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, September 27, 2010

Guru Musings: Lieberman Ready to Hit The Books

By Mel Greenberg

Nancy Lieberman, a pioneer and still a contemporary of sorts in the modern history of women's basketball, is about to rack up a few more achievements for the books.

In one instance, the former All-American and two-time national player of the year at Old Dominion who led the Lady Monarchs to titles in 1979 and 1980, has authored another publication: Playbook for Success, which is a guide for professional women in the boardroom using principles Leiberman has applied in her storied career that includes playing and coaching stints in the WNBA.

Lieberman's first business book is scheduled for release Oct. 18 and more information can be found at her website Nancylieberman.com.

NBA All-Timer Earvin "Magic" Johnson has written a forward, considered appropriate because when Lieberman played for ODU she was nicknamed "Lady Magic" in comparison to him.

Secondly, in early November the native New Yorker out of Queens, who also does broadcast work for ESPN-TV, will be strolling the sidelines as the first female coach in either the NBA or NBA's D League, beginning a stint with the Texas Legends.

Lieberman, who will be making some tour stops next month to promote the new book, was named coach on November 5 almost a year ago.

"This is really going to be big as we get closer to the date," Lieberman said about her new coaching assignment.

"We've already heard from Oprah (Winfrey)," she added in a recent interview several weeks ago. That conversation was prior to the news of Carol Blazejowski, a contemporary playing rival of Lieberman, who was let go by MSG Sports from her 14-year run as general manager of the WNBA New York Liberty.

"I believe some day a woman is going to coach in the NBA," Lieberman said. "I may not be the one who is the first to do it but this will certainly be a start in that direction for it to happen."

Lieberman, who was a senior at Old Dominion in 1979-80 when sister Hall of Famer Anne Donovan became a freshman, was the high school sensation of her time. At age 18 she became the youngest Olympian in 1976 when women's basketball made its debut at the Montreal Games. The USA won a silver medal behind the Soviet Union, which was virtually invincible prior to the ascendancy of the United States in the 1980s.

Two years earlier Lieberman, who ventured in her youth to play against boys on the rough and tumble courts of Harlem, was also on USA squads competing in the FIBA World Championship and Pan American Games.

Years later after the Harlem competition, she played on male teams in the pros, competing for the Springfield Fame (1986) in Massachusetts and Long Island Knights (1987) in the United States Basketball League. Lieberman also toured with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Many thought she was headed for nearby Queens as her collegiate career loomed on the horizon but instead of staying close to home, Lieberman was recruited by Pam Parsons at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va.

Parsons was gone a year later, replaced by Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star who debuted on the collegiate sidelines as a head coach and guided the squad that also included Danish center Inge Nissen to two titles.

Stanley is currently an assistant with the Washington Mystics.

Although Lieberman had already achieved Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame status in Springfield, Mass.(1996), she came out of retirement when the WNBA launched, playing for the Phoenix Mercury then coached by another Hall of Famer: Cheryl Miller.

She was 39, a WNBA playing record that held until July 2008. That's when at the age of 50 the former Detroit Shock signed her for a one night stand against the former Houston Comets because of suspensions and player injuries.

Liberman also became coach-general manager of the Shock when it joined the league several coaches before Bill Laimbeer took over and quickly went on to lead Detroit to three WNBA titles prior to his return to the NBA as an assistant in Minnesota.

"I did everything then but I know if I was ever in that situation again I would let someone else do all the business end of it," Lieberman said a year ago prior to her hire by the D League team.

Some observers think because of Lieberman's WNBA background and her local name recognition in the New York metro area, she would be worth a look by MSG executives for something in the Liberty organization.

But again, that conversation was before anyone knew Blazejowski would be gone from the Liberty. Lieberman has not been reachable during the same period in which the book publication date and D League season nears.

Maybe the question will come up during the book tour unless MSG executives have already filled or are bout to fill both vacancies, including the one left by Donovan as coach in the wake of her departure for Seton Hall.

Another UConn Success Story

The rich history of UConn achivement with seven NCAA titles is showing itself at the moment with six former Huskies stars and coach Geno Auriemma on the USA squad competing in the FIBA World Championships. But the glory even extends beyond the players.

Basketball managers who have spent time doing the heavy behind-the-scenes lifting during UConn's title runs to glory have gained notoriety in a positive sense.

Tom Tedesco served time heading basketball operations in the WNBA focusing on referees and game-day situations while Stacey Nasser was recently elevated from graduate assisant to head of basketball operations under former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza at Temple.

The latest achievement belongs to Abby Gordon, a former UConn manager who has in recent seasons served as travel coordinator and equipment manager for the WNBA Connecticut Sun, located at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment complex in Uncasville.

Gordon recently took a leap forward in her hire as assistant coach under Phil Stern at University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMBC).

Son of A Sun

Speaking of the WNBA team in Connecticut with apologies to singer Jimmy Buffett for stealing a partial title from one of his many songs, Eric Thibault, the son of Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, was recently hired as a graduate assistant to Kim Barnes-Arico at St. John's.

Mystics Taylor A High-Tech GM

This blog, by the way, is originating in a hotel-condo room within a few beach steps of the Atlantic Ocean from Ocean City, Md., where the Guru is spending a few days through Wednesday morning.

First, an aside to Violetta Yas, a Rutgers graduate who used to cover Scarlet Knights sports, including women's basketball, for Sports Pages Magazine alongside the Guru on press row.

Yas is now doing fine broadcast work these days for the Weather Channel in State College, Pa.

The Guru thanks her for varying degrees of sunshine that have made its way through the rain clouds the last few days. Now, please get rid of them all together or no free dinner for you when the Guru heads up to Penn State for a preseason look in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Guru, because of a slowdown in news, was going to do some Ipad talk on experiences to date since the purchase in June.

On the other hand, when one spends time at Stanford in Silicon Valley in Northern California they eventually get into the tech world ahead of others as gadgets come down the line.

Such is the case of WNBA Washington Mystics general manager Angela Taylor, who admitted to the Guru that watching him trot his device onto press row around the Verizon Center during the season motivated her to purchase one for herself.

Although the Guru forgot the link (google will get you there), Taylor's recent blog about her experiences discusses her life in technological terms similar to the Guru, who had the earliest Sony walkman when it came on the market.

Taylor, who can be found cheering for the Boise State football team these days,
is so technological advanced that during a trip in the late season to Uncasville for a Mystics-Sun game after his arrival in the middle of the night, in trying to offer an invitation for some pre-game lobster offsite, he couldn't figure out whether to message the GM through twitter, facebook, or just text.

He chose texting, but as it turned out -- bad choice that day. Taylor had put her phone aside during the morning shootaround and didn't glance at the text until way later as opposed to the other forms of communication.

In other behind-the-scenes Guru news, he also has as much of his winter composite as can be done -- 100 percent of what is available and 80 percent of the eventual finished project, which is pretty good for it being only the last week in September.

This year's annual preseason database work will be even closer to completion once Drexel and St. Joseph's decide game times, especially at home, leaving only a few missing elements here and there among the Guru's selections.

With additional time available this winter, ahem, obtained in April, the Guru will probably work on an adjacent DII and DIII composite.

Baring breaking news and consuming too many hardshell crabs here on Tuesday, the Guru will listm off the composite, the days when followers of the Big 5, Drexel, Delaware, Penn State and Rutgers, may have to make choices selecting which way to head on dates in which several attractive matchups appear to conflict with each other.

In some cases time starts might permit two games to attend the same day.

That said -- the Surf continues to be up and poinding its way a feet from here.

-- Mel

Thursday, September 23, 2010

WNBA: NY Liberty on Auto Pilot For Now

By Mel Greenberg

For better or worse in the 14-year history of the WNBA the New York Liberty has had the added pressure of being the anchor franchise whose success or failure also reflected on the overall perception of the women's pro league.

That has come with the territory of being housed in the nation's largest media market.

Game day ambience could look fantastic in places like Seattle where the Storm just won their second WNBA title or at the Mohegan Sun Arena near New London where women's basketball in the state of Connecticut is a religion.

But judgements from the casual fan or skeptical media types who don't follow the WNBA have been based on visits to Madison Square Garden, the home of the Liberty.

In the early years in the late 1990s and into the front part of the last decade New York held its end of the deal in terms of individuals outside the regular fan base.

Game after game celebrities in Manhattan for performances in Broadway plays, rock concerts or visits to network television shows could be seen in front row seats on any given night.

NBA stars, especially from the brother New York Knicks, have also been in the spectator spotlight in the Garden.

Heck, one year during halftime the entire place became extras for a movie scene starring Denzel Washington as a coach of a New York City high school team.

All the New York papers also had regular beat writers, including the Times, thus breeding familarity with the team when providing season-long coverage.

If this scene wasn't repeated in a lesser market, who really knew.

"That's right," one WNBA coach said early this season about a budget cut that had been taken by a team. "If you are going to mess up, do it in a place that no one knows about. But don't do it where everybody can see you."

Since the real glory days, though not the total fault of the Liberty, media coverage in New York has dropped because of the state of the print industry across the country. Many regulars who cover the beat have been the first victims of layoffs and budgets cuts as editors determined what sports would still receive consistent coverage.

When the season started, because of the acquisition of former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter and the presence of former stars of the nearby Scarlet Knights, the Liberty was under pressure to do well -- in part because however the Garden seemed to the outsider, the individual would in turn apply it to their perception of the WNBA as a whole.

New York met the test, though it took a great drive after the All-Star game to get the job done.

The Guru has noted the backdrop above as reference in light of MSG Sports' announcement Monday implying the firing of longtime general manager and basketball legend Carol Blazejowski. The move is also coupled with the coaching vacancy caused by Anne Donovan's departure to Seton Hall.

Back in the home office of the WNBA, the league is gingerly backing off from the events of this week, at least publicly, not wanting to be involved with internal matters of the Liberty though officials will be helpful with the job searches if asked.

But right now the Liberty team page directory on the internet is devoid of listings for general manager, coach and assistants.

In short, while the crew of players who helped keep the franchise running on the court are still in place, the cockpit is missing the pilots.

It's immediately after the season so it is a normal time when everyone takes a quick break.

But very soon agents need to know who they are dealing with in New York. Plans have to be made to scout colleges for the next draft.

And in light of the Liberty moving to Newark, N.J., across the Hudson River for the next three summers, a new profile needs to be built in terms of marketing sooner rather than later.

MSG officials must quickly decide what executive model will work best -- in part also so potential candidates can see whether its worth the effort to pursue the vacancies.

