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, May 27, 2006

WNBA: Shock Absorb Sun

By Mel Greenberg

_ Back in the days of the short-lived American Basketball League in the mid-1990s, Katie Smith used to visit this state with the two-time champion Columbus Quest in the winter to beat the New England Blizzard up the road in Hartford.

Now that the former Ohio State all-American (1992-96) performs in the WNBA for the Detroit Shock, Smith has changed her seasonal approach to the summer and her visits her involve beating the Connecticut Sun.

Smith hit a 22-foot, three-pointer yesterday with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime and the Shock went on to beat the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, 77-73, in the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“Obviously, we needed a three,” Smith described her heroics. “I had a decent look at first, I got the ball to Cheryl (Ford) and I thought she was gonna shoot it, but I got it back and tried to get a little space and it went through the bucket and that is all she wrote.

“We came into the overtime, got a little lead and then they made some shots, but we were able to withstand that,” Smith said.

Ford also described Smith’s play.

“Huge. It was a huge shot,” the daughter of former NBA star Karl Malone said. “She gave it to me to shoot it, I was gonna, but they (Connecticut defenders) came down on me, so I got the ball back to her and she put it in.”

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said he did not consider fouling in the closing seconds to prevent a trey.

“We rarely ever foul, especially if you have somebody locked up,” Thibault said. “If somebody start to drive by you, grab them, then, before they can get into a shooting motion, but not if you’ve got somebody.”

Of Smith’s trey, Thibaut described it, saying, “She threw in that shot. She literally threw it in.”

A 5-foot-11 guard, who came to Detroit in a late-season trade involving the Minnesota Lynx a year ago, Smith finished with a game-high 23 points.

Smith is the all-time career points leader for professional women’s basketball in the United States with a combined total of 5,213 points to date involving her stints in the ABL and the WNBA.

“She’s the leading scorer in professional women’s basketball for a reason,” said the Sun’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who used to compete against Smith in the ABL as a member of the Richmond and Philadelphia Rage.

“It’s not because she looks great,” McWilliams-Franklin smiled while discussing her longtime opponent. “It’s not because she’s got nice legs. It’s because when she goes out there, she’s a great competitor who’s in great shape. You expect that in every game from her now.

“She shot that three-pointer with three people in vicinity of her,” McWilliams-Franklin said of Smith’s desperation shot. “I couldn’t tell where she was in relation to the basket, but it went straight through.”

Smith has talked about going into dentistry when she retires meaning that she’ll be drilling teeth with the same proficiency she drills shots such as last night’s 4-for-9 effort on three-point attempts.

Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer spoke of Smith’s dagger at the end of regulation.

“We wanted Katie to have the ball and take a three-ball,” he said. “She is the history leader in three-ball shooting and she is a great guard. We wanted the ball in her hands. The intial shot was not there and she went and created for herself.”

Laimbeer said he made the deal for Smith last season to get another veteran into the mix and then he gave her a new set of tricks by involving her in the point guard position.

“I don’t like labels,” Smith smiled in discussing her role with the Shock, who are now 2-1 on the season. The Sun suffered their first defeat after leaving the starting gate 2-0.

“I think we just consider ourselves basketball players, and if he (Laimbeer) needs me to get someone the ball, that’s my role,” Smith said. “I kind of relish it, I’m learning it … This team can be really good. I just hope I can continue to improve.

“Every night’s going to be different,” Smith said of the Shock’s versatility this season. “We have all to come ready to go, but it might be a different thing. Obviously, the defense has to be steady. People have to rebound. People have to knock down shots. We have so many weapons, whether it’s starters, bench, whatever.

“We can keep it going, just as long as we don’t hurt ourselves with turnovers,” Smith added and also spoke of the difference in the team’s makeup compared to last season after she arrived from Minnesota.

“I think we have an understanding you just can’t go out there and get it done,” Smith said. “Yeah, you might have the talent and you won it before (2003). But that doesn’t mean anything. You have to come out every game and prove it and show it and get it done. It’s the little things that are the key.”

Smith was named to the eight-member core group last week that will compete for USA Basketball in the FIBA World Championship in Brazil in September after the WNBA season.

“I’m excited about that,” Smith said, noting the transistion of the roster as veterans such as herself and Sheryl Swoopes near the end of their careers. “We just want to keep that thing rolling. We want to teach and lead by example for the younger kids who are going to come up and take our place. But it’s going to be a challenge.”

Ford had another big night in the post for Detroit with 18 points 11 rebounds.

Katie Douglas led Connecticut with 18 points, but she missed the front end of a two-shot free-throw with 10.4 seconds remaining in regulation that could have sustained Smith’s heroics instead of the 69-69 deadlock.

The former Purdue star also made a crucial turnover in the final seconds of the overtime when the Sun were going for a tie.

Nykesha Sales also scored in double figures for Connecticut with 17 points, but the Sun shot an anemic 33.3 percent for the game.

To the Connecticut crowd, the flow of the game and the outcome was a holiday giveaway that wasn’t scheduled on the list of promotions.

The Sun started slow, falling behind, 20-6, late in the first quarter. But Connecticut stayed with it and ultimately took a lead late in the contest and went ahead by as much as 67-61 with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter after Douglas nailed a trey.

In the overtime, former Georgia star Deanna Nolan hit a jumper off one of Smith’s eight assists to break the tie. Ford then hit a layup and also hit a pair of foul shots to give the Shock a 75-69 lead with 3:05 left in the extra period.

Asjha Jones and Douglas got Connecticut to within a basket on consecutive shots, but then came the turnover and Smith finished the scoring for Detroit with a pair of foul shots.

Overall, Detroit had a 50-33 advantage on the backboards.

Although the game was just the third of the season for both teams, the rivalry between the two created a playoff atmosphere for the nationally-televised contest on ABC.

“These two teams would probably play this way if it was a pick-up game,” Thibault said. “That’s good. I’m glad we play with that intensity level. But it’s a shame to give away a game that we had won.”

-- Mel

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

WNBA: Mystics Quickly Dissolve Liberty

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _Thoughts to ponder after Tuesday night’s 95-60 wipeout of the New York Liberty by the Washington Mystics.

Should I get the blog out of the way now in the catacombs of the MCI, er, Verizon Center or dash up to Sabatino’s in Baltimore for a late night meal in Little Italy on the way back home?

Or for those who might have been wondering upon hearing the Inquirer was finally sold to a new owner earlier in the day, should I tell everyone how that impacts the guru’s operations?

The answer to that is the new operation will be locally based. Thus, at least for now, our course will be maintained, maybe even improved somewhat.

The guru will know more on Wednesday when the top editors meet with each department. The current publisher will remain in place. Perhaps, these new guys even read the sports pages.

But it was quite an adventure zipping down here today while the blackberry was going off every 120 seconds with another newsroom announcement.

As for the WNBA home and season opener for the Mystics, it took more time for me to compose the opening thoughts preceding this paragraph then it did for coach Richie Adubato’s new-look bunch in the nation’s capital to subdue the no-look Liberty.

Washington, paced by Alana Beard and a suffocating defense, jumped to a 14-0 lead with 6 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first quarter, and went on to build a 25-3 advantage before the Liberty scored some points near the end of the period to make it 27-8.

“I wish I could describe the feeling,” Washington’s DeLisha Milton-Jones said of the opening burst. “When you have have everyone just feeding off of each other like that, the energy level is so high, and it’s so thick, that it’s almost like you’re in a dream.

“You’re looking around like nothing can go wrong, and I love that feeling,” said the Florida graduate who earlier in the day was named as one of the eight member core players on the USA Basketball Senior National Women’s team that will compete in the FIBA World Championships in Brazil in September.

