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.

Monday, April 03, 2006

USA Basketball -- Women in Transition

Here's another public service performance from yours truly -- Kate's story to the KRT Campus Live Wire Service involving Sunday's USA Basketball Training Session at Boston College -- Mel

BC-BKW-USABASKETBALL:PH _ sports, campus (1300 words)
Professionals mentor, compete with elite college women
By Kate Burkholder
(KRT)
BOSTON _ Candace Parker calmly dribbled the basketball by her side, trying to use her 6-foot 4-inch frame to post up under the basket.

Met with pressure, the Tennessee redshirt freshman instead stepped back and unleashed a fadeaway jump shot from the right corner that fell gracefully through the hoop.

On her way back down the court, Sheryl Swoopes gave Parker a congratulatory pat on the backside.

Swoopes may be 15 years and one month Parker's elder, but the two donned identical jerseys as part of a USA Basketball national squad practicing at Boston College's Conte Forum Sunday morning.

Swoopes and Parker represent the oldest and youngest members of a USA team that will head to compete in Australia at the Opals World Challenge later this month _ a team uniquely woven with the fibers of both seasoned WNBA veterans and the ripest collegiate talent.

"This is huge," Parker said as she took a seat on the bench after practice. "This is a great experience and I just came into this thing wanting to learn and wanting to grow and to take everything in. This is a really great experience for me and I just want to learn from it."

With only one collegiate season behind her in which her 17 points- and 8 rebounds-per-game led the Lady Volunteers to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, Parker is now known in the collegiate basketball world for being "the girl who can dunk."

But when she showed up in Boston to practice with the national team and was met with players toting armfuls of Olympic medals, Parker learned she was a small fish in an ocean-sized pond.

"The older players have taught me that I just have to play hard all the time," Parker said. "I think sometimes in college, maybe you can take if easy in a game but you definitely can't do that here because there are so many great players.

"I think it's huge for us and huge for me, and I want to continue to take everything in."

In attendance Sunday to watch her own budding star practice, Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt said she expects Parker to embrace the new pressure and improve heading into next season.

"From my perspective of Candace, I know she would look at something like this as a valuable learning experience and I don't think she'd back down or be intimidated," Summitt said. "This is a smart move on the part of USA Basketball to have some obviously outstanding veterans but also to think about the future of the game and get these young players involved.

"It's like in the college game if you have your juniors and your seniors, but you also have your freshmen and the players you continue to bring in that will allow you to have continued success at the highest level."

Among the mentors for the younger players like Parker, Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter and Ohio State's Jessica Davenport _ the three babies of the team _ will, in fact, be Swoopes.

With three Olympic gold medals and four WNBA titles _ not to mention an 8-year-old son _ in tow, Swoopes may have one of the best perspectives on the USA Basketball scene.

"I think in the past it was typically one group of players and we were all pretty much the same age with the same type of experience," Swoopes said as she tended to a wrapped knee after practice. "But now this is different, and in a way I think it's good and in a way I think it's bad. The bad part is that the younger players don't have that experience that we're going to need when we get to the world championships and with playing against international competition."

Finding a way to inject that experience into the younger players is one of Swoopes' goals after having played on the world stage since 1992 _ a time when Parker, Pondexter and Davenport were in grade school.

"The good thing is that we have some veterans like myself, Katie (Smith), Tina (Thompson), and Sue (Bird) _ players who have been there before and are able to take the younger players and help them and try to reach them from a different standpoint than maybe a coach would."

In the days leading up to the WNBA draft, Pondexter is one player with more than her fair share of eyes focused on her every move. But after recently wrapping up her collegiate career in a Scarlet Knights' uniform, the Chicago native and 2006 Women's Basketball News Service National Player of the Year is just here to learn.

"It's great because we can learn so much from (the veterans)," Pondexter said. "You want to go into this like you don't know anything so you can take as much as possible and you really want to be like a sponge.

"They are Olympians, they've been to the places where we want to go and they have to show us the way, because of the experience they have and the experience we lack."

USA Basketball's head coach Anne Donovan _ also the head coach of the WNBA's Seattle Storm _ said that while at first some of the younger players may come in over-confident, the time they spend around the veterans helps them to quickly realize what they need to do to compete at this level.

"I think sometimes with the new generation, there's just not an understanding of the veterans and everything they've done and accomplished," Donovan said. "We went back today and made sure they knew who the Olympians were."

Donovan coaches USA Basketball player Bird on Seattle's team during the WNBA season, and will look to players like her to guide the talented team throughout the course of international competition.

"Sue came today for the first time and right away she was talking to everybody along with Katie and Sheryl," Donovan said. "There's just so much to learn from them, and more than anything it's from an intellectual standpoint _ how to keep composure and how to communicate."

The USA roster also includes current ESPN analyst and Tennessee graduate Kara Lawson, former Connecticut phenom Diana Taurasi, and two-time Associated Press Player of the Year Seimone Augustus of LSU.

"I'm excited that I'm still able to hang around and run up and down the court with these young players," Swoopes said. "It seems like the talent just keeps getting better and better every single year, so for me, any time I get an opportunity to put on a USA uniform and represent my country, I still take a lot of pride in this."

Swoopes also can understand what it feels like to come off an outstanding college career and then find oneself hidden among other great players on the professional and international stops.

"I've been there," she said. "When I played against some of the older players when I was young, I thought I was `it.' I thought I was a great player and it took me out there the first day of practice getting my butt kicked before I said, `You know, maybe I'm not as good as I think I am.' It's okay to have that confidence to a certain degree as long as they know that now it's not about what they've accomplished in college or who they are.

"Now it's about representing your country."
___
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Burkholder, associate sports editor for the Rutgers University Daily Targum, is covering the NCAA Women's Tournament with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
___
© 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer's World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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