In private talks Wednesday with team officials around the WNBA who requested anonymity so they can discuss situations freely faced with the Liberty, most agree that two indivduals need to be hired in any event because of the market the team is located.

By the way, WNBA opponents next summer will be landing at Newark Liberty Airport to play the New York Liberty.

Blazejowski had total control and final say over all aspects including the presentations that featured the Liberty Torch Patrol dance team.

Incidentally, New York also needs a media liason because Casey Sherman departed just before the playoffs. As of now Amy Scheer, vice president of marketing and communication, is the lone direct media contact, although MSG may want their own media staff handling inquires over the hires.

Looking at some other models around the league Seattle coach Brian Agler handles the team and also personnel matters -- thus having the major say in the draft as well as trades. Another person handles the business side of things.

When Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve was with the Detroit Shock in its final season in 2009 before the franchise moved to Tulsa, she was an assistant coach and general manager primarily dealing with player personnel matters.

In Washington Angela Taylor handles personnel matters as general manager of the Mystics and in consultation with coach Julie Plank. Greg Bibb, as chief operating officer, handles the fan and other business-related operations.

During games in Washington, both Taylor and Bibb can be seen spending as much time dealing with the fan base as observing the team.

Meanwhile reaction continued Wednesday, mostly in private, in the wake of Blazxejowski's exit.

Some believe MSG wouldn't mind parting ways with the Liberty. During the season there was some chatter in the media room from from writers familiar with the New Jersey scene who have suggested the NHL Devils management woudn't mind having a WNBA team of their own.

So in some ways if any of this is true the next three summers will be an audition that could result in those events coming to pass.

Although the Liberty won't be back in the Garden, women's basketball will still have a place in the famed arena in the winter.

UConn, Ohio State, Rutgers and Texas A&M will play in the annual Maggie Dixon Classic in December while UConn will meet St. John's in a Big East matchup at 9:30 p.m. several weeks later.

-- Mel

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WNBA: Liberty GM Exit No Blaze Of Glory

(Guru's note: Unrelated to the following post, but since many of you are coming through her for the, ahem, news of the day, the Guru would like to request you use his main email to correspond to him at "poll@att.net" (without the quotes) rather than the gmail account associated with this site. It just makes things easier in replies and connects off the laptop and iPad as well as the blackberry until it is seen how and for whom the collegiate season will be handled. He hasn't missed any correspondence but it's helpful to make connects to register for media days, etc.)

By Mel Greenberg

A day after basketball legend Carol Blazejowski was apparently let go after a 14-year stay as the New York Liberty's only general manager -- she also held the presidential title -- a mix of surprise and some support for the former Montclair State star dominated the WNBA conversation.

"I'm stunned, just stunned," said one team executive requesting anonymity but who has had many dealings over the years with Blazejowski.

"Could you see NBA people in Miami just walking into Pat Riley's office and saying, `OK. That's it. You're out.'"

Monday's announcement in the form of a press release from Scott O'Neil, president of MSG Sports, was terse and did not contain any quotes from Blazejowski upon her exit.

Speculation continued in private as to which way O'Neil will go considering that a coach to replace Anne Donovan, now at Seton Hall, is also needed.

Giving more credence to the manner of Blazejowski's departure, the nature of the Liberty announcement has resulted in the WNBA oval office declining to make any comment, though commissioner Donna Orender and the former Liberty GM were basketball rivals in the late 1970s when Orender played for Queens College.

"It might be a money issue and I think if it is you definitely could see a combination GM-coach title from New York," the team executive said. "They just got rid of two big salaries with Blaze and Donovan gone so they can give someone a combination title and do it at a much cheaper rate.

"Frankly, if this had come at the end of last season when they didn't do so well, well, it's tough, but that is the nature of the business. But to do it now after the run they had is just shocking."

Boris Lelchitski, the agent for former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, who fueled the Liberty renaissance after coming from Phoenix, questioned MSG's move.

"You have to look at the league -- there are not many people out there with the foundation Blazejowski had. She knew the basketball side, she knew the business side. Until you see what they are going to do in New York, you don't know if this action could cause them to slide backwards."

It could be that MSG wanted to make the move quickly and might already have an idea of who will come aboard considering that Oct. 5 Liberty fans buying tickets for 2011 will get to view their future seats at the Prudential Center across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J.

The arena is going to serve as a temporary home for the Liberty the next three summers while Madison Square Garden undergoes extensive renovations.

It is not known if another basketball legend out of the metro area is interested in the GM job or both but Nancy Lieberman, the former Old Dominion star out of the Far Rockaways in the 1970s already has held a combination GM-Coach title early in the existence of the former Detroit Shock.

Lieberman is about to make history this winter as a woman coaching a men's team in the D League, so she may not be available if the parent organization of the NBA New York Knicks approaches her.

Besides the possibility of Atlanta Dream assistant Carol Ross taking the coaching job, other names are being speculated.

For example, if O'Neil wants to stay in the Liberty family he might go to Sue Wicks, another former Rutgers star who has recently been an assistant at St. Francis, N.Y.

Wicks, a native of Long Island, also brings her Jersey background to the mix, considering that the move to Newark, though short in geographical terms, will probably mean some kind of trade off within the fan base.

Crystal Robinson, another ex-Liberty player, also has coaching experience.

One name that could loom large is Washington Mystics assistant Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star who still has a year left on her contract.

When the Liberty were getting organized in 1997, Blazejowski wanted to hire Stanley, who had guided Old Dominion to three national titles coaching such stars and Lieberman and Donovan.

She also recruited Lisa Leslie to Southern Cal but later left in controversy involving a salary dispute.

Stanley then helped take Stanford to a Final Four in 1996 when Tara VanDerveer was on leave to coach the U.S. Olympic team.

Following that stint the Women's Basketball Hall of Famer became the head coach at Cal-Berkeley and didn't think it was appropriate to leave the school after a year when Blazejowski sought her for the job.

Stanley later became an assistant with the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks and then was head coach in her first tour of duty in Washington. She eventually landed in New York as an assistant to former coach Patty Coyle.

But prior to the 2007 season Stanley joined Rutgers as an aide to C. Vivian Stringer and helped guide the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA title game.

After a second season Stanley returned to Los Angeles and then this past season she was back in Washington helping Julie Plank during the Mystics' most successful run.

In New York there would be a reunion of sorts with the heavy Rutgers alumni flavor in center Kia Vaughn, Pondexter, and guard Essence Carson.

Stanley has done wonders with post players such as Vaughn. During this past season, which saw former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne make the All-WNBA second five, the native of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphis praised Stanley, saying, "She has been a big help in my development.

Added veteran Washington center Chasity Melvin, "You just have to respect her knowledge of the game."

Blazejowski, in a recent conversation, did not seem that was she ready go back in Stanley's direction but it's a new scene now in New York off the dual vacancies.

Another intriguing name could emerge -- former Liberty longtime All-Star Teresa Weatherspoon, who helped revive Louisiana Tech, her alma mater and guided the Techsters to an NCAA tournament berth last season.

But unless a lot of money is offered, Weatherspoon might be reluctant to leave after her first full season and a previous half of one when she was promoted midway through 2008-09.

The double vacancy also causes the dilemma for MSG suits if they don't hire an individual for a combination title. With a dual search under way will they make the coaching hire or quickly name a GM and then let the GM finish the coaching search.

Stay tuned.

Media Dis-Connect

One reason many did not know of Blazejowski's ouster after the announcement is it appears that the Associated Press wire service has yet to run any story, though editors in New York may have relegated the news to transactions.

Our colleague Vin Cherwoo, who normally handles WNBA national coverage out of New York, is on the diabled list with an eye problem, while Doug Feinberg, the AP's women's national collegiate writer is in the Czech Republic covering USA Basketball's bid for a gold medal in the FIBA World Championships.

On Tuesday, former Temple star Candice Dupree of the Phoenix Mercury made the group of 12 who will compete along with six former UConn players who are reuniting with their college coach Geno Auriemma.

Geno's slick half-dozen, not to be confused with his culinary offerings at the Mohegan Sun casino near New London, Conn., consist of Sue Bird and Swin Cash fresh off the newly-crowned WNBA champion Seattle Storm, Asjha Jones and rookie-of-the year Tina Charles of the Connecticut Sun, UConn senior Maya Moore and the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi.

Renee Montgomery, a seventh ex-Husky, was cut several days ago. Former Connecticut Sun all-star guard Lindsay Whalen, now with the Minnesota Lynx, made the team but Sun guard Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee star, was among the last two cuts along with Minnesota's Seimone Augustus who played at LSU.

Another former LSU star, Sylvia Fowles of the Chicago Sky, was picked as was veteran international star Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever who was an all-American at Tennessee.

San Antonio Silver Stars rookie Jayne Appel of NCAA runnersup Stanford was picked as the committee sought to load up on post players, potentially costing Lawson her spot. Angel McCoughtry, the former Louisville star who is a second year pro with the WNBA runnerup Atlanta Dream, also made the squad.

Her Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors is one of Auriemma's assistants as is DePaul coach Doug Bruno and Los Angeles Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom.

-- Mel

Monday, September 20, 2010

WNBA: Blazejowski's Exit From NY Liberty A Mystery

By Mel Greenberg

The New York Liberty announced Monday the departure of longtime president and general manager Carol Blazejowski in a manner suggesting her exit may not have been something on her mind across several sunrises in the previous 48 hours.

Blazejowski, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who turns 54 on Sept. 29, could not be reached for comment.

The Liberty announcement did not say whether or not Blazejowski had resigned but one source with ties to the organization said she was told her contract was not going to be renewed but was not offered a reason.

"I had no idea at all that was going to happen," said former Liberty coach Anne Donovan, who guided New York to a turnaround season and first-place tie in the East before departing to become the new coach of the Seton Hall women.

Washington Mystics general manager Angela Taylor, who had been visiting on the West Coast, was stunned to learn the news which she received in a series of text messages after getting off the plane on her return home.

"The last time our teams played each other we congratulated each other on our successful seasons and talked a little about the challenges ahead in 2011," said Taylor, whose Mystics tied the Liberty at 22-12. Both franchises set season records for wins.

A source familiar with the New York coaching search said in the last few days Blazejowski was making inquiries to agents about potential candidates to fill the vacancy, another indication she had not been considering departing the organization.

"I was in shock when I heard the news," Katherine Goodman, co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks, said Monday night. "I got a note from (general manager) Penny Toler, `Do you know about this?' I don't think she knew either."

