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, September 28, 2007

WNBA: The Hunt For Westhead's Successor Begins

By Mel Greenberg

Greetings. According to the blogging statistics reports, many of you Guru followers still make this the first stop in this neighborhood when seeking the news, commentary, and features of the day.

Don't toss your bookmarks for here to the "delete" key because this site won't go away and, from time to time, will contain future items not found at our newer location. We'll link back in copy from there when the situation occurs.

But now that you're here and want to satisfy your curiosity as to the nature of the headline that drew you here, feel free to add a bookmark when you get there and proceed to click onto this link Women's Hoops Guru to enter a piece of the world of the newly designed http://philly.com/.

And thanks for the visit.

-- Mel

Friday, September 21, 2007

Guru and Sister Mourn Mom's Passing

by Erin Semagin Damio

Updated by Jonathan Tannenwald with funeral arrangement information which has now been circulated around the Inquirer newsroom. I just talked to Mel and he says he's accessible to people all day today, so those of you who know how to get in touch with him can do so.

Please note as well that a version of this post also appears at our new blog, which you can get to by clicking here. It's on a different platform, so if you use RSS aggregation software please add that new feed to your program. Almost all our posts from now on will be on the new site.

Some readers may have noticed Mel's staying close to home over the past month or so; unfortunately, it was due to his mother's illness, which came to an end last night. Mel has asked me to keep everyone informed, so I'm updating with this. We'll update with funeral arrangements when they are made. Well-wishes can be posted as comments here or emailed to mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

The following is the aforementioned note that went to the Inquirer newsroom informing Mel's colleagues on the passing of his Mom.

Mel Greenberg's mother, Roslyn Greenberg passed away Thursday, Sept. 20, after a short battle with cancer, although she was not aware of her condition, diagnosed in early April, until recently. She reached age 85 on Sept. 12.

Mrs. Greenberg was preceded in her passing by her husband Jack in June, 1995.

She was also the mother of Annette Swartz, married to Perry Swartz, and the beloved Mom Mom of Allison and Neena Swartz. She was also the sister of Selda Lavine of Trenton and the late William Newland. She also had four nephews and one niece. She was a devoted friend to Marjorie and Ben Needelman.

Mel told us this.

"She grew up in North Philadelphia as the daughter of Russian immigrants. In her long lifetime was able to see her two children succeed in their chosen fields, and was also able to enjoy watching the growth of her granddaughters -- Annette teaches computers in the Colonial school district, Neena teaches Spanish at Upper Merion High, and Allison is an Executive Recruiter for a business firm in Willow Grove.

"In her later years, my mother became an Eagles fan, and enjoyed dining at restaurants, especially seafood places serving hard-shell crabs.

"Although she was technologically challenged, she still made attempts to learn the computer, and always enjoyed being in the company of friends and relatives. In her own way, she had a certain wit about her. After she moved from the Northeast, where she lived since 1950, she settled in last fall at Blue Bell Place, an assisted living home in the suburbs, and she quickly became a group leader there and prided herself in such activities as enhancing the flower garden.

"She was feisty and very aware of things until almost the very end, to the point, that just the other day, she was still giving me orders on what forthcoming family events to attend and was very focused on Allison's social life.

"For myself, I knew of her situation several months before her: At the time, my own wish was that she would be well enough to attend the recent Inquirer reception noting my Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction. And I got that wish, to the point, I was able to give her her moment in my speech and also that many of you, who had not done so before, were able to meet her.

"In fact, she surprised many later that night by making it all the way up the stairs on her own to the after-party we had downtown on the third floor of Doc Watson's."

A funeral service will be held Sunday, Sept 23, at 1 p.m. at Joseph Levine & Son Memorial Chapel, Inc,
4737 Street Road, Trevose, PA 19053, (215) 942-4700.
A burial service will follow at Shalom Memorial Park, 25 Byberry Road, although the entrance is off Pine Road just around the corner from Byberry Road.

