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, June 01, 2010

WNBA: Early Season Titans Clash Tuesday Night

By Mel Greenberg
(With Monday being a day of rest this season in the WNBA, it's a good day to look ahead and slightly behind to understand the next series of contests).

Back in 2003 when the former Detroit Shock met the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Sparks in Motown early in the season little did anyone realize at the time how the outcome might impact the season playoffs finale several months down the road.

The Shock, which was then under Bill Laimbeer's first full season, won that night and though the two teams split their season series with the Sparks later winning in Los Angeles, Detroit by one game had the best overall record and thus owned the home-court advantage for the finals, then a best-of-three affair.

Both teams made it out of their respective conferences and Los Angeles opened at home with a thorough thumping in a game highlighted by Laimbeer and Sparks coach Michael Cooper, who were rival NBA players back in the day.

"We feel. great," Laimbeer proclaimed after the game in front of a group of reporters who all quickly developed a startled look on their faces. "We know what we did wrong and now we'll fix it and be home the rest of the way."

Sure enough Detroit won the next two in a pair of exciting contests to claim the first of three Shock championships.

The reason for mentioning all this past history is Tuesday night the two WNBA teams with the best overall records to date (the Atlanta Dream at 6-0 and the Seattle Storm at 5-1 who are housed in separate conferences) will be meeting in the Emerald City.

The Atlanta Dream, a non-existent franchise in any form three seasons ago, is quickly becoming a nightmare for the rest of the WNBA. Seattle is always going to be considered a title contender with the likes of former UConn star Sue Bird and Australian sensation Lauren Jackson on the roster.

Quite true it is a long short way (that's life in the WNBA) until the dust settles and the favorites for the finals take sure shape by the All-Star break.

But if Tuesday night's opponents are still standing after the conference finals are completed then this could very well be the game that might decide home rights for the best-of-five battle for the WNBA trophy.

If the Dream wins, it will be more impressive because not many Eastern teams (didn't have time to check the number), if any, have ever made a three-game road swing blasting through Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle when the Western trio have been on their A-Games.

Atlanta has already turned aside the defending champion Mercury in the desert and Los Angeles. If the Dream prevail and then finish out the week beating the Chicago Sky Friday and winning a key game in Washington Saturday night against a Mystics team that will have been resting since Sunday's win over Connecticut, the PR group in the Peach Tree State may begin start working on their postseason media guide.

Looking Ahead Elsewhere This Week

Tuesday's other game has Phoenix visiting Minnesota. The world doesn't end for the Mercury with a loss but though the Lynx soon expect Candice Wiggins back in the lineup followed shortly by Seimone Augustus the home team needs to get back into the victory column after a 1-5 start that includes two blowouts in their recent encounters.

On Wednesday night the good news is there will be no significant losses for anyone basically because no games are scheduled. (A little fractured humor).

The San Antonio Silver Stars visit the Indiana Fever Thursday night in a singleton on the WNBA slate.

The Silver Stars had a big win after the arrival of Chamique Holdsclaw, who was let go by Atlanta after demanding a trade and not showing up for training camp. But San Antonio has since lost a couple. The Fever at 2-3 has a sweep of Chicago in their two early contest but nada against the rest of the league. No time to panic but in what will be a tight race to fill the playoff spots one doesn't want to to lose any "Ws" that should have been attainable.

Friday has a four-spot on the night's slate.

Chicago hosts Atlanta in a game the Sky could use to get closer to the rest of the East and make a little noise about being the first to beat the Dream. A recent win over Seattle brought the Storm down from the unbeaten column.

The New York Liberty visit Connecticut in a game in which the host Sun will be looking to recover from Sunday's loss in Washington and the Liberty trying to maintain momentum as a major improvement over 2009.

It's the first of five between these two Eastern rivals and each one will be signifcant at the end in determining playoff positioning. Although both teams could easily make postseason, obviously the wins help prevent elimination in a tight race at the finish for spots.

Minnesota at Tulsa for a second visit with the Lynx looking to repeat their opening night and only win of the season. The Shock continue to try to show they may not be a doormat for the rest of the WNBA.

Los Angeles visits Phoenix and after the Sparks thumping by Atlanta and an exciting but losing effort on opening day against the Mercury, it's a great chance to start getting some traction in the West.

On Saturday comes another intriguing four-spot.

Washington, hosting Atlanta as previously mentioned, will be looking to take advantage of f avorable June schedule that will see the Mystics leave the Verizon Center just twice for a pair of trips to Chicago. The Dream will be in a back-to-back setting having been to Chicago on Friday night.

The Liberty visits Indiana with New York coming right out of Friday night's trip to Connecticut. A road sweep could mean the women of Manhattan are ready for the long haul. Indy could use this one especially if the Fever fall earlier in the week.

Tulsa visits Chicago, which will be in the second of a back-to-back at home but might be caught napping a bit if the Sky top Atlanta on Friday night. For the Shock any win is a good win.

Seattle visits Los Angeles and forget the 2010 implications of the moment, it's always a war when these two Western Conference rivals meet. Obviously, the Sparks will be either maintaining new momentum off an earlier win in the week or looking to kick things in gear if the 1-4 has become 1-5 on Los Angeles' body of work enterting the contest.

