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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

WNBA Playoffs: JT's Journal - Musings From Mystics Land

As promised, Washington correspondent Jonathan Tannenwald is back with another post. Here, he invokes the first person before asking the Guru’s permission to do so, and offers his opinions on some things he has seen around the league this week.

Guru's Followup: He didn't have to ask, even if he wrote his precede in the third person. Our ongoing development of young outstanding talent has already resulted in our other major correspondent speaking her mind a few times beyond story coverage with approval. Therefore, we certainly aren't going to disuade our Washington workhorse from offering an opinion or two. Incidentally, we just created the headline topper without telling him first.

And while we're on the topic of content contributors, watch this space after the playoffs, or maybe before, for yet another addition to the realm. And now, let's see what JT has to say off his relentless pursuit of WNBA coverage for us.

The Guru just had the experience of bringing a whole new meaning to editing on the fly, since one was buzzing on this laptop during the process. But enough entertainment other then the link in the post under this to photos of the Guru at play in Houston last Saturday night at Dawn Staley's surprise party. Welcome to those of you who arrived here off Jayda Evans' link if she created one at her blog as she threatened. Here's his column.

Guru's extra note: We didn't see the column until we began editing it after working on the precedes you are reading. Having just finished fine tuning a few things, the Guru would like to say nice job.

-- Mel

By Jonathan Tannenwald

WASHINGTON _ One frequent topic of pregame conversations among the Mystics beat writers has been the level of media coverage the WNBA has received this season, especially on its almighty television partner ESPN.

You need only watch the hype already given to this coming weekend's Yankees-Red Sox five-game series at Fenway Park in Boston to know that the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports can have a considerable impact on how much attention fans pay to a given league or event.

In that context, the WNBA’s recent conference call with ESPN commentators Linda Cohn and Doris Burke presented a unique opportunity to gain some perspective on the league’s place in the American sports landscape.

Because Cohn is an anchor on SportsCenter as well as a play-by-play voice, she has seen the inner workings of how highlights are put together for ESPN’s signature news show, and what the WNBA can do to get more air time.

“I wish I was running the network, then we would instantly get [the WNBA] in there, but I think the WNBA is continuing to move in the right direction,” Cohn said. “The WNBA by far should be involved more in SportsCenter highlights. Why it isn't, I don't know, but that's not up to me.”

In her first season broadcasting WNBA games, Cohn said she has been particularly impressed with the league’s crop of young stars who made an impact on the college game before turning pro.

“The talent coming out of college and going right into the WNBA is making an instant impact,” she said, “as we saw this year with the Seimone Augustuses and the Cappie Pondexters, who were dueling for much of the season for the scoring title.”

Of course, Diana Taurasi ended up with the scoring title, and Cohn noted that the former Connecticut superstar is “obviously leading that college charge from a few years ago.”

Cohn asked for patience from the league’s devotees, noting that a certain league that has given the WNBA a significant amount of its money also took a long time to become a big deal.

“The NBA took time,” she said. “The WNBA is only 10 years old, and we’ve seen these incredible shots and certain things that capture the eyes and make the Top 10 Plays on SportsCenter, especially in the last few years.”

But she noted that, perhaps not coincidentally, the WNBA has adopted a marketing strategy that has served the NBA very well under current commissioner David Stern’s reign.

“I think the league is going in the right direction in promoting the talent and the personalities... especially up close and personal this year,” she said. “So it’s on the right track.”

My own few cents on this are right in line with Cohn’s remarks.

The first WNBA game I ever attended was Alana Beard’s debut with the Mystics. I bought a cheap ticket in the upper deck because I had seen Beard play for Duke and she had impressed me so much that I wanted to see her play in person.

A few months earlier, I was in Bridgeport, Conn., watching Diana Taurasi defend Penn’s 5-foot-4 point guard Joey Rhoads, and it was impossible to not be awestruck by the way the thousands of young girls in the packed arena simply idolized Taurasi and her teammates.

Now, having covered the WNBA for two years, I am still drawn first to those younger players I saw in college. I watch Beard, Taurasi and others such as Connecticut’s Lindsay Whalen and Chicago’s Candace Dupree, who Mel and I both saw play for Dawn Staley at Temple.

Even some of the players who were not top picks, such as Shyra Ely and Liz Shimek, get my attention because of their reputations as college players.

I certainly appreciate what the longtime WNBA veterans, such as Washington’s Crystal Robinson and Detroit’s Katie Smith – and Staley, of course – have given to the league. But there does seem to be a changing of the guard going on.

Adubato reflects on Staley’s retirement

Speaking of Staley, with all the ceremonies going on over her retirement as a player, I asked Mystics coach Richie Adubato what Staley’s legacy meant to him. Here’s what he said:

“What it’s meant for me is, we got upset one time in the playoffs and she had 21 [points] in the last game (2001)," Adubato said.

"She is the ultimate point guard in that she really knows how to play. She runs a team and then shoots when necessary, but she has always been big in the clutch," he continued.

" I just marvel at her stature. She’s so thin as far as her body frame is concerned, so everybody goes after her and tries to play her very, very physical. But she just knows how to keep you off her.

" She reminds me of Reggie Miller in that way. Reggie Miller had 170 pounds and every team that played him tried to rough him up, beat him, the whole bit – they never got anywhere.," Adubato explained.

"Dawn Staley did the same thing. When she was here, we tried to play her physical, [but] she just knows how to cope with it over the years. To me, that’s the best comparison I can give you.”Adubato noted.

However, that there is one big difference between Miller’s legacy and Staley’s: the presence of Spike Lee at those Pacers-Knicks games, and the famous conversations that took place between Lee and Miller.

Maybe what the WNBA needs to get some publicity is for Lee or someone similar to be courtside at a big game, talking trash to Katie Douglas or Alana Beard.

But the Liberty might have to get back to the playoffs first.

On a more serious note, I first met Staley at a Temple women’s game two years ago. Ever since then, I have been truly impressed with her professionalism and the respect that she has for the sport of basketball.

And at a time when American sports desperately needed a role model both at home and abroad, Staley was the perfect choice to carry the U.S. flag at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics.

I know that this is a blog with national reach, but it is worth highlighting Staley’s work in Philadelphia, because she has a very special place in the sports scene of her home town.

Staley gets standing ovations almost wherever she goes, and her work has won particular appreciation from those who follow the vibrant college basketball scene, especially from the male gender audience.

It clearly means a lot to Staley to be coaching Temple, both because of her local roots – she grew up a short walk from the school’s campus – and because she got to work for six years along legendary Owls men’s coach John Chaney.

Dawn Staley has done so much for women’s basketball already, and she will surely continue to elevate the sport as a coach in the years to come.

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