The nature of the press release from the Liberty was rather terse considering Blazejowski's legacy as a Hall of Famer and prolific scoring sensation at Montclair State in the late 1970s.

The New York Liberty announced today that Carol Blazejowski, the team’s President and General Manager, is leaving the team.

“Carol has been an integral part of the Liberty from the very beginning,” said Scott O’Neil, President of MSG Sports, in a release. “We thank her for her many years of passion, commitment and dedication to the team and the entire WNBA.

"Carol is a true professional and a class act and there is no doubt that she has more success ahead of her. We wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”

The team said the search for a new president and general manager would begin immediately. Blazejowski joined the Liberty in January of 1997.

The releaase also noted Donovan's departure, an announcement she made prior to the start of the WNBA season. She was allowed to coach New York before moving to South Orange, N.J. After a slow start she molded a group of predominately new additions, including former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, into a playoff participant which lost to the Atlanta Dream 2-0 in the Eastern finals.

After mentioning Donovan, the release then profiled Blazejowski's background.

Blazejowski’s playing career included All American honors in 1976, 1977 and 1978 at Montclair State. She began her professional career at Adidas where she worked for 10 years before moving to the NBA where she served as Director of Licensing, Director of Women’s Basketball Programs and finally as the WNBA’s Director of Basketball Development.

According to one owner, who requested anonymity, it's possible that MSG executives may have been talking to coaching candidates on their own and could have someone lined up who wanted to have both titles, including general manager.

John Whisenant, who had both titles with the former Sacramento Monarchs, could be a potential candidate. His name also has been speculated for the coaching vacancy with the Chicago Sky.

One source indicated Monday night that former LSU coach Pokey Chatman may be the frontrunner for Chicago, which has her former Tigers star Sylvia Fowles.

Atlanta Dream assistant Carol Ross, a former Florida and Mississippi (her alma mater) coach, could be one of the leading candidates for New York, the source said.

Besides replacing Donovan, the team for the next three summers will have to deal with attracting a fan base to the Prudential Center across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., which will be a temporary home while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.

Some speculation on the internet suggested the Liberty may not return to Manhattan if things go well, a move that Blazejowski would be extremely against.

"It will be nice but it's still not the Garden, there's just a special magic and energy here," she said recently before the first game at home against Atlanta.

Depending what direction New York takes, the ambience will certainly be different than the past 14 seasons dating back to when Blazejowski moved from the NBA headquarters to assume the Liberty job when the league launched in 1997.

Val Ackerman, who moved from NBA Commissioner David Stern's legal aide to become the first WNBA commissioner, had mixed feelings at the time of Blazejowski's hire because of her value in the league's home office.

"I said to them, `What are you doing to us,'" Ackerman related back then. "But then I thought, `It will be ok because she'll be perfect for New York.'"

Blazejowski is a contemporary of WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender, who was a rival at Queens College, notably in a game in which Blazejowski set the MSG scoring record for both men and women at 52 points in a game in 1978.

Orender had said she held Blazejowski to 14 in the first half and then was switched off to defend someone else.

O'Neil, the president of MSG sports, could fill both vacancies with one person or he might hand some of the business and marketing operations to someone and then leave player personnel and coaching matters to Donovan's replacement.

But it might be wise to have two persons, considering the tough New York-New Jersey metro market.

"Scott O'Neil had been around the NBA and WNBA forever," Goodman of the Sparks said. "He can get someone in a minute to handle the marketing side of things.

"I think we're all (WNBA teams) going to be curious as to what they do."

One person who could become a general managerial candidate is Linda Bruno, the former commissioner of the Atlantic 10 who has also worked at Iona College and the Big East.

She called the Liberty's business aspect "interesting," but said she would have to get more information as to what MSG management desires.

Fordham women's coach Cathy Andruzzi has a long history of success in the business world, notably as the executive director of the host committee that set an NCAA record for fund raising when the Women's Final Four was held in Philadelphia in 2000.

Over the years there have always been whispers of discord between Liberty coaches and Blazejowski when it came to making draft picks, which more often than not failed to yield returns.

The fan base became outraged last year when New York acquired former Tennessee player Sidney Spencer from Los Angeles for the 2010 first-round draft pick, which the Sparks then dealt to Minnesota.

The uproar occurred when the choice became the overall No. 1 pick, which Minnesota dealt to the Connecticut Sun, which then grabbed former UConn star Tina Charles, the New York native who became the 2010 rookie of the year.

In fairness, though, at the time of the deal New York had come off a close elimination by Detroit in the playoffs and no one expected at the time the Liberty would become so dismal the rest of the summer.

Furthermore, one still has to credit the squad Blazejowski assembled this season in which she was able to help trigger the mega three-team deal that landed Pondexter from Phoenix while Chicago's Candice Dupree, a former Temple star, moved to Arizona. The Sky got Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld from New York.

Blazejowski also signed free agent veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin to provide some leadership and picked up former Stanford star Nicole Powell, a three-point shooting ace, off the dispersal draft of the Sacramento roster when the team was extinguished last winter.

Former Connecticut star Kalana Greene was acquired at the top of the second round of the draft in April, while Plenette Pierson, a former Detroit Shock, was acquired early in the season from the franchise which relocated this season to Tulsa, Okla.

Besides Pondexter, the team has a previous dash of Rutgers flavor in recent draft picks Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn.

Blazejowski's coaching hires have had a history of warm welcomes and less than pleasant departures.

Her first hire was Nancy Darsch, the former Ohio State coach who is now an assistant with the WNBA champion Seattle Storm. She was let go two years later when the Liberty just missed making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.

The basketball legend then set what became a trend, dipping into the ranks of former NBA coaches and hired Richie Adubato. He was let go before the midpoint of the 2004 season when the Liberty went on a losing streak.

Patty Coyle, a former Rutgers star and graduate of Philadelphia's West Catholic High, was elevated from her assistant job and held the job until early in the 2009 season when another losing streak caused her WNBA demise.

Donovan, the coach of the 2008 Olympic gold medalists who had been hired as an assistant, was then promoted.

One could argue over Blazejowski's methods and temperament, but still credit her lifelong passion as a fierce competitor.

"Growing up (in Bergen, N.J.), women's basketball in New Jersey and Blazejowski were synonymous," said Donovan, who played at Bergen Catholic. "She was the dominant star out there."

The Mystics' Taylor, a former Stanford star who was with USA Basketball as an official during the famed gold medal run in 1996 at the Atlanta Games, recalled her first awareness of Blazejowski.

"In 1995-96, she was one of the NBA people who were always around," Taylor recalled. "And then she became part of the WNBA with the Liberty and there's no question her role helped the growth of the league to become successful."

New York's early teams were built on defense, a trademark that more or less for better or worse stayed as the Liberty identity over the years.

The first team consisted of former Rutgers star Sue Wicks, Kym Hampton, and former Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo on the inside, while two former Louisiana Tech stars -- Teresa Weatherspoon and Vickie Johnson became fan favorites in the backcourt. Former Maryland star Jasmina Perazic, who now teaches in Washington, was also on that squad.

Several years later the Liberty picked up another defensive backcourt ace with perimeter shooting ability in Crystal Robinson, who had been one of the top players in the former American Basketball League.

The Liberty also signed what is perhaps one of two all-time walk-ons in the WNBA, Becky Hammon, who became an All-Star guard out of Colorado State and now plays for the San Antonio Silver Stars.

The other was Kim Perrott, who played for the Houston Comets the first two seasons before she succumbed to cancer.

The Liberty under Blazejowski has undergone a revolving door in terms of team media representatives though other teams in the WNBA have had their share of changes also in public relations positions.

Blazejowski had final say over practically all aspects of the New York operation including Maddie, the shaggy and lovable mascot dog.

On game day she took a seat about a third way up the stands across from the Liberty bench and besides evaluating the peformance of the players, such entities as the time-out fan promotions and routines of the Liberty Torch Patrol dance team also came under her scrutiny.

Blazejowski's departure leaves two persons from the original Liberty organization. Melissa Abbe, a graduate of George Washington who worked with Blazejowski in the NBA, is director of marketing and ticket sales promotion.

Lisa White, a graduate of Stony Brook on Long Island, is head athletic trainer and also director of basketball operations.

-- Mel

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bing-Oh!: S-2, S-10, S-15, S-20, S-30 = Seattle WNBA Sweep

(Guru's Note: Ok, had to do a little resting here in Atlanta and then supplement, but try not to duplicate much of WNBA Finals coverage. Also, a collegiate post is under this one.)

By Mel Greenberg

When the WNBA Seattle Storm decided to get a sponsorship for their jerseys, Microsoft's Bing, the computer giant's search engine, became an approriate choice.

All season long, whatever the questions, coach Brian Agler's squad continuously came up with answers.

As a result, Seattle held off a late Atlanta Dream rally here Thursday night to gain another slim win, this time 87-84, in the Philips Arena to complete a 3-0 sweep and win the Storm's second WNBA title.

The team that was the best all year long -- 28-6 in the regular season -- was absolutely perfect in the postseason, going 7-0 in the conference semifinals and finals and then finishing the job completing a perfect 20-0 record at home since May before coming here to claim the title.

That said, Atlanta (19-14) may have been the fourth seed out of the rugged Eastern Conference, but the Dream proved in this series that as tightly contested as the summer race was on the right side of the Mississippi River, Atlanta, in its third year of existence, was probably the best of the bunch.

"If you sit still and are satisfied with what we did this year, chances are you won't be back here again," general-manager coach Marynell Meadors said after the game with an eye to the future.

Indiana All-Star Tamika Catchings thought she and her teammates did exactly that and said as much after last year's Eastern titlists, who on the road had taken the Phoenix Mercury to the final minutes in Game 5, were eliminated several weeks ago by the revitalized New York Liberty in the Eastern semis.

Former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 rookie of the year, had 35 points for Atlanta against the Storm and now she and Meadors will head overseas to join USA coach Geno Auriemma, also UConn's head coach, for the World Championships which begin next week in the Czech Republic.

Erika DeSouza had 10 points and 14 rebounds, while Iziane Castro Marques had 21 points for the Dream. Coco Miller, a former Georgia star, had 15 points and her twin sister Kelly scored six for Atlanta's only points off the Dream bench.

Seattle's Sue Bird and Swin Cash are heading overseas to join their former college coach, while Lauren Jackson will be going to shore up the chief threat to USA, which is the Australian team that got revenge in Spain in another exhibition game after losing in Hartford, Conn., last weekend.

"It's going to be tough playing against Sue, but we've done it for the last 10 years, we can do it again," Jackson said with a sigh in her voice.