Maps with directions can be found at the Levine web site.

Following services and for the next several days, the family will accept visitors at the home of Annette and Perry Swartz, 476 South Silver Bell La., in Lafayette Hill. Flowers can be sent here.

The development is off Germantown Pike, just below Joshua Road. Proceeding on Germantown Pike from Chestnut Hill (or center city), Arbour Boulevard is a mile west of Church Road (heading out toward Plymouth Whitemarsh High). Make a right on Arbour Boulevard, then make a right turn at the third intersection onto Silverbell and the home is on the right side at the end of the cul de sac.

From center city, you can also take I-76 West and then go right on the Blue Route (I-476). Exit at the Germantown Ave ramp, make a right and proceed past Plymouth Whitemarsh High. The next major intersection is Joshua Road and Arbour Boulevard then comes up on the left.

Mel and his sister, would like to thank everyone in here for all your support since his mother's condition worsened a month ago.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Former Rutgers Star Earns Staley's Praise

By Mel Greenberg

AMTRAK BUSINESS CLASS _ Don't ask me how I landed here, but that's what the train ticket said, and so I sit as we arrive in New Haven, Conn., on the way back to Philadelphia from the Mohegan Sun Arena and our return departure in NewLondon.

So what does any of this have to do with the headline involving Cappie Pondexter of the new WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury?

Absolutely nothing.

But since a lot of Scarlet Knights fandom visit us here, I needed a device to get you over to where the real story will appear at women's hoops guru, our upgraded site under the philly.com umbrella.

However, if it is not yet 3 a.m. on Sept.20 in the East, stop by some other sites to give me enough time to endure the jaw-shattering rhythms of Amtrak whileI take advantage with my air card hooked to the laptop that will enable me to actually write and post.

For those who have been following a background storyline the last three weeks, the Guru's family situation continues, but I was able to make a quick up and back trip to the USA-Australia game in Uncasville as a sub for Erin,who was going to sub for me until necessary schoolwork took her out of the loop on Wednesday night.

--- Mel

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Erin Subs For Guru at WNBA Finals With All-Star Effort

(Guru's Subsequent Note at 3:45 a.m. EDT, Sept. 14, to copy in this post published several days ago:

Hi Everybody. The family situation referred to below continues and when events warrant, which could overtake this post any moment, a special blog will appear here and at our newer platform site at women's hoops guru. detailing what has occurred.

But the Guru would like to salute Erin for a magnificent effort in replacing him by his appointment and arrangement in the starting lineup the last few days at the WNBA playoffs in Phoenix. As former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter performed Thursday night on the court in Game 4, so did Erin on press row with our first-ever play-by-play blog, which was colored by some scene observation, followed by quick postgame descriptions, a well-written postgame story, and some additional notes.

In 2006, Kate brought the blog a new dimension by reporting from the Women's Final Four in Boston. Then last winter, Acacia, who checked in Thursday night from Vassar with a nice and gracious phone call, launched foreign bureau coverage from Italy. Jonathan, through his talents at philly.com, has helped lead us to multi-media dimensions, which began in June at the new site featuring coverage of the Guru's induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. As a student at Penn, he also had done fine reporting here of the WNBA's Washington Mystics.
Erin had already been doing quality work with us, but in a tough spot, she, too, has made her own special mark on our team and the Guru wanted to add his thanks and salute for a job well done.

-- Mel)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ As previously mentioned, a family situation back here on the home front has necessitated the Guru remaining close by.

However, the Guru is pleased to announce that Erin Semagin Damio of the blogging team has arrived in the desert and has begun reporting from Phoenix and the third game of the WNBA championship series involving the Mercury and defending champion Detroit Shock.

She will remain as our primary starter on the scene through Thursday night's action before returning to Boston where she is a student at Northeastern University and a member of the rowing team.

