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, April 30, 2007

Guru Musings for a Monday Morning -- Or Later

By Mel Greenberg

Hello all, this is basically a courtesy post since traffic here seems to have increased recently and the Guru felt a little pressure to get on the stick with new material that basically is filled with old news in a different perspective. (Did I just write that?)

Since the Guru's last appearance in this blog a week ago when former Notre Dame associate head coach Coquese Washington was named the new coach of Penn State, the coaching carousel has spun a little more.

Incidentally, some office types here are curious as to how Coquese's parents came up with her name at birth.

The most recent news, which will appear on other sites courtesy of wires services among others by the time you are reading this, is that Eastern Michigan coach Suzy Merchant is expected to be named at Michigan State, succeeding Joanne P. McCallie, who has moved on to Duke.

Earlier in the week, just for the record here, LSU assistant Christie Sides under the previous staff of Pokey Chatman, has decided decided to leave the Tigers and new coach Van Chancellor.

On Friday former Baylor assistant and previously Texas associate head coach Karen Aston was named at North Carolina Charlotte. That means, for now, Rutgers associate head coach Jolette Law, who also interviewed, will remain with C. Vivian Stringer, who got a little richer in her contract extension at mid-week.

The Atlantic Ten, Big Ten, and Southeastern Conferences may have to hold getting-to-know-you sessions at the start of their annual spring meetings in May.

George Washington coach Joe McKeown, who was mentioned as a potential draft candidate during the Penn State search, remarked to the Guru, "I used to be the best point guard in this league. But I might have become the worst."

McKeown's remark had nothing to with his leg injury during practice early in the season, but rather the influx of former point guards as coaches in the Atlantic Ten since the turn of the century.

That group now includes Temple's Dawn Staley, St. Joseph's Cindy Anderson, and the recently-hired former Penn State star Suzie McConnell-Serio at Duquesne.

Elsewhere last week, former Penn State assistant Susan Robinson Fruchtl was hired at St. Francis of Pennsylvania. The athletic director there, incidentally, had once served at Penn State.

Former St. Joseph's assistant Lynn Milligan was hired at Rider, while former Mississippi coach Carol Ross, under the season's category of surprise departures, resigned and was replaced by assistant coach Renee Ladner.

Most of the jobs appear near filled, although Illinois, after the departure of Theresa Grentz, is perhaps the last major opening that exists, based on a wire services chart that's been sitting near the Guru's office computer.

All of these transactions in April has in some regards eclipsed WNBA training camp activity as the pro league begins exhibition games later this week.

Besides being overshadowed by the collegiate activity, the fact that many key personnel are still in Europe, has also had an impact on the flow of news, excepted where daily interest exists in the WNBA's 13 franchise cities.

The switch during the summer activity should begin to flick shortly.

BTW, not women's basketball, but if you visit Philly.com, the umbrella site for The Inquirer and Daily News here as well as its own self-produced content, you can see Jonathan's video work at the Penn Relays last weekend here at Franklin Field.

The opening credit in both clips is solid and professional looking. But the Guru alerts that one should also have a few headache pills on hand while trying to view the clip of the crowd during an event once the screen switches to the action.

Rule One: Hold the camera steady. The interview clip, however, was much improved.

So much for the Guru's film review.

Road to Knoxville Planning Accelerates

Meanwhile, the Guru's appearance here may be interspersed the next few weeks, unless news warrants it, since he is in the process of being transformed into a living museum for next month's induction ceremonies for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Knoxville.

When Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was inducted in both Knoxville and at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., last season, he noted that it is important to enjoy the moment and mentioned about people that get inducted but who, unfortunately, are no longer living to enjoy the festivities.

Based on the Guru's current experience, the up-side of Auriemma's remark is that if you're not around, you don't have to participate in the planning.

Which, for convenience sake because of trying to play catch-up, those of you who can't get to Knoxville but would like to attend the "Philadelphia" party here a week or so later, which may have to be a two-site event, depending on interest, email the Guru at mgreenberg@phillynews.com with your mailing address and/or email address so the paper can send formal invitations at the appropriate time.

In the subject line, simply say Guru-WBHOF so I can store them in a special electronic folder. Also, if you have plans to go to Knoxville, let me know so I can pass along info for seating purposes at the ceremony. There are some cheap airfares out there at the moment, based on Karen Tucker's work at the Hall on setting the itinerary for the six inductees. The Marriott next door also has a block rate of $75 a night and there is a strong chance we might add an extra on-site dress-down party that Thursday night for early arrivals.

Those details to follow soon.

Our office party planner here has a sharp object to the Guru's head to play catch-up this week, besides the one being sent long-distance by Karen, and start compiling an email list. I'd give you our planner's address here for direct communication but I don't want to clog her email in-box and also this is a matter of safety in case the Guru's memory slips during the guest compilation.

The Philly event will also be used to note the Guru's recent decade crossing that Jonathan mentioned several weeks ago, whether the Guru likes it or not.

That's it for now

-- Mel

Monday, April 23, 2007

Washington To Become General of Penn State Women

A quick note:
Mel just informed me that he received an early-morning phone call from Penn State to tell him they're planning a press conference at 2:30 this afternoon. Unfortunately, due to distance from University Park, Mel is unable to attend, but will stay updated from his office.

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Sometime late last week, while most of Happy Valley was focusing on football and the annual spring game, Notre Dame associate head coach Coquese Washington was handed a blank paper by Penn State officials, who have entrusted her to map the way to the future of the women's basketball program.

An official announcement is expected by Monday (today) afternoon, if not earlier.

As of early Sunday night, Penn State was neither confirming nor denying reports leaking elsewhere through either knowledgeable sources or gossip on collegiate message boards.

Word of Washington's appointment circulated on a day that Penn State parted with its immediate and traditional past at the Nittany Lions' annual postseason awards banquet.

