WNBA Phoenix Mercury GM: Geno Too Expensive
If the Phoenix Mercury will rise and take flight once more in the WNBA, it won’t happen with University of Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma in the pilot’s seat guiding the liftoff next summer.
Most of Auriemma’s reunions with his former Huskies star Diana Taurasi, who finished her second season with the Mercury, will still occur at her alma mater’s collegiate games this winter.
Of course, Taurasi is also likely to be found partaking menu delicacies at Auriemma’s new restaurant establishment opening at the Mohegan Sun next summer when the Mercury make their annual WNBA visit to play the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville.
Mercury general manager Seth Sulka put a halt to reports in three Connecticut papers in Monday’s editions that Auriemma was holding an offer to jump to the pro ranks in Phoenix to fill the job vacated on Friday when Carrie Graf’s contract was not renewed.
“Geno is not a candidate for our head coaching job,” the Arizona Republic quoted Sulka in Wednesday’s editions. (By the time you read this, the item by the Republic may also appear on the daily media link section of the WNBA's internet site).
Sulka pointed out that Auriemma, who has led UConn to five NCAA women’s titles and whose contract value grew to over $1 million last season, was simply out of the league’s price range.
“Econmics would never allow us to compete with the head college coaches’ salaries,” Sulka said, alluding to such other luminaries as Tennessee's Pat Summitt.
This was not news in this circle because Sulka mentioned the realities of the price structure in a conversation Sunday night in a conversation Sunday night with us, long before the Connecticut papers hit the streets.
There is some speculation that Auriemma was the anonymous source of the rumor because he might have been mad at UConn over one thing or another.
The Arizona Republic mentioned Nancy Lieberman, the Hall of Famer who played for the Mercury in the franchise’s first season in 1997 and then coached the Detroit Shock for three seasons, as a potential Mercury candidate along with two former NBA Phoenix Suns players -- guard Dan Majerle and forward Cedric Ceballos.
However, another person who might be targeted in a search is former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, who took the Tigers to three straight Women’s Final Fours and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., in June.
Sulka seemed enlightened when Ciampi’s name was mentioned to him.
The native of upstate Pennsylvania near Scranton retired a year ago and has been looking at WNBA coaching possibilities.
“I’d be very interested in talking to them,” said Ciampi, whose longtime friend Charles Barkeley, an Auburn grad and former NBA star with the 76ers and Phoenix, lives in the city in the desert.
“Of course it shows how smart I am wanting to go from a small town in Alabama and 105 degree heat to Phoenix, where it’s over 110 degrees,” Ciampi quipped.
“But I like their team a lot and I think Diana and I would get along.”
Phoenix struggled at the outset of the season and then made a run for the playoffs that fell just short on the final weekend.
Sacramento’s Ticha Penecheiro is potentially sidelined for Thursday night’s Western Conference finals opener in Houston with a severe sprain of her left ankle suffered at the end of practice on Tuesday.
That will probably mean more playing time for reserve Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee star who will get a chance to play against the Comets’ Dawn Staley, whom Lawson said on Wednesday is the reason she got interested in women’s basketball.
“I was in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade when she played for the University of Virginia and they were going to three straight final fours,” Lawson recalled of the Cavaliers’ run as one of the nation’s top teams in the early 1990s.
“I never watched women’s basketball on TV or paid attention to it until then,” Lawson said.
“I started to go to UVA summer camps and they were the only basketball camps I went because I was in awe of Dawn and how she played and the things she could do with the basketball.
“She’s been a great ambassador for the game and a great player to model your game after,” said Lawson, who also does broadcast work for ESPN in the winter and was on the crew in Philadelphia two years when Temple, coached by Staley, hosted and participated in first-round/second-round games at the Liacouras Center.
Hall of Fame Weekend
It’s off to New England where we’ll be at festivities Thursday and Friday in Springfield, Mass., involving the induction of this year’s class into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
The group includes the late Sue Gunter, who made LSU a national power and died last month a year after she retired from the Tigers because of health reasons.
Hall of Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale, a former UCLA star who played for Gunter on the 1980 Olympic team that missed the Moscow games because of the U.S. boycott, and Pokey Chapman, a former player of Gunter’s at LSU who succeeded her last summer, will speak on behalf of the coaching legend.
Then it’s on to the Mohegan Sun for Saturday’s second game in the Eastern finals between the Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever.
Lighting the Comets
All-Star Sheryl Swoopes, a candidate for the WNBA’s most valuable player award, on what motived the Houston Comets to return to the playoffs after most preseason projections had coach Van Chancellor’s squad missing the postseason a second consecutive time:
“When we started this season, not anybody picked the Comets to make the playoffs,” Swoopes said Wednesday. “Because of that, we use that as a motivating factor.
“Every player came in here hungry and still frustrated from not making the playoffs last year. And then not having Tina (Thompson) made other people take their games to another level,” Swoopes added.
“nd now that we’re in the playoffs, it’s a whole different season and anybody’s ballgame.”
Tina Thompson, one of the Comets’ top players, didn’t join the team until August this season after she recuperated from her childbirth.
We’ll be back late Thursday night after the first set of ceremonies in Springfield and after the results of the opening games, including Connecticut at Indiana, are known.