Her coverage also begins our transition to the site that housed all the Guru women's basketball hall of fame induction coverage and she has already put up the first post. Your link is at women's hoops guru, which also for bookmarking purposes is located at http://go.philly.com/womhoops.

This site will still exist however, and we'll link back and forth when need be. It will also enable all you Kate and Acacia fans to go back into the archives for their previous works, as well as Erin's, yours truly, as well as others such as Kathleen and Stephen.

However, let it be noted that the rest of Erin's efforts tonight (Tues.) will be somewhat delayed because of a memory problem involving her laptop. No, it didn't involve microchips. She reported by phone she left it locked in her rental car. Understand, she's spent more time in recent months as a coxswain steering with a bullhorn than from behind the wheel of an automobile.

-- Mel

Sunday, September 09, 2007

WNBA Finals: "Shoe-Time" Mercury?

By Mel Greenberg

In the late 1980s in the NBA, Los Angeles coach Pat Riley gave us the "Showtime" Lakers offense.

Now several decades later and over in the WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury has reached their first finals with a well-oiled machine that may be more than just a "showtime" operation under coach Paul Westhead.

Consider this exchange from the post-game press conference following Phoenix's 98-70 win over the defendng champion Detroit Shock, leveling the series at 1-1, that was e-mailed to all of us who were not on the scene in the Motor City.

Tangela Smith and, herself, also known as Diana Taurasi, were answering questions when the following began to roll from the tongues of both.

Q. Are you okay with a split?
TANGELA SMITH: Are we okay with a split?
DIANA TAURASI: It would have been nice to win two, but one is nice, I guess.
DIANA TAURASI: We'll take one.
TANGELA SMITH: We're going home now.
DIANA TAURASI: Got to buy coach some new shoes now.

Q. New shoes, how come?
DIANA TAURASI: We're sitting there ‑‑
TANGELA SMITH: Ask him about that.
DIANA TAURASI: We were sitting there, we look down and coach has got two different pairs of shoes on. So that was the talk of the ‑‑ that was our game plan is to get coach two matching shoes.
TANGELA SMITH: A brand new pair of shoes.

Q. Was it brown and black?
TANGELA SMITH: No, they were two black shoes.
DIANA TAURASI: One was gator leather and the other had a buckle penny loafer. It was weird.

Q. What was it again?
DIANA TAURASI: Never mind.

Q. Gator?
DIANA TAURASI: One was gator leather and the other was like a penny loafer type shoe. You know coach is a little old, we got to get him into style.

Q. You don't think he may have done that on purpose?
DIANA TAURASI: No, because he was as red as those chairs. He was all he was feeling the heat.

Q. So some more poetry or music or something?
DIANA TAURASI: He needs some fashion tips. We'll hook him up though. We'll get him ready for next year.

Earlier in the playoffs it was revealed that Westhead was giving speeches to players quoting from such vintage ballads as Dobie Gray's "Drift Away."

Thus, Westhead becomes the first coach in the 11-year history of the playoffs to become the subject of one discussion focusing on Soul and another on Sole(s).


For those of you who like to keep up-to-date profiles on the Guru, the arrival of Sept. 9 on the calendar means its time to change the length-of-service at The Inquirer from 37 years to 38.

Also, for those of you not familiar with the workings of big city newspapers, the copy of stories that get to the internet from the print editions also include the headlines that appeared in the paper.

During the process involving those particular works, the writers produce the stories and the copy desks produce the headlines. The exception is the blog sites, which many of us apply our own titles. But the difference between the two should be obvious as to which stories are derived from the publishing process.

Hopefully, this little lesson answers questions about an item that appeared elsewhere advancing the finals last week under the Guru's name that managed to create some confusion.

-- Mel

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Van Chancellor Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

By Mel Greenberg

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. _ When new Louisiana State women’s coach Van Chancellor was growing up in Louisville, Miss., he used to watch future Boston Celtics star Bailey Howell play basketball at Mississippi State.