Senior Amanda Brown, named the team's most outstanding player, was absent attending the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks training camp. The pro team drafted her earlier this month.

Former coach Rene Portland, who resigned last month after 27 seasons, also did not attend.

Washington could not be reached for comment and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, soon to be Washington's ex-boss, left word she would not comment on Washington's candidacy until sometime Monday.

The new Penn State coach is a former star guard who led the Irish in thefts all four of her seasons (1989-93). What now will begin to get determined is how much of a steal the native of Flint, Mich., will become for Penn State officials who spent a little over a month seeking a replacement for Portland.

What is known is that Washington, who has been on McGraw's staff for eight seasons, has a tremendous work ethic, according to the Notre Dame coach's comment on the program's web site.

"Coquese has a great sense of the game as both a player and a coach,'' McGraw said. "She makes great suggestions during the game and has a terrific understanding of what things are working and what needs to be changed. I trust her decisions, and because she played for me, she knows what I'm looking for and I know where she's coming from.

"Plus, she has played in the WNBA, which builds an added level of trust and respect with our players. I have complete confidence in what she has to say and what she brings to the table.''

One thing Washington will bring with her to the Bryce Jordan Center is s a degree from Notre Dame law school, a worthy asset considering the recent controversies surrounding the Nittany Lions and the 54-year-old Portland, whose sudden resignation was announced a day later by the school on March 22.

Portland’s exit occurred a month after settlement of a controversial case in which a former player alleged Portland had discriminated against players in the women’s basketball program who were, or were presumed to be, gay.

Washington, who will become the first African-American woman to coach the program, played seven years, professionally, in the WNBA, and, originally, in the former American Basketball League.

She was the first president of the WNBA players' association, helping to unionizing her teammates and opponents.

Although, the appointment is perceived as a clean break with Portland's era, Washington has several indirect ties in that McGraw played for Portland in the mid-1970s at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia.

A current member of McGraw's staff is Angie Potthoff, who played at Penn State. It is not yet known if Washington has any plans to involve Potthoff on her staff.

Penn State officials seemed to indicate, without verbalizing, that persons associated with Portland either as assistant coaches or former players would not be considered for the vacancy.

Suzie McConnell-Serio, the Nittany Lions' all-time star who had coached the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA, was tabbed an immediate favorite for the job by reporters as well as followers of the team.

But other than a brief discussion with Penn State that McConnell-Serio alluded to earlier this month, she excitedly accepted Duquesne's offer to coach in her native Pittsburgh.

Washington, 36, is the most recent of a series of young African-American women who have becme head coaches in college.

Penn State was also said to strongly consider Connecticut assistant and former Huskies star Jamelle Elliott, although that has yet to be officially confirmed.

Dawn Staley, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA all-star, had no coaching experience when Temple hired her in May of 2000. She has since taken the Owls into national prominence and five NCAA tournament appearances.

Tia Jackson, an assistant of former Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, was just named head coach at Washington. La Vonda Wagner is coaching at Oregon State. Jolette Law, a longtime aide to Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, is scheduled to interview this week for the opening at Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The appointment of Washington comes in an unusual year in the collegiate game in which the season ended with a number of prominent openings, especially at the so-called BCS schools.

Goestenkors replaced Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt at Texas and was replaced herself by Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie, after earlier agreeing to a contract extension.

Longtime Illinois coach Theresa Grentz, a former Immaculata teammate of Portland's, resigned last week. June Daugherty was fired at Washington and then accepted the head coaching job at Pacific Ten-rival Washington State.

Carolyn Peck was let go at Florida, which recently hired former Charlotte coach Amanda Butler, who played for the Gators. Louisiana State coach Pokey Chatman was let go right before the NCAA tournament after officials claimed confirmation of allegations Chatman had an inapropriate relationship with a player at the school when she had been an assistant coach. LSU recently hired former WNBA coach Van Chancellor, who is an inductee of the next Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class in Springfield, Mass. He also is a former coach of Mississippi and also coached the U.S. squad to a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004.

Kentucky is also still open after the surprising resignation of Mickie DeMoss.

-- Mel

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Penn State Could Take a Lesson From Texas in Coaching Search

By Mel Greenberg

Back in the winter of 1976, a fledgling University of Texas women's basketball team made a trip to the Northeast to play such schools as Immaculata and Penn State because they were the programs that the Longhorns could use to properly measure their own growth and aspirations.

Now why does the Guru mention this fact?

Simply, the tables have turned.

Penn State, in its search for a successor to longtime coach Rene Portland, could take a lesson from Texas.

When Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt retired last month, Texas wasted little time letting word get out it was targeting Duke's Gail Goestenkors and succeeded in landing its woman, so to speak.

Penn State, on the other hand, almost seems to be operating in mid-major fashion.

Now why does the Guru hold the operation to a higher standard?

Because not too long ago, that's where the Nittany Lions existed as a regular resident of the weekly Associated Press poll, including many seasons among the Top 10.

In fact, there were a few times PSU even managed to receive No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, even though the Nittany Lions were unable to make good on the perk, such as it was.

Several years ago, before the Portland controversy involving her reported disdain for players who are gay, the Guru and some of his media colleagues speculated on candidates for potential vacancies in the near-future as longtime veteran coaches move on.

Certainly, one would think, athletic adminstrators interested in continued success of their women's programs would do likewise lining up potential replacements in their mind.

An aside: Apparently in the recent examples of California and Baylor, to cite a few, those schools decided the replacements would be the current coaches by offering them lucrative contract extensions.

Returning to the Guru's narrative, potential Penn State candidates became part of the media discussion because of Portland's longevity.

Your Guru suggested, if I was Penn State, I might not be able to pry her loose, but my first move would be to ask Notre Dame for permission to talk to Muffet McGraw.

She's got the track record with the Irish and she's a home-grown product of the Keystone State.

