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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.

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.”

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