Back then, the last thing that was ever on Chancellor’s mind was that one day he would be rubbing shoulders with Bailey on the way to his own induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

But that’s what occurred here Thursday night at a dinner leading to Friday night’s ceremonies at which Chancellor and other notables took their places as the inductee class of 2007.

``I just couldn’t ever allow myself to think that this could happen to me,’’ Chancellor told Howell, a member of the 1997 inductee class who was one of Chancellor's two escorts to the podium at Friday night's induction ceremony.

The other was Tennesseee coach Pat Summitt, herself both a Women's Basketball and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer as Chancelor has now become.

``I picked the coach who beat me more than any other,'' Chancellor told the crowd here of his rivalry in the Southeastern Conference with Summitt's teams.

That was before he left Oxford, Miss., in 1997 to lead the Houston Comets to the first four WNBA titles and also the United States to an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

Now Summitt and Chancellor will be competing on the sidelines again when his Tigers meet her Lady Vols.

Besides Chancellor, this years enshrinement group included the late basketball referee Marvin “Mendy” Rudolph, a native of Philadelphia; Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, the 1966 NCAA champion Texas Western team, and international coaches Pedro Ferrandiz of Spain and Mirko Novosel of Croatia.

``To be from a small country farm in Mississippi and be in this Hall of Fame, means so much to be,’’ Chancellor said at Friday morning’s press conference introducing the inductees.

Jackson credited the teams he coached for his enshrinement.

``This is representative of such great teams that I coached and had such great success,” said Jackson, who has led the Chicago Bulls, featuring Michael Jordan, to six NBA titles, and the Lakers to three straight titles (2000-2002).

``If anyone has trouble understanding what Van Chancellor said, I can translate,’’ joked Williams, who led the Tar Heels to the 2005 NCAA and also produced Final Four teams at Kansas. Williams befriended Chancellor when the two were at the induction announcement in April.

"We went to play golf at Pebble Beach together," Williams said Friday morning. "He's the only guy I've ever seen get through the security gate on an airplane using a Sam's Club card for identification.''

Rudolph’s widow Susan accepted on his Friday night.

Chancellor, who one time considered becoming a preacher, made it on the third try after narrowly losing out among women’s nominees in 2005 to the late LSU coach Sue Gunter and last year to Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown.

``You know, when he took the Mississippi job, it was after Sue Gunter had turned it down. So their paths have crossed a few times,” said Chancellor’s wife Betty. The couple recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.

Chancellor has a habit of tossing hard candy to crowds at courtside before Comets' games and Mrs. Chancellor was asked before the ceremony whether he might do the same

A longtime coach of the Lady Rebels (1978-97) who regular were nationally ranked and layed in NCAA tournaments, Chancellor raised his profile in 1997 when he became the Comets coach.

He stayed long enough to become the last of the original eight WNBA coaches when he retired from the Comets last winter just before they were sold by the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

“After we won that fourth title, my assistant Kevin Cook, said, `That’s going to get you the Olympic (women’s) job,’” Chancellor related before Friday morning’s press conferences.

“But I said there’s no way ever that a man is going to get that job,’” Chancellor said.


He got the job and took the USA Basketball squad, whose stars included Temple’s Dawn Staley, to a world championship and then to an Olympic gold medal in 2004 at the games in Athens, Greece.

``After we did that, Kevin said, `Now that’s getting you into the Hall of Fame.’

“And then I allowed myself to think about it a little bit,” said Chancellor, who is already a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville.

Soon after Chancellor retired from the pros, he returned to the collegiate ranks in April, taking the job that became open after Pokey Chatman’s controversial exit.

"Betty had said I don't know how long you're going to enjoy retirement," Chancellor said.

"Everything happened so fast," Chancellor continued. "I got named to the Hall of Fame, LSU called and offered the job with a five year deal, and then we quickly sold the house in Houston.

