139 teams, ranked 11,463 times, handled by 210 coaches, and represented by an untold number of women’s SIDs.

As for that last statistic, some of you have gone through a number of coaches. And some coaches have gone through a number of SIDs. However, knowing who some of those coaches are, you have always had my sympathy.

Through the years, we have shared a great friendship and if I continue on this track, I’m going to start getting emotional and start looking like Mike Schmidt when he said goodbye to baseball.


Looking out among you, I guess this sets the all-time record at CoSIDA for attendance at one of my sessions.

In fact, someone mentioned to me, in anticipation of this moment, “You’re going to be like the Mafia. You’re going to have all the families under the same roof."

On that note,

Welcome to Philadelphia, and to those of you who were here in 1981, it’s nice to have you return. Since you have been here, the dancing has continued.

In 1776 a new form of government was created out of nowhere just a few blocks from here (Independence Hall near the Marriott) and the magic in this town has lasted into the 21st century.

Of course, sometimes, the magic is dubious.

For example, I hear some of you have already experienced the slick way USAir can make your luggage disappear in a heartbeat.
I told Charles and the rest of your leadership, my comments of acceptance would be partly in the form of keynoting your workshop and also we would have some fun, considering how long we’ve known each other.

So buckle up.

A six-page endurance test is about to begin,
but I’ll call out the top of each of them so you’ll know when the end is near.

In fact we’re already on Page 2.

Meanwhile, this just in from your leadership.

A previously unscheduled workshop will be held on Wednesday afternoon.

A that time a Jenny Craig representative will discuss weight loss and also offer ways to trim your football and basketball media guides from 500 pages down to 208 to please the NCAA dieticians.

By the way, the Philadelphia Eagles had no trouble joining the sponsorship of this event.

After all, what do they care?

In two weeks, they’ll get the cash back from Terrell Owens when he doesn’t show up for training camp.

You know in the three decades we’ve known each other, we have managed to teach other new ideas. The best thing I ever taught you was the correct way to answer a phone with civility at 1 o’clock in the morning, if not later.

Over the years, I think I’ve participated in almost every kind of format at this workshop _ table topics, panel discussion, Q and A feedback sessions, you name it.

Today, however, you have placed me in a brand new role. This is the first time I’ve ever been the opening act for Sir Elton John. (who was giving a free concert in Philly that night).

To get back to serious for a bit,
Tthe first thank you of the day goes to the Jake Wade committee.

I know how difficult it is to decide the recipient of this prestigious award.

This is your Pulitzer, if you will, to members of our profession.

And that’s neat because when I finally decided to go ahead, the only way to move forward was going to be with journalistic principals.

My motivation was, I had to make this job easier for all who would come afterwards in both your profession and my own.

One name is on the plaque, but I would want to add that in this particular year, on this particular Fourth of July holiday, I accept this is as a celebration of our longstanding history together.

As we move to page three, let me note the poll was not my idea.

It belongs to Jay Searcy, our sports editor back in the bicentennial year of 1976.

Retired now in Knoxville, Tenn., Jay lives in the same ritzy neighborhood that’s also the home of (U. of Tennessee SID) Debbie Jennings, one of your CoSIDA Hall of Famers.

Business-wise, I have now outlived five sports editors since I became involved in women’s coverage.

I’m currently working on No. 6.

You’ll meet Jim Jenks at tomorrow morning’s panel and you should thank him for providing the funding for the covered wagon I use to get to your games in the winter.

Jim came to us two years ago from ESPN and he’s sitting over at The Inquirer table with some other colleagues who either were after a free meal today or just curious to see my act outside the office.

At least things are much improved now.

Back in the day, people used to compare my situation to the old NFL TV policy _ I’d be nationwide in your newspapers, but blacked out within 60 miles of my desk.
As much credit as you give me for blazing trails, the reality is this:

Nothing would have been achieved without your support and co-operation.

In 1978, it was at a CoSIDA workshop in Atlanta that the membership, prior to my arrival at the workshop, approached the Associated Press sports people with a simple request: “Perhaps, it might be time to carry that women’s poll that guy in Philadelphia has been doing.”