Beard scored 25 points, two below the Duke graduate’s career high as Washington took its first home opener since 2002. Milton-Jones had 12 points, and Coco Miller scored 10 points.

New York, which has a virtual makeover with only All-Star guard Becky Hammon back in the starting lineup, got 18 points from Shameka Christon, 12 from Catherine Kraayeveld, and 10 points from rookie Sherill Baker. Free-agent forward Kelly Schumacher, who had been with Indiana, grabbed 12 rebounds.

Washington forced New York into 28 turnovers, the most ever for an opponent in this building, and grabbed 18 steals as the Liberty are off to an 0-2 start after Saturday’s season-opening loss to the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville.

Needless to say, Adubato was delighted with the effort, even though rebounding remains a concern after New York dominated the boards, 34-22.

“It’s only the first game, but the defensive pressure early in the game from Alana Beard and Crystal Robinson, I thought was terrific,” he said.

Robinson has been reunited this season with Adubato after being with New York where he had coached previously to the Mystics.

“We had 18 steals, and that means you’re really working – your hands are working, you’re working for deflections, you’re getting over screens, you’re active and you’re getting pieces of the ball,” Adubato said. “And when did pick up those steals, we were able to turn them into fast breaks.”

Another statistics also pleased the veteran coach.

“Twenty-four assists and only 10 turnovers is a great ratio in this league.”

Newcomer Nikki Teasley, off a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks, dealt seven assists.

Beard noted the difference from a year ago at the start of the season when she was hampered by nagging injuries and the Mystics were trying to learn a new system under Adubato.

“It is a difference,” Beard said of the contrast. “It was a lot of adversity. Richie coming the first day right before training camp, having to adjust to his new system made it hard for everyone, and just having a year under your belt and knowing his system and knowing what he wants, it helps a lot.

“Bringing in Crystal Robinson could have been the best thing that’s happened to this team,” Beard said. “She knows his system and she helps everyone else out.”

Continuing comparing the two seasons, Beard said, “This year we’re more versatile. Last year we were more one-dimensional.”

She also added that the key is not to rest on Tuesday night’s victory.

“If you want to be a championship team, you have to build on that, and I know this team is going to do that because we’re hungry, we’re eager.”

Washington visits Charlotte Thursday night and then returns here to host the Minnesota Lynx and overall No. 1 draft pick Seimone Augustus on Saturday afternoon.

USA Basketball Core Group Selected

In addition to Milton-Jones, the other seven members of the core group for the world championships announced Tuesday were veterans Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks, Katie Smith of the Detroit Shock, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson of the Houston Comets, along with the younger bunch of Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, and Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever.

Seattle’s Anne Donovan will coach the team, assisted by Temple coach Dawn Staley, who is playing her last WNBA season with Houston, and previously was an ongoing member of the USA squad with three gold medals to her credit through her international retirement after the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Guru’s Note.

Because this report is now at the top of the blog list, make sure you go directly below to the next file to read Kate’s wonderful personal viewpoint on the WNBA at Season No. 10.

-- Mel

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Happy 10th Birthday, WNBA

By Kate Burkholder

When I think of the WNBA, I first think of the point in my childhood when women’s basketball players began to appear in the pages of my Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine.

The pin-up posters and perforated trading cards that had previously featured the likenesses of Brett Favre and Mark McGwire began to show new names and new faces – ones like Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, and Rebecca Lobo, and new team names like the Liberty and Comets (“who?”).

I was nine, a playground basketball player at best, and I guess most importantly, a little girl with the new idea that women could play professional sports if they were good enough. At the risk of sounding cliché, the WNBA’s ten-year lifespan has probably served that purpose for a lot of little girls.

I know firsthand about Rutgers graduate Cappie Pondexter’s tattoo on her arm that she got in high school, the WNBA logo and “The Future” in script. But she’s just one example of a kid with a dream, and now, accomplished women like Cappie are a part of a place where little girls can look on, even approach their favorite stars wearing their jerseys and say “I want to be like you one day.”

I never attended a WNBA game until last weekend when I went to the New York Liberty game as a member of the media, but in this short time of researching its history and observing those who have been a part of it all along, I have realized a little of the league’s importance.

The new rules (and even a new team) added this season were intended to make the league more exciting. Things like the striped basketball are marks that it is its own entity, separate from the NBA though linked financially. I know the players today are more athletic and the games more exciting than they were ten years ago, and that’s what makes it special.

The majority of my own newspaper experience has come with the women’s game on the college level, and I think it’s a great thing that those players have somewhere to go after college, a place to shoot for, and another chance to play. And, unlike some other professional women’s leagues, this one’s still around.

The college game is so exciting these days, and with women’s coverage getting better and the women’s NCAA Tournament growing to include a lot of the hype and fanfare that the men’s does, the WNBA can only benefit from the talent that keeps on coming and will continue to improve.

The biggest college names are still the ones to watch out for when they graduate, follow through the draft process and onto the professional scene, and it gives the athletes’ college fans another place to follow them once they leave school. I know the Rutgers fans are tracking Cappie’s progress with the Mercury carefully, and will continue to do so.

The WNBA is vastly different than the college game in the style of play and obviously the level of talent. The players have supreme athleticism and quickness and physicality, they’ve all been groomed through their respective universities and are joined now on a new plane. And honestly, it’s more fun than I expected it to be and they are truly the best of the best, true professionals in the way they play, carry themselves, and even respond to the media.

So, the NBA may attract more revenue, its players may be more well-known and paid more money, but the fact that women’s professional basketball is shown on national networks like ABC and a part of sports blogs and newspaper pages is something.

It may still be looking for a bigger fan base, more people to buy apparel and watch the games on TV, but I’d say the WNBA has come a long way from where it started and when I first saw it in my Sports Illustrated for Kids.

It's a goal for a lot of young athletes and for those that don't quite make it to that level, another place to watch a developing sport.

And just the fact that my mom sent me a text message from home yesterday saying “Cappie is on TV!” shows some of the strides the league has taken since 1997. People will keep watching to see Dawn Staley's last go-around, Lindsay Whalen's return to the court, and Seimone Augustus' run at Rookie of the Year.

Then, who knows where this will be in ten more years.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

WNBA at 10: Ranking the Moments

Guru's Note

Having learned a box with Saturday's story listing the Guru's choices of key people, places, events in the WNBA had hit the cutting room floor, as another reader service, here is it is.

Noting The WNBA

Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Mel Greenberg, who has covered the WNBA since its inception, ranks the most noteworthy players, teams, and events of the league’s first decade.

1. 2000 WNBA Finals. _ The New York Liberty’s Teresa Weatherspoon hits a mid-court shot as time expires, to extend Houston to a third and final game won by the Comets. The shot created a buzz in the sports world as replays of it were televised the over next several days.

2. The 1999 draft in New York City. _ Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw was taken No. 1 by the Washington Mystics. But the arrival of former ABL stars from the rival and defunct league meant the WNBA could move forward to create the best women’s basketball product.

3. Cynthia Cooper. _ Having played in the shadow of Cheryl Miller at Southern Cal in the mid-1980s, Cooper becomes the first dominate player leading the Houston Comets to the first four WNBA titles, winning the MVP award in each playoff.

4. 2003 Detroit Shock. _ Having the worst record the previous season, Detroit under former NBA Pistons “Bad Boy” Bill Laimbeer surges to the WNBA title winning the last two of a best-of-three series with Los Angeles at the Palace before crowds of 17,846, and 22,076.

