Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, 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

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