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, September 14, 2005

WNBA Finals: Notes and Quotes Before Game One Tips

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. _ Three Mikes will be involved on the sidelines coaching the San Sacramento Monarchs and the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA best-of-five championship finals that begin in the Mohegan Sun Arena on Wednesday night.

Only one, however, will be human and that would be Mike Thibault, who has transformed the former Orlando Miracle into one of the top teams in the WNBA.

Thibault, a former NBA assistant coach, took over when the franchise was purchased by the Mohegan Indian Tribe and moved here in Feb. 2003 to their vast casino-entertainment establishment.

The other “Mikes,” however, will give you a direct perspective during the games on ESPN2 and ABC because they are the electronic devices Thibault and his Monarchs counterpart John Whisenant will wear during the broadcasts.

The effect was dramatic last week when Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor was miked during the Western Conference finals and late in the opening game when the Monarchs rallied with a key play, he was heard to tell Sheryl Swoopes and others in the Houston huddle, “I screwed up.”

Multi-Media Couple

Two well-known Rushins in the print and broadcast world, who are also married to each other, are covering the WNBA finals.

Mrs. Rushin is more identifiable to most of you as Rebecca Lobo, the former University of Connecticut star who is helped lead the Huskies to their first national title in 1995 and is doing sideline work for ESPN2 and ABC.

Her husband Steve is on the scene for Sports Illustrated.

DeMya’s Odyssey

In our print coverage in Wednesday’s editions, which can be found on the internet at Philly.Com, we had some comments from Sacramento Monarchs’ forward DeMya Walker, a former Virginia star who is a native of Mount Holly, N.J., and graduate of Rancocas Valley High School.

Space limitations did not allow to cite everything she said, but we can mention more because of the wonders of the internet.

This was Walker’s response when a TV reporter asked how she came to be one of the Monarchs’ top players.

“My road is unbelievable. I went from supposedly a top ten draft pick, to the ABL folding, to not get getting drafted, to going to a free-agent camp in Minnesota (1999), to get cut because I was young, because they said the older players needed a chance, to playing in Italy, to working out as hard as I could, to come into Portland (the former WNBA Portland Fire franchise), with eight post players, all of which were older than me, all of which had more experience than me, to playing as hard as I could, to waiting till the last day of roster cuts, and then my coach waited until the last moment, I didn’t even know, I was going to practice and if I wasn’t supposed to be there they would have told me, and then they told me they traded Tari Phillips. An ABL All-Star, an unbelievable player (to New York), just to keep me.

“And that’s how my (WNBA) road began, and then went from strictly a defensive specialist, I only played when you really needed people, really needed defense, really needed a stop, then you played me. If you didn’t, I wasn’t on the court.

“Then I went back overseas to Switzerland, played as hard as I could, worked on my offense, came back and moved up to sixth man, so I got some playing time, I was in an important role, and then I tore my left MCL, I didn’t play for six weeks, then I came back for the last week of the season.

“Then I went to Korea, didn’t like it there, went back to Italy, then came back and was determined to be a starter, but it really wasn’t working out.

“Then (former SW Missouri scoring sensation) Jackie Stiles got hurt, we needed a three-guard, my coach said, `I think you can do it.’ So she threw me in as a three, it ended up being great for me, everything was going great, everything was terrific, and then the next offseason, I decided I was going to be better, but they (WNBA) folded my team, got tossed in the dispersal draft, again!, I was supposed to go to Phoenix as the number three pick, they took Tamicha Jackson because their point guard wasn’t coming back, and then Sacramento took me as a No. 5, and I’ve been in heaven ever since.”

Incidentally, Walker said her parents are in heaven, also, in making the trip here from New Jersey, but not just at the opportunity to watch their daughter perform.

“They can’t wait to get here and play at the casino,” Walker said.

Ringing Up Sales

Former UConn star Nykesha Sales, a home-grown product of the Nutmeg State, talked about the enjoyment playing with the Sun.

“We have a lot of fun because we enjoy playing with each other, we enjoy each other’s game, we enjoy the personality, and we enjoy the philosophy in the system that coach is using for us, so with all those in place, finally, and having those key components on our team, and having a great coaching system, and having those type of personalities that are very unselfish, I think, you look like you’re having fun, and at the same time you’re winning games, so it makes it that much better.”

Sales noted that even though Connecticut holds the home-court advantage this time in the finals, there are some negatives in the newly expanded best-of-five system.

“The problem is, it’s a back-to-back. If you had two games at home, and maybe you’re playing Wednesday and Friday, that’s definitely home-court advantage, but kind of having to play your two back-to-back, it’s definitely home court, but it’s a little different,” Sales said.

“When they get to their place, they get two home games with a little rest. There are some odds and ends, but the fans here are incredible.”

Sales has seen numerous injuries, such as the one expected to sideline Sun point guard sensation for at least Wednesday night, occur at tough times in a career dating back to her collegiate days when she, herself, got hurt near the end of UConn’s season in 1997-98.

“I’ve just about seen it all in 12 years, being a professional and going back to college,” Sales said.

“Definitely, key parts of teams do get hurt, but other players step up. You just go out there and continue with a game plan. I think we’re a laid-back team. We’re not going to get too frantic about it. ‘Coach’ isn’t getting too panicky about it. If we stay within the same game plan, we should be fine.”

Snake Eyes and Three Bars – Sort Of

All that said, dear readers, let me sign off tonight with this thought:

Think of all the money I saved by not hanging out here at the slot machines so I can send you this extra blog report.

We’ll be back in the wee hours after we file our print story on the opening round.

-- Mel

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