5. The 1999 All-Star Game in New York City. _ A sellout crowd of 18,649 persons see the WNBA add the one element it lacked from the previous rival-ABL.

6. 2002 WNBA Finals. _ Los Angeles Sparks rookie Nikki Teasley hits a three-pointer at the buzzer to complete a 2-0 sweep over New York in the championship series.

7. The Mohegan Indian Tribe. _ The group in 2003 becomes the first WNBA owners unaffiliated with an NBA team and bring a franchise to Connecticut to compete at home in a casino complex.

8. 2001 Charlotte Sting. _ Under coach Anne Donovan and veteran guard Dawn Staley, the team overcomes a 1-10 start and eventually overcomes a 1-0 playoff deficit to win two games in New York and capture the Eastern Conference title.

9. 1998 WNBA Finals. _ Houston rallies from a 13-point, second-half deficit to beat Phoenix at home in overtime, evening the best-of-three series, and eventually winning its second title.

10. Val Ackerman. _ Having come over from the NBA side as a staff assistant to commissioner David Stern, the native of Hopewell, N.J., takes command of the league and steers it through good and bad times to help it reach today’s 10th anniversary season.

— Mel Greenberg

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sportsbiz Daily Roundtable on the WNBA

Guru's Note

Earlier this week, Oscar Dixon of USA Today, Kelli Anderson of Sports Illustrated and Yours Truly (who was using a cell phone) participated in a roundtable hosted by Sports Business Daily on the WNBA at 10.

One of my colleagues in the office got me into the site, which posted the talk on Friday. Since many of you are not subscribed, here is the cut-and-paste transcript that was going to be sent this way, anyway, in the next couple of days.

Printwise in the Inky/Philly.com for Saturday is the 10th anniversary story after the trim. Sunday will be a look at the competition.

In other news, all parties continue to explore how to develop the Staley site after our launch of Dawn's final countdown on Thursday. So far, volunteer friends from Virginia, Temple, the WNBA, official Houston and a local who has media access to home games, and USA Basketball are all on board to creater content, especially when we get to the final games.

Here's the sportsbiz transcript.

-- Mel Greenberg

Roundtable Of WNBA Writers Seem Bullish On League

Philadelphia Inquirer writer Mel Greenberg, USA TODAY pro basketball editor Oscar Dixon and SI senior writer Kelli Anderson, each of whom has covered the WNBA since its inception, discussed the state of the league as it enters its tenth season with Senior Staff Writer Jon Show this week.

Q: How would you characterize the growth of the WNBA over the last ten years?

Greenberg: It’s been steady and forward over the last ten years. It’s been an interesting evolvement. You think back to when the so-called war that went on when the ABL was in existence and everybody talked about their style and better players per se. If you look at where the WNBA is this year with the four quarters and the rules and a couple other things, you’re starting the marketing and financial support.

Dixon: The play is better. The athleticism has improved. When the league launched in ‘97 there was a rival league in the ABL, and most of the toughest post players were in that league. So I would say definitely overall the caliber of play has gotten better as the athleticism of the women has caught up to their multi-skill sets.

Anderson: The growth of the league has been overall steady. I don’t think it has been continuous. It sort of exploded at the beginning and had a lot of interest initially. Over the years it’s hit a few bumps, but I think a lot of things have been ironed out. There’s no question the talent has gotten so much better than it was ten years ago, and I think a lot of that is the presence of the WNBA has given girls playing basketball something to shoot for. The talent in college has gotten better. Not only has the play gotten better but — despite whatever you hear about the attendance going down slightly — I find the crowds incredibly enthusiastic.

Dixon: When they first started marketing the league it was more personality than performance, and now they’re turning it more toward performance because that’s the only way they’re going to survive and be able to put a good product on the floor. Greenberg: Initially with the two leagues, you had basketball in the ABL and sort of NBA-style entertainment in the other. The NBA marketing was almost down your throat that we used to joke that between halftime entertainment you got some basketball. Now people are there for the basketball.

Q: What’s the number one challenge facing the league?

Greenberg: The continuing way to market itself to attract fans. I think there’s a big problem in big cities fighting for print space in newspapers. There’s so many other things going on. In some ways, people covering the league might take it a lot more serious than others do. There’s only a couple cases where somebody actually goes on the road with their teams. But to counterbalance that you have more TV, the revenues are going up, and the Internet came along at the same time as women’s pro basketball. So the alternative market is there.

Improved Level Of Play Yet To
Generate Attendance Increase
Dixon: Connecting the dots between the quality of play and fans. Internet traffic may be up, television ratings may be up — of course they had no where else to go — but the numbers of fans in the seats don’t necessarily represent that increase. I’m very big on performance and the game, which is why the women’s college game is so successful, exciting and entertaining. If the play is better and you may have lost some fans who came out early, you need to get those people back in the seats to show it is exciting, quality basketball.

Anderson: Expanding the game to a larger fan base. The average attendance across the board is about 8,000. And those are hard core fans that are going to be there. But in order to bring up the salaries, they need to bring in more fans, more marketing opportunities, more sponsorships. They seem to be trying something new every year, and attendance kind of stays about the same.

Q: Could the WNBA have existed for ten years without the help of the NBA?

Greenberg: Probably not. It did need that big support early and teams were able to focus on winning rather than the day-to-day getting people in the seats and keeping them entertained.

Dixon: Absolutely not, and I don’t think the WNBA should make any apologies for having big brother in their pocket. I don’t think many businesses that start off the ground make money, and if you look at professional sports, only really the NFL makes money right now. So you need some way to support it.

Anderson: They couldn’t have made it, but if you look at the evolution of the WNBA, some teams are doing quite well without the support of the NBA — the Connecticut Sun and we’ll see what happens with the Chicago Sky. They had to have that to begin with, but now they can branch out into other ways of doing business.

Q: Will the WNBA ever be able to function financially independent of the NBA?

Greenberg: They keep claiming they’re close to profitability, but that’s probably at the league level. It’s still a mixed bag. ... As long as you have committed owners to help the entire cause, as well as their own cause, then it’s got a shot.

Mystics' Johnson An Example
Of Non-NBA Ownership
Dixon: We have to wait and see. They talk about the new business model of having owners that are not affiliated with NBA teams and there are three — but those are three very distinct models. Chicago’s going to be a test. Connecticut is not affiliated with an NBA team, but there’s nothing else in their backyard. Sheila Johnson and the Mystics are not affiliated with the Wizards, but they play in the same arena. Chicago is operating under the same model but playing in a different arena as the Bulls. Now you have to convince fans you are still on par with the WNBA even though you aren’t playing in a first-class arena.

Anderson: It’s possible if you have a group of committed owners that are willing to invest in the franchise, that are good business people who know how to make money. If you have a group of people in 14, 16, 18 cities, then sure it can work. But I don’t know if it could happen right now.

Q: What type of fans should the WNBA be marketing to?

Greenberg: It’s pretty much where they’re at now. Women’s college fans. The young crowd is your growth. If they grow up being fans and looking at the rest of the league, that’s how you might have a major cultural change. Families. They’re not going to attract a lot of the male sports bar guys, but the more TV you get, you have a shot at some of that crowd.

Dixon: Any basketball fan that’s willing to pay. I don’t care about race, gender or sexual orientation. It’s not a concern.

Anderson: I think that it really is that simple. I don’t know if marketing to that broad a spectrum is that simple, but it seems like you can find fans of the WNBA everywhere. And I think it’s dangerous to pigeon hole your fans and say, ‘Our fans are retired people or lesbians.’ You can be very limiting in your potential if you go about it that way.

