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.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

WNBA: Charles Stars As Sun Eclipse Dream

By Mel Greenberg

The University of Connecticut's season has been completed for over a month but in the world of the WNBA that has a large dose of Huskies DNA in the summer pro women's league the UConn accent remains large.

And so the new fun story for a while at least will be how long can graduating senior Tina Charles keep her own personal win streak alive.

On Tuesday morning, the answer for the moment was one more than the collegiate team she is departing for a rookie life with the Connecticut Sun, which made Charles the overall No. 1 pick of the WNBA draft less than 48 hours after the Huskies reached win streak No. 78 with a second straight NCAA title.

Connecticut, the WNBA brand, fell quickly behind 11-0 to the Atlanta Dream before Charles helped the Sun rally to an 86-79 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Charles, the native of Brooklyn, finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. The other two rookies -- former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin (11 points) and former LSU star Allison Hightower (10 points) -- also got off to a promising start that might be an indication of an exciting summer ahead for a Sun team that didn't reach the playoffs for the first time since moving here in 2003 following an earlier life as the Orlando Miracle.

Three prominent veteran newcomers to the Sun also saw action in Kara Lawson, who starred at Tennessee and played in the Olympics before signing as a free agent folllowing the collapse of the former Sacramento Monarchs; Renee Montgomery , the second year pro and former UConn star who was part of the blockbuster deal that enabled the Sun to land the rights to the No. 1 pick and Charles from Minnesota; and former Sacramento and University star DeMaya Walker, who will add physicality to Connecticut's frontal attack.

Atlanta second-year pro Angel McCoughtry, the former Louisville star, had 19 points, while the Dream got 10 each from Armintie Price, Shalee Lehning, and Brittainey Raven.

Both teams were missing players still finishing up their winter seasons overseas, a fact Sun coach Mike Thibault alluded to in discussing Charles' performasnce.

"She did a nice job, that's a lot of production in 27 minutes," Thibault said. "The one thing I caution everybody about, them included, those were (Atlanta) just players trying to make their team.

"It's good, but she is going to be playing against All-Stars every night. That's still to come. But it's a good confidence builder."

Charles was not awed going into her unofficial rookie debut.

She said she was more intimidated as a freshman playing for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who will guide the national team through the London Olympics -- a squad that might include Charles.

Furthermore, the consensus national player of the year this past season already has some experience at this level after working with the national team last fall and again last month at a training session last month in Hartford and on campus in Storrs.

"This time I'm more comfortable playing with Coach T," Charles said. "The training camp where I was able to see if I can hang with WNBA players definitely boosted my confidence going into the season at UConn."

Montgomery was glad to be reunited with Charles, her former Huskies teammate with whom the two helped topped McCoughtry's Louisville tesm a year ago in the NCAA title game in St. Louis.

"All of have to learn each other," said Montgomery, who is one of the new floor leaders after the major trade sent all-star Lindsay Whalen back to her hometown with the Minnesota Lynx.

"Me and Tina, we're always going to have that, so that was easy," Montgomery said with a smile.

Guru Impressions: The Guru, along with the rest of the media, were surprised to find the arena somewhat stuffy in warmth upon arriving well before the 11 a.m. tipoff.

Though the press here has had time to make the adjustment to new faces, it still felt a little odd to walk onto the floor during the pre-game media availability and not get the usual automatic greeting from Whalen as she always made in the past.

The Sun dressing room has a new winter ambience with the walls painted in red brick motiff.

Had the bricks been real, it could be labelled the locker room that Debbie Black built, a reference to the uncanny shot by the former St. Joseph's and Archbishop Wood star out of Philadelphia who is now an assistant to her former Hawks coach Jim Foster at Ohio State.

Black, who retired from the WNBA several years ago, is actively seeking a head coaching position in the college ranks.

On one play Lawson and Charles combined for a score causing the Guru to muse that he'd bet no one thought that might ever happen -- UConn and Tennessee DNA combining on plays. Heck, Lawson, who used to get booed by the UConn faithful, now gives her cheers, a fact the Guru noted to Duke and former Tennessee assistant Al Brown, who does preseason evaluations for the Sun.

In the off season, Lawson does studio commentary on women's college games on ESPN.

That caused the Guru to note to her after Tuesday's game, that the camera will be after her all summer so they can sell the sound bites to ESPN, which is located an hour away in Bristol.

Apparently news gets around fast up here, even if it seems to be misinterpreted.

The most common question the Guru heard not related to anything involving Tuesday's action came from Sun executives, reporters and several fans was "I thought you retired."

Again, people: Only the 40-plus years at The Inquirer has ended. Next stop Wednesday morning in the nation's capital for a preseason game involving the Washington Mystics.

-- Mel


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