"I told the buyer, `You'll be able to say you live in a house once owned by a Hall of Famer.'
The college game is great. I'm rejuvenated. The players are like sponges -- they want to absorb everything,'' Chancellor said.

``As far as what happened before, I said we're not talking about it. We're moving forard and looking ahead.''

Chatman, a former LSU star and former assistant to Gunter, took the Tigers to three straight Women’s Final Fours and accepted the 2005 Naismith honor in Gunter’s memory.
But she quit last March amid charges of engaging in improper sexual relations with former players just before last season’s NCAA tournament got under way.

The Tigers, however, advanced to the Women’s Final Four again, and lost to Rutgers in the national semifinals.

Chancellor is taking over a squad that continues to be a national threat this season.

"People ask if there's pressure to win a title with all five starters back. Well, I've already coached a bunch of games with pressure attached. I'm used to it.''


Could Tennessee and Connecticut be ready to play again after Summitt had cancelled the 13-year-old rivalry in June?

Oops, sorry, wrong UConn. Before Friday night's ceremonies, Summitt was seen during the cocktail reception in an animated conversation with Huskies men's coach Jim Calhoun.

They were probably discussing at least one thing they both have in common.


The Hall of Fame is launching a 30-city story to bring exhibits and inter-active events to places around the country. Former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, who was inducted a year ago, will be associated with the events.

The tour will be known as HHX (Hoop Hall Experience).

Incidentally, two of the public relations representsatives ofr HHX are Teri Washington, a former NBA staffer who also was a media contact for the Georgia Tech women, and Karen Frascona, a former PR person with the NBA Philadelphia 76ers, who also was a women's media contact at Villanova and Auburn.

Wilkins said he watches the WNBA

"Oh yeah, I have daughters,'' he said.

"(Detroit Shock coach Bill) Laimbeer's teams are good and they might win it again," Wilkins noted. "You know what, a lot of times women are easier to coach than the guys. You don't have to deal with all the egos you have to with the guys. They just want to get out there -- they want to play hard, they want to win, and they're more gentle in a sense.


Speaking of Laimbeer, what does former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly think of Laimbeer's success in the WNBA?

Laimbeer was a member of the NBA "Bady Boys" champions coached by Daly.

"Guess what?" Daly grinned Friday night. "He's probably going to end up here in the Hall of Fame like Chancellor and it's not going to be for anything he did under me."

-- Mel

Friday, September 07, 2007

Former WNBA Coach Van's the Man This Weekend

By Mel Greenberg

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.- We're up here in New England for a quick trip the next two days to cover former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor's induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, along with other notables from the basketball world.

We'll have a print story in Saturday's editions.

Among the inductees of the class of 2007 are Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and North Carolina coach Roy Williams, an acquaintance of Chancellor, who is the new Louisiana State women's coach.

But before moving full speed ahead wth a Tigers team expected to challenge for the NCAA title along with Tennessee, Rutgers, Maryland, and Connecticut, to name a few, Chancellor is being celebrated for his past accomplishments as a longtme coach of Mississippi, who went on to take Houston to the first four WNBA titles and then led the USA squad as its first male coach to the 2004 Olympic gold medal.

Chancellor made it on the third try after narrowly losses among women's nominees to the late LSU coach Sue Gunter in 2005 and a year ago to Connecticut's Geno Auriemma.

``Well it close then, but we're rolling now,'' Chancellor beamed before Thursday night's dinner involving the Gowdy Media Awards and the Bunn award.

``It's just amazing being among all these basketball greats,'' Chancellor said of a room full of past inductees along with the present class.

Speaking of greats, during the dinner, Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard, the scoring sensation from Kansas who also played for the Harlem Globetrotters was at our table.

We'll have some extra tidbits here later Friday night into Saturday morning from the press conference and Chancellor's speech, whom he says was written by asssistant Bob Starkey.

Chancellor's family is here and we'll see who all shows additionally on Friday.