Q: If you were put in charge of the WNBA’s media strategy, what are some specific actions you would take to increase media coverage?

Greenberg: Sending out story ideas and increasing the amount of TV coverage. They probably need to visit a few sports departments and develop more relationships with editors.

Dixon: Sometimes you need to visit editors and producers. But it should be an emphasis on the game because I don’t think you can exist over an expanded period of time with gimmicks. ... You have to convince editors that there are great players, and that has been a problem. The league would often compare itself to women’s tennis. “You’re interested in Serena Williams’ catsuit.” We were only interested in Serena Williams’ catsuit when she was No. 1 and 2 in the world.

Anderson: Visiting editors is a great idea and sending story ideas as they come along to outlets that match a story idea you have. ... Women’s basketball is certainly not overexposed, and there’s a lot of good stories out there. It’s also surprising to me that the players aren’t more accessible. There’s plenty of players still who are not on board with that and aren’t easy to talk to. I think that some of the players haven’t bought into the idea that the media is part of the growth.

Dixon: I would add that some of those players are the star players.

Q: Has the league peaked as a property?

Dixon: No. This is a milestone at ten, but how they go from here and whether or not the business model will be successful and how they can continue to market great players. What is going to drive their product is the players. And there are a lot of great players coming up. College basketball continues to grow, and as long as they can capitalize on that momentum the future could be better.

Anderson: I agree totally. The college game continues to expand, and the WNBA is going to continue to reflect that. I don’t think they’ve peaked at all.

Greenberg: I don’t know if it has peaked in terms of it can’t get any higher. Maybe at times it has paused in its growth in a kind of stair-step way and possibly stagnated. Houston winning the first four WNBA titles began to create some problems of boredom, although the domination was as impressive as a hindrance. In many ways, Donna Orender brought a new personality jolt into the league, which is not to detract from the great work of Val Ackerman.

-- Mel

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What's Going On _ Sort of.

By Mel Greenberg

Hello everyone as we slip into conversation mode.

I know what's on your mind today other then: "Hey Mel, Kate did a great job in her first WNBA effort."

(That post is right behind this one, by the way.)

Well, you should be thinking positive thoughts over her "pro debut" because we have received compliments from acquaintances in promiment locations saying as much, including a comment from someone at a presidential level and we'll leave it at that.

And you're also thinking, especially if you've been connected to several sites caused by the "Mel effect," not to be confused with the "Southwest Airlines effect," that in a recent post late last week, I told you. as a reader service, to do all your linking involving our work right here for now without stopping at Philly.com, which houses our printed work in the Inquirer.

My explanation was that local horses (can you say Barbaro?) and local baseball, as in Kate's favorite team, were clogging the printed coverage highway.

So if that's the case, you're wondering how did I manage to get a "Dawn Staley Farewell Tour Begins" story in the paper today (Thursday) that also populated all over the lame-duck Knight-Ridder chain. (Bids were made for this place, Tuesday, but no new owner has been identified for here yet.).

Well, somewhere a bell went off that, yes, the WNBA season begins this weekend and we (as in they) need to do something about it.

So, please amend last week's rules of coverage as follows:

This is still the place to come for specialty conversation, Kate's mostly exclusive contributions, other than outside gigs she obtains or we find for her, and ongoing information and extra stories augmenting our printed work.

But print coverage will be generated in such a way as to create links to the new WNBA page at Philly.com, which hopefully will have a sub-attachment to keep an eye on Staley's farewell tour. (Note to fans outside the area: She is a Philly native, which is also the home operating base for guru central.)

Now, this page won't look impressive yet, because we have to bring the tech folks up to speed as to what we need to do, but it's a start.

The season-opening package at Philly.com, which now includes the Staley story, will also have several additions over the next two days.

I'll be doing a general league story for Friday and then a local-connections story for Saturday, highlighted by the former La Salle association of Paul Westhead and Joe Bryant, who will be coaching against each other in the WNBA's Western Division.

We've also been collecting tributes from around the league about Dawn, which we'll sprinkle soon as we determine the best placement.

There will also be some weekly notebook in print put into play. Enhancement links from Philly.com will bring you here, although many of you know the way.

Also, for you Temple fans, I've been cleared to be on the scene, June 2, in Houston when Staley and her former Owls star Candice Dupree on the new Chicago team go against each other for the first time.

Missing Chelsea

On Saturday afternoon in New York in Madison Square Garden, as we did our pre-game drill, I introduced Kate to John Whisenant, the coach of the WNBA defending-champion Sacramento Monarchs.

Upon hearing Kate was a Rutgers student, Whisenant began waxing eloquent over Chelsea Newton, the former Rutgers star who helped the Monarchs as a rookie last season and then went to the new Chicago Sky in the expansion draft.

However, because of how the conversation was conducted, and because Kate wasn't in interview mode with pen and paper or tape recorder, she wasn't sure whether she could relate the conversation, which had no controversy attached.

Well, to keep Kate's journalistic reputation in tact, I'd like to tell you Rutgers fans that I overheard Whisenant tell her how much the Monarchs miss Newton.

"She did a lot for our team, we're really having trouble finding a replacement for her," I heard the Monarchs coach explain to Kate. "We didn't care how much she scored and she didn't, either. Chelsea just went out and did whatever was necessary to help us."

Back to the Future

By the time many of you will read this, the news will have circulated that Cathy Andruzzi, most recently a Seton Hall assistant, and earlier a Rutgers assistant, is the new head coach of Fordham.

Andruzzi, whose previous head coaching gig was at East Carolina in the early 1980s, spent many years as a longtime media colleague of ours doing broadcast analysis of games and writing columns for various publications.

In 2000, she headed the local organizing committee here for the Women's Final Four, one of the more successful events in the NCAA's 25-year-history.

But her passion was always in coaching, so we wish her well in her new job with the Rams.

Ok, so now you're up to date and if the word gets around, we can have fun watching the meter-button number increase after learning Friday how to install the device on the page.

The reason Kate is mentioned several times in this effort is judging from the weekend count, her name and work are now generating more traffic over here than anything your guru is involved with. :)

So, one of us will be back with commentary in the next 24 hours.

-- Mel

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Preseason closes for new-look Liberty

By Kate Burkholder
NEW YORK – The floor at Madison Square Garden may be a familiar one for veteran Becky Hammon, but other than that the point guard's surroundings are relatively new.

As floor general for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, Hammon is in her eighth season with a highly renovated Pat Coyle squad. Only a full-time starter for the last two of them, Hammon’s 88 starts entering this season nearly rival that of the rest of the squad combined.

With eight new players on the 2006 roster, the 29-year-old Hammon will look to help her Liberty teammates find their groove, spending the early part of the summer months playing some necessary getting-to-know-you.

“Really it’s just getting everybody comfortable and getting everybody situated to where they are feeling like they can do what they do best out there,” Hammon said after New York’s 12-point loss to the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs Saturday. “As a leader, I really want to be an enabler for [my teammates], whether it’s helping them out with plays or just getting around the city.

“I just want to help with that and be there for them both on and off the court.”

Hammon (11 points, 6 assists) was one of four Liberty players to reach double-figures against Sacramento, but New York was unable to hang on after jumping out to an early 8-0 lead although they kept it close for the better part of three quarters.

It was still a big step in the right direction after getting trampled by the Seattle Storm, 71-43, a week ago.

“[The Monarchs] are the defending champs, so we thought we did some things well and some things bad and there are things that we need to tweak,” Hammon said. “We’ll take it and learn from it. The good news is that this one doesn’t count against us.”

