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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

WNBA Playoffs: "Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Smarter ..."

Guru's Note: (As we roll out our playoff coverage here and in print, we begin with yours truly focusing on the changing scene, while our Washington correspondent Jonathan Tannenwald in the next subsequent post gets into each of the opening round matchups. Philly.com will have my Thursday preview for print on Thursday, makes sense doesn't it?, which will go on a different angle. Jonathan, who is expected to weigh in beforehand with another post, and I will be in D.C. on Friday night, while, if she's still on the books, Ms. Burkholder, fresh off her debut in the Phillies pressbox, will be our sidekick Sunday in casino-land, where she will also be on special assigment for another project.
Also, sometime Wednesday, like it or not, to head off our colleague Jada Evans in Seattle from posting on her blog, we will link to some photos of the party scene from Saturday night for Dawn Staley in Houston. Yeah, yours truly was the subject of a barrage of cameras. ).


By Mel Greenberg

Although WNBA playoff coaches were busy assessing their team’s situations during Tuesday’s teleconference with reporters, they also answered questions of a more general nature.

Asked how the WNBA has changed since his Detroit Shock won the 2003 title over the Los Angeles Sparks, coach Bill Laimbeer quickly responded, “Bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, coaches across the board are more prepared. It’s like night and day.

“The league has has taken two massive jumps,” added Laimbeer, whose team opens in the Eastern Conference Thursday night at the Indiana Fever. “When it started (in 1997), it was a 30-something league (average players’ ages) and the first major jump was the year that (Swin) Cash and Sue Bird and the (other) Connecticut kids came in and really made it an influx of young talent.

“I think in the last year, the new players coming in and the competition for jobs has taken the league to another jump,” the former NBA Detroit Pistons star said. “You have seen the scoring go up. I think the 24-second clock had an impact, but I don’t think anybody realized the impact it would have scoring wise and increase the quality of the game.

“Our team now is bigger, faster, stronger and we are more mature, but so are all the other teams.”

Washington Mystics coach Richie Adubato, whose team opens at home Friday night against the overall top-seeded Connecticut Sun, has also been in the WNBA for a while after previous spending a six-year stint with the New York Liberty.

“I came in after the second year ,” Adubato said of joining the Liberty for the 1999 season. “I was in New York for six years and we get to the finals three times and I felt at the time that women’s basketball had a great future because the players were excellent. Coming from the NBA, it was a big adjustment for me because they (women) are different in other areas because they don’t have the individual abilities that players in the NBA have, but they have more of a team game. I see an evolution as far as teams in the league.

“There is tremendous parity in the league,” Adubato said. “Because there are only 14 teams and we are in our 10th year, people have been able to put together strong teams with good players at every position and just like the NBA, the league has been able to go to the international scene and bring in people.

“The biggest thing is the top four picks that came out this year packed this league with talent and as a result you have a better product. We are getting bigger up front, and we are getting more athletic and we are getting better athletes.”

Houston coach Van Chancellor’s Comets won the first four WNBA titles and only missed the playoffs once, although this year his injury-riddle squad did not wrap up a berth until the final day of the regular season on Saturday.

“I was just thinking in 1997, we beat Charlotte in a game in double figures, we beat New York for the title about 8, or 9 or 10,” Chancellor said. “I do agree … with Richie … It’s all changed because of the players, it’s got so many players.

He noted the Western Conference, in particular, where each of the four playoff teams has won a championship in this decade, including the Sacramento Monarchs, last season’s winners whom the Comets will host Thursday night.

“Yeah, how about this, the hottest team, the Phoenix Mercury, won 7 in a row. They beat Sacramento, Houston, and LA, and they aren’t in the playoffs,” Chancellor said while also praising Mercury third-year pro Diana Taurasi as the “real deal.”

The former University of Connecticut star had a record 47 points against Houston, last Thursday night, when the Mercury outlasted the Comets, 111-110, in triple overtime in Houston in a game that set a combined WNBA scoring record.

As it evolved, Houston needed the win over the Seattle Storm on Saturday or Phoenix, with two wins over the San Antonio Silver Stars and Sacramento on Saturday and Sunday would have edged the Comets into the postseason on a tie-breaker and Dawn Staley’s prolific playing career would be sealed in the history book.

“I’ll bet there are a lot of teams happy that Phoenix is not in the playoffs,” Chancellor said.

Another issue discussed was the injury situation that impacted most of the teams along the way that made the playoffs and several that did not.

“It happens every year,” Laimbeer said. :”In certain markets, they will promote injuries that happen to their key players. These (injuries) happen to every team, but it’s a matter of what year and what team. You have to play through it. That’s why you are going to see, because of such a short season, that we have multiple champions over the course of time because injuries will play a part in wins and losses.”

Adubato looked to the West as well as his own team, noting, “Seattle got hit big time and Houston and it was their stars and over here it was our stars. I don’t know what the exact figures are, but I do know the importance of having your star player go down and the parity we have in this team. When we lost DeLisha (Milton-Jones), we didn’t win as many games. It seems this year that the star players were injured and I guess that’s why it’s more noticeable.”

-- Mel

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