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.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Jonathan Tannenwald Hired at Philly.com

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ The tradition continues, which is when something good happens to associates of the Guru, they earn their own headline in the Guru’s blog.

In what is becoming a busy fall for the Guru’s young talent division, we are pleased to announce the hiring of Jonathan Tannenwald at Philly.com., the umbrella internet site for the Inquirer and Daily News.

Philly.com also has projects as its own initiative.

Jonathan is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia and many of you have seen his contributions to the Guru’s blog in the summer covering the WNBA Washington Mystics in his hometown.

A noted soccer buff, he also covered the men’s and basketball teams, as well as other sports, for the Daily Pennsylvanian at school.

Jonathan’s hire comes one month after Kate Burkholder, another prior enlistee to the Guru’s growing army of young talent, had her first non-collegiate newspaper article appear in the Inquirer on a Rutgers football player who is from this area.

Kate is a junior from across the river from here in Marlton, N.J., and has covered the nationally-ranked Scarlet Knights women’s basketball team. She joined the blog late last season and continued through the summer with contributions on the WNBA.

One of these days she may take a break from classes and her school paper to catch up with you all since she has the keys to the blog (hint, hint).

Later this fall, Erin Semagin Damio will be checking in from Northeastern U. in Boston where she is a sophomore. A member of the rowing team, she handled some Connecticut Sun games in the WNBA playoffs for us in August. She grew up in Storrs, which also is the campus town of a certain major university known for its women’s hoops.

In a few days, we will announce another hire of someone a little older than this group, but a colleague in the business who can still be considered “young talent.”

Maybe the Guru is in the wrong business considering all this activity stemming from his efforts.

But we can’t take total credit for Jonathan’s hire because many others here at the paper offered recommendations for Jonathan, who can work angles better than the best pool players, considering the competition which he overcame to land the job.

As to what he will do at Philly.com, as he explained to us, “My job description includes working with the breaking news on the website and helping with the transition to a new website over the next few months.”

Of course, the fact that Philly.com now adjoins the Sports Department here gives the Guru the privilege of gaining his help in co-ordinate Philly.com links and sites involving the Guru’s work in the both print and at this blog.

So congrats to Jonathan.

Waxing Nostalgic.

In discussing her recent hire of Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Marianne Stanley as an assistant coach at Rutgers, C. Vivian Stringer, another Hall of Famer, recalled when the two worked together years ago on a USA Basketball squad.

“Normally, a committee selects your assistants,” Stringer said. “But I was allowed a choice that year and I picked Marianne.

“She has so much basketball knowledge. I remember one day where we just sat down for almost eight hours to discuss concepts of x’s and o’s (strategy for those of you who are glossary-challenged).”

-- Mel

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Musings For A Tuesday - Because That's Today

By Mel Greenberg

The Women’s National Invitation Tournament is expanding its field from 40 to 48 teams, meaning that 112 schools will live beyond their conference tournaments when the NCAA field of 64 is included in the total.

Overall, around a third of Division I will now go somewhat deep into March Madness. The real lucky ones will still be around for April’s Antics.

The WNIT’s move guarantees every conference at least one team in its field and will be viewed in some places as increased opportunities. However, a little extra pressure has just been added to the coaching profession.

I mean, it will be almost embarrassing if you don’t take a team to either the NCAA or WNIT.

When the fields were smaller, at least there were enough people to blame for not getting picked when it came time to discuss contract extensions or renewals.

Furthermore, for those who are on the bubble, it was bad enough when their teams didn’t get at-large berths because of lesser conferences that had automatic bids to send representatives to the NCAA championship.

Now how bad will the feeling exists among schools in the mid-to-lower reaches of the Big East, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Southeastern, Big 12, and Pac-10 conferences who won’t get picked because twice as many lesser teams will now gain access?

Planning Ahead

With the WNBA season consigned to the history books, Geno Auriemma enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and the FIBA World Championships almost concluded, the Guru turned his attention to the annual drudgery of producing the first draft of the composite winter schedule which serves as a compass for coverage in The Inquirer as well as in a few other gigs.

The ingredients that go into our excel spreadsheet are locally on the women’s front: The Big Five contingent of St. Joseph’s, La Salle, Temple, Villanova, and Penn; along with Drexel and Delaware, Penn State and Rutgers. Also, in what the Guru considers as his ongoing gender-equity training at the paper, there’s also the Drexel men’s team that he covers. And of course, there’s the key national games. And, yeah, not to be forgotten, but not part of this specific exercise, are our friends in Divisions II and III.

This year the Guru gives a special thanks to his local teams, who usually have no idea what the overall pattern looks like beyond their own schedule.

The reason is you somehow managed to avoid major conflicts, potential date changes notwithstanding, and, thus, the Guru now has greater flexibility to stay on top of things.

Liberty Springboard.

While a small stir was created with the recent hiring of Marianne Stanley as an assistant coach at Rutgers after holding positions in the WNBA, she is not the first to have sat on the Liberty bench in Madison Square Garden as a head coach or assistant _ she was an assistant in New York -- and then moved back into the collegiate ranks from the professional ranks.

Former Liberty head coach Nancy Darsch has been with a few collegiate programs, while Jeff House, who was with Richie Adubato in New York and Washington, is now in his second season as an assistant to Debbie Ryan at Virginia. Melissa McFerrin, who was with Darsch in New York and Washington and also served as a Mystics general manager, is now the head coach at American U.

USA in Transition

So after all the fretting about Yolanda Griffith and Lisa Leslie not being able to play for the United States in the FIBA World Championship because of family considerations, coach Anne Donovan’s team has yet to be in serious danger of suffering a setback.

Of course, things can quickly turn around on a dime as recently demonstrated in this town on Sunday when the NFL Eagles coughed up a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But if anything, the United States is getting a head start in re-shaping its roster for a younger generation of players to become the new leaders by 2008 when the Olympics are in Beijing, China.

Tennessee sophomore Candace Parker is performing well with the USA group, but in closed circles some have wondered how much she might suffer academically from missing almost a month of school in Knoxville.

Traffic Report

Apologies to the 150 of you who stopped by the Guru’s blog on Monday and the several 1,000 others who also visited and found nothing new since our journey to Maryland (the team) in College Park on Thursday.

A study of the statistics on the recent jump in traffic to the site revealed that people stumbled into us from such places as Japan, and Switzerland.

There was even one visit from Brazil, although we believe that might have been a certain coach Staley who apparently enjoys tracking the Guru for the purpose of future harassment. There are one or two other suspects down there in South America with the USA contingent, but the Guru won’t drop any more names at this time.

That’s it for now.

-- Mel

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Maryland's "Good Old Days" Have Arrived

By Mel Greenberg

_ Back in the day, except for a slip here and there, Maryland was one of the top women’s basketball programs in the country from the late 1970s into the early 1990s.

The Terrapins appeared in the original Associated Press women’s poll on Nov. 25, 1976 and of the top 20 teams that appeared in the inaugural ranking, they lasted the longest, dropping out after 131 weeks on Dec. 2, 1984.

Maryland returned a year or so later. In that overall span, the Terrapins went to the national semifinals in 1978 when the AIAW, then the governing body of women’s collegiate athletics, first used a Final Four format. In 1982, Chris Weller’s group played in the first NCAA Women’s Final Four. And in 1989, her team returned to the national semifinals.

A few years later came the memorable 67-65 upset of then-No. 1 Virginia on Jan. 15, 1992, in Charlottesville that propelled Maryland to its first No. 1 ranking the following week.

The victory over the Cavaliers, who were then led by seniors Dawn Staley and Tammy Reiss, set in motion a buildup for the Atlantic Coast Conference return encounter a month later in College Park.

While Maryland had a reputation for drawing talent, the Terrapins’ crowds in those were, well, sparse.

“They’re really talking a lot down here about the next game,” Weller said of the next Virginia encounter. “They think they can fill the place up. I don’t know if that will happen, but it’s fun to see.”

It was even more fun when Feb. 11 arrived and the place was packed to standing room only.

One player, who had heard the buzz of a potential sellout but wasn’t ready to accept the talk, commented afterwards, “I believed it when we came out of the tunnel and when we made the turn toward the court, all I saw were a wall of faces instead of the red seats we normally see.”

The game lived up to the hype with Virginia getting revenge, 75-74.

Some of the fabled names in Maryland lore of that overall era were Olympians Tara Heiss, Vicky Bullet, and Kris Kirchner, who later transferred to Rutgers; Debbie Lyttle from Gratz High in Philadelphia, Jasmina Perazic, and Deanna Tate.

When Maryland vanished from the national scene a few years later in the mid-1990s, all the above became referenced as “the good old days of Terrapin basketball.”

Now, it’s a decade later since the “good old days.”

On Wednesday night, in a foyer of Maryland’s magnificent Comcast Center that opened several years ago, the Terrapins had a small reception for media and Maryland’s boosters.

The occasion was to present the recently-constructed housing of the NCAA championship trophy coach Brenda Frese’s team won in a thrilling overtime title game in Boston against ACC-rival Duke in April.