A week later, I was invited to meet AP executives in New York. Soon thereafter, your teams were on the way to the bright lights of national coverage that has continued to grow along with AP’s enthusiastic support.

I have always championed your cause, especially in 1980.

Not many people know that back then you were the foot soldiers in the migration of women’s athletics to the NCAA.

You acted and began to make others understand that a well intentioned, but unwise, policy in the existing women’s athletic organization was stifling your ability to promote your teams and your programs.

Let me take a brief moment to congratulate all the other winners throughout this week. I feel like we’re in the same graduating class.

Eddie (Ed Carpenter of Boston U), I remember you as a youngster at Delaware when I first started this great adventure.

Jim Albright, if you’re here, I remember when you and Kodak stood for Old Media and home movies.

And Lawrence Fan?

We had him here in town first at La Salle. But he figured out how to get hired from a phone booth on a desolated highway in the Midwest on the way to California.

When Mary Jo Haverbeck excitedly called me with the news of this award in Mid-May, I think I was more thrilled for herself and those of you who expressed delight.

After all, I’m aware this is the first time the Jake Wade Award has gone to someone involved strictly in coverage of women’s athletics – particularly basketball.

Sometimes, however, you get stereotyped when you’re primarily known for one thing.

For example, I had never covered a golf event until two weeks ago when I was assigned a championship round in match play of a local golf tournament.

A colleague from a suburban paper told me he was going to run out the next day and buy an Inquirer. He wanted to frame my story because it would be the first time in 25 years the word “she” was not going to appear in the copy.

Two seasons ago, I walked into Drexel men’s coach Bruiser Flint’s office to begin coverage of his team. He couldn’t understand what I was doing there.

I told him it was part of my diversity and sensitivity training at the paper.

OK, we’re coming down the stretch so let’s go to some introductions to start page 5.

My immediate family here consists of my mother Roslyn, my sister Annette, my brother-in-law Perry, and my two nieces – Neena and Allison.

Will Allison please stand a moment.

Doug Dull and Jack Zane, this fall she’ll be a senior at Maryland and she needs work.

Also seated are two close friends of the family, Marjorie and Ben Needleman who were around long before I was born.

Some of the local coaches and athletic directors are here, including St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin and her husband Curtis.

I covered Cindy as a player at St. Joseph’s.

I’ve probably even covered some of you as players.

You get perspective from those kind of relationships.

Back when people like (Temple coach) Dawn Staley were college players, you all would tell me I couldn’t take anyone to dinner, that it would be an NCAA violation.

Today, if Dawn offers to pick up the tab as a Temple coach, according to Jenks, that would be a violation of Inquirer ethics guidelines regarding news sources.

The next set of introductions will be done on a group basis and you can applaud or interact, or whatever because it’s the best way to thank all of you without drowning in a sea of names.

All the SIDs here who were around back in the beginning from 1975-76, or 77 or 78 when this great project was in its infancy, please stand up.

Now, all the people I deal with at conference level, please rise and be acknowledged. These folks are actually my front line. I’ve always said I can go to war with them nationwide in four hours.

Now, I’d like to call on my NCAA friends, especially Scotty Rogers and Jim Wright.

Now, even though our paper changes the circulation map every week, if you think you are among my local SIDs, please stand.

And now, and I truly mean this, will the rest of you please applaud yourselves because I do that every day for all of you.

Now to head to the grand finale:

The one thing that might separate me from the previous (Jake Wade) winners is I probably have as much CoSIDA blood in my veins as you do because of the way we deal with each other.

My message to you as you go through this week, learn all you can because you never know, especially you younger generation types, when the limelight will strike your programs.

In the beginning, I had to prepare for how to handle success even if I wasn’t thinking success could occur.

As a writer and as a paper at The Inquirer, we have to be ready to grow coverage when a program makes a giant leap.

You Baylor people in the crowd, I bet none of you could ever envision your team raising the NCAA women’s trophy prior to last season.

In the past at this workshop, I have sat at the awards dinner over the years here watching some of the top sports media persons of the time earn this honor.

And I never thought of myself in this spot because of the number of talented journalists in our profession and the struggle you have to only choose one each year to be a Jake Wade Winner.

But today, you have made me one of them.

And for that I will continue to treasure our long lasting friendship and I am forever grateful.