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.

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

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