The hardware, encased in glass and surrounded by four columns with action shots from the title game, is in the middle of the foyer. Down at one end is the men’s championship won by Gary Williams’ bunch several years ago.

Frese talked about the dream at her moment of hire here coming true to be able to deliver the Terrapins’ first-ever NCAA women’s basketball title.

Not far from the display and just below mounted on a wall was the floor the Terrapins and Blue Devils used in Boston along with LSU and North Carolina, the other teams in last season’s finals.

A few feet away on another wall on the same side is the floor that Williams’ team played on to win the men’s title.

Before the proceedings began, our colleague Milton Kent, a Maryland alum who writes for the Baltimore Sun, was spotted taking a digital shot of the goods.

“I’m taking this for (ESPN’s) Pam Ward,” Kent smiled about another Terrapin grad who never thought she’d see her school represented on the podium for a championship presentation in her lifetime.

Originally, many thought the season ahead was the one Maryland would contend for the title. Instead, all the youth of a year ago is just that much more experienced to go for a second straight championship.

All five starters return, including 6-foot-4 junior forward Laura Harper, the MVP of the championship game, and 6-3 junior center-forward Crystal Langhorne, the star of the national semifinals upset of North Carolina.

In the backcourt is 6-1 sophomore guard-forward Marissa Coleman. 5-9 senior guard and Israeli native Shay Doron, and 5-8 sophomore guard Kristi Toliver, who hit the dramatic three-pointer late in overtime that put the NCAA title in Maryland’s hands.

A prominent newcomer is 5-9 junior guard Sa’de Willey-Gatewood, a transfer from Tennessee who will become eligible after the fall semester.

Returning substitutes include 5-10 junior guard Ashleigh Newman, 6-2 senior Auriele Noirez and 6-1 junior-forward Jade Perry.

Kalika France, who was a redshirt while dealing with injuries, will not return and is expected to transfer after her fall classes.

In sizing up Wednesday night’s scene as players, media, and guests, exchanged interviews and chomped down on appetizers of cheeses, crab dip, shrimp in bay seasoning, and assorted melon, pineapple, and strawberry slices, there was only one conclusion to make.

Forget the past.

Here in College Park, the good old days are now.

-- Mel

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ann Meyers Drysdale Leaves ESPN For GM Job With WNBA's Phoenix Mercury

By Mel Greenberg

Ann Meyers Drysdale’s distinguished resume dating back to her All-America days with UCLA in the late 1970s has a new line: Phoenix Mercury general manager.

Actually, there’s a little more. In addition to her new duties as an executive in the WNBA, she will also be a vice president of the NBA Phoenix Suns in a role yet to be determined.

“I’m really excited,” Meyers Drysdale gushed from a cell phone in the Los Angeles International Airport parking lot upon her return from Tuesday’s press conference in Phoenix. “I’m ready for a change in my life and this is going to be great.

“Robert Sarver is really committed to the Mercury winning and the Suns winning,” Meyers Drysdale said of the Suns general managing partner who oversees both operations in Phoenix.

Phoenix, under first-year coach Paul Westhead, turned into an offensive machine propelled by three-year veteran Diana Taurasi, the former UConn star who led the league in scoring; and rookie Cappie Pondexter out of Rutgers.

But the Mercury missed the playoffs at the finish, losing out in a three-way tie in the West at 18-16 with the Houston Comets and Seattle Storm. Phoenix won its last seven games of the season.

Meyers Drysdale, 51, succeeds former Mercury manager Seth Sulka, who recently resigned after having been with Phoenix since its inception as a WNBA charter franchise 10 years ago in 1997.

“It’s no question, what we need is rebounding,” Meyers Drysdale said on what improvements were necessary to get to the postseason. “We have to look at everything. What we can get from the draft. What we can get out of free agency. What kind of trades can be made.

“We need someone like a Courtney Paris (from Oklahoma), “ Meyers Drysdale said of the Sooners post star. However, she won’t be available for several years unless someone successfully challenges the WNBA for early access ahead of the expiration of collegiate eligibility expires.

Meyers Drysdale praised Westhead’s work in transforming the Mercury.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Meyers Drysdale said. “He needs to be around here a long time. Who wouldn’t want to come and play here in his system.”

Westhead is familiar with his new boss through their NBA ties _ he is a former Los Angeles Lakers coach, among other positions, and she once was on the Indianapolis Pacers broadcast team. She also has worked as an analyst primarily with ESPN doing WNBA and NCAA women’s games.

“Annie’s a great lady and she has a deep basketball background,” Westhead said Tuesday night from his Los Angeles home.

Meyers Drysdale has been involved in negotiations with the league and individual teams involving various positions in recent years but with three young children she was not ready to make a move at that time.

When the WNBA presidency was available several years ago and Meyers Drysdale’s name was speculated as a candidate, Temple coach Dawn Staley who was playing in the WNBA, said “She isn’t living that house.”

Staley had been to the Meyers Drysdale home in California with other members of the Olympic team.

The new Phoenix GM said Tuesday night she would live out of both Phoenix and Los Angeles, for now, so as to not uproot anyone out of school.

“Believe me, my kids had a major say in my decision to take the job,” Meyers Drysdale said.

Incidentally, the Guru and Meyers Drysdale were together last Thursday night before the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Reunion Dinner in Springfield, Mass.

The two have been developing plans behind the scene to establish a collegiate defensive player of the year award in Meyers Drysdale’s name to be presented potentially as early as this season. She would still like to continue in that direction.

Asked if she had a done deal when the two had last spoken, Thursday night, Meyers Drysdale responded with a laugh, saying, “Listen, I didn’t even tell my mother until last Saturday when everything was signed.

“The only ones who knew what was happening were the Phoenix organization and my business people,” Meyers Drysdale said.

Besides being a member of the 1978 UCLA national champions, Meyers Drysdale was a four-time all-American, and is a member of both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

The widow of former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching great Don Drysdale, she also played on the first United States Olympic squad, which won a silver medal in 1976 in Montreal.

Her brother David was a star at UCLA on the NCAA championship squad with Bill Walton and also played in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks.

In 1979, she became the first female and remains as such to sign a free-agent contract with an NBA team when she was inked by the Indiana Pacers. Upon her release from the team in training camp, she then became an analyst on Pacers’ broadcasts.

In 1978, Meyers Drysdale became the first player drafted in the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) and is now the third member of the former New Jersey Gems to hold an executive position in the WNBA.

The other two are WNBA president Donna Orender and New York Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski.

When that piece of trivia was emailed to Orender late Thursday night, she replied, “Great experience.”

The Sky’s Not The Limit For Cowens

On a day when former Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter was getting a new general manager in Phoenix, former Scarlet Knights star Chelsea Newton and former Temple star Candice Dupree lost their coach/general manager with the expansion Chicago Sky.

Bill Cowens, the former Boston Celtics star, is headed back to the NBA as an assistant with the Detroit Pistons, whose sister WNBA Shock squad had its official Motown celebration Tuesday for winning a second title last Saturday.

The Sky had the WNBA’s worst record at 5-29 and will be in line for a high draft pick in April, as will Phoenix, which will also own a top six pick in the draft.

Sky owner Michael Alter told the Chicago Tribune the organization would look at the original list of candidates, from which Cowens was hired, to fill the vacancy.

Margaret Stender, the Sky’s CEO, added that that Cowens’ successor would also have the coach/general manager dual positions.

“It works well in our league and works well where we are,” Stender said.

The vacancy becomes one of two unfilled positions in the WNBA _ the other being the Minnesota Lynx job that opened when Suzie McConnell Serio resigned in early August as her team faded from the playoff race.

China Thwarted By Great Wall of USA Basketball

Lisa Leslie withdrew. So did Yolanda Griffith. And Dawn Staley is now running the USA squad as an assistant coach instead of a point guard.

Not to worry.

The United States thumped China, 119-72, Tuesday night to open play in the FIBA World Championship in Brazil.

The solid defense by the victors forced China into 29 turnovers, while USA committed just eight miscues.

Katie Smith and Cheryl Ford, who helped the Detroit Shock win their second WNBA title on Saturday, didn’t let a measly thing such as their late arrival act as a barrier to the USA success.

“The best thing about USA basketball is that at all times everyone’s here to do one thing and that’s to win,” said USA coach Anne Donovan, who also coaches the Seattle Storm. “I think that for Katie and Cheryl to get her today and do what they did on the court to help us out and fit right in is a true testament to that.

“I have to say, in the perimeter, to have Katie coming off our bench, I think all of the coaches are breathing huge sighs of relief,” Donovan added.

“Where we were good, we are great now in the perimeter. And Cheryl Ford, just her presence in the post, she’s a banger. She left some bruises against China and that’s exactly what we need her to do. Both came in and did a great job not having worked with the team,” Donovan commented in a story emailed by USA Basketball, which is also at its web site.