That is the mode Penn State should have been ready to work under once its vacancy occurred.

If rumors are true that Portland's exit may not have been entirely of a voluntary nature, one would think someone in charge would have been doing their homework to go after a successor the way Texas quickly went after Goestenkors.

That mindset in Happy Valley existed years ago when a PSU athletic director who happened to be named Joe Paterno targeted Portland to fill its vacancy. (That was before anyone had any knowledge of her non-basketball view of the world).

As it stands now, barring some surprise move, it appears a caretaker will be appointed which, for the school, means paying a salary not exactly competitive with what has been tossed around in other places the last several weeks.

If so, it might not hurt to give Theresa Grentz a call to gauge her interest after the Women's Basketball Hall of Famer decided to resign from Illinois on Tuesday. She certainly didn't preclude coaching elsewhere in her interviews and Grentz has also managed to succeed in bringing revenue to the athletic department, as she once did at Rutgers.

In Grentz's situation, however, she could not be a bargain-basement salaried hire.

If the former Illini coach would end up taking the job, there would be some irony, because Portland replaced her at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia in 1976. That's when Grentz took the Rutgers job, then a landmark move because the school did not require either teaching class or coaching another sport.

Years later, it was Portland who coaxed her former Immaculata teammate to move into the Big Ten and take the Illinois job.

Meanwhile, George Washington coach Joe McKeown's name was tossed around late last week as a finalist. That was news to the native of Philadelphia who had not had any contact with the university.

Connecticut assistant Chris Dailey has also been a hot topic of conversation, but the longtime aide to Geno Auriemma may have yet to be contacted, as well.

In fact, for the all the purported leaks, if anyone of any stature is involved in the search, one would think someone would have seen that individual being taken around on a tour of the Penn State facilities.

And get this: Even though Penn State officials are operating in tight secrecy, it wouldn't hurt for legitimate leaks to get out to the masses if PSU is talking to prominent candidates. At least the school would get credit for stepping to the plate.

Without regards to gender, Penn State needs to look at the success factor, and it doesn't have to be limited to Division I.

For example, Holy Family's Mike McLaughlin here in Philadelphia has had a terrific track record in Division II with the Tigers.

Kevin McGuff at Xavier also has a history of success dating back to his days as an assistant to McGraw at Notre Dame.

Xavier assistant Kristin Cole, and Maryland assistant Joanna Bernabei, who both interviewed for the Duquesne job, are also worthy candidates.

Stephanie Gaitley at Long Island, who formerly coached at St. Joseph's, is another name that has been mentioned as someone the Nittany Lions may want to approach.

True, her exist at St. Joseph's was controversial but the situation seems to have been managed at LIU and we're not going to re-visit that topic, here. That's why goggle was invented.

Perhaps someone off of Vivian Stringer's staff at Rutgers, such as Jolette Law or Carlene Mitchell, needs to be at least explored for their potential interest.

The Colonial Athletic Association has a slew of persons worth talking to, although the assumption here is it would take much to extract Wendy Larry from Old Dominion.

On the other hand, taking a shot is what it's all about.

Elsewhere, in the CAA, however, Tina Martin,who has familiarity with the State College locale, has done an outstanding job at Delaware. So has Kenny Brooks at James Madison.

And what about Krista Kilburn-Steveskey at Hofstra, who won the Women's Basketball Coaching Association's first Maggie Dixon award as rookie coach of the year.

Yeah, Kilburn-Steveskey has only been at Hofstra one year, but Maryland was not shy about targeting Brenda Frese after her initial year at Minnesota when she turned the Gophers around.

And there are a few more out there. Cheryl Reeve, for an example, is an assistant with the WNBA-champion Detroit Shock who once was an assistant to McKeown at George Washington.

Another aside: Several years ago before the recent Penn State controversy, when Suzie McConnell-Serio jumped from the high school ranks and took the Minnesota job in the WNBA, it was suggested that she would get the coaching experience needed to move to her alma mater at Penn State when Portland might decide to leave the program.

``I'll be a grandmother by then,'' McConnell-Serio said at the time with a laugh.

Well, that part is no longer true.

But, noting this is being written in the middle of the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, barring any impending news in the next few days, McConnell-Serio might well become one by the time Penn State decides to pull the trigger.

-- Mel

Monday, April 16, 2007

"The last time I left the 50's, Eisenhower was President."

Those were Mel's words to me just now.

Happy birthday, Mel.

-- Jonathan Tannenwald

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Suzie McConnell Serio Returns Back to the Future

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ The voice from the other end of the state (Pennsylvania for you geographically-challenged readers) sounded as energetic as the way Suzie McConnell Serio played the game for four years at Penn State and later on in the Olympics and in the WNBA.

"Well, it looks like I've come back to right where I started," McConnell Serio said from Pittsburgh several hours after being officially introduced as the new women's basketball coach of Duquesne.

In the late 1980s, McConnell Serio, a native of Pittsburgh, was the leading force in the old Atlantic Ten Conference wars when the Nittany Lions held membership and had a major rivalry with Rutgers, which was also a prominent conference power.

It seems like yesterday when she was just a freshman that McConnell Serio would grab the microphone in the postgame press conferences and sound like she was the one who had just coached against the opposition.

And now she's back, making her debut in the collegiate game, aspiring to move the Dukes up the ladder to competition in the conference with George Washington, Temple, Xavier, St. Joseph's, and Charlotte, who were the top five in no particular order this past season.

``It's a great opportunity and it's exciting to be involved at the collegiate level,'' McConnell Serio said. She had said several months ago she was considering such a career move.

Ironically, the former Penn State star follows Dan Durkin, a native of Philadelphia who had been with the program for 14 years before resigning last month.

He joined Penn State as an assistant coach in McConnell Serio's sophomore year.

The former point guard was busy Thursday night trying to put a staff together.