During the dinner we told the tale of a visit to Houston several years when the Comets had a weekend game early in the evening.

The game finished rapidly to the point we began to savor in our minds a potential postgame meal at one of Houston's many fine restaurants.

But just as our thought paused, one of Chancellor's grandkids walked over and yelled, "Grandpa. Can we go to the Waffle House?"

And so we did.

Tenneessee-Connecticut Reunited At NCAA Parley

Bet that sub-headline is catching your attention.

So you all thought it was over when Tennessee coach Pat Summitt cancelled the longtime series in June with Connecticut and coach Geno Auriemma?

Not entirely.

We we heard the two coaches were recently participants at a women's issues meeting at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

Quipped one observer here who was at the event: ``Yeah, well the NCAA had them on the same side of the room so they wouldn't have to look across the table at each other.''

Love Those Message Boards

We recently noticed Rutgers fans getting all worked up on their message sites over who's ranked in front of the NCAA runnerup Scarlet Knights in some early preseason magazine polls.

How does that happen?

Well, it's not necessarily who beat who last season, which by the way, one would think already illustrates the points as a lesson to the Rutgers crowd.

Some authors of preseason polls will look at schedules and predict the long-range success ratio.

Teams with harder schedules will be less likely to have better records than others with softer competition among a group of competitors.

In fact, we seem to remember the cleanup job the local authorities had in New Brunswick pulling red shirts out of the Raritan River shortly after a certain Blue Devils team slashed and burned the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Now, yeah, if you manage to evaluate the talent comparisons, that's another story, which is why we stood alone in all that postmortem at the time and forecasted that greatness could still be had by the end of the season once the schedule eased up a bit.

Judging by the recently-released schedule, it's another killer, but this time, it's no longer a young squad lacking defensive skills who will be doing the navigation work into the Big East portion of the season.

Erin to the Desert

Due to an ongoing family situation, the Guru is unable to stray too far from home, with traveling decisions being made at the last minute, such as the one that allowed us to take the short drive here.

But we're happy to announce that we're sending Erin to Phoenix next week to report on the finals through Game 3 and, if necessary, through Game 4. Because her work will be either at this site or the movable-type (women's induction) one, if we've made the transfer by then (see previous post), since she will not be on a deadline-intensive late East coast start that exists for print editions. She may, however, do an offday print piece next week depending on where the finals are at that stage.

We'll let you know in a few days how coverage of the USA team training in Philadelphia will be handled as we get closer.

CJ Back on the Bench at Temple

That would be former point guard Cynthia Jordan, one of Temple coach Dawn Staley's first recruits, who is joining the coaching staff as a graduate assistant.

The former star from the Tidwater area of Virginia was a member of the championship team this summer in the Philadelphia Department of Recreation's NCAA women's Summer League.

Considering the head coach, one of the most prolific point guards of all time who retired as a player after last summer, is getting a little older, it will be good for the Owls to have some fresh energy on the sidelines to challenge the squad at practice.

The aforemention remark is just a test to see if the Temple coach has time to read this blog while serving as an assistant at the moment with the USA Senior squad that began training in New York Thursday before coming to Philadelphia.

Life after Widener

From the things we don't have room in the print edition dept. at the moment: Is former Widener star Chelsea Luhta soon to become a Danish delight?

The forward from the Division III school in Chester, near Philadelphia, has been drafted to compete in Denmark form Vaerlose in the Dameligaen and her progress can be followed after Sept. 29 at the web site http://www.vbbk.dlk and the league can be followed at http://dameligaen.dk according to the Widener folks who sent us the news.

Luhta is also starring in the movie Our Lady of Victory about Immaculata's first national title. She plays a member of the neighborhood-rival West Chester squad. Former Penn star Diana Caramanico also plays a member of the Golden Rams.

-- Mel

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Guru Tuesday Musings on WNBA Finals

(Guru's Note: After crossing the 40,000 threshhold of hits at this site a few days ago, the counting will begin continuing in a few days or sooner at the induction site we created at http://go.philly.com/womhoops as part of philly.com's upgrade.