The USA squad on Wednesday plays Nigeria, which is being coached by the WNBA Houston Comets assistant coach Kevin Cook. The Chinese coach is former Washington Mystics coach Tom Maher.

In fact, WNBA affiliations go deep in the tournament beyond just the USA Basketball partnership where 11 of the 12 players are professionals with the league. The exception is Tennessee sophomore Candace Parker

A roster count as part of notes transmitted by the WNBA stated that 49 of 192 players from 12 of the 16 countries in the FIBA championship have played in the WNBA at some point in their careers. . (Another three players have been drafted or participated in training camp only) Furthermore, 25 of the World Championship participants played in the WNBA this past season, spanning seven countries: USA, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Senegal and Russia. The San Antonio Silver Stars and expansion Chicago Sky are the only two WNBA teams with no player representation in Brazil.

The Connecticut Sun Indiana Fever, Seattle Storm, Charlotte Sting, Sacramento Monarchs, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Houston Comets, Minnesota Lynx, and Detroit Shock each have players on foreign teams.

The USA squad had representation from the Washington Mystics, Indiana Fever, Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, Minnesota, and Detroit.

In closing, the Guru is not South of the Border at the FIBA event, but we will be south of the Mason-Dixon Line Wednesday Night in College Park, Md., where the Terrapins will be showcasing their display of their first NCAA women’s basketball national championship piece of hardware and also make available players and coaches for interviews.

-- Mel

Monday, September 11, 2006

Future Rutgers Assistant Marianne Stanley Owned Scarlet Knights

By Mel Greenberg

If you can’t beat them often, let them join you.

That’s the situation at Rutgers, which has had a history of difficulty beating teams coached by Marianne Stanley, who will soon be named an assistant to the Scarlet Knights’ C. Vivian Stringer.

Stanley and Stringer are both in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

Stanley had a perfect 5-0 record against Rutgers from 1980 to 1987 when her former Immaculata teammate Theresa Grentz was coaching the Scarlet Knights.

Stanley, who recently resigned as a New York Liberty assistant in the WNBA to Rutgers Hall of Famer Pat Coyle, was also 2-0 against Cheyney in the early 1970s when Stringer was coaching the Wolves.

One of those encounters was in Madison Square Garden as part of the old Manufacturers Hanover Tournament.

Rutgers finally topped a Stanley-coached team when the Scarlet Knights beat Southern Cal in the first round of the old Bell Atlantic Holiday Tournament, 76-51, in December of 1989.

Stanley also coached at Stanford and California, but Rutgers did not meet either school in those eras, nor did Iowa when Stringer coached the Hawkeyes.

The Women of Troy were on Iowa’s schedule for 1993-94 but Stanley had resigned USC in a controversial salary dispute and Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller became the coach.

Incidentally, Stanley will be opposite another former Immaculata teammate when the Scarlet Knights meet Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are coached by Rene Portland and the two former Mighty Macs stars are now both grandmothers.

Did Geno Say That?

During last weekend’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction events, Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma mentioned several times the reason he chose legendary St. Joseph’s men’s coach Dr. Jack Ramsay to introduce him as part of the enshrinement ceremony.

Auriemma noted that Ramsay was a throwback to the teacher-coach era. “Today, coaches are entrepreneurs before they become coaches,” he said.

That wasn’t true of the Huskies coach prior to building UConn into a national women’s basketball powerhouse.

However, it should be noted that after the official events concluded in Springfield, Mass., Auriemma hosted a party for his relatives, friends and former players at Saturday’s official opening of Geno’s Fast Break Restaurant at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment establishment in Uncasville, Conn.

The Next WNBA Draft

Unlike a year ago at this time when LSU’s Seimone Augustus and Rutgers’ Cappie Pondexter loomed as potential 1-2 picks either way at the top of the WNBA draft, there doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite for the April draw going into the 2006-07 collegiate season.

In fact, if underclasswomen were allowed to come out early, many of them such as defending NCAA champion Maryland’s Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper might be taken ahead of hopefuls from the senior class.

Judging off the Wade watch list of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, some seniors who could be taken in the first round in April are North Carolina guard Ivory Latta, UCLA guard Noella Quinn, Duke center Allison Bales, Maryland guard Shay Doron, Ohio State center Jessica Davenport, South Florida forward Jessica Dixon, Tulsa forward Jillian Robbins, and Texas forward Tiffany Jackson.

It will come down to who wins the lottery to gain the top pick, what that team's needs are, and, perhaps more so this time, is there some value to be gained by trading the rights to the top pick.

-- Mel

Sunday, September 10, 2006

WNBA Finals: Detroit Shocks' Triumph Brings Katie Smith Future Hall of Fame Stature

By Mel Greenberg

On a weekend when six new members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame were inducted, including Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma, the Detroit Shock’s Katie Smith earned herself a future enshrinement. Of course, she still has to retire and then wait five years to become eligible.

As it is, the former Ohio State all-American was well on the way to Hall of Fame acclaim in Springfield, Mass., and is certainly set for a future induction in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

However, after helping the Shock rally in Detroit, Saturday, to dethrone the Sacramento Monarchs and claim her first WNBA title (it was Detroit's second), Smith can start working on her future acceptance speech.

The all-time scorer in the professional ranks in the United States, Smith had already led Ohio State to an NCAA title game in 1993 as a freshman; won two Olympic gold medals, and also earned two championships in 1997 and 1998 with the former Columbus Quest in the American Basketball League that went bankrupt early in its third season.

UConn Future Famers

During Friday morning’s interview session after the jacket presentations, Auriemma was asked which of his former Connecticut players did he see as future Hall of Famers.

“Well, first, remember there are a lot of (men’s and women’s) great players and great coaches who aren’t in the hall. Sometimes more is involved than just the basketball,” Auriemma noted.

“I think Rebecca Lobo and Diana Taurasi, for sure. Usually, if you win a couple of NCAA titles and at least one Olympic gold medal, you get in.

“After 1995, Rebecca was the face of the WNBA those first couple of seasons. And Diana, she already has a gold medal and a couple of NCAA titles,” Auriemma explained. “And she’s like Charles (Barkley). She brings that `something extra.’

“Sue’s (Bird) already won a WNBA title, an Olympic gold medal, and a couple of NCAA titles. Maybe Swin.’”

Swin Cash probably earned a candidacy, at worst, Saturday, with her second WNBA title as a member of the Shock to go with several NCAA crowns and an Olympic gold medal.

Updating The Bio

From time to time, the Guru has noted that his bio off this blog has been used for introductions when he makes speaking engagements, etc.

So for those of you who have a previous version, you need to change the length of employment at The Inquirer to 37 years because Saturday, Sept. 9, was the date of hire. The change has already been made to the profile here.

However, keep the information on the QT. The Guru, who is No. 2 on the seniority list in the entire newsroom, is still trying to determine whether he’s a treasure or target under the paper’s new ownership.

The Social Scene

So the Guru had stopped for a moment to chat up NBA Commssioner David Stern during the pre-reception before Friday night’s Hall of Fame ceremony.

One topic was speculation whether any of the prospective future owners of the Philadelphia 76ers might have daughters who play basketball and, hence, might have interest in adding a WNBA team to the summer operation.

Suddenly, the Commish grabs an NBA Entertainment camera guy, pulls the Guru near him, and yells to the photog, “Take a picture. I want (WNBA president) Donna (Orender) to see this.

Incidentally, the Guru knows he’s getting old when former UConn players he covered several years ago offer to buy him drinks during the weekend.

What Lull?

In recent weeks as we’ve been pursuing the Dawn Staley retirement coverage, the WNBA playoffs, and Auriemma’s Hall of Fame induction, collegiate schedules for the 2006-07 season have been slipping into the blackberry, as well as the office computer.

Still, we were looking for a break in the action after this past weekend, not counting some attention to the USA Basketball pursuit of another FIBA World Championship, which begins this week in Brazil.

Since April, we’ve gone from NCAA title game, to day-after WNBA draft, a small break before the WNBA season, and then on to all that was just mentioned.

So as we thought about a pause to refresh before getting ready to cover the winter action, the following electronic media advisory arrived:

“Join the National Champion Maryland women’s basketball team on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. for a reception to celebrate the championship season and meet the 2006-07 Terrapins. Coach Frese and players will be available for interviews.”

So much for “See You in October.”

-- Mel

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Auriemma Enters the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

By Mel Greenberg

Five national championships. Numerous interviews. Broadcasts stints as a color analyst for WNBA games.

Considering the thousands of public speaking engagements Geno Auriemma has handled while building the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team into a national force in the past two decades, there hasn’t been much to rattle the personable native of Italy who grew up outside of Philadelphia.

Yet after making his acceptance speech at Friday night’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Auriemma readily admitted to friends that he had less than his usual nerves of steel before taking the podium here.

His remarks recalled the Southern Cal playing legend Cheryl Miller expressing something similar after her induction in 1995 several months after Connecticut had won its first NCAA women’s championship.

