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.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Guru Notes Two Journalistic Colleagues

(Updating to reflect Karen's working title -- G)

By Mel Greenberg

The Guru would like to salute, for separate reasons, two esteemed colleagues in the business – Mechelle Voepel and Karen Tucker.

We’ll get to discussing Karen's news in a bit, but first, congratulations to Mechelle of the Kansas City Star and ESPN.Com for executing a rare journalistic double.

The first part of the drill was the thoroughly exhaustive investigative piece in her newspaper in Sunday’s editions of our former sister paper documenting troubles inside the Kansas State women’s basketball program _ one that had been revived in recent seasons to a national level under coach Deb Patterson.

(Womenhoops.blogspot.com, not to be confused with our URL, has a link to the story).

The second part of the double was Mechelle’s ability to then switch from her “local” identity in the Midwest to write under her “national” persona at ESPN.Com about the components of handling the Kansas State story.

The Guru is confident that when the prize season in the journalism community comes around, Mechelle’s work should merit a few honors.

In the ESPN piece, Mechelle drew a very fine sketch explaining that, with certain exceptions, ultimately the journalist’s compass, when pointed in the right direction, is what supercedes all else even when an action that must be taken has a bit of personal pain to it.

Mechelle is a fan of the women’s game and has developed great friendships among those of us in the profession and many among the people who are part of the beat she covers.

But when the time came to live up to what the standards of the profession should be, that is what rose above all else.

Mind you, because I know her well, she didn’t jump into the fray because a potential prize could result, even though I just made that claim a few paragraphs ago.

She didn’t launch the effort thinking about additional attention that would come her way.

No, she worked painstakingly days and nights to produce as fair and accurate a report that she could deliver. And if anything less had resulted, she would not have signed off on it.

Fairness has always been a driving force for her.

In fact, a proposal of Mechelle’s to the NCAA last spring has been accepted and early next month key members of the print media will meet in Indianapolis at NCAA headquarters to discuss ways to improve coverage and access with an eye to some of the controversies that seem to develop every year when the women’s basketball tournament draw is announced.

I will, with a touch of humor, say that about a decade or so ago when I first met Mechelle, the experience at the time had a twinge of personal mental pain to it. She had been working in Norfolk, Va., and had joined us in the chilly North to cover that then-rising phenomenon in Connecticut.

After the game at late night, as we all escorted each other to a distant parking lot from UConn’s campus arena, Mechelle introduced herself and then used the phrase, “You were one of my first heroes in journalism when I was going to school in Missouri.”

Ouch. That’s when the Guru knew he had reached a generational divide to the other side of the mountain, so to speak.

The only other major challenge was learning to spell her first name by heart on the first try. The Guru got it down after a few months.

Incidentally, in reading the ESPN piece, she had noted that Kansas State coach Deb Patterson had nominated her for the 2003 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s media award, which is named for someone similar to the Guru.

Understand, Mechelle won, not because of who made the nomination, although it was helpful that someone did. (The procedure, by the way, has since been restructured to increase the quality of the pool of candidates). She won because of her total work ethic without regard to anything that would be considered negative or positive.

As an award for quality journalism, she had zero difficulty in meeting the standard.

A Connecticut Yankee Moves to Knoxville

At the beginning, the Guru said he had two colleagues to salute.

We are trying to find a crafty way to announce this because if we get it right, the internet traffic to the Guru’s blog will reverse direction again and bolt forward, fueled by people using such search terms as “Connecticut,” “Tennessee,” “Pat Summitt,” and /or “Geno Auriemma.”

The New Haven Register’s Karen Tucker, a younger but equally talented member of the infamous media “horde” that covers the UConn women, has made a career switch and will now call Knoxville home.

She’ll make her debut on the job today (Oct. 2) as the new Director of Basketball Relations at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Karen had worked at the New Haven paper for the past four years and was hired soon after her graduation from Southern Connecticut in 2002 with a double major in Spanish and journalism.

Her main beat concentrations the last two years have been covering the UConn women, as mentioned, and also the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

The vacancy in Knoxville was created in early May with the departure of Nan Elrod, an individual beloved by everyone dealing with the WBHOF from all aspects of the sport.

It was an exit that was met with shock at the time, especially from members of the media who have dealt with Nan, a most personable advocate over the years.

In fact, Nan was a “totally stunned” recipient at the Women’s Final Four in Boston when she was surprised by the United States Basketball Writers Association at its annual brunch with the pioneer award for helping to bring increased media attention to the sport.

We are confident she will continue to be around all of us once she makes a choice from a series of possibilities involving a new phase in her career.

Although not personably happy, in fact “distressed” over the decision involving Nan, the Guru’s talent division moved ahead and scored another success in Karen’s hire as a successor. (You all know the other recent achievements – oh, it’s October, go to the archives).

Karen grew up in Vernon, near the UConn campus town of Storrs.

In the Guru’s early days – ok, middle days -- of traveling North before the Huskies became nationally-known, Vernon was considered the last sign of civilization before entering the “frontier,” where the Huskies call home.

Vernon still brings delight in the minds of visiting media because of Reins, an excellent New York-style deli opened until 12 a.m.

Considering that Karen is from Vernon and Erin Semagin Damio is from Storrs, maybe this is the tradeoff in the Guru’s extracting those Connecticut natives in exchange for Philly guy Geno Auriemma, who took the UConn women’s job in the mid-1980s.

One of Karen’s first duties will be helping to prepare the introduction of the next six-member Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class, which will be announced on Nov. 12 in conjunction with the tipoff doubleheader in Oklahoma when the Sooners play DePaul and Rutgers meets Georgia on a Sunday afternoon.

The induction ceremonies are currently targeted for June 9-10 in Knoxville.

Here’s the background on how the hire went down.

Karen and the Hartford Courant's Jeff Goldberg were the two Connecticut beat writers who went to Knoxville in April to cover Auriemma’s induction into the WBHOF.

The other papers in the state decided to save a few pennies knowing his Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction in nearby Springfield, Mass., would occur in September.

A few weeks later, and after Nan’s departure, which was not yet widely known, Karen commented at a Sun game in casino-land that “a place like that (WBHOF) could be a nice career switch.”

Well, she was told a vacancy had developed and if interested, she could be injected into the interview path.

Karen went on to emerge from the field.

Now her only problem will be picking up the tab at Calhoun’s, the barbeque place, the next time all those UConn writers descend on Knoxville for the ongoing showdown, which will actually be in Hartford this season.

There’s only more piece of employment news brewing at the moment off our division, but that’s a blog for another day depending on its resolution.

-- Mel


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