This site will not go away so all that has existed will continue, it's just that the philly.com references will be to the other site.

At times members of the team may still write here, when convenient, and we will have appropriate links back and forth when it happens as we did during our involvement with the women's basketball hall of fame inductions. A moving day headline will be the top post out of here, so you will known when the switch is in effect in terms of my contributions.

Also, I will have a print advance in Wednesday's paper, thus also in that area of Philly.com, in addition to the blogs for the WNBA finals. -- Mel)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA - The Indiana Fever weren't the only casualty in Detroit on Monday when All-Star center Tamika Catchings left the game won by the Shock with a a right Achilles strain just before halftime.

The former Tennessee star had missed the last 13 games of the regular season with an injured foot.

Now the question is whether she can recover fast enough and still be effective to play on the USA Women's Basketball Senior National Team when it goes after an Olympic berth later this month at the FIBA Americas tournament.

Normally, Catchings would be reporting for the opening of training in New York City on Thursday. The team will then come to town to train at Temple Sept. 13-15 before playing an exhibition game against the Australian National Team in Trenton, N.J., on Sept. 16 at the Sovereign Bank Arena. The team will then finish up at another practice at Temple on Sept. 17 and then meet the Australians again on Sept. 19 at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun, in Uncasville, near New London.

"I think the U.S. might need to look a little more at the college crowd for some help," said Phoenix Mercury general manager Ann Meyers over the weekend after her team claimed the Western Conference playoff crown Saturday night. "These WNBA players might be a little tired and worn out by now."

Also, a note to Rutgers fans hoping to travel to nearby Trenton to see Mercury star Cappie Pondexter, a former all-American with the Scarlet Knights who was the overall No. 2 pick by Phoenix a year ago.

If the WNBA finals between Phoenix and Detroit go five games, Pondexter, listed on the USA roster, won't be in Trenton as will neither Mercury star Diana Taurasi nor Detroit stars Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, and Katie Smith.

Game five is slated for the Eastern site on Sept. 16 at 4:30 p.m. The USA game in Trenton will be at 1 p.m.


When Detroit and Phoenix open the finals on Wednesday night, it will be the third time that two coaches with NBA backgrounds will meet in the championship series.

Detroit's Bill Laimbeer played for the former NBA-champion Detroit Pistons in the "Bad Boys" era, while Phoenix second-year coach Paul Westhead ran the 1980 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and several other NBA teams.

In 2002, former New York Liberty coach Richie Adubato, a former NBA head coach, went against Los Angeles Sparks coach Michael Cooper, who played for the Lakers.

A year later, Laimbeer and Cooper, former court rivals, went at it in the series won by Detroit.

Westhead Honored?

Most of the WNBA individual postseason awards voted by the WNBA have already been distributed except coach of the year and most valuable player. The MVP, no matter who wins it, is given at the finals.

Coach of the year, however, unless a playoff non-participant is involved, is given during the early rounds.

So unless Laimbeer, who has a claim, is the one, and since San Antonio's Dan Hughes, another worthy candidate, did not receive the award in the early rounds -- a year ago Connecticut's Mike Thibault got the award in the opening Eastern series -- the deduction is that Phoenix's Paul Westhead will emerge with the award.

Speed vs. Speed?

At first glance, the title matchup between Phoenix and Detroit makes it a contrast of the Mercury's running attack under Westhead against the inside strength and muscle of the Shock.

However, Detroit can score, also. In fact, the Shock swept the two-game cross-conference regular series, beating the Mercury 87-84, in Phoenix and several weeks later in Detroit, 111-82.

Both games were before the All-Star break and before Mercury began humming on all cyclinders. In fact, Cappie Pondexter did not play because of injuries in the first contest.