“NCAA title games. TV broadcasts. The Olympics. None of that stuff ever bothered me beforehand,” Miller said at the time. “But tonight, I was really nervous about my speech – and nothing ever makes me nervous.”

Auriemma admitted his uneasiness at the start of his speech to the sellout crowd, including 43 of his current and former players, at the Basketball Hall of Fame who heard him and the five other inductees _ former NBA stars Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, and Joe Dumars, Italian coach “Alessandro Gamba, and former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt.

“I’m really, really nervous tonight,” Auriemma began a speech that lasted about 12 minutes, the same length of his acceptance speech in June when he was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn. “I’m usually not nervous.

“And I’m going to keep this short because, well, when you see who’s following me (Barkley), you’ll know why,” Auriemma quipped.

“Part of this whole thing, I think, everyone’s mentioned the class that’s going in. I’d like to close my eyes and I’d like to take something from everybody in this class. I really would,” he continued.

“I’d like to have Dave’s vision and wake up and see what he sees every day. And I would like to have Dominique’s ability to do things most human beings can’t do. And I’d like to have Sandro’s style. He’s got that Italian style, you know. And I would love to have Joe’s class and dignity and inner strength he portrays. And I would like to have Charles’ money _ that he lost over his lifetime.

“And after all is said and done, I’d like to wake up and be Jerry Colangelo or somebody like that,” Auriemma said.

“But when I was growing up, basketball to me was not something I could aspire to be as a player. Things kept getting in the way when I wanted to be a good player,” he noted. “My ability, number one.

“But I never lost the love of the game that I acquired when I got to high school. And I was living in Philadelphia at a time when so many coaches were living in the area.

“And the person I always associated as being the father of those coaches and the person all the coaches wanted to emulate was someone who I thought really epitomized the teacher-coach, the faculty member. The person who was the teacher before he became the coach as opposed to today when coaches are entrepreneurs before they coached,” Auriemma continued.

“And that person was someone I always wanted to be like when I grew up. And someone I’m fortunate enough now to call one of my friends, who’s brought me into the St. Joe’s family and made me a Hawk by association. It’s someone I admired all my life and will continue to admire as long as I live. _ Jack Ramsay (who presented Auriemma Friday night).

“It is very humbling when you’re standing up here trying to think about the things that got you to this point. You know, as Joe (Dumars) said, we’re a reflection of our families and where we grew up, and the way we were raised and experiences that we had as children, and the people we associated with, including all my friends, I can’t name them all, but the guys I grew up with, who allowed me to play.

“Those who drove me around. I didn’t have a car so I was a real good teammate. If you drove me to the game, I’ll pass you the ball, because I didn’t have a way to get to the games. So I had lots of guys who really took me under their wing.

“My high school coach Bud Gardler allowed me to play on the team (at Bishop Kenrick). I’ve said that if I could be part of a team the rest of my life, than I’m going to be a lucky guy. I tried to do that all my life, be part of a team.

“And I was fortunate enough to work with people that allowed me to do what I love to do, and that’s teach and coach. From Jim Foster (then at Bishop McDevitt and St. Joe’s) first, and then Phil Martelli (then at Kenrick), Debbie Ryan (at Virginia), and then I was able to go and do my own thing at Connecticut.

“And Connecticut’s been the only place where I’ve ever been a head coach. Connecticut’s the only place where I’ve been able to grow as a person, as a teacher, as a coach, make mistakes early on, make mistakes in the middle, make some mistakes even now at the end.

“But through and through I’ve never lost sight of the fact that it is just a game and it is a bunch of people who get together and try to accomplish something that, individually, you can’t do by yourself.

“And, again, my players, there’s a bunch of them here, I don’t know how many, but they’re all back there, and part of me being up here – I was saying something to someone the other day. When one of my players became an all-American or something, I always thought, I think I had something to do with that.

“And whenever they became player of the year, or got some kind of award, I think I had something to do with that. And it made me feel, really, really good when I watched them get an award.

“Well, right now, at this moment, at this point in time, this is your opportunity to sit there and look up here and say to yourselves, `You know what? If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be there.’

“And I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to have athletic directors who really valued what we were trying to do and supported us – college presidents who loved what we brought to the table and wanted to maximize it as much as possible. And through it all, it was no master plan _ I don’t think anybody has a plan, I think it’s more who you surround yourself with, how are we today? Well, we’re pretty good. How can we be better tomorrow? Let’s do that. How can we better the next day? Let’s do that.

“And then you look up, and you’re here. If you’re a player, it’s because you had great teammates and great coaches. It’s no secret that Joe’s backcourt mate is in the Hall of Fame and his coach is in the Hall of Fame.

“It’s not a secret than when you’re a great player, you probably played with other great players. And if you’re a coach, you probably coached great players. And that’s how we set ourselves up by the people we surrounded ourselves with.

“My assistants through the years – going way back to (former St. Joseph’s player) Ellen Clark, Meghan Pattyson, Wendy Davis and all those people that came to the office every day and wanted us to get better.

“And the ones I have now who have been with me for such a long time, Tonya Cardoza, Jamelle Elliott, Chris Dailey, Jack Eiseman _ they’ve been together for a long time.

“You know as a head coach, you’re probably only as good as your players and your assistants. They’ve been there from the beginning and allowed me to do what I wanted to do. And then we go and do it. And sometimes, I don’t know what they’re doing, but they do the right thing. And they tell me what they did.

“And then there’s my family who I’m very, very proud of, and I probably don’t get a chance to say how my children – you know it isn’t easy living in Connecticut when you’re father is who I am. And when we lose or when things don’t go a certain way.

“And for my daughters, Jenna, who is in graduate school, now, and Alyssa, who’s going to be on Broadway some day. And my son, who loves the game of basketball more than anybody I know. He’ll tell you he’s a lot better than I ever was and he’s right.

“And I’m really proud of the way they’ve grown up and the way they’ve handled the whole UConn thing. And my wife Kathy is responsible for that because she’s taught them the right way to be. And she’s probably been the one person who has been a constant in my life, and the other ones are my brother and my sister.

“But in the end, you’re the product of your parents. And my father’s not here, but my mother is. And Sandro was talking about the war. And Sandro was talking about being 12 years old and having bullets flying around. And my mother was 11.

“Sandro, you should talk to my mother, because your English is really good. And when you talk to her, you’ll see why your English is really good. Her Italian is really good. But your English is really good.

“And when you’re 11 or 12 years old and you have to hide from the Germans, move to the hills, then come back to your town because you’re going to get killed. And you’re an adult by the age of 10 or 11.

“So when my players tell me how hard it is, I just laugh. They don’t know what hard is. They don’t know what living under those conditions is like. But because she lived under those conditions, she made sure that the compassion and the passion and the love and the way we embraced people, she made sure she gave me that.

“She gave me a lot. She made my clothes. And you haven’t lived until you’ve gone to school wearing clothes that your mother made. Or, you know, you have sandwiches in aluminum foil which drip oil and sausages and peppers.

“So, she gave me a lot of stuff every once in a while as well.

“But when I left Philadelphia for the first time, she told me two things – Work hard and make a lot of friends.

Aureimma then had emotion creep into his voice as he concluded his speech.

“And all I ever wanted from anything – this game, from friends and acquaintances was respect of how I do things and how I represent my family, my school, my program.

“And this is the ultimate sign of respect and I want to thank all of you that made it possible.”

-- Mel

Marianne Stanley Expected To Be Named Rutgers Assistant

By Mel Greenberg

_ Marianne Stanley has left the WNBA and is soon expected to be announced as a Rutgers assistant coach to C. Vivian Stringer, replacing Sue Wicks.

A ranking New York Liberty official attending Friday night’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony here requested anonymity but confirmed that Stanley had resigned as an assistant to Pat Coyle and was heading for the powerful Scarlet Knights program.

Rutgers sources could not be reached for comment but on Thursday a former Rutgers athletic official attending events here also indicated Stanley would join Stringer.

Both Stringer and Stanley are members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Rutgers job became vacant last month when Wicks, a former all-American and WNBA All-Star with the Liberty, left her alma mater for the top assistant position at St. Francis of New York.

Ironically, Stanley’s former Liberty boss was one of Rutgers’ top players with her twin sister Mary in the early 1980s.

Stanley, who coached Old Dominion to three national titles in 1979, 1980, and 1985 is a former All-American at Immaculata during the Mighty Macs’ national championship era in the early 1970s. At the same time, Stringer was building her first powerhouse at nearby Cheyney State.

Stringer and Stanley know each other well from their ties to the Philadelphia area and involvement with USA Basketball programs.

Stanley also coached at Penn, Southern Cal and California. She served a one-year co-coaching stint with Amy Tucker at Stanford in 1995-96 when Tara VanDerveer was heading the USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team’s run to an Olympic gold medal at the games in Atlanta. The Cardinal reached the Final Four that same season and lost to Georgia in the semifinals.

Stanley’s WNBA background includes an assistant coaching stint with the Los Angeles Sparks followed by a two-year run as head coach of the Washington Mystics. She then became an assistant to Coyle with the Liberty two summers ago when Coyle was promoted to replace Richie Adubato early in the season.