The four other Liberty starters from a year ago either signed with other teams (Vickie Johnson and Crystal Robinson) or elected to play this season overseas (Elena Baranova and Ann Wauters).

New York then made a handful of acquisitions this off-season, including the signing of three raw collegiate talents in Sherill Baker (Georgia), Christelle N’Garsanet (Missouri), and Brooke Queenan (Boston College).

Other notable additions for the 2006 Liberty include former University of Connecticut and Indiana Fever standout Kelly Schumacher and 6-3 forward Barbara Farris, who played previously with Detroit.

Also signed this season were Iciss Tillis of Detroit and Ashley Battle from the Storm.

Joining Hammon on the more experienced side of things will be small forward Shameka Christon. Christon is in her third season in New York and is looking forward to the surprises ahead.

“It’s just going to take some time to learn each other,” Christon said. “If you had seen us the first day you know we’ve come a long way to where we are today. There are still things that we have to straighten out and work on, but everyone is very eager to learn and they are hard workers and they get after it, so I feel pretty good about all the new faces that are here.”

The only other returnees from the Liberty’s 18-16 campaign in 2005 include forward Cathrine Kraayeveld and guards Loree Moore and Erin Thorn.

The Liberty had gone into the 2006 draft in Boston with high expectations and looking to fill the holes left by departing players, leaving Coyle in search of the right personalities and players not afraid to get physical.

“The biggest thing we wanted to bring in was people that had high character, that was the first thing,” Coyle said. “Then, we wanted to get bigger and more athletic, and I think we’ve done that.”

The Liberty showed some of that toughness Saturday by fighting for most of the way against a very tall and very athletic Monarchs team that thrives on crashing the boards and dominating inside.

Now, the goal for New York is just to control the turnovers and establish the kind of compatibility that will only come with time.

“We’re going to have some silly turnovers – it’s just a matter of getting to know each other and developing that chemistry,” Hammon said. “Our coaches are still fiddling with some lineup stuff, so it’s going to be a matter of getting comfortable with each other. Everything will run smoothly when we get to know each other a little better.”

Hammon and the Liberty finished the preseason 1-2 and will head into the regular season ranked sixth in the league.

New York will open things up May 20 at the Connecticut Sun.

In the meantime, they’ll be working on those things Hammon talked about.

“If we can develop that chemistry on the court and off the court, everything will flow much easier for us,” she said. “It’s just going to take some time.

“We’re not doing anything out there that’s unfixable, but as a leader I just have to make sure that we just keep getting better. That will be the goal for this team – to come in and do better everyday and we’ll be alright.”

Friday, May 12, 2006

Kate Turns Pro - And Other Notes

By Mel Greenberg

That's right you Rutgers fans of Kate Burkholder's work at the Daily Targum.

Your worst fears have been realized - Kate is jumping to the WNBA, potentially making her debut today (Saturday) in a Madison Square Garden exhibition tilt between the new-look New York Liberty and defending champion Sacramento Monarchs.

"There's nothing really left for her to accomplish in college," said one major newspaper East Coast executive who has observed her copy, particularly in recent weeks before the Targum shuttered its doors for the summer.

All right, all right, now that the Guru has your attention: Calm down.

Kate has returned to the area and her home down here for the summer where she'll be pulling in bread in a non-newspaper job near the White Tower (this building), but be in close proximity to dabble in her journalistic passion, as she desires, while still enjoying the thrill of a student on summer vacation.

So, Kate will blog here, where many of you have become her fans during her wonderful work in Boston, when we brought her aboard for the Final Four and the WNBA draft. (What else can I do after giving the kid the keys to the site :) ).

Her work will range on anything -- sometimes serious, sometimes not, other times not at all. Kate will also be able to use this venue to keep you Rutgers fans up to date over the summer on such as items as a Purdue transfer heading for Scarlet Knights' land, according to a phone call the Guru received from from a Chicago scribe who is a close friend.

Skilled journalist that she is, Kate will be checking facts before posting meaningful news.

Her variety of talent could offer over the summer either a game story from one of the three WNBA cities, or a feature, or whatever, including behind-the-scenes secrets of the Guru's operation, as she dealt in Beantown.

But Kate's work will be her show alongside whatever we usually provide, assuming the yet-to-be-determine-new-owners (any day now) of the newspaper here that issues weekly paychecks don't decide I'd make a great pencil salesman outside the building on the corner. :)

Commentary on Saturday's scene will be up to Kate _ wait till she sees the it's not-all-glamour Japanese-restaurant-style low seats we normally are placed behind the left basket.

The Guru's only interest on Saturday is getting Kate's season credential handled for the Liberty as well as those tasty french fries at the concession stand.

Oh, and there will be a very nice meal at the end of the day to make up for the quick McDonald's stop on the way home from Boston.

We may even practice the file-from-the-train trick now that Guru's laptop computer has an air card, which you became aware of off a recent post on a trip to D.C.

* * * *

While we're on the subject of collegiate types, Jonathan Tannenwald, the Penn student who was a sportswriter at the Daily Pennsylvanian and filed for us last summer from Washington Mystics games -- he might appear from there a little bit this summer == is graduating this weekend. So we wish him well.

(This is starting to sound like a Rebecca Lobo shoutout log at the WNBA site.)

We may also get some help from George Washington student Joshua Meredith in New York if neither Kate nor myself is on the scene. He's the sports editor of the Daily Colonial in the nation's capital.

* * * *

Note to Temple types: Chicago sources report Temple star Candice Dupree performed well in her first exhibition game when the Sky beat Los Angeles.

"Forget the stats," our colleague said. "She went up against Lisa Leslie, one of the all-time greats, and didn't back down."

* * * *

Note to the Philly market. Until local horses stop winning triple crown races, or a local major league team stops winning baseball games, or until a West Coast athlete's ability to hit homers diminishes, or news in our venue actually forces its way into print, you can come directly here and do not stop at philly.com (which only reflects our print edition work) to get your fix of things that might not have been posted yet over on the fine women's hoops site.

That's it for now. The serious stuff tonight was posted behind this one off the teleconference with WNBA commissioner Donna Orender.

On Monday, we're involved with a roundtable on the WNBA at sports business daily, which, unless straightened out, will occur at the same time as league coaches will be giving their annual assessments to the media.

-- Mel

Orender Eyes WNBA's 10th Anniversary

On Thursday afternoon (5-11), WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender held a teleconference with national reporters and team beat writers who chronicle the pro women's basketball league to discuss the 10th anniversary season, which officially begins competition the weekend of May 20.

By Mel Greenberg

As the 10th anniversary of the WNBA looms on the horizon, commissioner Donna Orender, who begins year two at the helm, was asked what three things would really excite her the most this summer.

"I'd have to start with the game," Orender said. "I find the WNBA brand of basketball absolutely thrilling and compelling, and I can't attend enough games.

"The second thing is to continue to see the trend of our fan base growing. The last numbers I saw, our fan base increased about 20 percent, so we're nearly 30 million _ and we define those fans as people who actually touched the game _ attended it, watched it or bought our products _ so I'd like to see those numbers grow," Orender continued.

"And of course, the companies that are looking to partner with us. The companies that are looking for a league that represents leadership and inspiration and creating change. It's a league that speaks to women and families in a way that no other sporting league does. I also find that very exciting."

As the WNBA continues to evolve _ the franchise lineup returns to forward progress this summer with the addition of the new Chicago Sky to bring the total to 14 _ two significant rules changes will offer a different look.

There will be four 10-minute quarters as opposed to two 20-minute halves, and the shot clock has been reduced from 30 seconds to 24. The former American Basketball League used the four-quarter format in its short two-years-and-change of existance.

