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, October 27, 2006

Big East Takes Manhattan -- Again

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK _
The Big East Conference held its annual women’s basketball media day at the ESPN SportsZone, Thursday, the same site on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway it moved to last year when the conference expanded by five teams to a total of 16.

Prior to then, the Big East women’s extravaganza occurred in a hotel located near the Newark Airport across the river in New Jersey.

Before breaking for one-on-one interviews with coaches and players, each of the coaches extolled the virtues of the Big East following opening remarks by commissioner Mike Tranghese.

There’s certainly much to say about a league that’s produced six NCAA titles, although most of the heavy lifting has come from the University of Connecticut acquiring five of the six trophies. Notre Dame produced the other one in 2001.

Connecticut has dominated with 13 Big East titles leading to automatic NCAA bids, although Auriemma noted that the competition is much tougher in recent years.

“There’s just too many good teams right now,” said Auriemma, who spent the offseason getting inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

“This was the hardest, I think, the coaches had to try to predict three through 12, “ Auriemma spoke of the slots behind his team, which was made the overwhelming favorite, Rutgers, and DePaul. “You could turn it upside down and not been wrong, probably.”

Traditional challengers Villanova and Notre Dame were picked 10th and 11th, while recent conference additions DePaul and Louisville were picked third and fourth.

“Every team that came into the league last year added a lot to an already good league,” Auriemma said. “And it’s forced us to be even better than we were previous to that, as far as Connecticut is concerned.”

Louisville coach Tom Collen was a little surprised by his team’s picked.

“I’m not sure how you picked fourth in a conference when you lose four of your five starters,” Collen said. “But I think we have some awfully talented kids and some of the coaches in the conference know that some of the players who weren’t starters for us last year that were coming off the bench are the heir apparent. That was the reason we got picked as high as we did.”

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer gave a shoutout to her school’s nationally ranked football team.

“It has been a long time coming,” Stringer said.

As for her Scarlet Knights, who are suffering with nagging injuries, Stringer spoke of coping in the early part of the season.

“We are young, we have five freshmen – they don’t have a clue about what’s going on. Sometimes when we’re talking to them, they look up to the sky and think God’s going to tell them something different.

“But I really enjoy coaching them. It’s going to take a while molding them into the team that they are projected to be,” she said.

“None of our starters have been on the floor, other than Essence Carson who joined us a week ago,” Stringer said. “We’re hoping Matee Ajavon is with us in January at the start of the Big East.”

Veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta, who was with the Wildcats before the Big East women began play 25 years ago, said, “Every year it’s a little tougher for me to do it but Joe (Mullaney Jr.) doesn’t want to do it yet so I have to survive a little bit longer.

“We lost six seniors. We lost 75 percent of our offense which is either good or bad, depending how you look at it. We only averaged 59 points a game, so 75 percent might not be bad to some people, on the other hand, it might be really bad.”

Jackie Adamshick is Villanova’s only senior and Stacie Witman is the only junior.

“I’m going to try to be a little gentler with my team this year,” Perretta quipped.

Finger Walking: The Big 12, the Big East, the SEC, the CAA may stage major productions to tout their members’ prospects.

Meanwhile, the conference that sent three teams to the Final Four and produced the national champion in Maryland, went a different route that it resorted to a year ago.

The league sent around a DVD and then conducted a teleconference with the member coaches.

Maryland was picked to win the ACC ahead of North Carolina and Duke, and the Terrapins’ Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman were named to the All-Conference first team with North Carolina’s Ivory Latta and Erlana Larkins, and Duke’s Lindsay Harding.

Wolters Takes the Mike. Kara Wolters, a former Connecticut all-American center and national player of the year in the mid-1990s is now a TV analyst on broadcasts of her alma mater.

On Thursday, she expressed a newly-discovered view of her former coach Geno Auriemma that the media has already known for years.

“You go over there to listen to him (at the Connecticut interview table), and he doesn’t stop. He just goes on and on,” Wolters said.

Rutgers’ Stringer is another coach known for long answers, especially at postgame press conferences. The print crowd is hopeful that Stacie Brann, the personable new Sports Information Director for the program moving over from Long Island, might help their cause.

Brann has an extensive background in television production, which raises the possibility she might train the Hall of Fame coach into delivering shorter sound bites.

Missing by inches. Connecticut fell to Duke in last season’s NCAA regional final, 63-61, with Charde Houston missing a short that might have extended the game.

So what was the summer like for the returning players with that defeat inserted into the memory banks?

“That just showed us how close we were and how much of an opportunity we had,” sophomore guard Mel Thomas reflected. “It fuels the fire for this year. We know what we’re capable of doing. It’s just a matter of going out there and actually being the ones that do it.”

Thomas said it is a little strange suddenly becoming one of the leaders of the squad.

“It’s strange now being the ones everyone on the team looks up to,” Thomas said. “People ask you what to do. Personally, it’s kind of different for us in that role than just being the person being told what to do.”

-- Mel

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