While McCoughtry had the big individual game and nearly tied the score at the finish, the balanced Seattle attack with help off the bench was telling.

All five starters were in double figures and, if you haven't guessed it, are represented in the headline of this post by their uniform numbers leading to the other Bingo skill of a perfect lineup to win titles.

Cash (#2), who won a pair of titles in Detroit to go with some NCAA crowns and an Olympic gold medal, had a team high 15 points and hit some critical three-pointers to fuel a Storm rally in the third quarter.

Jackson (#15) and former North Carolina star Camille Little (#20) had 15 points each, while former Penn State star Tanisha Wright (#30) had 13 points and Bird (#10) had 14 points.

Additionally, former Auburn star Le'coe Willingham had seven points off the bench.

Willingham, originally signed with the Connecticut Sun, actually has a personal back-to-back in titles, having signed last season as a free agent with Phoenix and then again in 2010 with Seattle.

"Technically, that's right(about back-to-back), but that's what moves my decisions," Willingham said of her free agency contracts. "I want to win championships. I really believe in this team and thought what we did tonight could happen when I signed here."

Atlanta was 6-0 and getting early season hype when the Dream first visited Seattle at the beginning of June in a game the Storm won decisively to go 6-1 and then throw the throttle down against the rest of the league.

"That was definitely a time when our team came together and got stronger," Willingham said. "We all got in (from winter ball overseas) a little bit late and it took a little time for the new people to get used to each other. But after that game we picked up a lot of confidence and everybody worked hard and stayed calm and we never got ahead off ourselves.

"We worked hard, got here and took care of business."

Seattle, then coached by Anne Donovan, won a title in 2004, beating the Connecticut Sun at the Storm's Key Arena in a decisive Game 3 in the Northwest.

Bird and Jackson, who won her third regular season MVP title this season to go with the playoffs WNBA vote, were on that team but since then had to suffer first-round playoff exists in every season since until 2010.

"I judge myself as a player based on winning," said Bird, the 2002 overall No. 1 draft pick who won titles at Christ the King in New York City before experiencing NCAA success at UConn. "That's how I judge myself, and to not win in five years really, really hurt.

"So to be sitting here now and with the playoff disappointment and the ownership change, everything that's gone on, coaching change, player change, to sit here right now, I can't even describe it. And I know this is going to last a full year, so that's the best part. I don't have to think about this until next May."

Moving Upscale

The Seattle organization celebration in a private room in the Westin Hotel here late Thursday night into the wee hours of Friday morning was a little more upscale than the first time Storm coach Brian Agler got to enjoy a celebration of winning a women's pro championship.

Back in the late winter of 1996-97 he guided the Columbus Quest to the first championship of the former American Basketball League -- the Quest repeated the following season -- and afterwards the festivities took place in a fly-by-night motel in the suburbs near Ohio State's campus.

"This is calm," Agler smiled Thursday. "That group was much wilder than this one."

That night Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson refused to let go of the trophy, clutching it wherever she went, including .. well, you know.

"You have to understand, this is the first thing I've ever won," said Johnson, who played at South Carolina.

Andrea Lloyd Curry, a former Texas star who eventually became inducted into the same class as the Guru in 2007 at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., made sure no one suffered from thirst.

One big difference -- Thursday night here it was time to celebrate success without regard to anything else. This organization, including its recent new ownership which saved the team in 2008, didn't have to worry about anyone knowing what it accomplished.

Back in Columbus, a hush came over the little motel room each time ESPN's SportsCenter came on the TV set as the contingent awaited to see if their win over the Richmond Rage, which had Dawn Staley, was going to be mentioned. There was a loud cheer each time it was.

"There's a lot of similarities we had this year with this team and some of those Columbus Quest teams because of the mental toughness," Agler, who once coached the UMKC women, said.

"Their ability to play together, the leadership, and veteran players who step up."

That Quest team also had Nikki McCray, a former Tennessee star, the first year before the Olympian jumped to the WNBA, and Val Still, a native of South Jersey who starred at Kentucky.

Washington Mystics All-Star veteran Katie Smith, also an Olympic gold medalist who led Ohio State to the NCAA title game in 1993, was on that team.

"We have a couple of players on this team who are probably the best talents in the world, but some of the other players, the Tanishas, the Swins, and Camille, and Le'coe, they have that blue collar mental toughness and were sensational."

Incidentally, Karen Bryant, who serves as chief executive officer in Seattle played a general manager's role for the Seattle Reign in the ABL.


Of course, it was helpful for the Storm to have a sizeable dose of UConn DNA in Cash, Bird, and Svetlana Abrosimova, the Russian native who had played in Minnesota, but was out of action last year.

"One thing I've always found out about the players from Connecticut, the ones I've coached and even the ones from Tennessee," Agler said. "They have high regard for their college coaches, they have a lot of pride in their program, they know what it's like to work hard and they take a lot of pride in their defense.

"They understand they have to defend to win championship."

Bird talked about playing for Agler.

"Brian, his style of coaching, he went and got players who would compliment him and I have so much trust in Brian -- the way he emphasizes defense -- that was our identity, that was what won us every game this year, and the way he runs our offense, he just knew how to get our team clicking on all cylinders.

"He knew what to say, when to say it, at all times. I don't think I ever played for a coach who was so good at drawing up late-second game plays," said Bird, who had a buzzer-beater to eliminate Phoenix in Game 2 of the Western finals and another one in the opening game of the WNBA championship finals.

"He's the real deal and that's why he's coach of the year."

The moment was special for Abrosimova, who helped win several games during the regular season to help keep Seattle's won-loss record one of the best in the history of the league.

"I've won a lot of titles in Europe but in the States I won only one NCAA title," she said. "It took over nine years. And you know hard it gets. Every year it's difficult. Just to get it, it sums up that it's worth everything," she said.

"You know, I'm the only Russian who ever won a professional title (in the U.S.) -- my mom just told me that -- and I'm so excited because I was representing my family, college and everything and I'm just happy to play with Sue and Swin again and do it together.

"I took a summer off to re-evaluate certain things, take a break -- you never know, you do want to come back and win a championship, but I'm telling you, it's hard, there are so many great players who never won and you get with this team and they're so good, the starting lineup is amazing -- mature players, smart, it just worked out."

Cash, who had her struggles and injuries in recent years, was seen emotionally overcome during the trophy presentation.

"Everything just started coming back," Cash said of her thoughts on the stand. "The injuries, the things I've been blessed to be back on the stage again. The feeling is just unbelievable.

"It wasn't about just me. It was about my family and everyone who helped me get to this point."

Mighty Macs' Nemesis

At the hotel party the Guru was introduced to Dawn Trudeau and Ginny Gilder, two of the four women who helped keep the team in Seattle, purchasing it when the parent NBA Seattle Sonics left for Oklahoma to become the Thunder.

He also chatted with Lauren Jackson's mother -- Maree -- who believe it or not the Guru covered as a player when she and sister Australian Julie Groz played for the LSU team in 1977 that upset Immaculata in the semifinals of the former Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) tournament.

"I still here from Julie," Mrs. Jackson said.

That season was also the first for what became the Associated Press women's poll.

Within days of the championship, won by Delta State, Mighty Macs coach Cathy Rush announced her resignation noting the impact Title IX and athletics scholarships would have against the lesser available financial resources at the small, catholic, women's school (it is now co-ed).

Rush supported the Title IX legislation and knew it was going to be great for women's athletics but at the same time she knew of the adverse effect it would have at the school located in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.

Darsch Gets A Title

"Guess I finally got one," Seattle assistant coach Nancy Darsch smiled at a table during the hotel reception when approached by the Guru.

Darsch was the first coach of the New York Liberty in the WNBA and guided the team to the first WNBA title game, losing to the Houston Comets in the Lone Star State in 1997.

She later coached the Washington Mystics and has been a WNBA assistant elsewhere, as well as at the collegiate level.

Darsch was also a longtime head coach at Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes to the 1993 NCAA title game won by Texas Tech when Sheryl Swoopes rewrote the NCAA Finals record book for individual scoring.

To advance to the title game, Texas Tech beat Vanderbilt, coached then by Jim Foster whose Commdores were ranked No. 1 during the season.

Darsch's team in overtime beat Big 10 rival Iowa, then coached by C. Vivian Stringer, who is at Rutgers. Ironically, Foster is now at Ohio State and has also coached at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, his hometown area.

The Seattle front office also includes former Virginia star Jenny Boucek, director of player development and scouting, who was an assistant on the Storm's 2004 titlists and later was the head coach of the former Sacramento Monarchs.

Boucek said she received a note of congratulations from her Cavaliers college coach Debbie Ryan soon after the game ended.

Asked if she might pursue the vacant Chicago Sky or New York Liberty vacant coaching positions, of which she would be an outstanding candidate at either franchise, Boucek said she was going to do some vacation travel around for now, visiting Florida and, perhaps, Tennessee.

Missy Bequette, director of basketball operations, is a longtime veteran and was an assistant to the Indiana Fever's Lin Dunn when Dunn was coaching the Portland Power, challenging Agler's Columbus team back in the ABL era.

Seattle's Place in History

Several Storm front office types asked the Guru if this Seattle team might be the best of all time in WNBA history.

The Guru went conservative, initially, saying the next few years had to pass to offer perspective and, who knows, in that time, perhaps the Storm might get a little dynasty going to add to their case.

That Houston Comets team in 1998 was pretty good, also, although clearly now we are in a different era.

But again this team might be there right now as definitely one of the greatest considering that three of its starting players -- Jackson (Olympic medals and two WNBA titles), Bird (NCAA titles, WNBA titles, Olympic Gold), and Cash (NCAA titles, WNBA titles, Olympic Gold Medals) right now all have the resumes to become Hall of Famers, definitely in Knoxville at the Women's Hall and potentially in Springfield, Mass., at the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Of course, off that Houston team, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke just got inducted into Naismith, while Swoopes, the former Texas Tech star, and Los Angeles Sparks veteran Tina Thompson are also of the same mold.

And who knows? Considering the three titles he coached, somewhere in all that there might be a place for Agler also.

-- Mel


Georgia Tech Eyes UConn and Moore

(Guru's note: Commentary from here on the WNBA finals can be found on post above this one, which is college specific. Guru needed a long rest -- one reason for not booking a flight out until Saturday AM).

By Mel Greenberg

In a perfect day of juxtapositon, hours before the Seattle Storm finished a three-game sweep to a WNBA championship here over the Atlanta Dream to conclude the 14th summer of professional competition, the Georgia Tech women were already in early season intensity well in advance of another collegiate winter.

