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.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Overnight Musings Before Bolting to Baltimore

By Mel Greenberg

Bet that headline fooled you.

Although a certain airline over the last year or so has shaken up the market here in the City of Brotherly Love, on this particuar weekend it is particularly cheaper to take a short drive to the land of hardshell crabs and the local launch site of that same airline to soar off to the shores of Lake Erie for the Cleveland Regional.

Bridgeport was our original destination, and we could still end up there in the next round, but when a certain local team here failed to advance, local option No. 2 kicked in.

That would be that team on the banks of a certain river running through the heart of central New Jersey.

In fact, within five minutes of that team's victory in Trenton, the media crowd covering that team on a daily basis elected me entertainment chairman for the weekend.
It's amazing what honors a few trips covering the former WNBA Rockers will get you.

Speaking of that team that emerged from a two-week slumber in Trenton against TCU, the well-known coach of that team achieved a rare feat at the postgame press conference.

Mind you, it was 11:30 p.m. in the East when the question-and-answer session got under way.

And so it was that when that team's particular coach, who has choked a TV sound bite or two over the years with lengthy responses, was asked a question at 11:58 p.m., her answer lasted long enough that one could acutally say she joined a rare breed (I know this must have occurred elsewhere) to give an answer that actually ran over two days on the calendar :)

That feat reminds me of a remark I made back in the humble days of a certain coach taking his program up the ladder in the Nutmeg State. I predicted during one particular marathon session that the time will come when one of his postgame conferences will eventually last into a Sunday brunch.

Sure enough, a year or so later, we found ourselves snowbound in Knoxville (not from the home team's comments) after a particular victory by the team representing the Union as opposed to the Confederacy.

The next morning, some of his associates came by to our hotel, inviting us to their place, a mile away, where we all dined in the sports bar restaurant, making yet another strange prediction valid.

Public Service Message

Gotcha again. You thought here comes another rescued story for the third straight day that failed toland either partially or fully in the print edition of The Inquirer.

The streak is broken. The story I wrote from the Villanova game, a Women's National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal involving Western Kentucky, actually made it into print.

Theoretically, it should be on Philly.com if it is daylight by the time you are reading this in the East.

Yes, They're for Real.

So Mel, what did you think of the Hilltoppers?

As a father of a standing U.S. president once said when he was president: Read my lede.

(That's newspaper talk for first paragraph).

In fact, you may arrive at such a place via link our us famous neighbor web site (Can you say Ted and Sarah) mentioned in Sports Illustrated and it will probably say something like, "Greenberg tells NCAA they made a mistake not taking Western Kentucky."

Villanova coach Harry Perretta called them one of the best teams the Wildcats played all year, and in the Big East, his bunch saw almost all there is to see.

The visit from Western Kentucky called to mind the early days of the program's rise in the mid-1980s when the Hilltoppers arrived here under Paul Sanderford, played Jim Foster's St. Joseph's squad in a tournament at La Salle, and a certain Hawks freshman known as Debbie Black so irritated the opposition that when the game went into overtime, Clemette Haskins, the daughter WK men's coach Clem Haskins, took a swing at Black and got tossed.

The triumph moved a Foster team into the rankings for the first time, so he could go on to a successful career marked by such milestones as another advancement this week by his current Ohio State squad ... (oops, strike this phrase from the record, it was written prior to the second round before he helped destroy by ESPN women's pool.).

Also, people say I got Western started because after Sanderford had invited me to speak at his team's holiday tournament banquet, the Hilltoppers made their first appearance in the AP poll.

But you had to be there to watch Sanderford's face turn red when I commented at the Bowling Green Bank tournament dinner that I thought the place was a one-bank town until I saw three other banks at the same intersection while I was driving around.

More Memory Lane

Hartford's appearance in Trenton last weekend brought about another reunion between yours truly and Hawks overall athletic director Pat Meiser-Knett, who was the Penn State coach back in the day when we had this hair-brained idea 30 years ago about starting a women's poll.

Meiser-Knett, as has been proven, is a better judge of talent than she is of forecasting the weather.

Back when Jen Rizzotti was hired as a coach, I had been in the neighborhood during her first season and stopped by to do a feature as part of our season-long coverage to celebrating the Women's Final Four being held in Philadelphia. Connecticut had just hosted Tennessee the previous night.

Meiser-Knett was there to offer a greeting by beaming, "I've only had to hire two basketball coaches -- Geno Auriemma and Jen Rizzotti.

She had been a women's administrator at UConn when Auriemma, an assistant then at Virginia, got the job.

In fact, since then, we've both shown up in the same place in the NCAA tournament several times. In 2002, we both were at Oklahoma in opposite brackets when I was there with Villanova in the early rounds. (Yes, that's when Perretta made Sherri Coale's career by succumbing to the Sooners, who went on to reach the Final Four).

But way before that in the stone age period of the sport, Meiser-Knett had called me, all excited because the Nits were going to play the powerhouse of the day -- Immaculata.

"You got to be here. We're going to beat them. You can stay at our place."

I backed off at first, saying, I don't want to risk the trip in case I get snowbound.

"There's no snow coming here over the next week."

So, why not? However, as soon as my car took wings past Lewistown up that famous mountain climb on Route 322, you guessed it -- snowing like all get out.

Well the car made it all the way to her driveway where it got stuck turning into her carport.

But you had to be impressed. Here's what life was like in Happy Valley in Pat's household the day of the game.

She ran out in the morning to teach a dance class. Then, she returned to feed breakfast to her young child, who was seated in a high chair, while at the same time held a play book in the other hand to study her plan against Immaculata.

Right then, I thought Pat had the makings of an athletic director.

Anywhow, Penn State did upset Immaculata, earned its first ranking and went on to great overall success. Last weekend's NCAA appearance at home for Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center ... (oops., strike that phrase, also, it was written last summer).

More Memory Lane

So in Rizzotti's senior year at UConn (I did mention she played there didn't I), Geno's bunch is beating teams by 35 points and due to his lapse of compassion for the opposition, he was limiting Rizzotti's minutes down the stretch because of the lop-sided scores.

She was not the happiest of campers.

After one particular game, we're seated in the classroom seats and she comes in not particular pleased about her coach's actions. (And you thought the Taurasi and Geno show was something).

Remember, we're still dealing with college kids here, not the pros.

Bruce Berlet, then the Hartford Courant's beat writer, opens with a question to Rizzotti, "Jen, I guess it played out the way you all expected."

To which Rizzotti responded, "Are you asking a question or making a statement!!!"

Every now and then those of us still around will chide Rizzotti with that line, but no question, last weekend, her team definitely made a statement.

Conspiracy Theory.

Ok, with thoughts of Tennessee and Rutgers matching up Sunday at the Quicken Loans Arena, (no relation to funding for travel during this sector), I offer you this thought before bolting out of here.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer dreads playing Villanova in the Big East tournament because of Perretta's methodical style.

Stringer teams have a history of meeting Tennessee early in the NCAA tournament.

Vols coach Pat Summitt and Villanova's Perretta are buddies. -- You tell me.

And feel free to suggest Cleveland hotspots so I can make my appointment by Bridget (Newark Star-Ledger) and Aditi (Bergen Record) as hospitality guy stand up. Oh yeah, the Targum crew seconded the nomination but is ineligible at certain segments so we don't allow them to pick up wicked habits of veterans journalists. :)

-- Mel


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