The Liberty had their worst-ever record in the ten-year history of the franchise this past season but there had not been any indication to date of personnel moves by the organization.

Stanley’s venture across the Hudson River to New Jersey would be a way back to the collegiate world with a team that could end up in contention for a national title, even though Cappie Pondexter has graduated to the WNBA.

-- Mel

Friday, September 08, 2006

Eve of Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Goes Calmly for Connecticut's Auriemma.

By Mel Greenberg

On a night that was surprisingly devoid of the vast numbers of sportswriters who intensely cover the University of Connecticut national powerhouse women’s basketball team on a daily basis, it was left for the Guru to be Huskies coach Geno Auriemma’s media babysitter on the eve of his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame that will occur Friday night.

The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Goldberg was the only one spotted early Thursday evening before Auriemma and his wife Kathy arrived for the first event of the weekend – the reunion and awards dinner.

The calm is not expected to last long, however, with much more of the famed “horde” expected to be attending Friday morning’s news conference introducing the inductees.

“I might enjoy this a lot better next year when they don’t have you doing a million things,” Auriemma noted to some well-wishers who were in the ballroom at the Marriott-Springfield Hotel.

Auriemma’s biggest concern at the moment is the acceptance speech he has to give after he is presented Friday night by Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, a former St. Joseph’s and NBA Philadelphia 76ers coach who has longtime ties to the Philly scene as does Auriemma.

“They told us four minutes,” Auriemma, who was born in Italy, said of the limitation given the six inductees. “That’s not a lot of time to move your hands around. At the moment, I’m into a heavy negotiation with (former 76ers star) Charles Barkley to get a little more time and get some of his minutes but he’s asking for a lot.”

Barkley will also be enshrined along with NBA Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars, former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt and Italian national coach Alessandro Gamba.

Thursday night’s event was the annual informal setting in which past enshrinees and the new inductees get a chance to renew acquaintances and make new ones.

Judging by the way the notables from the men’s side approached Auriemma, there were few new associations to be had.

He was involved in conversations with such individuals as Maryland men’s coach Gary Williams, TV commentator and former NBA coach Hubie Brown, former 76ers player and coach Billy Cunningham, and former St. John’s men’s coach Lou Carnesecca.

Auriemma saluted the legendary “Loouie,” commenting that “When you and Jack Ramsay coached, you were teachers of the game. Today, coaches are entrepreneurs.”

Three awards that are the highest given by the Naismith folks outside of inductions were also presented Thursday night.

The Curt Gowdy media awards went to TV’s Bill Raftery, a former Seton Hall men’s coach, in the electronic division, and the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Heisler in the print division.

Many years ago Heisler worked at the Inquirer alongside the Guru so there were things for us to discuss, as well.

Longtime Women’s Basketball Coaches Association executive Betty Jaynes received the Bunn lifetime achievement award and was only the second woman to be accorded that honor.

The Guru now signs off because of the late hour after posting two blogs and the early wakeup call to attend the morning press conference. Geno’s presentation at that event will be yours truly’s responsibility for the Inquirer’s print presentation in Saturday’s paper.

But we’ll also be back here on the blog with coverage of the before and post reception activities at the Hall Friday night as well as any further news that we mention in the blog below this involving Marianne Stanley’s potential hire as an assistant women’s coach at Rutgers.

-- Mel

Sources: Marianne Stanley May Join Stringer At Rutgers

By Mel Greenberg

As Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend activities kicked off here with Thursday night’s reunion and awards dinner, a buzz seeped into the hotel ballroom lobby that the number of Women’s Basketball Hall of Famers on the Rutgers staff is about to double.

A knowledgeable source with past ties to the Scarlet Knights indicated current New York Liberty assistant coach Marianne Stanley in the WNBA is involved with the assistant coaching position to C.Vivian Stringer that was left vacant when Sue Wicks took the top assistant job at St. Francis University in New York.

The source’s comment coincided with a “guessing game” being conducted on a Rutgers fan site earlier Thursday on the internet that offered “Mighty Macs” as a clue.

The official Rutgers athletic web site did not contain any news of a potential hire late Thursday night nor did Friday’s edition of the Daily Targum, the university’s student paper.

Several of the Guru’s sources, who might have information, could not be reached from here after Stanley’s name dropped into the discussion in the early evening.

Stanley, who coached Old Dominion to three national titles, is a former All-American at Immaculata during the Mighty Macs’ national championship era in the early 1970s when Stringer was building her first powerhouse at nearby Cheyney State.

Stringer and Stanley are both members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., and know each other well from their ties to Philadelphia and involvement with USA Basketball programs.

Stanley also coached at Penn, Southern Cal and California while also serving a one-year co-coach status with Amy Tucker at Stanford in 1995-96 when Tara VanDerveer was heading the USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team’s run to an Olympic gold medal at the games in Atlanta. The Cardinal reached the Final Four that same season and lost to Georgia in the semifinals.

Stanley’s WNBA background includes an assistant coaching stint with the Los Angeles Sparks followed by a two-year run as head coach of the Washington Mystics. She then became an assistant to Pat Coyle with the Liberty two summers ago when Coyle was promoted to replace Richie Adubato early in the season.

The Liberty had their worst-ever record in the ten-year history of the franchise this past season but there had not been any indication to date of personnel moves by the organization.

Stanley’s venture across the Hudson River to New Jersey would be a way back to the collegiate world with a team that could end up in contention for a national title, even though Cappie Pondexter has graduated to the WNBA.

-- Mel

Thursday, September 07, 2006

WNBA Finals: Shock Force Series To Go The Distance

By Mel Greenberg

Site controversy notwithstanding, what better venue for Saturday’s fifth and deciding game of the WNBA Finals to conclude the league’s 10th anniversary season than a place called the Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit.

In the aftermath of another resilient effort by the Detroit Shock Wednesday night against the Sacramento Monarchs, this series has truly become a heavyweight encounter.

The Shock’s 72-52 triumph in Sacramento’s Arco Arena has, for the moment, blocked a second-straight WNBA championship by the Monarchs and enabled these finals to land a nomination for the best-ever. More about the other candidates later.

Now whether that claim can actually be made for this series will be determined in part of how competitive the game is Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Incidentally, the reason for the change of venue is a Mariah Carey concert at the Palace in Auburn Hills, a suburb of Detroit some 30 miles away from downtown.

Beyond the competitiveness of Saturday’s game _ this is the second year of the best-of-five format _ another element that could help this series earn special distinction is that none of the previous nine championships were claimed by the visiting team in the deciding contest. Thus, a Sacramento win would be a first in that regard.

Also, how about this oddity?

If the Monarchs win Saturday, they will have claimed the Western Conference and WNBA crowns in the other team’s arena that wasn’t really the other team’s arena.

Sacramento swept the West finals by beating the Los Angeles Sparks in Anaheim, Calif. instead of the Staples Center.

During her question-and-answer session with reporters in Detroit last week, WNBA president Donna Orender expressed displeasure about both sites being shifted although she conceded that the teams’ arena contracts “allowed some wiggle room that allowed this to happen and that we won’t let happen again.

“We are disappointed by both moves, yes we are,” Orender said prior to the previous comment. “We think that the process that we put in place would have addressed these kinds of moves in advance. Unfortunately, they did not. I think we’ve all learned together and in the future we don’t anticipate that this would happen.”

Whoever wins on Saturday, they would be the first champion who operated through the season with a split personality. In some ways, that has already been reflected in the finals with Sacramento looking great on the road in the series opener and in Game 3 at home, while Detroit rebounded from near extinction in the second game at home and then Wednesday night in California.

Considering the way Detroit has played, dating back to recovering from the loss to the Connecticut Sun in Game 2 in the Eastern Finals, coach Bill Laimbeer’s team has performed appropriately to its Shock nickname in absorbing some serious beatings in its defeats.

Incidentally, there are now some seats available at the previously sold-out Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction proceedings Friday night in Springfield, Mass.

Swin Cash, who had planned to be there to see her University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma enshrined, has had to change intentions after Wednesday’s win extended the series. Laimbeer and his assistant coach Rick Mahorn won’t be there either for Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars, a teammate of theirs when the trio were part of the back-to-back Pistons “Bad Boys” contingent that won the 1989 and 1990 NBA titles.

The swagger from that experience is what Laimbeer brought to his team Wednesday night after the Monarchs fan base came to the arena dressed to party like it did in 2005.

After all Sacramento had won 11 straight playoff games at home dating back to 2001.

Little did the home crowd ever dream that their team could be held to two measly points in the fourth quarter in a performance worse but similar to Game 2 in Detroit where the Shock defense got tougher as the game continued.

Incidentally, Katie Smith, who had 22 points, and Cheryl Ford, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, will also have to cancel some plane tickets. Had Sacramento won Wednesday night, the two would have headed immediately for North Carolina to join the USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team preparing for the FIBA World Championship in Brazil and which will host Australia in an exhibition game Thursday night.