The Guru was in a bit of surprise when Yellow Jackets coach MaChelle Joseph, whom he covered in her days at Purdue, sent a text upon his arrival to stop on by for Georgia Tech's first full practice.

Wait a minute, the Guru thought. I know it's not yet time for midnight madness so how can this be.

Well, as Theresa Wentzel, the Georgia Tech senior women's administrator, explained at the arena, a rules change from the NCAA that the Guru both missed and not seen discussed anywhere at any point in time now allows a certain number of full drills over a period of time leading up to the October festivities.

So feel free to add another nickname to the vernacular -- perhaps September Start Day unless any of you have something better, which you might.

But to continue, perhaps heading for some more good times ahead, Joseph was not tolerating any laid back demeanors on Day One.

And with good reason.

As the Guru watched some different players shifting around on defense as is done with scout teams, he later asked Joseph, "Which of those were playing the role of Maya Moore?"

Joseph, who is about to be inducted into the Purdue Hall of Fame, just grinned at the observation.

The Yellow Jackets, who gave the two-time defending NCAA champions a workout in their last meeting on UConn's court, won't be overlooking much in targeting the Huskies' visit here on November 21.

The game will also be the official homecoming for UConn senior Maya Moore, likely to be the overall No. 1 pick in next spring's WNBA draft.

Georgia Tech has four games prior to the UConn game, the most testing, perhaps, is a tilt with Old Dominion.

And if anyone thinks that's it in the early going for the Atlantic Coast Conference school, a week later down in the Caribbean the Yellow Jackets also will be meeting Tennessee at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands on Nov. 26.

So when the big monents get closer, if anyone here in what is also SEC country in the Peach Tree State starts hearing a lot of UConn-Tennessee talk in town, it won't be about resumption of the famed national women's rivary that ended in 2007.

No, it will be about looking to something that will be equally historic if Georgia Tech can pull wins in both confrontations.

Guess Who's In Line To Spoil The Streak?

Actually, he was already in line but thanks to Big East officials now Jim Foster's position has put the Ohio State coach to potentially become even more of a villain this winter when the Buckeyes meet Connecticut in the Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19.

The Big East on Friday released its women's conference slate and in a new move inserted two games into the December calendar. The consequence is a change of the projection of when coach Geno Auriemma's squad could tie and break the famed UCLA streak of 88 achieved by the Bruins' men's streak under the legendary John Wooden, the Hall of Famer who died earlier this year.

UConn's conference opener will be Dec. 2 at South Florida and the Huskies will host Marquette on Dec. 9th on campus at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

Prior to the Big East element, counting what was solely nonconference competition, Game No. 88 in the UConn streak would have been Dec. 28 at Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

Had the tie been achieved, two days later the attempt to set the new mark for combined Division I basketball genders would have been attempted at Stanford, which nearly ruined the Huskies' second straight unbeaten title in the NCAA championship game in April in San Antonio, Texas.

Now if the record gets tied, the potential victim to yield what would be the new mark of 89 is Florida State, which visits UConn at the XL Center in Hartford on Dec. 21. That's also the first official day of winter on the calendar, creating the longest night of the year, which would be even longer in Connecticut if the Seminoles were to become the streak stopper.

But this is not to say that any of this will even come into play.

Prior to the potential historic moments, UConn will hit a few speed bunps in a visit from Baylor on Nov. 16th in the XL Center, the trip to Georgia Tech, and a visit from LSU on Nov. 28th.

For those who do not know, though the Guru began writing this without seeing what the coverage is among the media horde in Connecticut, Foster, in his days coaching St. Joseph's in the late 1970s, hired Auriemma as an assistant for a brief period.

Auriemma later took a job as an aide to Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan at Virginia, which became the launching point for his hire as head women's coach at UConn.

The two longtime friends have not played each other much over the years because of their relationship.

But they have met infrequently and one time in an NCAA tournament Connecticut beat Vanderbilt, which Foster then coached, in Chicago to advance to a Final Four.

Last spring, Auriemma noted to the Guru in a conversation in Knoxville, Tenn., during the induction weekend that a push should be made to get Foster inducted.

Back in the day someone in the coaching ranks referred to Foster as "Dr. Naismith" after a game involving strategic moves on both sides in the closing minutes.

But if Connecticut does prevail with the new mark in the changed lineup of opponents the Guru can hear Harry (not Kalas) now: Geno just topped Wooden and Naismith.

-- Mel

Monday, September 13, 2010

A-10 Rivals of Past Meet In USA-Spain Game

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. --
There was a bit of a reunion of two past individual rivals from the Atlantic 10 Conference women's wars Sunday afternoon in the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Championship Finalists squad's 85-69 win over Spain's national team at the XL Center.

Former Temple star Candice Dupree, a 6-foot-2 All-Star forward who plays for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, entered the game in the final period -- she didn't arrive here until Saturday because of the WNBA playoffs -- and scored all 10 of her points, shooting 4-for-4 from the field.

Former George Washington forward Anna Montanana, a 2005 graduate, was a rose to the Spanish Hartford contingent in the crowd, scoring a game-high 21 points and hitting 5-of-7 three pointers.

Dupree, who graduated a year after Montanana, was the key factor in Temple's unseating of the Colonials as the A-10 rulers when the Owls won three straight conference titles from 2004-06.

Montanana played for a brief period with the Minnesota Lynx this season while Dupree originally was with the Chicago Sky when the then-expansion team made her the sixth overall pick in 2006.

Dupree was part of the three-team deal in the offseason that had her dealt to Phoenix while former Rutgers stars Cappie Pondexter landed, by request, with the New York Liberty, helping them to a tie for first with the Washington Mystics in the East and advancement to the conference finals against the Atlanta Dream.

Montana may have been an unknown to most of the non-Spanish fans in the stands but USA coach Geno Auriemma, also the coach of the two-time defending and twice unbeaten NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies, said she was a known commodity to his squad.

"One thing about our players, they know who every player is," he said.

Auriemma could not remember if she was still on GW when UConn played the Colonials several years ago.

"One thing I do know, she can shoot it. They never shoot it as well in college as they do in the pros," he added. "That's one thing that separates everybody. She shoots it like a pro. When it leaves her hand, she knows it's going in. I'm always amazed when you leave someone open they don't miss. In college, they might miss."

Auriemma also had compliments for Dupree, who had her best season to date this past summer.

"You throw the ball to Candice Dupree around the basket, she's going to score," he said. "There's a comfort level in that. It's not really a (WNBA) All-Star team but it is a collection of the best players."

Montanana talked a little about her development and also about Dupree's game now as opposed to their collegiate rivarly when Father Judge graduate Joe McKeown, now at Northwestern, was coaching her at GW while Dawn Staley, now at South Carolina, was developing Dupree at Temple.

"That was a long time ago," Montanana laughed about her days in the nation's capital. "When you start playing professional, now I like passing the ball and now I work harder than in college.

"You can see when (Dupree) was at Temple she was going to be a great player. Her game is better now and she's more mature."

Dupree also had a smile in discussing their encounter during the game.

"GW was always a rival," Dupree said. "I've seen her when she was with Minnesota and obviously she knocked down a few tonight.

"We get along. She complimented me on one of my moves today. It's all love."

Dupree is a Phoenix teammate of former UConn star Diana Taurasi, who was the 2009 MVP in the WNBA prior to the Mercury winning their second title in three seasons.

They were eliminated 2-0 by the Seattle Storm in the Western finals when Taurasi's former UConn teammate Sue Bird hit a three-pointer to break a tie with 2.8 seconds left in the game.

On Sunday Bird was a little quicker, hitting a shot inside with 2.6 seconds left to give Seattle the opening win in the Northwestern against Atlanta in the best-of-five finals. Game 2 is Tuesday night.

Taurasi got a little playful at first talking about what Dupree brought to Phoenix before giving her serious praise.

"She sucks. She sucks," Taurasi said first with her playful grin.

"She's great. She's one of the most talented players I've been around in a long time. She's so smooth. Great hands. Finishes with both hands. she has a great touch," Taurasi added.

"Once she got used to the second part of the season, she was putting up unbelievable numbers. I think she led the league in shooting percentage. She just got unbelievable touches."

During the preseason in discussing the trade Phoenix coach Corey Gaines, who succeeded former La Salle coach Paul Westhead, said Westhead's high-powered scoring system was actually designed more for a player with abilities such as Dupree.

"I knew my role was going to change," Dupree said about the switch from Chicago. "Corey told me when I got to Phoenix I would be getting up and down the court a lot more.

"That's exactly what I did. I was getting a lot of easy baskets in transition. The pace was a lot faster."

It's not a lock that Dupree will be on the USA squad when the roster is finalized for the FIBA World Championships this month in the Czech Republic but Sunday's performance had to help.

"Yesterday (Saturday) was my first practice, it was only about an hour long," the native of Orlando explained. "I'm still trying to get adjusted to the new systems that coach Auriemma is putting in which is why I probably didn't play until later on in the game.

"I'm just trying to do what I can when I get in and I felt I did pretty well today.

"I think he is harder on his own players more than us," Dupree said with a grin, "but he is one of the best coaches in the world.

"He's still the same cocky guy but we all love him. We're professionals and we're suppose to do things without him saying it. And we all do that on our own."

Former UConn star Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 pick of the Connecticut Sun and WNBA rookie of the year, had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Americans.

Kara Lawson, who also plays for the Sun, had 11 points, connecting on 3-of-4 three point attempts. Asjha Jones, another former UConn star who is on the Sun, had 10 points ans did UConn senior Maya Moore, the only collegian on the squad.

Charles may have to play more of a role if former LSU star Sylvia Fowles can't play in the worlds because of a leg injury.

"Doing that in the WNBA and doing that here, that might be a little different than having to do it over there (in Europe)," Auriemma said of Charles. "I hope Sylvia is 100 percent so we can find that out gradually. But if she's not, we're going to have to find that out quickly.

"And I'm ok with that. I'm ok with going with Tina and having to count on her a lot I'm ok. I'm worried that if there's foul problems and if there's some injury or sickness where do we go from there.

"If Sylvia is going to be 100 percent, I'm going to be the happiest guy in the world," Auriemma said. "If not, I'm going to be ok with Tina. If something happens to Tina, I'm not going to be ok that much longer."

The USA heads to Spain for more exhibitions this week before moving on to the main competition.

The squad lost the World Championships in 2006 when such stars as former WNBA great Lisa Leslie couldn't play and had to go the long qualifying root to earn a place in the Olympics for the 2008 Games in Beijing, China, where the USA won its fourth straight gold medal.

