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.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

WNBA: Competitive By Nature

(Guru's Note: The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame class for 2008 was announced Sunday at halftime of the WNBA All-Star game in Washington and the info is at the WBHOF site. Those looking for continued coverage of our own induction with the class of 2007 and events continuing through the inquirer party on July 27th can go to the philly.com special link.
Otherwise, stay here for enhanced coverage below and previous to enhance our print story for The Inquirer.

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON_ When it comes to All-Stars games, there is a distinct difference between the ones run by the WNBA, and similar events of both gender in other sports.

The women, it seems, are addicted to competition. While these affairs are treated as a lark elsewhere, it may take a few extra minutes, but winning becomes a reason d’etre.

“It appears that way,” said first-year Sacramento Monarchs coach Jenny Bucek, whose Western Conference team lost to the Eastern Conference, 103-99, Sunday in the Verizon Center. ``You, I think most other sports, you know, they’re not playing defense.

``They’re allowing each other to do things, and our women are just too innately competitive, I think. They can’t turn that off. I love that about them. I think I love that about the WNBA, they compete every second of every game,’’ Boucek continued.

``So when we come here and we ask them to not do that as much, I don’t know if they’re quite able to do that. They still want to compete. And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about our league.’’

It’s not just the WNBA in women’s basketball.

The defining moment of the first All-Star game of the former American Basketball League was the famous upper cut under the basket former Texas star Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil delivered to former Long Beach State star Cindy Brown.

On Sunday, for example, All-Star most valuable player Cheryl Ford of the WNBA-defending champion Detroit Shock entered the contest off a bruised knee and a cautionary plan between herself and Detroit’s Bill Laimbeer, who handled the East, was to maybe not play so much of things went badly.

``You know we talked beforehand that I probably was going to play her about 10 or 12 minutes unless she got off to a hot start,’’ Laimbeer said. ``If she got off to a hot start and had a chance to be one of the stars of the game, we’d play her more, and she did.’’

She even made her first three-point shot in the pros.

The Eastern Conference came back from an 11-point deficit in the first half to tie the score at the break. The winners went on to build a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Western Conference made a tenacious rally in the closing minutes before falling short.

``It’s just a characteristic of us,’’ said Katie Douglas of the Connecticut Sun. ``We’re paid to do this, but also we love what we do and we’re extremely competitive.

``I think the fans had a lot to do with raising the competitiveness. They were ooohing and aahing and really getting into it. Their energy was phenomenal and I think both teams just fed off of that.’’

It’s the second straight win for the East, which last year was powered by a slew of Connecticut players. Prior to that, the Western Conference owned the first six encounters.

But the East was clearly out to win this one as the West was out to regain lost prestige.

``We knew we wanted to win the game,’’ Ford said. ``In the beginning, we just came to have fun. But Bill (at halftime) was like, okay, we’ve had our fun and it’s time to play seriously. And we knew we were missing a lot of rebounds, so that’s what we had to tighten up on.’’

The experience was much different for Laimbeer then when he coached a select team in the summer of 2004 against the Olympic team loaded with the best of the WNBA before it went on to capture the gold medal in Athens.

``I had the also-rans versus the Olympians,’’ Laimbeer recalled. ``We got our butt kicked. ``So this was more fun today.’’

He also spoke about the West’s defensive pressure in the second half to try to win out at the finish.

``They finally turned up their intensity level,’’ Laimbeer said. ``I thought for the first time they kind of just thought they were the better team, and were just going out there for shooting the ball, not really competing to win the basketball game.

``We didn’t have that luxury,’’ he continued. ``So I think when they turned their intensity up, they did show they can play better basketball.

``We threw the ball away, some stupid turnovers, which was okay. It happens when you lose your focus sometimes. But when it came down to it, we made the right plays.’’

The Dupree Factor

Former Temple star Candice Dupree has now appeared in both East wins after joining a year ago as a rookie and as a last-minute substitute due to some injuries to previously selected players.

``It’s not just me,’’ said Dupree, whose former Temple coach Dawn Staley was among the sellout crowd before heading to coach the U.S. entry in the Pan American games. ``I got some good passes from Alana (Beard) on the offensive end. We won the game and that’s all that matters.’’

The star of the second-year Chicago Sky spoke of the competitive nature of the competition.

``We’re always competing,’’ Dupree said. ``The coaches always say have fun, this, that, and another thing, but ultimately they want to win and I think the players want to win, too. So we get out there and it’s fun at first. But once it gets down to the wire, both sides are trying to win.’’

Skills Contests

The predominately fan base of the Washington Mystics got a local thrill in the skills competition when former Kansas State star Laurie Koehn set a record with 25 points in the final round of the Three-Point Shootout. Penny Taylor of the Phoenix Mercury had 19 points. Koehn tied Craig Hodges’ three-point record at the 1986 NBA All-Star game. Dawn Staley had 19 points, the previous record, in the first round of the shootout contest she ultimately won a year ago in New York.

``Honestly, it’s like I’ve done a few of these shooting contests before and I’ve never wanted it more for the people watching than today.’’

Becky Hammon, the former New York Liberty star now with the San Antonio Silver Stars, edged Minnesota Lynx second-year pro Seimone Augustus in the dribble, dish & swish competition with a time of 27.1 seconds vs. 27.4.

TV Deal

The WNBA and ESPN Sunday announced an extended contract through the 2016 season. The big news, and possibly really big news if it’s more than a token gesture, but the network will be paying a rights fee for the first time.

In the past, the league paid to produce the games.

``We are paying a rights fee, we are producing the games, and we’re selling the inventory, because we believe in the future of the league,’’ said John Skipper, vice president for content, ESPN.

Games will appear on ESPN, PESPN2, and ABC-TV.

Almost A Repeat

A year ago, Katie Douglas of the Connecticut Sun easily captured the MVP honors and threatened for a brief moment to repeat the honor on Sunday.

``Not really,’’ Douglas said of attempts to steal the honor at the finish. ``Just trying to put an end to the West run and knock down some key shots.

``You could definitely tell we (the East) just got together, and hadn’t had much practice. But there’s phenomenal talent in the room and anytime you have those kind of players, 90 percent of the time things are going to look good.’’

And With That, the Guru and the Seattle Times' Jayda Evans are off to dinner to engage in East-West conversation.

-- Mel

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