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, August 12, 2006

WNBA: Staley Enjoying the Moment _ "This is the way to go out."

(Updated to correct designation of Sacramento instead of Seattle with Monarchs)

By Mel Greenberg

HOUSTON _ The close of Dawn Staley's prolific basketball career as a player combined with the Houston Comets' inability to have already clinched the final available berth for the WNBA playoffs has been a challenge for sportswriters who have to focus on both events.

Staley, however, is enjoying the moment and is ready for whatever the final chapter may produce.

Long ago, the Comets organization in concert with the WNBA planned to give Staley a proper sendoff in postgame ceremonies here after Saturday's nationally-televised game on ABC (2 p.m., edt.) between Houston and the Seattle Storm.

Little did anyone expect the Comets would on a roller-coaster stretch drive still trying to become part of the four-team Western Conference section of next week's postseason action.

The most recent stumble occurred here in the Toyota Center Thursday in what became an all-time WNBA classic when the Phoenix Mercury kept their dwindling hopes alive in a thrilling 111-110 victory in triple overtime. Diana Taurasi set a scoring record in the contest with 47 points, including several long three-pointers to extend the action for the Mercury.

Houston's two longtime veterans Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, both playing with nagging injuries, scored 30 and 33 points, respectively in an unsuccessful bid to close out the Mercury.

The game set a WNBA record for most combined points.

Thus, the suspense that's still attached to Saturday's game with the Storm, which has already clinched a berth but needs to beat Houston to gain the No. 3 seed and open against the defending WNBA-champion Sacramento Monarchs. The No. 4 seed will meet the regular season Western champion Los Angeles Sparks.

"I'm sure she's trying to drive the final nail in the coffin," Staley said with a smile after Friday's practice about Seattle coach Anne Donovan, for whom she will soon assist on the USA Women's World Championship squad.

"But we're going to see if I can put the trip to Brazil on hold for just a while longer."

If Houston doesn't win, the Comets may still get to smile by the time Sunday's action completes the regular season.

That could happen with a little help from either the San Antonio Silver Stars Saturday night or Sacramento on Sunday night who could eliminate Phoenix with a victory.

"The loss was heartbreaking, but we're really over it," Staley said of Thursday night's setback to Phoenix. "It's really tough to take, but we surely can't hang our heads. We still have a lot of life left. We can still can control our own destiny and we're in a very good position to make the playoffs."

Family, friends and longtime associates of Staley have arrived here for the postgame ceremonies but Staley noted they were not going to have much time to spend with her Friday night.

"They're going to have to be understanding like they've been my whole career," Staley said. "This is a big game."

Staley's final season has already had its share of personal highlights. There were the selections to the WNBA's All-Decade Team as well as a vote to start for the Western Conference in the All-Star game. She also won the three-point shooting contest on a last-second trey in New York.

Added to that was the history-making matchup when Staley, who also coaches Temple in Philadelphia, got to play against her recently-graduated star Candice Dupree twice when the Comets met the expansion Chicago Sky.

"I'm living in the moment," Staley said. "I'm not looking at retirement. I'm not looking at next week, I'm looking solely at (Saturday) and the task ahead. Whatever comes after, I'll be able to handle, good, bad, or the other."

Staley's mother Estelle Staley is here in person after rarely getting to see her play in the league except when Houston visits Washngton, New York, and Connecticut on the Comets' Eastern trips.

"They don't get NBA-TV (in Philadelphia), so she usually watches the ticker," Staley said of her mother looking at the play-by-play readouts at WNBA and ESPN sites on the internet. "I don't know how she does it but she has more patience than me. But I think it's going to be really special."

Staley shrugged off the fact that the drive for the playoffs is conflicting with the celebration of her career.

"It does conflict," Staley admitted. "But as the same time, as an athlete, this is what these moments are made of. It's what you make of it. You know, I'm not afraid of the game. I'm not nervous about the game. It's what I've done all of my career.

"It could be the very last time, but I'm not really thinking about that," Staley said. "I don't want the emotions of me retiring playing parts in the game."

Staley said she has absolutely no thought of going on if Houston fails to land a berth or the WNBA title _ a reason the Charlotte Sting traded her to the Comets late last season to give her that last shot at WNBA glory.

"I'm sticking with it. I feel very good where I am. My body feels good but I know this is me right now and I'm going to hang up my shoes. I'm there. I'm at peace knowing this is my final year," Staley added.

She said that the opportunity to carry the flag for the United States delegation in opening ceremonies at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, was a defining moment.

"That's not something you can go in the gym and work for," Staley said. "You can't shoot 500 shots. You can't simulate game situations. You just can't do that. It's an amazing thing."

Staley even chuckled at the way things have evolved with the Comets the last two weeks in light of a career that had high school championships at Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia and Women's Final Four disappointments with the University of Virginia.

"This is incredible," Staley said. "And I thnk this is terrific. This is the way I want to go out. With the pressure being packed like it is. You have to perform or else -- it's over."

She even conceded that the drive to get to the playoffs has been helpful in preventing her from getting nostalgic down the stretch.

"It really has," Staley said. "The only thing I've been thinking about were the standings. We're we stand. What's the probability of us going.What must happen. It really boils down to we still control our own destiny.

"This is a very good basketball team," Staley said of a Comets squad that has performed excellently when injuries haven't hampered the season. "This is why coach (Van) Chancellor assembled a bunch of veterans for this situation."

Looking back to Taurasi's performance the other night, Staley praised her teammate on the 2004 Olympic squad.

"She's made some incredible shots," Staley said. "It was great to be part of the game. But you don't want to be on the losing end of the stick in a situation like that, but you have to applaud her effort. You have to applaud Tina's effort. You have to applaud Sheryl's effort.

"We saw of three of the greats perform at their best."

- Mel

2 Comments:

Blogger Reneé (aka Mama Hawk) said...

Very nice spotlight on Dawn, who has been so important to the success of women's pro b-ball (including the ABL).

Just one correction. It's the Sacramento Monarchs.

Thanks for a great blog.

-Renee in Sacramento-

11:19 AM  
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5:58 AM  

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