Ford, along with Tennessee sophomore Candace Parker and Houston Comets center Michelle Snow, another Tennessee product, were named Wednesday as the final three selections to the squad.

The departure of Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith and Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie for family considerations made the selection of post players a necessity.

Meanwhile, the WNBA has stumbled into an interesting situation with the series extended into Saturday’s game.

In terms of buildup, the finals have been exciting watching the momentum swing from team-to-team with great post play and perimeter shooting from both sides.

But it’s going to televised, nationally, right in the heart of a slew of collegiate football games, so the numbers will be interesting, especially the attendance numbers in Detroit considering the drop off from the 2003 finals. This time, as opposed to last week, there is no holiday conflict.

As for our comment about the all-time Finals, other worthy candidates are the 2003 finals with Detroit winning both games against Los Angeles at home in the final minutes; the 1998 finals when Houston won Game 2 after a 15-point or so halftime deficit and then won a close encounter in Game 3.

“But, but …” some of you say about a few others. Yeah, the Guru knows what you’re talking about and here’s why they did not make our list.

Yeah, the New York Liberty’s Teresa Weatherspoon made the all-time almost coast-to-coast shot in Game 2 to extend the series in Houston in 1999. But the Comets ruled the next day, 59-47, to take the title.

And the next year? New York took Houston into overtime before losing Game 2 in Houston, but that gave the Comets a 2-0 sweep.

And in 2002? Nikki Teasley’s three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 at the Staples Center gave Los Angeles the title over New York. But again, a 2-0 sweep.

In 2004, the Seattle Storm owned the Connecticut Sun in game 3 after tying the series in Game 2 when Nykesha Sales’ attempted buzzer-beater failed.

-- Mel

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Philly Moments" Help Auriemma to Hall of Fame

By Mel Greenberg

_ Almost a year ago, we attended the first of a series of Hall of Fame inductions for Geno Auriemma, who built the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program into a national powerhouse.

The occasion was the Montgomery County Hall of Fame ceremony just outside Norristown near here where Auriemma grew up.

St. Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martelli, who once hired Auriemma as an assistant boys coach at Bishop Kenrick High, Auriemma’s alma mater, was the guest speaker.

As for Auriemma’s acceptance speech, noting the local crowd and reflecting on his youthful years, Auriemma reflected that “the one thing that makes this night different than most others is that tonight I probably know almost everybody in the room.”

Moving months later into the spring, Auriemma was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., which is also the home of Connecticut’s greatest rival _ the University of Tennessee.

A series of roller-coaster events over several weeks leading up to that induction caused Auriemma to be a little less glib than he normally has been on many occasions.

There was the last-second loss to Duke in the Bridgeport Regional that blocked another appearance at a Women’s Final Four.

That was soon replaced with the joy of the announcement of Auriemma’s election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., where his induction will occur Friday night.

Then came the sudden and tragic death of first-year Army coach Maggie Dixon occurred right after the finals in Boston.

A few days later, Auriemma was hospitalized for diverticulitis.

Then came the trip to Knoxville.

And so we approach the events in Springfield, Mass., where print and blog coverage of Auriemma and the other inductees will be provided here and in The Inquirer over the next several days.

As much as we’re on the end of Geno’s Philly angle _ several others in the Inquirer sports department will also be handling stories _ it will be fascinating to view the UConn media horde at work this time around.

To be sure, especially after recent reports of Auriemma becoming involved with the once-vacant opening for the men’s position at Oklahoma, how many will be ready to compare Geno’s draw contrasted to the following a year ago that attended ceremonies for Connecticut men’s coach Jim Calhoun, when he was an inductee.

A month ago during the WNBA’s stretch drive, a former prominent UConn star known for her ability to match Geno’s wit, was asked what she knew of the Oklahoma story.

The individual, who declined to speak formally for the record, said, “I know it got close.”

Asked if her name might be mentioned in relation to the quote, she deadpanned, “Just say you talked to someone who played there for four years and is quite familiar with Mr. Auriemma’s dealings.”

That person will be unable to attend because of a prior commitment with a certain USA Basketball Senior Women’s Team preparing for the FIBA World Championships in Brazil.

But we’ll be on the scene Thursday night at the Reunion Dinner that kicks off the events. UConn notoriety aside, Auriemma’s celebration will still be strongly laced with a Philadelphia accent.

For one thing, he has chosen Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, the former St. Joseph’s men’s coach in Philadelphia, to be his escort to the proceedings at Friday night’s ceremony and receptions.

Incidentally, two Philly types who won’t be attending, are Villanova women’s coach Harry Perretta, who has managed to provide his share of court torture to UConn in Auriemma’s early years with the program, and Jim Foster, the Ohio State women’s coach who hired Auriemma as an assistant with the Bishop McDevitt girls team and then at St. Joseph’s when Foster succeeded Rene Portland in charge of the Hawks.

“I had a prior commitment long before, but I did reach him in the office to wish him well,” Perretta said Tuesday night.

Foster was located at an airport waiting for a flight to Nova Scotia where he had his annual vacation scheduled.

Ironically, a slew of major events in UConn’s history under Auriemma have had a Philly-relation to them.

For example, Villanova, with Perretta’s famous slow-mo offense and three-point perimeter attack, owned the Big East in the 1980s.

UConn finally began make headway when the Huskies snapped the Wildcats’ long domination with a 64-63 victory on Feb. 11, 1989, using Villanova’s special poison _ a three-point shot as time expired to claim the victory.

A Few weeks later Connecticut won its first Big East tournament but Auriemma was sidelined as part of a penalty for being mathematically-challenged and incorrectly scheduling one-too-many games.

To help get under the cap, Syracuse agreed to have its game with the Huskies cancelled. Auriemma was also suspended through the Big East tournament, which Connecticut won to earn an NCAA bid.

However, Connecticut’s NCAA debut was short-lived when La Salle, from Philadelphia, beat the Huskies and advanced to the next round at Tennessee, delaying the Huskies’ first hookup with the Volunteers until the famous 1 vs. 2 game in 1995.

One of the Explorers stars involved in the win was Kelly Greenberg, who later became coach at Penn and is now at Boston U.

The next Philly association with Auriemma’s progress occurred in 1991.

Although Virginia was the dominant team in the nation that year, the big news in the Northeast was the emergence of Penn State to No. 1 after upsetting the Cavaliers in Charlottesville during the season to become the first Northeastern team atop the Associated Press poll.

Then the fun began. Rutgers, under Immaculata graduate Theresa Grentz, was upset by Bill Fennelly’s Toledo team, which then advanced to UConn for the second round.
The Huskies won that game to advance to Philadelphia at the Palestra for the regional when a Toledo basket at the buzzer was ruled by referee Dee Kantner to not count.

“She made the most important call in the history of the UConn program,” Auriemma has said over the years.

Penn State, meanwhile, became the first No. 1 team to lose to an unranked team when the Nittany Lions were upset by James Madison at State College.

That caused a few aspirins to be popped by officials in Philadelphia who had thought Penn State was a cinch to advance and help produce a large crowd.

But Auriemma’s Philly ties made Connecticut the local sweetheart and the Huskies responded with upsets of North Carolina State and Clemson to advance to their first Final Four in New Orleans.

That success helped Connecticut land a recruit whose name happened to be Rebecca Lobo.

When the Huskies won their first NCAA title in 1995, Philadelphia was then awarded the 2000 Finals with an eye to Auriemma having a major homecoming.

He responded and UConn beat Tennessee in 2000 to at the then-named First Union Center for the Huskies second national title.

A year later, Connecticut lost to eventual champion Notre Dame in the national semifinals. The Irish were and are coached by Muffet McGraw, a former St. Joseph’s star who succeeded Auriemma as an assistant to Foster at her alma mater in the early days.

By the way, one of the officials who hired him at Connecticut was Pat Meiser, a former Penn State coach who later became the athletic director of Hartford and hired one former Huskies star in Jen Rizzotti to be those Hawks’ first coach.

Rizzotti’s hire also unwittingly set the stage a year later for Temple in Philadelphia to hire Dawn Staley as a coach since Rizzotti had shown one could succeed coaching college and playing in the WNBA.

The next stop on the non-degree-of-separation-from-Philly-roots tour was in 1996 when Connecticut in Chicago beat a Vanderbilt team then coached by Foster to advance to the next round.

The two friends almost met in the 1994 regional final at Rutgers but Vanderbilt lost at the buzzer to North Carolina, which then beat Connecticut and went on to win the NCAA on the famous Charlotte Smith shot.

Another Philly moment occurred with great national controversy in 1998.

That’s when Perretta and Auriemma conspired to help an injured Nykesha Sales to hobble onto the court and score against the Wildcats at Villanova to set the school scoring record. That game, incidentally, went into overtime before UConn won, causing the Guru to write in the paper the next morning that Perretta began the night doing his friend Auriemma a favor and then attempting to beat his brains out for the next 40 minutes. A loss would have put the Huskies’ NCAA situation in some jeopardy if it didn’t win the Big East.