This time around Fowles' situation in terms of activation won't be known for a while yet and the team is also missing former Tennessee star Candice Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks because of shoulder and leg surgery.

Still missing are Bird and former UConn star Swin Cash, who are playing in the finals for Seattle while former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 rookie of the year, is playing for Atlanta.

Addtionally, Spain is awaiting Sancho Lyttle who also is with Atlanta.

Former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn, who plays for the New York Liberty and is a recent addition to the core group, is not here because of a leg injury. There's no word whether the selection committee might add former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of the Washington Mystics, a finalist for league MVP and a native of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia.

Atlanta Hurt By One Bird Too Many

The Dream apparently were able to deal with Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street entourage when a schedule switch enabled them to play Game 3 in the Phillips Arena, their regular home in downtown Atlanta when the finals move South Thursday.

A potential Game 4 would still be at the Gwinnett Center 30 miles away in Duluth on Sunday.

Sue Bird, as mentioned above, was impossible to overcome in Sunday's opener in Seattle.

The native of New York canned a shot with 2.6 seconds left, 0.2 seconds faster then her game winner over Phoenix in the West finals, as Seattle edged Atlanta 79-77 in Sunday's opener in the Pacific Northwest.

The Storm had the league's best record at 28-6 and swept the Dream, fourh seed in the East (19-15), in both regular season meetings.

Game 2 is Tuesday night on ESPN2.

Seattle is now 20-0 at home this season in Key Arena and has had two straight narrow victories. Australian sensation Lauren Jackson, the new WNBA MVP, had 20 points for the Storm. Former UNC star Camille Little had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

McCoughtry, who was in foul trouble, had 19 points for Atlanta. Lyttle had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

The victory will enable USA coach Auriemma to maintain peace and love among his former UConn stars on Seattle -- Bird, Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova, who is from Russia.

Anxious for the finals to end quickly to get the other missing players to report, Auriemma told the Associated Press here jesting that whoever wins the first game he would root for that team to sweep at 3-0 even though an Atlanta win in Game won would come at the expense of his former stars.

Now he can root for both Seattle and his ex-Huskies.

While Sylvia's Away From the Windy City

Fowles had no idea the Chicago Sky was going to let go coach Steven Key after the team finished last in the East this season, which, if nothing else has them, in the hunt for the No. 1 lottery pick, likely to be UConn's Moore.

It was also news to DePaul coach Doug Bruno, an assistant here to Auriemma on the USA staff.

"No, I didn't know it was coming, it was a surprising decision that they made," Fowles said here. "You just have to press forward and look forward to whoever is coming in for the future."

Fowles also went through coaching changes at LSU when Pokey Chatman resigned and Hall of Famer Van Chancellor took over the Tigers.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

One missing person not yet discussed in this report is the Liberty's Cappie Pondexter, a native of Chicago who is a budding fashion designer and spending this week in Manhattan at Fashion Week.

Auriemma also said that Pondexter had some injury problems and was not likely to be on the team when it competes in the world championship.

He did not elablorate but during the weekend it was easy to get a sense that while they cannot do anything to make Pondexter appear, there is some concern over the consequences Pondexter's absence could cause if the USA squad has to go the long route again.

But in another vein earlier at the postgame press conference without any reference to Pondexter, Auriemma noted that he had told his USA team Sunday morning:

"This is a three year program. There have been some people not on the World Championship team who played in the Olympics and some who played in the World Championship but did not make the Olympic team.

"This is not just for now. It's a three-year program."

Auriemma also said he is looking forward to play in Spain this week.

"It's one of the countries I've never been but wanted to go. Of course, there are some countries that I've never been that I don't want to go.

-- Mel

Saturday, September 11, 2010

USA Basketball Women Serve a Buffet of Talent

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. --
Though some delights have yet to make it to the display trays on the USA Basketball World Championship Team Finalists, the talents appearing Friday night in an 89-56 exhibition wipeout of Australia were a plentiful feast for the eyes of the crowd here at the XL Center.

The international socialities in advance of the real games later this month in the Czech Republic continue the rest of the weekend with the Aussies meeting Spain at the University of Hartford Saturday afternoon before the USA group meets Spain Sunday afternoon back in the XL Center.

UConn nation lives in this building much of the collegiate winter season so the American lineup was nothing untasted in the past.

On the Australian side, however, a previous unknown commodity impressed in 19-year-old Elizabeth Cambage, a 6-foot-8 center from Bulleen Boomers who scored 18 points.

"She kind of came out of nowhere," said USA coach Geno Auriemma, also the UConn coach of the two-time defending NCAA champion Huskies who have put together back-to-back unbeaten seasons.

He noted that Cambage had come a long way since a private scrimmage won by Australia a month ago during WNBA All-Star weekend down the road at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment complex. Auriemma expressed concern at the thought of how much better she might be in a few weeks overseas and two years from now when the Olympic Games are held in London.

Expect to see Cambage become a high selection when the WNBA draft is held in April.

Because of the WNBA season and the domination of the roster by the American professionals -- UConn senior Maya Moore is the only collegian -- Auriemma only had five days to put together a concotion that would be a hit to his staff as well as the crowd.

Auriemma said for the things his players were able to practice, he was pleased with their performance and added he had told them not to worry about things the team has yet handle.

Moore, likely the No. 1 WNBA pick in the spring, had a team-high 16 points for USA, while WNBA Connecticut Sun guard Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee star, scored 15 points, hitting 3-of-4 three-point attempts along the way.

Olympic veteran Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever scored 12 points while the WNBA defensive player of the year also who starred at Tennessee in college had three steals and three blocked shots.

Lawson was with Auriemma in the postgame press conference and got some ribbing from him over the former UConn-Tennessee rivalry when he said he was not hard to play for but he had some rules like limiting the number of "(Southeastern Conference) players on the floor at the same time."

Moore could also be seen making a slight smirk when Auriemma was comparing the way he coaches the USA squad with the way he handles his collegians.

Former UConn sensation Diana Taurasi, fresh off the former defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury's elimination by the Seattle Storm in the Western Conference finals, took advantage of her knowledge of the local countryside to get to the arena and play a few minutes Friday night.

"The itinerary said I was supposed to land around 6 p.m.-6:30 p.m. but we arrived at 5:30 and I thought, `I can make the game.' We also got here pretty quick from the airport," she said with a grin.

USA officials had a uniform ready for her in case she was able to get to the XL Center by the 7:30 p.m. listed tipoff.

Taurasi, the WNBA MVP in 2009, got into the game late in the third quarter drawing a huge ovation.

When asked if that was the longest Taurasi had ever sat on Auriemma's bench, he responded that she wanted to play.

"But I wasn't going to let her get in the game ahead of these guys."

One of them is former Stanford star Jayne Appel, a 6-4 center now with WNBA San Antonio who played here against UConn last December in a game in which the Cardinal challenged the Huskies in the first half, holding a brief lead.

Several months later a foot injury rendered Appel ineffective when Connecticut rallied in the title game against Stanford in San Antonio, Texas.

But Friday she had become a home girl here and drew praise from Auriemma for her work defending Cambage grabbing eight rebounds and making one steal.

"She was just what we needed tonight," he said.

To a certain extent the matchup with Australia, the key threat to the USA recapturing the world title they lost in 2006, was like an early spring training game in baseball.

Australia missed superstar Lauren Jackson who is with the Seattle Storm that will open at home Sunday in the best-of-five WNBA championship series against the third-year Atlanta Dream.

Former UConn stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird are also on the Storm, precluding an appearance here. Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, fresh off the New York Liberty's elimination by Atlanta, has yet to arrive, while Phoenix's Candice Dupree, a former Temple star was expected to be here Saturday.

Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry is also a key absentee because of the finals.

Australia's Penny Taylor, who has had a series of injuries and plays for Phoenix, was due in also perhaps in time for Saturday's game against Spain.

Coach Carrie Graff, a former Phoenix coach, was not sure of Taylor's condition but said "we may have her taped like a mummy" for the game against Spain.

Discussing her joy being on the squad, Catchings noted that common misery has been a great unifier in getting the USA group out of the mindset from the WNBA season and quickly into the pursuit of a gold medal in the Czech Republic.

Just over a week ago Catchings, whose Indiana team nearly won the WNBA 2009 title against Phoenix, stood at the podium in New York after being eliminated by the Liberty. She had an edge in her voice as she chided herself and her Fever teammates over the lack of intensity they had at times defending their Eastern title.

Asked if quickly joining the USA group was therapeutic, Catching said it was.

"We're all here because we didn't advance in the playoffs," Catchings said. "So we all have something in common now.

"And we have those players on Seattle and Atlanta and some are going to come here happy and some are going to be down. At least for me having a couple days break and then getting back in it, like I said, playing with such great players always helps."

-- Mel

Friday, September 10, 2010

Drexel Dragons Have Bear of a Schedule

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The Guru arrived in the outskirts of Hartford in another famous middle of the night ride making it two straight traffic-free trips to the Nutmeg State where he will be on the scene this weekend for two USA Basketball national team exhibition games at the XL Center, home of the Big East Women's Tournament and second home for UConn.

So a slice of the USA Team loaded with ex-Huskies and one active Husky in senior Maya Moore along with UConn coach Geno Auriema should feel right at home for the Friday night matchup with Australia and Sunday afternoon encounter with Spain.

But in this post the Guru will temporary leave the world of international competition and WNBA prowess to engage in some college talk, especially involving the locals back in the Philadelphia area.

Drexel's women's schedule arrived by email Friday and two years removed from a Colonial Athletic Association title and NCAA appearance and a year after an WNIT appeaerance, someone forgot to tell coach Denise Dillon that Gabriella Marginean, the all-time women's collegiate scorer in the Philadelphia area, has graduated after a stellar career.

How else the explain an ambitious but more than somewhat killer schedule in which Drexel may end up with as many Big Five wins as the actual Big Five champion even though Temple is missing from an otherwise complete list of crosstown confrontations.

By Nov. 26 Drexel could be 4-0 against City Series competitors or four and out.

One thing the Dragons will have -- wins or no -- will be an impressive RPI in which like the Scholastic Aptitude Test, Drexel should get credit just for presenting starting lineups to the scorer's table prior to the opening tip.

The games for Drexel begin to count on Nov. 16 when the Dragons visit La Salle and new coach Jeff Williams. That same night, nationally, Baylor will be playing UConn, which will be seeking to win its first 11 games and thus break the all-time win streak Division I record of 88 by the famed UCLA men's team under the late Hall of Famer John Wooden.