``I've been getting calls and I'm making a few,'' she said.

Of course, the question that had to be asked was whether there had been any conversation with officials at her alma mater about the vacant coaching slot after Rene Portland's departure last month. McConnell Serio was made the instant frontrunner by observers, although some reports indicate Penn State officials in charge of the search want a clean break from the previous regime in terms of assistants and former players.

The job qualifications also called for five years of college experience, which McConnell Serio obviously does not have. The description reminds of the time the late President Lyndon Johnson decided that no members of his cabinet should be on the campaign ticket running as a vice president -- a move that ruled out the only one who mattered: Attorney general Bobby Kennedy, the brother of the then-recently slain president John F. Kennedy.

``There was some discussion, but this seemed like a better fit,'' McConnell Serio said of Duquesne, located in her native city. Her hire means she won't have to uproot the family and move somewhere else.

To an extent, Duquesne's move, which seemed like a no-brainer at the outset, is similar to what Temple did in 2000 when it hired Dawn Staley, here, who had deep ties to her native city.

Staley, though, had no coaching experience. McConnell Serio has already coached in the WNBA as recently as last summer when she resigned late in the season when the Minnesota Lynx faded from the playoff race.

McConnell Serio is the second former WNBA coach to join the college ranks this week. Two days ago, former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor rejoined the collegiate world in taking the lucrative Louisiana State job. He had coached Mississippi in the Southeastern Conference prior to his move to the WNBA

Chancellor was recently announced as an inductee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He led the Comets to the first four WNBA titles and also coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal at the Athens Games in Greece in 2004.

It was suggested to McConnell Serio that maybe Duquesne should host a flip-flop tournament with Temple and Duquesne of the Atlantic Ten meeting LSU and Hartford, which is coached by former Connecticut and WNBA star Jen Rizzotti.

``Yeah, but I'm the only one who did both (coach and play) in the WNBA,'' McConnell Serio laughed.

Prior to her involvement with Minnesota, she was a successful coach of Oakland Catholic in Pittsburgh, winning several high school state titles.

Thus McConnell Serio already knows the rich high school system in Western Pennsylvania, as well as areas elsewhere in the state.

The new Duquesne coach has also acquired broadcast experience having done color commentary of Big Ten Conference women's games.

Meanwhile, nothing has stirred out of Happy Valley regarding the Penn State vacancy.

Rutgers assistant Marianne Stanley's name has been mentioned on internet discussions but she said earlier this week she had not been approached. She did not say whether she had any interest.

Perhaps Penn State might want to consider if any exists by holding at least an exploratory conversation, unless a top candidate has privately emerged. Some sources with connection to the committee believe that might be so, although a name or names, as mentioned, are not known.

Chris Dailey, the top aide to Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, has also been speculated but one Huskies staffer said she had been in Storrs all week.

Perhaps, longtime assistant Tonya Cardonza could be worth an interview if PSU wants to go in a different direction.

Penn State is already behind in the next recruiting race considering the popular Boo Williams AAU tournament in Hampton, Va., is being held this weekend and most of the nation's coaches will be on the scene observing future talent for their perspective programs.

In fact, a source over in Italy reported early Friday morning Eastern U.S. time that Staley and new Texas coach Gail Goestenkors have left the tourning USA Basketball contingent and were heading back to Stateside to attend the recruiting showcase events.

-- Mel

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Van Chancellor to take over at LSU

By Jonathan Tannenwald

The Associated Press reports that former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor is set to succeed Pokey Chatman as the new head coach at Louisiana State.

Mel reports that he is going to have to learn to eat crawfish again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Words Can't Diminish Rutgers' Achievement

By Mel Greenberg

A year ago this past week, the story that dominated women’s basketball immediately eclipsing the just-completed Final Four was the tragic passing of first-year Army coach Maggie Dixon.

The former DePaul assistant had brought joy to the banks of the Hudson at West Point in turning around the program and leading the Knights to a first-ever Patriot League title and ensuing appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Dixon, enhanced by her brother Jamie’s parallel success at Pittsburgh, was clearly the toast of the Women’s Final Four even as Maryland created a sensation with its first championship.

Then, less than 24 hours after the Terrapins and Duke had played a thrilling overtime contest in Boston to determine the title, Dixon had suddenly become ill back at West Point.

A day later, this vibrant young personality was no longer with us. For a little more than the following week, Dixon’s life was celebrated in several memorial services and she was finally laid to rest in an eloquent farewell service on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy.

The circumstances of all this drew news coverage that went beyond the daily sports pages and TV sports reports.

Now, it’s 12 months later and once again the Women’s Final Four has been eclipsed, but this time as a consequence of one of the schools in the championships and despicable remarks made about that team by a national radio talk show host.

Just as Dixon had done previously in terms of setting milestones, a vibrant and decidedly young Rutgers contingent carried all those associated with the program, including its passionate fan base, on an exciting ride, beginning with the stunning upset of Connecticut in Hartford to win a first-ever Big East title.

That triumph that accelerated the pace, enabled Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer to cut down the nets for the first time as coach of the Scarlet Knights, she claimed, after she already had gained previous achievements, elsewhere, including Final Four appearances with Iowa and Cheyney State.

In the NCAA’s opening weekend, Rutgers overcame the hardships of travel caused by an unseasonable ice storm that delayed the Scarlet Knights’ trip to East Lansing, Mich.

Not to worry.

They easily dispatched East Carolina and host Michigan State to sweep the first two rounds.

Then in a supreme test against a team that had beaten them by 40 points in December, Stringer’s bunch upset Duke, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, in the Blue Devils’ back yard in Greensboro, N.C.

True the finish was bizarre with Lindsey Harding, Duke’s top player, missing two foul shots with 0.1 seconds remaining for Rutgers to survive, 53-52. But it took great tenacity for the Scarlet Knights to rally and get to the moment that became dubious for the star of the opposition.