We already talked about 2000 and 2001.

Perretta was a menace again in 2003 when Villanova upset Connecticut in the Big East tournament title game at Rutgers to snap the Huskies’ NCAA-record women’s win streak at 70.

“I saved (coach) John Wooden,” Perretta later beamed alluding to the overall streak by UCLA that was being threatened by UConn.

Of course, the Huskies then responded by reeling off six straight wins for another NCAA title.

In recent years, there’s been the conference rivalry with Rutgers coached by C. Vivian Stringer, who once coached at Cheyney, a school located in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.

So on that note, we’ll close coverage with two lists below.

One notes all the Philadelphia connections in the Hall of Fame in Springfield.

The other is the list of all the women’s program notables who are enshrined, including Auriemma.

So until 24 hours from now after we know Wednesday night’s WNBA result, we’ll be back. And here’s those lists.

-- Mel

Philly Ties to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

NBA-76ers or Phila. Warriors

Paul Arizin, player
Charles Barkley, player
Larry Brown, coach
Al Cervi, coach
Wilt Chamberlain, player
Billy Cunningham, player-coach
Julius Erving, player
Joe Fulks, player
Tom Gola (also La Salle) player
Eddie Gottlieb, coach
Hal Greer, player
Alex Hannum, coach
Bailey Howell, player
Neil Johnston, coach
Moses Malone, player
Frank McGuire, coach
Andy Phillip, player
Jack Ramsay, coach
Dolph Schayes, player-coach

Paul Arizona, Villanova player
John Chaney, Temple, coach
Chuck Daly, Penn, coach
Ken Loeffler, La Salle, coach
Harry Litwack, Temple, coach
James Pollard, La Salle, coach
Ralph Morgan, Penn, contributor

Grew up in the area
Geno Auriemma (Norristown), Connecticut women’s coach
Earl Monroe (Phila.), played for New York Knicks
Earl “Yogi” Strom (Pottstown), referee

End of Philadelphia Section

Women’s coaches or players or contributors in Naismith

Geno Auriemma, Connecticut coach
Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech coach
Senda Berenson Abbott, Smith College, contributor
Carol Blazjowski, Montclair State player
Joan Crawford, Nashville Business College, player
Jody Conradt, Texas coach
Denise Curry, UCLA player
Anne Donovan, Old Dominion player
Sue Gunter, Louisiana State coach
Lusia Harris-Stewart, Delta State player
Nancy Lieberman, Old Dominion player
Hortencia Marcari, Brazil player
Ann Meyers, UCLA player
Cheryl Miller, Southern Cal, player
Billie Moore, UCLA coach
Uljana Semjonova, Soviet Union, player
Pat Summitt, Tennessee coach
Bertha F. Teague, Oklahoma A&M, player
Nera White, Nashville Business College, player
Lynnette Woodard, Kansas-Harlem Globetrotter player
Kay Yow, North Carolina State coach
L. Margaret Wade, Delta State coach

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

WNBA Finals: Off-Days Musings

By Mel Greenberg

Random thoughts and observations as we await the WNBA season to conclude sometime this week.

If the Detroit Shock get extinguished by the Sacramento Monarchs on Wednesday night at the Arco Arena in California, will coach Bill Laimbeer, assistant coach Rick Mahorn, and forward Swin Cash catch a redeye flight together to Springfield, Mass., for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Springfield, Mass., Friday night?

One of the enshrinees will be Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars, who was a teammate of both Laimbeer and Mahorn when the trio were part of the Pistons “Bad Boys” contingent that won back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

Cash, a key member of the 2003 WNBA Shock champions, is also a former University of Connecticut star, whose collegiate coach Geno Auriemma will be an inductee along with former NBA stars Dominuqie Wilkins and Charles Barkeley, former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt, and European men’s coach Sandro Gamba, who headed four Italian Olympic teams.

The event is sold out and Auriemma, particularly, will be drawing a vast following among his Huskies players, the Connecticut fan base, and past ties from his Philadelphia-area roots where he grew up in Norristown just Northwest of the city.

Incidentally, former Women’s Basketball Coaches Association executive Betty Jaynes will be the recipient of the Bunn lifetime achievement award at Thursday night’s reunion dinner.

Cash had told the Guru last week in Auburn Hills, Mich., she had plans to attend, depending on the outcome of the series.

Obviously, if the Shock extend the series back to the Motor City for a fifth and deciding game that would be played Saturday, the trio will only make it three-quarters of the way back across the country.

Incidentally, the way Laimbeer has criticized the play of center Ruth Riley, among others of his under-achieving team in the finals, one wonders whether he is having second thoughts about not pulling the trigger on an off-season trade last winter when the former Notre Dame star and MVP of the 2003 finals requested such a move.

On the other hand, Riley did help Detroit return to the finals even if the team was not as consistent as 2003 when the Shock dominated play.

That was an interesting game of dodge ball that was played during the first two games when officials and Detroit players were asked about the crowd, which was far less than the 17,000 plus and 22,000 plus that jammed the Palace for Games 2 and 3 in three seasons ago.

Of course, the lack of precision questioning by local sportswriters contributed to the sidestep.

After the opening game, when the question “What did you think of the crowd?” was asked, the response from the Detroit contingent was a basic comment of being too focused on winning the game and not aware of what was going on in the stands.

To be fair, for those with short memories, it should be noted that the 2003 games were played on Sept. 14th and Sept. 16th as opposed to the traditional final week of summer vacation prior to Labor Day when many people take off with their families for one last fling.

Also, the Detroit Tigers were one of the all-time worst teams in the baseball that season as opposed to leading the Central Division in the American League.

And then there was the fascination factor as the Shock were completing an all-time turnaround in sports in leaping from a 9-23 record in 2002 to a worst-to-first national championship.

Whispering Lane

Most people were surprised last week with the news that Phoenix Mercury general manager Seth Sulka had resigned after being with the organization since its inception as a charter franchise of the WNBA in 1997.

Even though the Mercury lost out on a three-way tie-breaker, the team with rookie Cappie Pondexter from Rutgers and former Connecticut star Diana Taurasi lighting up the scoreboard seemed improved and poised to make a stronger bid for the playoffs next time around.

More than a few times last week, there were some whispers that a change might happen in Houston, where Van Chancellor, who led the Comets to the first four WNBA titles, is the last of the original eight coaches in the league.

Chancellor, in his post-playoff wrap-up indicated to his local media, however, that he still enjoys what he is doing and is up for the challenge to get that fifth WNBA title.

And there is a sense of “what might have been” had not the Comets accumulated so many injuries after bolting to a strong start in the early part of the summer.

Another place where a transaction needs completion is Minnesota, where the Lynx need to replace coach Suzie McConnell Serio, who resigned down the stretch as the team faded from the playoff race.

One name that was being thrown around last week as a possible replacement was former Los Angeles Sparks coach Michael Cooper, who produced back-to-back WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002 before finishing runnersup to Detroit the next season.

The greatest speculation is on the New York where the Liberty had their worst season since launching with the league in 1997.

Although the team reeled off a series of wins in the final weeks of the season, most were against opponents who were also struggling.

Depending on who’s talking, there is a sense of sympathy for coach Pat Coyle, a former Rutgers star who had a young roster and also had to cope with injuries.

General manager Carol Blazejowski has also been criticized, although it must be noted that if a replacement were to be made, whoever is hired better be someone who understands the New York fan base unless the front office is restructured into a team of specialists in different areas.

-- Mel

Saturday, September 02, 2006

WNBA Finals: Smith's Sweet 16 Helps Shock Even Series

By Mel Greenberg

The Detroit Shock rallied with 10 minutes of fourth-quarter mayhem against the Sacramento Monarchs at the Palace Friday night to gain a 73-63 victory and tie the WNBA best-of-five championship series at 1-1.

It was an offensive and defensive show at both ends of the court for the home team in running up a 25-9 advantage down the stretch to avoid a 2-0 sweep by the defending champions heading into Sunday’s third game in Sacramento.

The fourth game, now necessary, will be Wednesday night and a fifth and deciding game, if necessary, would return to this area, but downtown in Detroit at the Joe Louis Arena because of a scheduling conflict involving the Palace.

Veteran Katie Smith lit the way for the Shock with all 16 of her points in the second half, but she was just one of a bunch of stories from coach Bill Laimbeer’s squad.

One of them was the return to form of former University of Connecticut star Swin Cash, who was scoreless in the series opener in limited action, but who produced 11 points – nine in the first half, eight rebounds, and five assists in 33 minutes, 35 seconds of action Friday night.

“A lot of contributions happened today,” Laimbeer said of his team’s recovery from a 42-31 deficit in the final minute of the second quarter. “I thought Swin Cash played the way that we want her to play. She came from the start and brought all the energy in the world to our ballclub.

“That’s the stat line I envisioned for her at the start of the season,” Laimbeer continued with praise substituted for the criticism he tossed Cash’s way Wednesday night. “I told her, we have additional scorers in Katie Smith, and every time she walks on the floor I want her to be capable of having a triple-double.