Then its home at the Daskalakis Athletic Center for a visit from nearby neighbor Penn and second-year coach Mike McLoughlin on Nov. 19.

Next up St. Joseph's, targeting its best season in a while, visits on Nov. 23. Hawks junior Katie Kuester, the daughter of NBA Detroit Pistons coach John Kuester was the top player in the Dept. of Recreation Women's Summer League, sanctioned by the NCAA. Kuester went up against past and present Dragons star on the way to a summer title.

On Nov. 26 Dillon's former Villanova coach Harry Perretta will leave the stands for his first sidelines appearance at the DAC and second against Dillon, one of his former Wildcats stars.

In past years Perretta was a frequent spectator at Drexel games, allowable by the NCAA because the two schools did not schedule each other till last year.

On Dec. 2 Tulsa -- not the WNBA Shock -- visits for a first-time matchup.

Then Drexel will take a trip on Dec. 4 to play at ACC power Virginia, which will be playing its first season since the graduation of Monica Wright, the overall No. 2 pick of the WNBA draft.

Seton Hall visits on Dec. 12 where Anne Donovan, whose brief 1.5 seasons coaching the WNBA New York Liberty ended Tuesday in Atlanta, will be in her first year with the Pirates.

It will be a homecoming of sorts because Donovan coached the former Philadelphia Rage in the bankruptcy-shortened third season of the American Basketball League.

On Dec. 17, Drexel will make a short trip to Princeton, which blitzed the Ivy League last season and drew votes in the weekly Associated Press women's poll.

Then on Dec. 21, the nonconference rivalry with Penn State will continue with a visit to Happy Valley. This should be the best squad in the four-year era of coach Coquesne Washington, who is in the running for landing several prized recruits including No. 1-ranked Elizabeth Williams out of Virginia.

Dec. 28 brings the start of holiday fun and beach with a visit to San Diego State's tournament, opening with, gulp, Texas A&M, a recent Final Four contender.

The full Drsgons schedule is posted at the school's website but the rest of the way is against CAA rivals.

Highlights include a Jan. 9 visit from Delaware, which will be one of All-America candidate Elena Delle Donne's matchups against Big Five schools. The Blue Hens will also feature, assuming she's eligible at that moment, Sarah Acker, a transfer who was Big Five rookie of the year at St. Joseph's several seasons ago before playing just one game the following season due to an injury.

The return game at Delaware is on Feb. 6. Drexel swept both regular season games in the closing minutes and then lost in a similar fashion to the Blue Hens in the CAA tournament.

On Jan. 13, Drexel visits CAA champion James Madison and All-America candidate Dawn Evans. The Dukes visit the DAC on Jan. 27.

The home and home series with Hofstra has a visit from the Pride listed on Jan. 23 and a trip to Long Island on Feb. 10. Henderson High graduate Shante Evans was one of the top rookies in the CAA last season.

Former longtime CAA champion Old Dominion closes out the conference schedule and Drexel's regular season on March 2.

Gardler Joins St. Joseph's Staff

Katie (Curry) Gardler, a Hawk and Big Five Hall of Famer, will return to her alma mater and reunite formally with coach Cindy Griffin who was a teammate on Hawk Hill replacing Ellen (Shields) Fitzpatrick, a former Hawk, as director of operations.

Gardler had worked with the women's boosters and several youth groups associated with the Hawks. She was the Atlantic 10 MVP her senior season in 1993.

She also has a tie to UConn's coach Geno Auriemma because she is married to Chris Gardler, the son of Buddy Gardler who coached Auriemma in the Catholic League.

That's it for now. Will be on the scene tweeting (twitter.com/womhoopsguru) and blogging from Friday night's USA Game.

And before being chided by the Guru's alma mater, yes, former Temple star Candice Dupree of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury is in the USA pool for selection to play in the FIBA World Championships later this month in the Czech Republic.

-- Mel

Thursday, September 09, 2010

WNBA: Atlanta's Meadors Like Woody Allen's "Zelig"

By Mel Greenberg

In a pre-game chat with Atlanta Dream coach Marynell Meadors on the sidelines in New York before Sunday night's WNBA Eastern Conference finals opener in Madison Square Garden with the New York Liberty, the Guru noted to her, "You can be the `Zelig' if women's basketball.

"Yeah, I guess I've seen it all," Meadors laughed while turning to tell Dream owner Kathy Betty how far back she and the Guru go in time.

For you youngsters who never saw the Woody Allen movie set in the 1930s, the lead character Leonard Zelig played by Allen was sort of a human chameleon and keeps turning up in different settings alongside such famous people as author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In that sense, though to go any further in the comparison would be a literary stretch, Meadors has seen it all but now is a headliner herself after guiding the three-year old Atlanta franchise into the WNBA finals against the Seattle Storm.

The best-of-five series will open Sunday night in Seattle and stay there through Tuesday before moving to Atlanta for Thursday's game at the Gwinnett Center in suburban Duluth.

Throughout most of the modern era of the women's collegiate game dating to the early 1970s Meadors appears at many significant points in time and she likewise continued throughout the WNBA's 14-year history beginning as one of the league's charter coaches in 1997.

But hold that thought a moment -- the Guru needs to keep you around a bit in this post so his blog report will contain longer visits to impress potential advertisers with an eye toward the collegiate season.

Anyhow, a glance at the database of the 34-year Associated Press women's poll history requires a long leap down the chart to find Meadors tied with three others at No. 120 with 21 ranking appearances at Tennessee Tech and Florida State.

But as at this particular point in time in the WNBA, Meadors, who was one of the Guru's original voters, was at the top of her game when she was issued an invitation to join the first group of 34 voting coaches for the 1976-77 season.

The poll was then a Top 20 listing and Meadors' Tennessee Tech squad was in the first-ever poll at No. 4 and finished 10 weeks later -- no one played over the Christmas holidays -- at No. 6.

Her 1990-91 Florida State squad made four appearances.

Incidentally, soon after the Guru became acquainted with Meadors that initial 1976-77 season she brought her Golden Eagles squad to Philadelphia to play in a tournament at St. Joseph's, but hosted by an independent sponsor.

The Hawks won, though, as some things never change, neutral observers might question the officiating that night on Hawk Hill as the Guru recalls.

Anyhow at Tennessee Tech, where she coached for 20 years at the campus located near Nashville, Meadors became the first women's coach at that time to win 350 games at the same institution and her squad won several titles in the Ohio Valley and former Metro conferences.

Her 1991 Florida State squad also won a Metro Conference title.

When the WNBA came along Meadors became the first coach of the Charlotte Sting, which is now defunct, and guided the squad to the first two WNBA playoffs which were then a Final (and initial) Four format in a one-and-done setting.

As is the arrangement with Atlanta, Meadors was also the general manager and among players she drafted until leaving in 2000 were Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley, who had played in the former American Basketball League.

She then hooked on as a scout with the former Miami Sol, which had St. Joseph's graduate Debbie Black on the roster at the time.

Following the demise of the Sol, Meadors returned to the collegiate game spending two seasons as an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh.

She then moved back into the pro game with the Washington Mystics as an assistant to former coaches Richie Adubato and Tree Rollins before the Dream was created and she was named head coach for the 2008 season.

As listed in a previous post, the Guru has already covered how Meadors built the Dream, suffering through a four-win inaugural season but that became a blessing when the dismal record resulted in gaining the No. 1 pick for 2009. She selected Angel McCoughtry out of Louisville, which was the NCAA runnersup to Big East rival UConn.

A year ago Atlanta in its second season crashed into the playoffs for a short two-game dance with the former Detroit Shock, but that second-best-ever WNBA turnaround earned her coach of the year accolades.

Now Meadors has taken the Dream into the WNBA finals and she is also on the USA Basketball women's national team staff as an assistant with DePaul's Doug Bruno and the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks' Jennifer Gillom under UConn's Geno Auriemma.

A month ago during one of the Dream's visits to the Connecticut Sun, the local media approached Meadors for several interviews about working with Auriemma.

"I think I'm his new PR person," Meadors joked.

Now without her players doing all the talking on the court, Meadors can claim to be her own PR person as well.

The Rest of the Dream Staff

Meadors' staff on the Dream also have long ties to the Guru.

Carol Ross was a longtime coach at Florida and also later at Mississippi, her alma mater, and is tied with Iowa State's Bill Fennelly at 37th with 114 poll appearances.

Besides her playing years for Van Chancellor (WNBA Houston and now at LSU) at Ole Miss, Ross was also an assistant under Joe Ciampi at Auburn with Mickie DeMoss, who is returning this season as an assistant to Pat Summitt.

Some from back in the day will tell you it was a tradition for both Ross and DeMoss to coax the Guru onto the dance floor during sociality at the Women's Final Four.

Fred Williams was an aide to Linda Sharp with the "Hollywood" Southern Cal squad that won several NCAA titles with such famed stars as Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper Dyke, and the sister inside attack of Pam and Paula McGee.

He also coached the former Utah Starzz, now in San Antonio, in the WNBA.

The Guru also covered the Maryland teams on which Dream operations director Sue Panek played as a Terrapin in 1988-92, which included a first-ever rise to No. 1 in the AP women's poll.

Beware of the Birds

If former UConn star Sue Bird has another of her many stellar games with Seattle, one can see trouble coming for Atlanta in media coverage.

For example, should the native of suburban New York City make another buzzer-beating shot to win the title over Atlanta, which couldn't happen until the finals move South, that will be two ousters to the Dream by birds.

The other has already been achieved by Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street characters whose appearance at the Philips Arena has forced the Dream to leave their downtown home arena and move 30 miles out I-85 to the Gwinnett Center in suburban Duluth.

Bird, of course, personally dispatched the former WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury with a buzzer-beating trey in Game two of the Western finals in Arizona.

Incidentally, the last time Seattle was in the finals when they beat the Connecticut Sun in 2004, Bird was playing with a broken nose, which caused the fan base to show support by wearing fancy colored bandages on their noses.

Women Aboard Ship

There was a time not long ago when the focus was on many male coaches in the WNBA, who all had NBA pedigrees.

Now women at the executive level are getting attention, as noted in a USA Today article this week which focused on the female ownerships in Seattle, Atlanta, Washington and Los Angeles.

Kathy Betty, who took over Atlanta in the off-season, is one of two females with first-time success to date with the Dream gaining the finals.

In 1997, Hall of Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale left the braodcast both and assumed general manager-level duties with Phoenix when the Mercury won their first title and then came back two years later with the win last summer.

