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.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Staley's "Midnight" View On NCAA Champion Maryland: "Bring 'Em On"

By Mel Greenberg

March Madness brings to all but the champions the stroke of midnight to a collegiate basketball team's seasonal aspirations.

Midnight Madness, on the other hand, signifies the stroke of 12 in mid-October to renew those same aspirations for a brand new season as training officially begins.

Temple decided to give the Madness thing a try for the first time Friday night in the Liacouras Center as new men's coach Fran Dunphy and Temple women's coach Dawn Staley presented their programs in a fan-friendly setting with activities.

She may be a recently-retired WNBA player, but Staley continues to be as feisty she was in her playing career as one of the top point guards in the game.

Midway through the question-and-answer phase of the evening involving the fans, Staley was asked of her thought about the December 10th visit to the Liacouras Center from defending NCAA champion Maryland.

“Bring ‘em on,” Staley quickly responded to a crowd that approvingly cheered her remark.

After almost two seasons as a nationally-ranked team for the first time in the program’s history, Temple will be the ones taking target practice again. The graduation of center Candice Dupree, who went on to an outstanding WNBA rookie performance with the expansion Chicago Sky, has put the Owls into a regrouping situation.

That means the leadership role on North Broad Street has been handed off to 6-foot senior forward Kamesha Hairston.

It is a responsibility she is ready to accept and said as much Friday night.

“I’ve been working on my leadership skills all summer and encouraging my teammates throughout our early workout drills,” Hairston said. “Just doing the things I need to do for my team to be successful.”

Staley told the crowd the squad would have a new look and not just because the departure of Dupree. Even when the all-American was around, Temple’s attack still featured a strong dose of guard play in the persona of its fabled coach.

But now, the Owls will try to be stronger on the inside in numbers.

Two other veteran post players along with Hairston are 6-2 junior center Lady Comfort and 6-2 sophomore forward Shenita Landry, while Jasmine Stone, a 6-3 forward from Detroit, comes highly touted and does not have the public shyness Dupree possessed early in her career.

On Friday night during the skills competition at the Liacouras Center, Stone quickly tossed herself alongside new coach Fran Dunphy’s players vying for the dunk shot championship.

Stone was quickly eliminated, however, after missing two opportunities.

“I think we’re more athletic and I think that’s going to work in our favor,” Hairston said of the three-time defending Atlantic Ten champions. “Practice is different to me. I’m not quite used to it yet, but I think it’s going to favor us in being able to go back and forth against other teams.”

As for her new teammate, Hairston said of Stone, “I think she’s like a freshman. She’s young. She has a lot of learning to do. But I expect her to do big things in this program. She has to learn coach’s system, first.”

The Dupree career came to an end in a forgettable finish for Temple in the first round of the NCAA tournament when the sixth-seeded Owls were upset by America East champion Hartford as the 11th-seeded Hawks emerged with a 64-58 victory.

“The way we ended that season has haunted me since that loss,” Hairston said. “But in the off-season, I think I worked as hard as ever just to get back on track and just to help my team get back on track. Even though that loss really hurt, there were others that also hurt,” Hairston said of the Owls’ 24-8 record.

“In the off-season, that’s all I’ve been thinking about.”

Hairston said there was some benefit to Temple returning to an underdog perception.

“We’re definitely the hunting, not the hunted,” she said. “Which is good for us. That will make us work harder. We won’t go into the season being comfortable, which is what I think we did last year. We had the ranking and we began by being comfortable.”

The nonconference schedule is dominated by Atlantic Coast Conference members such as Maryland, North Carolina State, and Virginia, which is Staley’s alma mater. Rutgers, one of the Big East powers, will make a January visit to the Owls.

“I’m definitely excited about it,” Hairston said. “We’re definitely going to be able to show our ability. It’s the toughest schedule since I’ve been here, in my opinion.”

Staley made her opening remarks to the crowd by noting the alterations to her roster.

“We’re not that type of team we used to be in the past, but certainly a good new look and a look that you’ll love. Our team works really, really hard and we pride ourselves on outworking people, outsmarting people, and being able to out-physical people.”

Staley paid tribute to her coaching staff and the job they do behind the scenes.

“We have a good product,” Staley said and then implored the student body, especially the freshman class, to support all the teams in Temple’s program.

“You can start a new tradition,” Staley said to the student newcomers.

“Just come here and have a party once the games start.”

(A local preseason practice look at all the Big Five teams and Drexel, which is in print in Saturday’s edition of The Inquirer can be found at Philly.com, the web site for the paper.”

-- Mel


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