“Her stat line (Friday night) is phenomenal for how the makeup of our team is. That’s what we want from her every game.”

Laimbeer cited the play off the bench of Plenette Pierson, Kara Braxton, and Elaine Powell, even though the “scoresheet” might not reflect their effort.

“The bottom line, we figured it out. Our ballclub figured out how hard they have to play, what they have to do on the basketball court, defensively. And offensively, I think the light bulb came on.”

That was especially true right at the end of the third quarter when Smith nailed a long three-pointer to close the deficit to 54-48.

“When Katie Smith made the 3-ball, we just said, `You have 10 minutes, okay, to protect your home court and put yourself back in the series,’” Laimbeer related.

“And it was great to see the response of the players. They had a bounce in their step. They had a more physical presence.”

Deanna Nolan, who had a game-high 21 points, put the Shock ahead at 56-54 with 7 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game. The Monarchs quickly tied it, but Nolan hit another shot to put Detroit ahead again and the Shock began to roll the rest of the way.

Yolanda Griffith led the Monarchs by scoring 14 points, Kara Lawson and former Michigan State star Kristin Haynie each scored 11 points, and DeMya Walker had 10 points.

A year ago, the Connecticut Sun evened the series against Sacramento in the second game when Brooke Wyckoff’s three-pointer at the end of regulation forced overtime and Connecticut prevailed, 77-70.

That was it, however, as the Monarchs won the next two at home to earn their first WNBA crown.

Laimbeer Friday night spoke of needing to win one of two out West to extend the series.

Unlike a year ago, Monarchs coach John Whisenant did not have to wait until the final seconds here to know his team wasn’t going to head home with a 2-0 road sweep.

In the third quarter, although Sacramento was unable to score much of the way, Haynie got hot with seven straight points and the Monarchs were able to get the advantage to eight points in their favor in the period before Detroit began to rally.

“I thought we acted a little tired,” Whisenant said of his team’s play in the second half when the Monarchs missed 20 of its first 24 shots. “It could have been the coach’s substitution pattern. Maybe I left them, some players, in there too long and they became a little tired in the fourth quarter.

“But needless to say, they (Detroit) played well. They came back, they had to win this game. I think they knew that. They felt going back to our place down 0-2 would have been a very deep hole, but now they are right back where they want to be, right in the thick of things.”

As has been the situation since her late-season trade last summer from the Minnesota Lynx to Detroit, Smith is a primary reason.

“The first half was just weird for me because there wasn’t much of a flow for myself, personally,” Smith said of Friday night’s game. “I thought we had good looks. Tweety (Nolan) was getting bumped a little bit. I didn’t feel like we were in a flow, per se.

“I just have to find my niche and be out there and be aggressive,” the former Ohio State star said. “We have a lot of threats and if we use them all, we can cause some problems.”

Smith has always been a thorn to teams as Whisenant noted.

“Katie’s a handful. She’s always been,” he said. “I call her an Ohio State fullback. She’s strong and powerful -- heavy, powerful legs, can power through most guards.

“It’s very hard for guards to stay with her. And she’s a deadly shooter, always has been.”

Whisenant didn’t feel any imminent danger of defeat when Smith’s shot closed the gap to six points at the end of the third quarter.

“I would have much rather she didn’t make it. But I mean, I still thought we could win the game. I’ve got confidence in our defense, and I thought that we just hit a wall there, physically, that I started seeing my players, they didn’t have any zip,” Whisenant said.

“Detroit was beating us to all loose balls, all deflected rebounds they were getting to. They were just sharper and fresher and you can say, Bill will probably say, they just wanted it more. That’s one expression.”

The Shock outscored the Monarchs, 28-18, in the paint after Sacramento had a 38-28 advantage in the series opener.

Detroit also split Sacramento’s second-half scoring total in two after allowing 42 points Wednesday night and just 21 Friday night.

“We made some adjustments from the last game to this game that seemed to work,” Laimbeer spoke of his defensive strategy. “Today, we played a lot harder than we did in the first game.”

Detroit had allowed 25 points, each, in four of the first five quarters of this series, but reduced Sacramento’s total over the final three quarters Friday night to just 37 points.

Of her own improvement from the opener, Cash said, “I just came in and watched some film about what they took away from me in the first game. I don’t think I came out with a different mindset.

“It’s the Finals. I prepare the same way.”

Griffith described Detroit’s tenacity.

“They just came out (in the second half) and wanted it more,” Griffith said. “They got all the loose balls they didn’t get in the first half, they hit some shots, they attacked our defense and we weren’t able to recover quick enough.

“But we knew it was going to be a dog fight. We aren’t going to hold our heads down. We knew that getting the second game would be tough. It felt like we had it and it just slipped away from us,” Griffith continued.

We are not going to hold our heads down,” Griffith said. “We made a lot of mistakes, the shots didn’t fall like they did the first game. But, we are going home and the crowd is going to be behind us like Detroit was for them.”

-- Mel

Friday, September 01, 2006

Kate Makes Inquirer Print Debut

By Mel Greenberg

And now here in Detroit on the morning of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, the Guru is pleased to break a bit of news to the blog readers here of an event that occurred in Friday morning's Inquirer back home.

A year ago, Kate Burkholder, a resident of nearby Marlton, N.J., who was getting ready to return to the Rutgers campus as a sophomore as well as a budding sportswriter at The Daily Targum, the campus newspaper, she perhaps could not envision that 12 months later she would make her print debut in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Heck, for that matter, the Guru was just someone she noticed the Rutgers "regulars" on the beat was someone they were busy hitting up with a bunch of questions at the previous NCAA tournament opening round at Connecticut when the Scarlet Knights and Temple were both in the same bracket trying to get to the Regional in Philadelphia.

As fate would happen, as last season hit mid-stride, Ms. Burkholder gravitated under the Guru's journalistic wing at a time he was thinking about where future writing talent might exist.

He discovered such a phenomenon when he happened to venture into the Targum to check a comment from coach Viv that he managed to miss during one of her famous, lengthy, postgame answers to a short question.

It so happened that Kate's story had the comment he was looking for, but in reading the copy, he was so impressed with the style that he sent her a short note saying as much.

She responded several days later with a phone call to say "Thanks."

Events ensued from there and most of you all know of her writing debut on the blog at the Final Four in Boston and also a quick gig of what was then known as, before the sale of the newspaper chain, as the Knight Ridder Tribune campus wire that goes to 300 high school and college campuses.

That entity still exists, by the way, under the new ownership of the wire.

All the while, the Guru made the mangement types, who are responsible for his main pay check, of her work in the event there might be some future opportunities in the home office in either the Guru's Inquirer world or in other sports beat in the department, as well as our internet entity.

As the summer began, we took her on the WNBA tour, when she felt like it (Hey, it's summer, you know), and she continued to produce excellent material while elevating to a level way above the campus genre.

Trust me, the Guru has spent half the time here in Detroit receiving greetings from writers, broadcasters, and WNBA executives to relate (which, when she reads this, I just did).

We even managed to help her land her first paid free-lance gigs for a couple of articles in Women's Basketball Magazine, and those folks also were impressed with her efforts.

Which brings us to this week.

Kate had already scheduled a visit to Guru headquarters for Tuesday to say "hello" to a few people and a communication was supposed to transpire Monday afternoon setting up her arrival time.

However, the Guru received an urgent phone call from the home office in late morning asking if "Your protege can give us a Rutgers football piece".

And so a call was made to Ms. Kate, with the greeting, "This is your moment." At the time, she happened to be on campus a week ahead of time getting her living quarters ready for the winter.

Due to her schedule, she wanted to do it, but had to check, and the Guru said there was still time and he'd relay that.

In the ensuing two minutes after the call, a bell went off inside her head, and the Guru received another call of acceptance and he gave her the numbers to talk to the editorship in sports.

Meanwhile, the visit went well across the board, the story has been written, and if we know what we are doing technologically, here is the link to it at Philly.com since it only ran in our Jersey section, but it is perhaps the first of many.

(If the link doesn't work, we'll cut and paste the copy in a few hours.).

And thus, the predictions you folks at Rutgers made on the message board last winter has come true.

What is not, true, sadly for some of you, is that "Straight from the Yo's mouth at practice Thursday," she is not involved in the Rutgers search for Sue Wicks' replacement as an assistant coach and had never had a discussion, at least that's what the Guru was told.

And in other Rutgers news, which seemed to be slow to transpire back there, Tasha Pointer, who helped lead the Scarlet Knights to the Final Four in 2000 in Philly, has been hired as an assistant at Xavier, which, by the way, is the host for this season's Atlantic Ten women's tournament.

So, applaud Kate. Applaud Tasha.

And later Friday night, we return you to regular coverage of the Finals here, probably our last appearance at the tournament, since the Guru has been requested to ready the elements for Geno Ariemma's induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame next weekend.

He is a Philly guy for those of you who might wonder why the special interest.

-- Mel