"We thought it was important to differentiate our game from the collegiate game," Orender said of the moves. "These are professionals, therefore, they should play a more professional game.

"And number two, all of our top players were Olympians, and played internationally, that's about 78 percent of our players, and they play with a 24-second clock all around the world, so they can play with a 24-second clock in our league," Orender continued.

"And for the four quarters, we just thought it would enhance the entertainment experience."

Finances are usually bought up in discussions about the league and Orender said the WNBA, at the league level, "was very close" to breaking even. "I can't speak to individual teams making money, those are individual team decisions. But if you can get me a chart on when all the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA teams are making money, I would like to look at that as well. The league is very close to breaking even."

Several years ago, the WNBA business model changed and owning an NBA team was no longer a requirement to land a sister WNBA franchise. While the WNBA drifted backwards from a high of 16 teams during the shakeout, the league appears to be stabilized with both NBA and and non-NBA affiliates equally committed to the summer cause, according to the commissioner.

"We have 14 ownership groups in the WNBA," Orender said. "Each one of them has contributed to a significant amount of their resources towards continuing the success of the WNBA. I don't know what more I can tell you than that because it's there and it's happening. There's sponsporship sales, ticket sales, there's players ... there's everything that you can imagine happening in every one of our markets."

The WNBA commissioner said the league tracks the operations of individual teams, even though the total entity is somewhat less centralized since the change in the business model.

Orender spoke of the differences between NBA owners in such places as Houston, New York, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, compared to the non-NBA group which includes Sheila Johnson in Washington, who took over last summer, the Mohegan Indian Tribe in Connecticut, and real estate mogul Michael Alter in Chicago.

"It works both ways," Orender said. "If I had to, I'd choose Sacramento (the defending champion) as a great NBA/WNBA model where you have focused success on two properties that actually drives both teams equally wel..

"In Connecticut, what keeps them ahead of the game is the fact they wake up every single day of the year thinking about the Connecticut Sun."

It was noted during the call by a reporter that ticket sales had declined in some places, but Orender was quick to counter that she expected to see an attendance rise this season and mentioned that in today's changing world with technology, the total reach must be considered.

"You can't ignore the fact that our numbers have also grown double-digits in terms of our ratings on television," Orender said. "Our internet traffic, which is already a significant number, has doubled. "And our end number has grown over 20 percent in just a few years time."

Orender discussed expansion, saying talks are ongoing with interested markets.

"We're looking at a couple of markets right now," Orender said, without mentioning specific locations. "I would think right now my personal focus is getting us through this season and enjoying it.

"Then, strategically, we're talking. The phone rings with all kinds of people interested in franchise ownership. Our job now is to strategically analyze that and then prioritize the markets that we would want to enter."

Orender listed several criteria for hopeful owners of teams. "I would tell you first and foremost (what we look for) clearly is passionate, committed ownership, supported by great fans and obviously a business base that will provide the ongoing financial support what would make the whole business proposition work."

She also spoke to the ongoing complexities, internationally, as the WNBA attempts to manage its operation and still provide its players to opportunity to compete in their native countries, especially in such events as this year's FIBA World Championship, and the Olympics.

Orender emphasized priority one, however, is building the WNBA.

"What we look at, is how to continue to build on making the WNBA the best women's basketball league in the world," Orender said. "We have owners who've invested in that mission. We have players, almost to a woman, who would agree that this is the place to play.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that this remains, and continues to build, as the best place to play," Orender said.

As a former star at Queens College, Orender was a world away a decade ago involved with the PGA Tour when the WNBA was launched.

But she had no reservations that the league could be successful, especially with the NBA's support.

"I actually thought that with the business acumen of the NBA and the way they were approaching the market with their great campaign (we got next), their messaging, the great players -- I said, `Listen, if there's every been a league that's had a shot, it's going to be this one," Orender recalled.
"I've always been a believer - I was born a believer."

-- Mel

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Terps' Harper Finally Living The Dream

Guru's note:

Greetings all.

Since we're out of season, intensity-wise, in the college world, to reward you for linking over, here's a recent interview with local-girl-makes-good-at-Maryland Laura Harper that sat in the silos behind a jam of stories involving local-major-league-baseball-team-playing-well-when-Barry-Bonds-comes-to-town and local-horse-runs-good-in-the-Kentucky-Derby. :)

It appeared Tuesday in print and on Philly.Com.

By Mel Greenberg
Inquirer Staff Writer

Now that it's just over a month since Maryland won the NCAA women's basketball championship and sophomore Laura Harper was named the tournament's most outstanding player, the Cheltenham High graduate finally accepts that those events in Boston were more than a dream.

The 6-foot-4 forward, during a recent phone call from College Park, mentioned several events that have happened since the Terrapins overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to beat Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke, 78-75, at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Harper was one of three Terrapins with 16 points in the title game. That came after she had scored a career-high 24 points in the 81-70 semifinal upset of tournament favorite North Carolina, another ACC rival.

A few days after their return to campus for a wild celebration, the Terrapins made the short trip to the White House for a presidential salute.

"That was really cool," Harper said. "Seeing Lang with President Bush and all the pictures, I definitely liked that."

Lang is Harper's teammate, sophomore Crystal Langhorne, a graduate of Willingboro High.

"Just getting congratulations from everyone, walking around and being known, seeing the game again, seeing all the posters and clippings, it's starting to be more real and less of 'Oh my God. Did this actually happen?' " Langhorne said with a chuckle.

Harper, Langhorne and the rest of the Maryland players are also scheduled to make a trip to Europe later this month that had been scheduled before the Terrapins' rise to the top of the women's basketball world.

Harper said she was "shocked" when her name was called for the MVP award after Maryland beat Duke.

"I went from not playing [most of] last year" due to a ruptured Achilles tendon injury "to MVP," Harper said. "I would have never thought I would have gotten such an honor.

"Everyone assumed Crystal was going to get it, and I was happy for her. That moment they were about to announce it, I was happy because Crystal was going to get it."

Harper, the daughter of Maria and Haviland Harper, the Central High boys' coach, said that winning a national basketball title was never an objective before she got serious about the sport.

"I played field hockey and really liked that," said Harper, who got serious about hoops when she was a junior at Cheltenham. "My thing about basketball is, I wanted to win a state championship in high school.

"My mom always had me in gyms. She knew she couldn't personally help me, but she wanted people to help me. So she threw me in gyms, threw me with trainers.

"My dad was always at practice."

Harper said Cheltenham wants her to speak at a few events, but she won't get involved until returning home from the European trip. She and Langhorne will also make a homecoming visit next season when Maryland visits Temple.

"It's a shame [Candice Dupree] won't be there," Harper said of the former Temple star who graduated this year. "But playing Temple is still pretty cool."

Although it was tough to miss most of last season with the Achilles injury, Harper said the injury was "a blessing in disguise."

"Everything always happens for a reason," Harper said. "I got stronger internally. The team got stronger without me, and coming back, I was like an addition that made the team stronger."

With an eye to the WNBA two seasons from now, Harper said she plans to work on her game this summer.

"I was happy with the overall outcome, but as far as me, I didn't get to work on personal things," she said, citing the injury. "I'm a very hard worker in the off-season. I want to work on my overall strength and quickness. I want to work on my post jumper from inside the lane.

"Those types of things can take me to another level as a player."

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

WNBA's Mystics Look to Make Magic This Season

By Mel Greenberg

_ In a town where the political environment is anything but upbeat, the Washington Mystics are filled with optimism that they have a well-balanced blend to overcome the the early season hardships of a year ago that ultimately kept them out of the WNBA playoffs.