And so it was on to the Women’s Final Four and much to celebrate as this group had matured into a toughness that made Rutgers tough to be denied.

They proved it in Cleveland in the national semifinals when they easily beat an experienced Louisiana State team that had already reached the same game three times previously.

In the final chapter, though, there was no happy ending to the run as powerful Tennessee grabbed another of its seven NCAA titles.

But after the tears of defeat subsided, there was nothing but a sense of joy to feel at Rutgers’ overall accomplishment, perhaps a season ahead of schedule.

However, less than 24 hours later, extreme, senseless, and hurtful comments about the Rutgers team by Don Imus and his radio cohorts seemingly erased all that had been achieved. Suddenly, this young squad became caught in a national firestorm of reaction from forces beyond the daily sports pages.

It’s hard to believe that only a short time prior to Imus’ remarks, the off-the-court major stories in women’s basketball had been the $800,000 Texas had paid to lure coach Gail Goestenkors away from Duke, as well as the controversial coaching exits of LSU’s Pokey Chatman and Penn State’s Rene Portland.

That conversation quickly vanished.

Even in the newsroom here, other departments were hot to jump into a story about a team that few knew existed six weeks earlier.

``It’s a shame,’’ a colleague said to me. ``They had this great season, and all anyone is going to remember is this `Imus flap.’”

In the long run, I respectfully disagree.

This is a team that made a difference, enough so for Stringer to admit that this had been her most rewarding year.

Her comments, made at the next-to-last NCAA press conference in Cleveland, caused yours truly, who goes back to the day with her, to think, ``Good for her. She finally made it through a season without tragedy or major controversy ’’

Well, almost true.

But guess what?

The current flap does not erase this season’s achievement. The only thing that could surpass it is when Stringer finally wins that elusive championship. And this group, who all return, can still make that happen.

This team might also be remembered for making a different in ways it couldn’t imagine in society if the ``shock jock’’ crowd is a little more selective in the future as to exactly whom or what is a worthwhile target.

The tragic passing of Maggie Dixon a year ago meant future of moments of joy would have to be carried on as a legacy instead of created by her living presence.

Certainly, the emotional wounds by Imus’ remarks are painful and real in terms of those who were subject of such.

But youth is resilient. Words cannot kill. This team is still with us and it’s not about to leave the landscape of the sport anytime soon.

It showed a willingness to persevere and grow from those dark days early in the season when few believers existed over what might be achieved in the few short months ahead.

It developed a fire to compete and excel that was fierce enough to light up the Empire State Building in a splash of Scarlet Red in nearby New York.

And when all is said and done and this group returns in the fall ready to do battle again, it is that burning passion that will light the New Jersey skies once more, perhaps this time even much brighter than ever.

-- Mel

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Erin Takes Chilly Schuylkill by Storm

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Although not exactly springtime outside, Jonathan and yours truly braved freezing weather to stand on the banks of the Schuylkill and watch our blogging teammate Erin Semagin Damio capture a rowing race on her visit here Saturday morning.

Since the Guru is not known for any knowledge in that particular sport, here is an account cut and pasted from the Northeastern University web site.

Erin was the coxswain of the varsity four event and her prize from us is her own headline above.

(Edit: For clarity's sake, the Orange Cup referred to below itself is awarded to the winner of the varsity eight race only. -- Jonathan T., who is known somewhat for knowledge of the sport as he rowed one season in high school... though not all that well.)

-- Mel

Women's Crew Wins Second Straight Orange Cup

Philadelphia, Pa. -- The women's crew varsity eight narrowly defeated Penn and Syracuse in the 28th annual Orange Cup on the Schuykill River in Philadelphia, Penn., with a time of 6:32.4.

The Huskies built an early half-length lead in the first 500 meters, which held through the first half. Penn closed the gap to about 2 seats in the final sprint before being defeated by only 0.8 seconds. Syracuse finished third with a time of 6:39.9.

NU also won the varsity four race, while Penn took the novice eight, novice four, and 2nd varsity races.

The victory for the Huskies is their second in a row, and third in the last six seasons. NU won last year's race by over 14 seconds.

Women's crew will now prepare for next Saturday, when they face Massachusetts, Columbia and Texas in the Charles River Challenge.

Varsity: NU 6:32.4, Penn 6:33.2, Syracuse 6:39.9
2nd Varsity: Penn 6:38.3, Syracuse 6:44.0, NU 6:45.1
Novice: Penn 6:44.4, Syracuse 6:45.2, NU 7:09.1
Varsity Four: NU 7:36.0, Penn 7:41.0, Syracuse 7:46.0
Novice Four: Penn 7:46.2, Syracuse 8:06.6, NU 8:34.5

Friday, April 06, 2007

March Madness in April: Guru Musings

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Yes, we're back in town for a while.

Give the WNBA credit. When the prto folks say they will throw a draft right after the Women's Final Four, that's exactly what they mean in more ways than one.

When we finally left the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland following the NCAA championship decided by Tennessee over Rutgers late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, take your pick, we passed a temperature reading on a building that had the number 68.

Hours later, the winds blew in from Lake Erie and by the time we had finished writing our stories in our hotel room and planned to go to dinner, the number plunged into the low 30s and snow squalls were sighted from our window.

By morning when we were ready to leave to drive to Pittsburgh to fly back here, the waves from the lake were lapping over the protective jetty cove in the distance.

We did return in time to attend Temple's postseason dinner for its men's and women's teams, the first of many by schools we cover.

Besides saluting senior Kamesha Hairston, the second straight player to go in the first round from Dawn Staley's program, the Temple coach announced that senior Fatima Maddox was accepted as a free agent signee by the Houston Comets, which is Staley's former team before she retired at the end of last season.