In the first game, the Shock prevailed in the fourth quarter, 23-9, a closing kick strength normally attributed to the Mercury. Detroit's Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson had 23 points, Kara Braxton scored 17, Katie Smith had 16, and Plenette Pierson had 15 points. Braxton had 12 rebounds, and Pierson collected 11, and Cheryl Ford, like Pondexter, did not play.

Phoenix got 23 points and 10 rebounds from Penny Taylor, 15 each from Diana Taurasi and Tangela Smith, and 10 from Kelly Schumacher, anothr former UConn star along with Taurasi.

Detroit had a 43-31 rebounding edge, including 14-8 on the offensive glass.

In the rematch in the Motor City suburbs, Deanna Nolan had 18 points for the Shock, Smith scored 20, Johnson had 14, while Pierson and rookie Ivory Latta out of North Carolina had 13 each.

Pierson had 14 rebounds, while Cash and Ford had 10 each. Overall, Detroit owned the boards, 55-25, including a whopping 13-4 on the offensive glass.

-- Mel

Sunday, September 02, 2007

WNBA Playoffs: Former Big East Rivals Power Phoenix to Finals

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ What a difference some time in the desert can make.

Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, who once starred for the Big East Conference’s most intense rivarly in Connecticut and Rutgers, are now best buds heading as teammates to a WNBA championship series with the Phoenix Mercury

Pondexter, the former Rutgers sensation, poured in 33 points on Saturday night, while Taurasi, the anti-Geno Auriemma personality from Connecticut, did her thing, with added help from Australia’s Penny Taylor and a solid supporting cast to slip past the San Antonio Silver Stars in another high-octane scoring close encounter to gain a sweep and capture the Western Conference.

The Eastern champion remains to be determined,which the Indiana Fever can decide Sunday by beating the defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock in the Motor City.

Of course, a sweep of the Shock seems almost unthinkable, but how many Detroit fans thought they’d be reading the front pages of their local newspaper on Sunday morning containing descriptions of the collegiate football upset of the century in Applachian State’s stunner over Michigan?

Since her high school days in Chicago, Pondexter has sported a tattoo on one arm that spoke of the future.

“No more,” Pondexter beamed Saturday night when asked if she would be adding to the collection.

Taurasi thought differently.

“She’s the present, she needs a new one or to get that changed.”

There’s also something about Taurasi and Philly guys in the coaching business.

At UConn, as a freshman, had she not suffered a horrendous shooting slump in the 2001 NCAA national seminfinals in the second half against ultimate champion Notre Dame, Taurasi, together with Norristown’s Auriemma, might have won four straight titles.

A year ago in Taurasi’s third season in the pros – she was the the No. 1 draft pick in 2004 -- former La Salle and NBA coach Paul Westhead, a graduate of St. Joseph’s, arrived with his lightning offensive schemes.

Pondexter was added as the overall No. 2 pick of last year’s draft.

It took a while for everyone to figure Westhead’s system, but by the end of the season, the Mercury won the final seven games but lost out on a playoff berth on a tie-breaker with the Houston Comets.

This season, Phoenix picked up where the Mercury bid adieu to the summer of 2006 and stormed to the No. 1 seed in the West.

If Indiana wins the East, there will actually be Rutgers and Connecticut intra-collegiate reunions.

Fever backup center Tammy Sutton-Brown was a member of the Rutgers 2000 Final Four contingent in Philadelphia. Indiana also has former Connecticut star Ann Strother, who was traded from Phoenix in the offseason.

The Mercury also have another former Huskies product in Kelly Schumacher.

This is also the first season for new Phoenix general manager Ann Meyers-Drysdale, a Hall of Famer and former UCLA star who had spent a large part of her career as a broadcast analyst of women’s games.

One of the Mercury substitutes, by the way, is former Penn State scoring ace Kelly Mazzante, who had her share of woe from Taurasi’s alma mater, but who was fortunate enough to be claimed by Phoenix off the demise of the former Charlotte Sting organization.

-- Mel