The Sparks will be returning home on a back-to-back from Friday's visit to Phoenix. Obviously a two-nights sweep speaks for itself.

Sunday will offer a trio of games to finish out the week.

San Antonio visits Connecticut with the Sun hoping to have completed a weekend sweep by having beaten New York at home on Friday night. Otherwise, time to get back on the horse, while the Silver Stars will be looking for a nice win at Mohegan.

Indiana visits Minnesota and what occurs earlier in the week will bring this game into better focus. Both teams have gotten off to ragged starts bringing some urgency on each squad.

Phoenix visits Seattle, which returns home from its Saturday trip to Los Angeles. It's Just another great tussle among Western Conference but think of even how more the Storm could be with a perfect week or how much championship-defense shape the Mercury will be in with a similar achievement.

The College Scene

A glitch wiped out some commentary earlier in the week before posting and the Guru did not have the energy to re-enter the items.

Though this item was not on that intending posting, Connecticut reports a good pool of candidates for the media relations opening involving the two-time defending NCAA champion Huskies, who will enter the season with a 78-game win streak off a pair of perfect campaigns for the trophies.

One person not in the field though many in the media wanted her in the hunt is Caroline Williams the media relations person for the USA Basketball women's program. She also gets involved with the men's competition.

Basically, the Guru reports tongue-in-cheek with some truth, the deal-breaker was Connecticut would allow coach Geno Auriemma to be allowed several times through 2012 to be on the scene in Colorado Springs, Colo, the headquarters of USA Basketball.

That goes with the territory because Auriemma is the women's national team coach for this year's FIBA World Championship and the 2012 Olympic games in London, England.

In that regard, Williams already a partial claim as a mouthpiece for Auriemma.

Unfortunately, she is a woman who loves life in the Rocky Mountains and since Connecticut officials were adamant in not moving the Huskies from their campus home in Storrs -- Caroline you can do a lot of backpack hiking in the woods next door -- the deal won't be consumatted.

Rutgers vacancy: Meanwhile, if its spring going into early summer at Rutgers then it must mean it's time for Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer to fill a vacancy on her coaching staff.

Pisctaway, N.J., is nothing like Capistrano in Southern California, but like the birds involved with that scenic town the coaching hunt has become a tradition.

The latest open spot occurred with the announcement by the Scarlet Knights that Ronald Hughey, who arrived last season, will be joining Gail Goestenkors' staff at Texas.

No, it's got nothing to do with revenge against Rutgers for topping then No. 1 seed Duke on the NCAA regional semifinals in 2007 on the way to the championship game when Goestenkors was with the Blue Devils.

In recent years some notables who have involved with Rutgers coaching transactions were former associate head coach Jolette Law, who finally gained her own program with Illinois; Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, the former Texas star who played in the former ABL and was an execvutive in WNBA San Antonio and spent a one-year stint with Stringer; and Marianne Stanley, the Women's Hall of Famer who coached two national titles at Old Dominion and played at Immaculata. She arrived for the 2007 season with the Scarlet Knights from an assistant with the WNBA New York Liberty. Stanley then left for an assistant WNBA job with the Los Angeles Sparks before assuming a similar position this season with the WNBA Washington Mystics.

Summer Claws: Continuing the Guru's post-Inquirer social circuit, a week ago he joined Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, Owls assistant Waynetta Veney, and women's basketball administrative assistant Jowanna Gardner for dinner at a well-known crab restaurant in Philadelphia's Old City section downtown.

It was all-you-can eat night.

The Guru was proud to work his way through the pile without wearing a bib but still avoiding any damage to his attire.

Gardner went the garlic crab route, reporting them to be quite tasty.

Veney is a native of the Eastern Shore along the Chesapeake Bay so she held her own as the favorite to take advantage on the Monday night special.

Cardoza, who declared to coming dressed down and dirty to do serious business -- she's a native of Massachusetts near Boston and former star at Virginia -- showed she can dine through injuries.

Despite taking a shell to her eye halfway through the meal and suffering a slightly cut finger Cardoza was able to still easily handle the tray in the same manner her former associates at UConn handled her Owls in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

And before signing off, in speaking of Temple, congratulations to Al Shrier, sports information director emeritus, who will receive the Arch Ward plaque from the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) at the organization's convention next month in San Francisco.

It is not known at this time whether Shrier will fly -- something he is often reluctant to do -- or head a covered wagon (SUV) caravan departing for the West from the Liacouras Center.

Incidentally, the Guru many years ago was one of Shrier's workers back in the days of using a mimeograph to publish athletic department releases.

The Guru would stuff the envelopes that were then mailed to various media outlets.

After Temple, the Guru got hired at The Inquirer and one of his early jobs was opening similar envelopes from Shrier and removing the releases that the Guru had stuffed in his previous job.

Until next time and hopefully this all saves for posting.

-- Mel


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If you saw the smile that went ear to ear on my last week-long backpacking trip ... you'd definitely understand!

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