“I think we have a lot of strong players on this team,” said guard Coco Miller at the Mystics’ media day on Thursday in what is now known as the Verizon Center. “We’re going to be extremely deep. Our bench is going to be great.

“We have some great new additions on this team with Crystal (Robinson) and Nikki (Teasley) so we’re going to be tough.

Robinson signed as a free agent after spending all of her WNBA career with the New York Liberty. The move reunites her with coach Richie Adubato.

Teasley, returning to her native D.C. area, was acquired in a trade that sent Muriel Page and last season’s top rookie Temeka Johnson to the Los Angeles Sparks.

“The key to any season is to stay healthy,” Miller recalled the early season struggles a year ago.

Miller likes the new rules this season that includes a change to four 10-minute quarters from two 20-minute halves, and also the reduction of the shot clock to 24 seconds from 30.

“The shot clock change will make for a quicker offense,” Miller explained.

The former Georgia star, whose twin sister Kelly is with the Minnesota Lynx, doesn’t feel there is a particular favorite in the WNBA.

“This year there is a lot of different changes around the league, a lot of great players went to new teams,” Miller said. “Connecticut is going to be tough again, but I think a lot of teams are going to be right up there with them.”

Robinson said there was no real mind set to her move from the Liberty, which she’ll see as an opponent for the first time on May 23 when the Mystics host New York in their home opener.

“I had an opportunity that I thought was good for me. I’m very excited to play for Richie again,” Robinson said. “I think they have a lot of talent on this team, a lot of young talent,” Robinson said. “It’s just going to be a great opportunity to be in a new atmosphere.”

Adubato said acquiring Robinson was “a no-brainer.

“I had her 5 ½ years and I think she’s one of the best defenders in the league,” Adubato said. “Also, an excellent three-point shooter. Last year, she played with a broken finger on her right hand – her shooting hand. But she’s played very, very well in Russia.

“She’s a defensive stopper,” Adubato said. “She can play the (Tamika) Catchings. She can play ther (Chamique) Holdsclaws. They’re a little bigger than her. But at the end of the night, if they score a lot points, they have to take a lot of shots. You’re no going to get anything easy with Crystal.

“She’s going to deny you the ball, make you work very hard to get it. And then she’s very difficult to get around, so she makes you shoot over the top most of the time, which prevents a lot of good scorers getting to the basket," Adubato continued.

“She’s been to the finals three times. She’s got a great personality. So she’s going to add to the chemistry of the group even though she’s new. She’ll fit in very quickly.”

Alana Beard is trying to make sure she avoids the injury such as the one to her ankle a year ago that kept her sidelined in the early going.

“I have to be a lot smarter,” said the former Duke star guard who finds herself one of the veterans on the team in what is only her third season as a pro.

“With Teasley coming in, we have a lot of people who can play the backcourt, we have a lot of people who can compete, we’re very versatile,” Beard said of the Mystics roster reconstruction.

“It feels good,” she said of her veteran status. “I love it. I think our first or second day here, Richie asked the veterans to step out on the court, and I stepped out on the court and said `Yeah, I’m a vet,’ and it felt so good. You just want to go out and have fun.

“The only difference is I’m a vet and I still have a rookie salary,” Beard smiled about the collective bargaining agreement that has her still on a lower play scale through this season and next.

“If you look at this team on paper, you just have to marvel how many good things are on this team,” Beard continued. “I can’t even put into words how amazing training camp is. Everyone is competitive, yet we still respect each other, respect each other’s game, and respective each other as individuals. I think that’s the most important thing.

“Having Nikki in the backcourt, It’s going to be exciting, because she’s going to get you the ball, and it’s going to bring in more fans, watching her,” Beard said.

She noted how important some quick success would be in pursuit of a playoff berth.

“It’s just like starting your day,” Beard said. “You want to have breakfast to get that energy going. It was hard last year. This year it feels different, and I like it very, very much.”

Beard spent most of the offseason playing basketball overseas in such places as Australia and Korea before joining up with the U.S. national team.

“But I want to keep my body young, so I want to be smart with it. And I definitely love the game. You don’t want to play if you don’t love it,” she said.

Beard’s toughest moment in the offseason came at Christmas when she was away from her family for the first time, playing overseas.

“It was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. It was even harder than going off to college for four years, not being with your family – I missed thanksgiving, I missed Christmas,” Beard said. “I cried the whole day.”

Beard also praised playing for Dawn Staley, who coached the U.S. team in Australia for a day until Anne Donovan returned from the WNBA draft.

“Dawn loves the game, whether she’s playing or whether she’s coaching, she motivates you,” Beard said. She knows what she’s talking about and I just sit there and soak everything up. It’s so much fun being around her.”

Delisha Milton-Jones, who recently arrived in town from playing overseas, spoke of the blend of vets and youth on the Washington squad.

“When you’re putting a team together you need that mixture of the old and the young, although I don’t want to call myself old,” Milton-Jones smiled.

“I look forward to the season this year. I just have a feeling we’re going to have more fun. And when you have fun out there, than you can win a lot of games. And if we have fun, maybe we can win one more game to get into the playoffs,” Milton-Jones recalled losing out on the last day of the season.

“But with Alana Beard healthy this time, I think you can look for some early wins here.”

Adubato feels the learning curve won’t be as steep for the Mystics in his second season.

“Hopefully, they’ll understand our system better, it takes a little time.”

The only player not exposed to Adubato’s style is Teasley, who’s delayed returning from Hungary while she is engaged in a salary dispute.

“This is the second year with our system,” Adubato said. “And I think we’ll execute better, we’ll be better defensively because of that, and we’ll have more team work and more offensive execution to give us better shot opportunities.”

Adubato said there is no surprise that Beard is quickly becoming acclimated to a veteran’s mentality.

“When you have to take a team over, you start understanding what a veteran’s all about because the pressure’s on you every night to carry on,” Adubato said. “And now she’s injury free. So far it’s a completely different story with her and Delisha.”

Perhaps, the final chapter of this season will be different than most have been with the Mystics.

-- Mel

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mel on Wheels - Amtrak Style

By Mel Greenberg

Good morning America.

I know, this is usually the time I would have said good evening and been deep into shuteye while the rest of the world gets going.

However, we're on the way to Mystics Media Day in the nation's capital.

The more important news as the guru once again corners the technology market, this blog is coming right from an Amtrak dining car where we're serving food for thought -- wait there goes the Susquehanna River, er there went the Susequehanna River -- as the car rocks and rolls, but the connection has been steady from Philly all the way to here so far, thanks to the purchase of an Air Card that looks like it will overcome problems when hotspots are not available.

So as the train crawls into Aberdeen, we'll be back later today, maybe right before D.C. As they say on, never mind, the Mexican stuff is tomorrow, as in Friday.

-- Mel

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Out and About and Out of It -- Sort Of

By Mel Greenberg

So, time for a little personal journal of the last few days.

The eve of the trip to Knoxville, Tenn., for the annual Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (WBHOF) Induction, last Thursday was marked by a major reclamation project in our work station involving the demolition of boxscore handouts, play-by-play scrawls, game-notes handouts, etc., you name it, to produce for the first time in several months, bare, naked desktop. :)

Gee, forgot what the color was, sort of.

A secondary reason was to re-jigger our shift into the pro season and also to make the place presentable in the event a self-appointed biographer who lives in the area decides to make an on-site inspection visit. :)

Then it was home for some quick shut-eye and on to a 5:30 a.m. flight to Charlotte, connecting to the toy airplane fleet to finish off the trip to Knoxville.