We noted to Hairston, who was picked by the Connecticut Sun, that as an employee of a casino owner -- the Mohegans -- if she plans to gamble with friends and family, she must take them to the nearby Foxwoods Resort under the rules of the Nutmeg State.

We learned this fact from former Sun star Debbie Black, who played at St. Joseph's and now is an assistant at Ohio State.

Inflation Hits the Lone Star State

It doesnt seem that long ago that our friend Texas women's athletic director Christine Plonsky, who was then a fledgling sports information director, thought nothing of spending $2.50 to buy the Guru a margarita on Sixth Street at a popular mexican establishment in Austin.

Now, she's willing to spend a little more to buy herself a women's basketball coach since reports on the hire of former Duke coach Gail Goestenkors have her salary reaching anywere between $800,000 to $1 million.

Inicdentally, one coach not moving anywhere noted that the vacancies at several major schools was probably going to bring in a lot of money to the sport as schools seek to tie up successful coaches with contract extensions.

In that regard, we're thinking of sending a service bill to Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti, the former University of Connecticut all-American. It seems every time we toss her name into a story involving good candidates to fill vacancies, Hartford immediately gives her a contract extension.

Blogger's Row

Chilly weather or not, Jonathan and yours truly plan on being at the finish line Saturday morning along the Schuylkill River in town here to watch our Womhoops Guru blogger team member compete in a rowing race with her team from Northeastern.

More on the WNBA Draft

Space limitations caused some of our print coverage of the draft from Cleveland to be deleted.

Three other players with local ties from here were selected.

Delaware's Tyresa Smith was taken by Phoenix, making her the first ever Blue Hens player to be selected.

The team rented a restaurant in Newark to watch the draft with Smith's selection following Delasware's second-ever NCAA appearance and first-ever as an at-large team.

``I was getting nervous when my name wasn't coming up, but I'm excited,'' said Smith, who attended the pre-draft camp in Newark.

Former Germantown Academy star Gillian Goring was taken by the Washington Mystics.

``I don't know a lot about them, but I'm going to learn real quick,'' said Goring, a senior at North Carolina State.

Penn State senior Amanda Brown was taken by the Los Angeles Sparks, which welcomed the return of Michael Cooper as its coach on Wednesday.

Beware of the Curse of the No. 1 Pick

You might remember last summer after Suzie McConnell Serio resigned as coach of the Minnesota Lynx, we noted how coaches, especially, didn't last much longer after using a No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft to select a future star.

Former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor, who was announced as an inductee of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Monday, dodged the curse for 10 years after taking Tina Thompson as the very first No. 1 pick in the WNBA in 1997.

Successive coaches met their fates quickly within two years after taking their top selections. San Antonio Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes avoided the jinx when he was at Cleveland in 2000, but three years later when he once again had a No. 1 choice, the Rockers folded at the end of the ensuing season.

When Ann Meyers became general manager of the Phoenix Mercury during the winter, we noted the phenomenon to her after the Mercury won the lotto.

The Guru is just mentioning it, since we noticed Phoenix traded their No. 1 pick away, although they actually made the selection of Duke's Lindsey Harding first before making the deal with the Minnesota Lynx for Tangela Smith.

WBCA Ambush

In case you missed it because it was not announced in advance this time, broadcast analyst Debbie Antonelli was the winner of the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award at Tuesday's luncheon at the convention in Cleveland.

The WBCA powers that be wanted to surprise Antonelli, a former player at North Carolina State, at the event where she was actually an emcee along with Beth Mowins.

The only thing announced on the official order of business was that the Guru would speak on behalf of the 2007 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame class of inductees, of which he is one of the six.

A few minutes into the comments, the Guru looked at Wolfpack coach Kay Yow and remembered how she enjoyed ambushing the Guru in 1991 as president of the WBCA when the first media award was given to him in New Orleans.

The Guru then went on to say, ``There have been great winners over the years, every time.

But in one case, there's one person who actually year in and year out has campaigned for the honor -- Debbie.

Every year, `What do I have to do to win your award?'

Get your friends in WBCA to nominate you, we told her.

Then we realized the problem -- she doesn't have any friends.

Even this week, `What do I have to do? ...'

We told her, `Just show up. Just show up.'

So Deb, now that you finally showed up, I'm please to announce your the winner.

Road to Knoxville

Although official induction events at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame will be June 8-9, a Friday and Saturday, during the Final Four in Cleveland, we began negotiating with a well-known coach in Knoxville, ahem, to host an informal party on June 7, which that coach is now checking into the schedule.

Successful negotiations have been concluded with the person who will do the video introduction of the Guru at the ceremonies, an individual whose name has been recently in the news. Other negotations will soon begin with another person who has been in the news as to being part of the Guru's entourage at the official ceremonies. Separate announcements will be made at a future date.

Penn State Search.

The Nittany Lions might be chasing longtime Connecticut assistant Chris Dailey, according to several other coaches wh0 have interest in the vacancy that occurred following Rene Portland's recent resignation.

None of them had been contact but believed Dailey to be targeted. However, they noted that their info was more or less off the rumor mill.

-- Mel

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Still No Title for Stringer

By Kate Burkholder

CLEVELAND – It’s starting to feel like C. Vivian Stringer just can’t catch a break.

At the beginning of this season, the Rutgers women’s basketball head coach struggled to put together the pieces of a team so young and inexperienced it couldn’t understand her “55” press. The same “55” press that makes Stringer teams tick. The early part of the 2006-07 season for Stringer’s bunch was bumpy – the low point coming when the coach locked the team out of its own locker room and refused to wear school colors until she was pleased with what she saw.

But Stringer’s young, senior-less Scarlet Knights showed resilience, and slowly things started to fall into place. The freshmen started making key contributions, sophomore center Kia Vaughn made huge strides in becoming the star she should be, and lynchpins Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson, both juniors, led the team as it would go on to build itself back up and eventually capture the Big East Tournament title with a 55-47 win over rival Connecticut.

