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, July 24, 2006

WNBA: Curse of the No. 1 Draft Pick

By Mel Greenberg

The news of Suzie McConnell Serio's resignation as coach of the Minnesota Lynx Sunday night sent us to the WNBA annual guide to research a curious statistic.

In the ten-year history of the women's pro basketball league, with one exception, the coach and, in two instances, franchise, that has held ownership of the overall No. 1 draft pick has been doomed.

"You know, I was just thinking about that while driving tonight," San Antonio Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes, one of the past victims, said with a slight laugh from his car. "I feel bad for her, but that thought did cross my mind.

"In fact, that could be a good reason for trading the No. 1 pick to somebody else."

McConnell Serio became the latest victim of the curse, failing to get through the season after holding an overall No. 1 pick. In April, the Lynx chose former Louisiana State star Seimone Augustus, who has lived up to her value as the as grand prize.

In fact, most of the top choices have delivered, although some have had a wrinkle or two along the way. The people on the clock at the time of the pick, however, have met with a different fate.

Let us look at the history, which begins with the only individual who has dodged the spell.

1997 -- That would be Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor, who took Tina Thompson and both have survived and are still in place. In fact, they even managed to win the first four WNBA titles and picked up a gold medal together as part of the 2004 Olympic contingent in Athens, Greece.

1998 -- The Utah Starzz selected Margo Dydek, the 7-foot-2 center from Poland. Denise Taylor began the season and was replaced along the way by Frank Layden, who the following season was replaced along the way by Fred Williams. In the winter of the 2002, the Starzz moved to San Antonio and became the Silver Stars. Ironically, Hughes is now employed by the neighbors of the Alamo. As for Dydek, she was traded on draft day, 2005, to Connecticut, where she continues with the Sun as one of the league's top players and is having her best season.

1999 -- The Washington Mystics cashed in a 3-27 expansion team record from the previous season to choose Chamique Holdsclaw out of Tennessee. Although the native New Yorker has become one of the league's all-time statistical leaders, she battled a slew of injuries and was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks prior to the 2005 season. The coaching victim of note was Nancy Darsch, who had joined the Mystics after being dropped by the New York Liberty. She made it through her first season in the nation's capital, but didn't survive much of the following summer when she was replaced along the way by Darrell Walker, who didn't return the following summer.

2000 -- Dan Hughes, formerly head of the Charlotte Sting, became the coach of the Cleveland Rockers and chose center Ann Wauters out of Belgium. For a while, it seemed he might beat the curse, but stayed tuned, because he met his demise along Lake Erie after going to the well again in 2003 with another No. 1 pick.

2001 -- Lin Dunn of the Seattle Storm became the only coach to have back-to-back No. 1 picks. In her first shot, she took then-teenage sensation Lauren Jackson from Australia.

2002 -- Winning the lottery, Dunn was up first again the following April and took Sue Bird from Connecticut. The two picks became the foundation for Seattle's 2004 WNBA championship but Dunn was no longer on the scene, having left after Bird's first season. Jackson and Bird continue to be at the top of the league, but a bit of the curse just struck again when the ownership of the Storm passed to a businessman from Oklahoma City.

2003 -- We told you Hughes was playing against the fates, which occurred after the Rockers coach selected another No. 1 in LaToya Thomas from Mississippi State. The team made the playoffs but then folded soon after the season when the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers gave up ownership of the franchise. Thomas went to San Antonio in the expansion draft and was re-united with Hughes when he became the Silver Stars coach in 2005.

2004 -- Diana Taurasi out of Connecticut was the No. 1 pick and Carrie Graf became the new coach. She did better than most, lasting two seasons before Paul Westhead replaced her last winter.

2005 -- Trudi Lacey of the Charlotte Sting took center Janel McCarville out of Minnesota and then gave up her coaching job near the end of last season. She remains as general manager.

2006 -- As noted, the Minnesota Lynx took Seimone Augustus in April and now Suzie McConnell Serio has become the ninth victim of the curse of the No. 1 pick.

Quick chatter

Another Minnesota transaction has taken place with Angela Taylor being named the Lynx director of vice president of business development, a newly created position.

The native of Mountain Home, Idaho, had been in the WNBA home office in New York since the league's inception, most recently as senior director of player personnel. She has also been an assistant women's basketball coach at Stanford, Texas A&M and Arizona. Her replacement in New York is Carla McGhee a former Tennessee star who played for the former Orlando Miracle and has been an assistant coach to Dawn Staley at Temple and Nell Fortner at Auburn.

Also, in our recent musings about All-Star site possibilities next season, we mentioned Connecticut as a most likely choice. However, another Eastern team, if they desire to bid, would be the Washington Mystics who hosted a successful event in 2002.

Also, in the shout-out division, some thanks not given earlier go to Tyson Hartnett, the intern at Philly.com who is building the Dawn Staley pages; Kris Gardner who has been collecting quotes for us in Houston involving Dawn, as well as the team-level public relations crew across the country along with those in the league office.
Speaking of the league office, Karen Kase, who had done an excellent job with the Charlotte Sting, is now on board in the WNBA office as the replacement for Jay Moore who left early in the season for romance and another business opportunity in Baltimore.

-- Mel

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