The weather was quite nice and soon after our arrival and converting the hotel room into proper music ambience, our colleague and self-appointed campaign manager in Knoxville, Dan Fleser of the Knoxville News Sentinel, dropped by to whisk us off to Litton's, a place about 20 minutes away toward to the hills that serves some of the best hamburgers and french fries, ever.

Then it was back to the hotel to get ready to go to the hall next door for the media session with the six inductees. The focus was, of course, on Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, and he also earned the larger amount of our reporting here because, although many of you visit this blog from a national perspective, he is a Philly guy.

And when a certain guru is being eclipsed in print by the NFL draft, the Flyers, etc., well, this was the way to go.

Then it was back to the hotel to send in the print version of the media session and change somewhat to a slightly finer mode of attire for the Friday night events back in the WBHOF.

The first part was a reception with a buffet consisting of chicken, beans, ice cream, and other delights. It was also a chance to catch up with acquaintances, some of who were in town as members of the board to select next year's class of inductees, and others who were part of the entourages of this year's induction class.

Although, we were occupied with just catching up, we are aware of several campaigns occuring on behalf of the guru, so we took some personal notes, just in case we find ourselves on the other side of fence next time around.

Results of the board's deliberations won't be announced until November at the annual tipoff doubleheader. Once the next class of inductees is informed of their selections, those individuals face the rather difficult job of deciding who will star in the introductory video of themselves and who will serve as the escort to the podium.

Yeah, for you fans of a certain college kid whose work has appeared here, that person is high on the list for consideration, not to mention any names, just in case the knock on the door occurs. :)

But be warned, during the past several years, comments of "You're Next" have often been heard without those comments transformed to reality.

Meanwhile, some of the notables in the crowd were our Georgia friends Teresa Edwards, the all-time Olympian who continues to play (which is why she isn't in the WBHOF) and Georgia coach Andy Landers.

Bev Smith, a past inductee who starred in Canada and now coaches Oregon, her alma mater, was on the scene as was one of the newest board members -- one Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.

In fact, later in the evening, we spent some quality time together discussing the years gone by. Incidentally, in a topic brought up from "coach," in case some of you in the Scarlet Knights crowd have been wondering, she, too, is impressed with the writings of a certain college kid on her campus.

That very same individual was asked for by one coach Pat summitt, whose local Tennessee team has been known to win an NCAA title or two or three or four or five or six. In fact, the college kid so impressed in Boston that few are using that individual's last name when mentioning that individual in conversation. :)

And to think some of us had to spend several decades before acquiring single name status. :)

Pat and the college kid became acquaintances back in Boston several weeks ago, when thrown together in six inches of space in the back seat of the Guru-mobile.

The reception also included a brief introductory ceremony in which each of the inductees made a few remarks.

Although the names of honorees are noted in our reporting just in back of this blog, to refresh -- they were two coaches -- Geno Auriemma and Bentley's Barbara Stevens -- three former all-Americans in Texas' Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, Georgia's Katrina McClain Johnson, and Louisiana Tech's Janice Lawrence Braxton. Brazilian sensation Paula Goncalves da Silva rounded out the group.

Auriemma began his comments, noting it was great to be "in Pat's summer home."

After the first part of the evening's activities concluded, everyone retired to the urban playground room on the first floor for what has become a traditional storytelling session.

It is here that serious and not-so-serious comments are made in a town hall setting by the inductees and their well-wishers.

"There are no stories about me," Barbara Stevens said, noting that her friends and family had been thoroughly warned.

Landers, Stringer, and Auriemma lauded the all-American trio as some of the best of all time.

Auriemma, whose staff was on the scene, noted a game in the fall of 1995 when his first defending national champions played the United States Olympic team on campus and Jamelle Elliott had to guard McClain.

"Had not the referees been compasionate, Jamelle would not only be the only player in Connecticut women's history to score 1,000 points, and grab a 1,000 rebounds, she'd have the only triple double -- 15 points, 10 rebounda, and 12 fouls," Auriemma said.

He also noted said that "had Katrina had better coaching in college, she would have won at least one national championship," giving his friend Landers a dig.

Stringer talked about the need for the three players to join the coaching ranks to make younger players appreciate what came before.

"You were the real players," Stringer said with pride.

She already has one such person on her staff in former Scarlet Knights star Sue Wicks, whose name, we hear, is drawing interest by Hofstra for the vacant position.

It would seem a natural match, considering Wicks' Long Island roots.

In discussing the recent dunks by Tennessee freshmen Candace Parker and their impact on the game, Auriemma also mentioned that "One thing is going to change the women's game when people become more competitive, they rebound harder, they run the floor harder, they take better care of the basketball, they play defense with a passion, they play the game like their life depends on it. That is what is going to make the game better -- not dunking the basketball. That doesn't change anything."

He mentioned Stevens and former Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp as two coaches "who do things the right way, they win the right way and they coach the right way. They're two people every coach should emulate."

Davis-Wrightsil said the biggest change in the women's game was exposure made possible through television and also the WNBA.

da Silva recalled as a little girl taking home a toilet seat from a demolished housing development to shoot a basketball at.

Then it was back to the hotel bar where some other faces in the crowd included Beth Bass, chief executive officer of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association; Carol Stiff, an ESPN executive; former Texas Tech coach Fran Garmon, among other players and one of the early pioneers of the modern era.

Much of Saturday in the daytime was spent by yours truly visiting former Inquirer sports editor Jay Searcy, who retired to Knoxville. Some of you might remember his name as part of the work of a college kid's class project that was posted here. (Some day one of you guru fans needs to tell me how to put links back to those places. :) )

Anyhow, Jay, who had the original idea to start a women's poll, lives in a ritzy neighborhood 30 minutes West of Knoxville on Lake Loudon, which is part of the Tennessee River system.

We were treated to a boat ride to the Calhoun's on the River, another in a chain of fabulous ribs places.

We had some minor intrepedation, because when Jay stepped down as sports editor, he took the horse racing and boxing beats and became famous for running into computer problems from the road.

So you could imagine our fears of becoming stuck on the lake if the boat suddenly had computer trouble and missing the induction ceremony.

But it all went smoothly. The induction ceremony is covered in the previous blog. As media types, we did have a first this time -- a media room set up under the Tennessee Theatre, well you know what I mean, with wireless transmission access, a monitor of the stage, and sound piped through the ceiling.

Our good friend at the WBHOF was on the case. Things went smoother than otherwise might have because editors up north decided to scale back sending their writers to Knoxville for Auriemma, considering he will also be inducted into the nearby Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September.

Then it was back to bar and some general socializing that eventually produced the biggest disaster of the trip. -- Yep, yours truly overslept and missed a very early morning flight and then being held hostage by USAir to get a later flight.

Meanwhile, in other news, the United States Basketball Writers Association is moving closer to announcing a special way to honor the memory of Maggie Dixon, the 28-year-old Army coach who died suddenly of a heart problem early last month.

Here at Guru central, the uncertainty of the sale of our home newspaper continues. In fact, we jested to a colleague here that it would be funny if we got a call from the WBHOF for the next induction class and then would have to go to the ceremonies in a West Coast uniform. :)

Also, yours truly and a handful of media colleagues yesterday in teleconference call set the all-star ballot for the WNBA, which will be announced sometime next week.

Remember, write-ins will be allowed if we committed an oversight.

Also, the guru is in the early planning stages of how we will cover Dawn Staley's final WNBA season, so if any of you have ideas of things you'd like to see, send them along.

If this particular blog appears endless, it's because the college kid is taking finals and is not around to recommend a wrap-up.

So we will sign off and once again take off into the sunrise. :)

-- Mel