The Knights continued the hot streak through the NCAA Tournament, rolling past East Carolina and Michigan State before then besting overall No. 1 seed Duke in the Sweet Sixteen March 24. After posting easy wins over Arizona State and LSU to advance miraculously to the title game – a place nobody would have imagined this team would ever be back in December – Stringer found herself in an all-too-familiar location.

She would be tackling Pat Summitt and the Tennesseee Lady Volunteers in March Madness for the third straight year. And despite referring to her team as a “team of destiny,” Stringer and the Scarlet Knights (27-9, 12-4) fell to the Lady Vols, 59-46, Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena – eliminated by Summitt’s squad for the third year in a row.

The Lady Vols also defeated Stringer and the Knights in their other Final Four appearance in 2000.

It almost seems unfair.

The Tennessee win gave the school its national-record seventh title, and snapped a seven-year “drought” by the Vols in terms of women’s basketball championships in Rocky Top. But that’s nothing compared to the dry spell Stringer has going: she’s never won any.

She’s easily the best coach in the game who’s got nothing to show for it.

Stringer made one other appearance in the national championship – in 1982, when she was at the helm of a Cheyney State team that dropped the title game to Louisiana Tech. Stringer is the only coach in the women’s game to lead three teams (Cheyney State, Iowa, Rutgers) to the Final Four, and her only male counterpart is Rick Pitino, now at Louisville.

Stringer has just completed her 36th season of head coaching, 12th at Rutgers, and sits on every major list there is when it comes to coaching accomplishments, including three National Coach of the Year awards. She has worked with some of the game’s greatest players, and some – Tasha Pointer, Tammy Sutton Brown, Cappie Pondexter – have gone on to WNBA careers.

Her recruiting classes are always among the nation’s best, as top high school talent comes to Piscataway to work with her and be taught by the best.

She grabs players’ jerseys during games, holds their chins while she talks to them and commands their utmost respect. And she gets it, for what she has done and what she preaches. To listen to her talk about high screens and backdoor cuts is like listening to an algebra teacher break down the quadratic formula. She loves the game and she injects that in her players.

With 777 career wins – third best in women’s college basketball – it is almost unbelievable that Stringer has never won it all. She deserves a title more than anyone, for what she has given to the game and the time and energy she gives to her players. The lines in her face show the years of hard work, and her smile after the team’s Final Four win told it all.

Quoted before the LSU game as saying, “I just want to know what [a national championship] feels like,” it’s hard to imagine why she hasn’t given up yet. She gets so close but it always ends in disappointment. By the game’s standards, she hasn’t yet succeeded.

To watch last night’s game from the stands – easily 80% Tennessee fans – it was she you felt for most. Her team fought for the first half, but got dominated on the boards and Carson and Ajavon had only eight points each while the freshmen had only six between them.

But while it didn’t appear to be destiny after all, this team – this team that lost to Duke by 40 points in December and to no-name Pepperdine in November – shouldn’t have been there in the first place. They didn’t have to get to this point, didn’t have to get a taste of the biggest pressure situation there is. But they did.

Because of Stringer.

Maybe that’s how you measure a coach’s worth.

Next year the Scarlet Knights will return the entire starting line up and welcome a recruiting class that includes the Delaware Player of the Year in point guard Khadijah Rushdan, rumored to be the best Rutgers has seen in a while. So while this wasn’t supposed to be “the year,” maybe next year is.

After this, after all of this, C. Vivian Stringer deserves it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tennessee Takes The Title

By Jonathan Tannenwald

Thanks to 15 points and seven rebounds from star Candace Parker, Tennessee claimed its seventh national championship in women's basketball tonight with a 59-46 win over Rutgers before a decidedly pro-Lady Vols crowd of 20,704 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Mel has filed a recap of the game for Philly.com, which you can read here.

Parker aside, the box score was dominated by players from boroughs of New York. Rutgers center Kia Vaughn, of the Bronx, led all scorers with 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Another Bronx native, Tennessee guard Shannon Bobbitt, was the Lady Vols' second-leading scorer with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting, with all the made shots and all but one of the attempts coming from three-point range.

Other than Vaughn, no Rutgers player recorded double figures in scoring. Essence Carson was held to eight points on 4-of-11 shooting, while Matee Ajavon also only scored eight points, on 3-of-9 shooting.

On the whole, Rutgers actually recorded a higher field goal percentage than Tennesse, 40.8 percent to 34.5 percent, but the Scarlet Knights were beaten in other major categories. They made only two of 10 three-point attempts to Tennessee's five of 15, and shot only 4-for-10 from the free throw line to the Lady Vols' 14-for-23.

But Tennessee's biggest advantage came on the glass. The Lady Vols out-rebounded Rutgers by a 40-30 margin, including 23 offensive rebounds to the Scarlet Knights' 19 defensive rebounds. Tennessee center Nicky Anosike pulled down 16 boards -- including 10 on the offensive end.

Anosike, of Staten Island, made this writer lament the lack of players from Manhattan and Queens to round things out.

Mel's full recap, along with further coverage from Inquirer columnists on the scene, will appear in the morning's edition of the Inquirer as well as at Philly.com.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Gail Goestenkors Leaves Duke for Texas

By Jonathan Tannenwald

It has just crossed the Associated Press wire that Duke women's coach Gail Goestenkors has stepped down to take over at the University of Texas.

Here's the story. Mel informs that he has time before tipoff tonight, he will fill in further details later, though he's got plenty to do before then so don't expect too much.

Monday, April 02, 2007

March Madness: Tennessee Slides Past North Carolina

Guru's note:

Due to move-up deadlines Sunday night, we used wire on print side for the second game.

Here's a short Guru-written account on the action.

By Mel Greenberg

_ Well, at least one piece is left from that projected all-Southeastern Conference final in the NCAA championship game Tuesday night.

Tennessee upheld the honor of the SEC by rallying from a 12-point deficit in the second half to beat North Carolina, 56-50, in the other NCAA tournament national semifinal last night at the Quicken Loans Arena.

The 20-2 run by the Vols (33-3) over the final 8 minutes, 18 seconds against the Tar Heels (34-4) indicated the North Carolina men did not have an in-house monopoly when it came to imploding down the stretch in the two tournaments.

Tennessee moves on to Tuesday night’s title game against Rutgers, which dispatched LSU, the other SEC team in the Final Four, 59-35, in the opening semifinal contest.

The Vols shot a paltry 27 percent from the floor, almost breaking the NCAA newly established low set earlier in the night by LSU’s 26.4 percent effort against the Scarlet Knights.

Candace Parker had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Tennessee, while Nicky Anosike also had 14 points.

Ivory Latta and Rashanda McCants each scored 13 points for the Tar Heels and Latta finished as North Carolina’s all-time scorer with 2,285 career points.

Erlana Larkins grabbed 11 rebounds for North Carolina.

Tennessee will be going for its seventh NCAA championship, while Rutgers will be in the title game for the first time.

``When we are down, we just turn up the intensity and turn up the press,’’ junior guard Shannon Bobbitt said of Tennessee’s comeback.

Obviously, the mood was slightly different on the other bench.

``I felt like we should have won the game,’’ North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. ``We have never lost to a team when they shot 27 percent. I feel like defensively we did the job when you hold a team to 27 percent.

Latta spoke of Tennessee’s pressure down the stretch.

``I could just say they played aggressive defense,’’ Ivory noted. ``We were trying to get the ball to Erlana in the post. They were definitely fronting her and doubleteaming and they just played aggressive defense.’’

Tennessee will be playing in its 12th title game and is 5-0 against Rutgers when the two have met in tournament competition.

The most recent was a year ago in this very same building when the Vols beat the Scarlet Knights in the regional semifinals and ended the collegiate career of Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter.

-- Mel

Sunday, April 01, 2007

March Madness: Is Van the Man? Other Items

By Mel Greenberg

On Monday morning the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class of inductees for 2007 will be officially announced in Atlanta where the men’s Final Four is being held.

Indications are that women’s basketball will again be represented with an individual following Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma’s enshrinement, which was announced a year ago and occurred last September.

It appears former WNBA coach Van Chancellor might make it on the third try after being on the ballot the previous two years. His placement followed his successful effort coaching the 2004 United States Olympic Team to the gold medal in Athens, Greece.

Chancellor was also a longtime coach at Mississippi before joining the pro ranks in the WNBA’s initial season when he was named in charge of the Houston Comets and took the squad, led by Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, and Tina Thompson, to the first four league championships.

Chancellor, who is usually prominently involved with activities at the Women’s Final Four, has not been seen.

When the Guru learned from a source here that Chancellor was in Atlanta ``on business,’’ a call was placed confirming that reason. Although he would not say specifically what was keeping him away from here, he did not sound too unhappy to be absent.

Chancellor already is a previous inductee of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

THE SOCIAL SET. The Guru and colleague from several other newspapers joined some ESPN folks for dinner at the Blue Fin restaurant near here Saturday night to get a taste of Cleveland culinary items.

Among other prominent patrons dining out were North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, as well as recently-retired Texas coach Jody Conradt, Longhorns women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky, WBCA honcho Beth Bass, and Mimi Griffin, who was one of the original color analysts in the early years of the NCAA tournament.

Then it was off to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the annual media party. We didn’t make it to the WNBA party for the WBCA in time, but ran into most attendees in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, near here, which has become a pseudo-headquarters.

RUTGERS PRIDE. The local Associated Press reporter here prefaced his question during the Scarlet Knights’ portion of the four press conferences by noting, I have friends that went to Rutgers that actually admit they went to Rutgers now.

In her response, coach C. Vivian Stringer noted the increased level of support coming off the success of the football team and also added, ``It doesn’t hurt when you have people from the sopranos supporting you as well.

DRAFT OFF THE LAKE. Temple’s Kamesha Hairston and Delaware’s Tyresa Smith both received praise for their play Friday during the first of the two-day WNBA pre-draft sessions. North Carolina State coach Kay Yow has made it here in support of her Wolfpack senior Gillian Goring, a former Germantown Academy star in suburban Philadelphia, who was also invited to the camp.

Yow missed two months of the season battling a recurrence of breast cancer before returning to the bench and leading N.C. State to a Sweet 16 appearance, where the Wolfpack were eliminated by Connecticut in the semifinals.

The draft will be conducted Wednesday afternoon, following Tuesday night’s NCAA women’s championship.

COACHING CAROUSEL. Washington officials had Temple coach Dawn Staley’s name on their shopping list when they arrived here until they learned the Owls’ mentor had inked a six-year extension that Temple announced Thursday.

Staley, incidentally, will be heading to Rome, Friday, as an assistant Olympic coach to go on a training tour with a squad of hopefuls for the Beijing games in China in 2008.

California coach Joanne Boyle is being mentioned prominently for the lucratively-paid Florida opening.

Penn State announced Friday formation of a search committee to fill the vacancy created late last month when Rene Portland resigned after 27 years with the program.

If Nittany Lions officials want to wipe the slate clean, as some reports suggest, don’t look for Auriemma’s name or that of longtime Illinois coach Theresa Grentz to be involved.

Grentz was a teammate of Portland on Immaculata’s national champions in the early 1970s under Cathy Rush as was Judy Martelli, the wife of St. Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martelli. Connecticut’s Auriemma is also ineligible under those guidelines – he was a counselor with Portland back then at Rush’s basketball camps.

-- Mel