Both finals were thrillers with the Mercury ousting the Detroit Shock in five games in 2007 and becoming the first WNBA team to win the title on the road.

Last year Phoenix enjoyed the comforts of home in Game 5 to complete a two-game rally over the Indiana Fever in the final minutes.

The Guru's Travel Plans

With last-minute travel funding as a consideration -- as you all know the Guru is his own home office these days -- he will bypass, as much as he'd love to be there, the Seattle games and head to Hartford for the two psuedo WNBA All-Stars games (sans Mohegan). The USA Basketball will play the Australian team Friday night and then Spain Sunday in exhibition games agt the XL Center before heading to the World Championships in the Czech Republic.

The Guru, who will tweet away when tweeing is required -- twitter.com/womhoopsguru -- will then catch up to the WNBA finals in Atlanta, er, Duluth for Games 3 and, if necessary Game 4.

Besides, with Jayda, Mechelle and Michelle (or Milton?) and Q on the scene, the Guru will miss the salmon, sushi and space needle more than Seattle will miss the Guru.

Now if there's a Game 5 -- stay tuned.

-- Mel

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

WNBA: Destiny Takes Atlanta and Seattle To Finals

(Guru's note: Was not on the scene in Atlanta Tuesday night)

By Mel Greenberg

Way back in the spring when the calendar flipped into June the Atlanta Dream had become hot news and arrived in Seattle with a 6-0 record to meet the Storm that was 5-1 after a loss to Chicago along the way.

It was a chuckled thought that maybe the matchup might be a preview of the 2010 WNBA best-of-five championship series.

However, at that moment in time with the WNBA season less than a month old many thought that in the East the Indiana Fever was quite capable of defending its conference championship. Out West, there were still thoughts that the Phoenix Mercury would return to the league finals it won in the closing minutes of the decisive fifth game in Arizona last year.

But as life has evolved both teams have cashed in on their nicknames since their first of two meetings in 2010, both won by Seattle.

Atlanta, in its third year of existence, finished turning a dream into reality Tuesday night by closing out the revitalized New York Liberty 105-93 in Georgia to advance to the championship that will open in the Northwest on Sunday and remain there through Tuesday.

Since the 90-72 victory over Atlanta on June 1 in a game in which eventual three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson scored 32 points, Seattle literally stormed its way the rest of the season with a 28-6 record to gain home court advantage.

Seattle clinched the West No. 1 seed in late july in part because the Storm were the only team in the conference with a winning record.

When the two met a second time in early August, Seattle won again in Atlanta 80-70 though both squads had more of a balanced attack on the offensive end.

The Dream and Storm, which is now 19-0 at home at the Key Arena, each got a hot start once the postseason got under way with Atlanta (19-15), as the fourth seed, deciminating the top-seeded Washington Mystics (22-12) in two straight before repulsing the second seeded Liberty (22-12) with another 2-0 sweep.

Seattle quickly dispatched the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Sparks with a 2-0 sweep, beating a team that was considered a preseason favorite before Candace Parker was sidelined with shoulder surgery prior to the All-Star game.

The Storm then felled the defending champs 2-0 but only after rallying over Phoenix in Game 2 in Arizona with a 15-0 game-ending rally that was decided 91-88 on Sue Bird's game-winning three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to play.

In Tuesday night's game, second-year pro Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 rookie of the year and the No. 1 overall draft pick out of Louisville, set a playoff record with 42 points.

Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers star who came from Phoenix in a mega three-team offseason trade, had 36 points for New York while another Scarlet Knights star of the past, Essence Carson, had 20 points.

New York once again mounted a second-half rally to get to a 70-70 tie in the third quarter but was unable to sustain the momentum through the end of the game.

Thus, the return to the glory days when the Liberty were a headliner in the early WNBA era is now in the New York history books as is coach Anne Donovan. She is headed across the Hudson River to South Orange, N.J., where she becomes the new coach of Seton Hall.

The next time Donovan will be seen in an official capacity in Manhattan, not counting the Liberty post-mortems in the next few days, will be at Big East women's media day in October.

Next summer the Liberty will follow Donovan into the Garden State and remain there for three seasons playing in the Prudential Center in nearby Newark while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.

Speaking of dislocations, Atlanta's home games in the finals will move from the Phillips Arena to the Gwinnett Center in suburban Duluth where Southeastern Conference women's tournaments have been held.

The trend in the East continues in the championship series because the former Detroit Shock, now in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were displaced several times from the Palace in Auburn Hills and won the 2008 title playing in the deep suburbs at Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti.

Seeding Power From Below

Much will be made of Atlanta winning the East finals as a fourth seed but it happened once before in 2001 when the Donovan-coached Charlotte Sting, a WNBA chartter team that went out of existence several years ago, advanced and lost 2-0 to the Los Angeles Sparks.

There are some differences and similarities involving Charlotte and Atlanta.

While much has been made of the tight Eastern Conference race this season -- all six teams had .500 or better records in early August -- the competition in 2001 was also quite competitive.

This summer Atlanta, which advanced to the playoffs a year ago in the Dream's second season, was a frontrunner early before a slump after the All-Star break sent them to their finish in fourth, but just three games behind New York and Washington.

In 2001, Charlotte struggled with a 1-10 start before launching a dramatic reversal. Coincidentally, but with a much better record than the Sting at the outset, Donovan's Liberty team this season spent the pre-All Star break bouncing between fifth and sixth place before forging the 10-game winning streak and finishing 15-3 after the regular season resumed.

The Sting charge in 2001 got them fourth place in a clear separation from the rest of the East as opposed to the Connecticut Sun's narrow miss this summer in fifth place.

The former Cleveland Rockers in 2001 were first at 22-10, the Liberty were a game-behind in second at 22-11, and the former Miami Sol were two back at 20-12. Charlotte finished four games behind at 18-14.

The Sting beat the Rockers, 2-1, winning at home in the semifinals opener and then taking the second of two games played in Cleveland.

In the East finals, Charlotte lost at home but then won an improbable two games in New York to gain the finals.

That Sting team featured Dawn Staley and also had a future Atlanta Dream player in Kelly Miller, then a rookie. This season Miller has been reunited with her twin sister Coco, both former Georgia stars, who in 2001 was a first round pick of Washington.

The twins are from Rochester, Minn., and that was the first time they had ever played on different teams.

ABL Legacy

When Seattle, then coached by Donovan, won its only title in 2004 -- the Storm are back in the finals for the first time since then -- there were some throwbacks to the American Basketball League, which played two seasons and then collapsed in the winter of 1998 under bankruptcy after less than two months of play.

Seattle and Hartford-Springfield (Mass.) had been two of the league's strongest markets and Storm executive Karen Bryant had the same level job with the ABL team while Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko had held various executive titles with the New England Blizzard.

This year's ABL throwback in Storm coach Brian Agler, the WNBA coach of the year who guided the Columbus Quest in Ohio to the two ABL championships that were held.

Incidentally, while the Los Angeles Sparks' Tina Thompson is the last of the original WNBA player from 1997 when she was with the powerful Houston Comets, Washington Mystics star Katie Smith played for Agler in the ABL and the Sparks' DeLisha Milton-Jones is another former ABL player.

Seattle And Atlanta -- Some Things New Some Things Old

There are times when references in several cultures in this country talk about new money and old money.

Similarly comparisons can be made between the two teams in the finals.

Geographically, the Northwest where Seattle is located was one of the last frontiers in the exploration of America while Atlanta is from the old South.

However, with that obvious touch of UConn DNA, the Storm are veteran -- certainly not old -- with a core maintained and playing together several years.

The UConn graduate trio of former teammates are Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and Svetlana Abrosimova, while Tanisha Wright is now a veteran and keeps up the streak the last several years of a Penn State alum playing in the finals.

The others were Kelly Mazzante -- Phoenix 2009 and 2007 -- and Helen Darling -- San Antonio 2008.

Le'coe Willingham is new to the Storm but not new to the WNBA having signed as a free agent with the Connecticut Sun in 2004 after a stellar career at Auburn.

In 2008 she signed as a free agent with Phoenix, playing through last season's championship before inking a free agent deal this season with Seattle.

And the other Storm star, naturally, is Lauren Jackson who was then a teenage sensation from Australia when she was picked No. 1 in 2001 one year before Bird gained similar distinction in 2002.

Atlanta has veterans such as the Miller twins and Brazilians Iziane Castro Marques and Erika de Souza, but the youth brigade is highlighted by McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle of recent vintage, though hard to believe Lyttle entered the league in 2005.

Alison Bales is a Duke grad from 2007 who played on Indiana, briefly on Phoenix after being with Atlanta the first year, and then back to the Dream this season.

Arminitie Price is a third-year pro out of Mississippi.

Shalee Lehning was a second round pick last year out of Kansas State.

Elsewhere in the News

There was a bit of discussion here in cyberspace Tuesday about a New York Times piece in print editions on how the WNBA should have had territorial draft picks such as the earlier era in the NBA.

The focus was on former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, a first round second-overall pick by Phoenix in 2006 who is now near her alma mater in New York.

The Guru won't take issue with those pointing out various omissions concerning the Liberty history, especially over draft day picks, but would like to note several things.

The writer Harvey Araton is a longtime follower of the women's game whom the Guru is well acquainted so perhaps blank bullets should be used in the criticisms of not mentioning bad picks over the years.

Though the Liberty has been castigated for the move last year that brought former Tennessee player Sidney Spencer for a first round draft pick that ultimately became the No. 1 overall pick -- Bronx native Tina Charles, the former UConn star -- at the time of the deal who knew that New York was headed for a woeful season and last place, especially off the tough playoff series with Detroit the season before.

The Connecticut Sun find themselves in similar potential crosshairs following the draft day deal this season that sent their 2011 first round pick to the Minnesota Lynx for former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin.

With the Sun AND the Lynx both not making the playoffs, Minnesota has two of the four shots for the overall No. 1 pick, likely to be highly coveted UConn senior Maya Moore. She is currently training under her college coach Geno Auriemma with the USA national team that will compete in the FIBA World Championships this month in the Czech Republic.

However, the Sun's pick is the lowest of the four picks in the ping pong ball process with the Tulsa Shock ranked No. 1, followed by the Lynx's own pick, the Chicago Sky's pick, and then the Sun draft pick.

Meanwhile, if there was a territorial pick in 2006 Pondexter might have landed on the then-expansion Chicago Sky in her native city though the Sky did ok taking former Temple star Candice Dupree, now with Phoenix, in the first round.

Dupree is also training with the national team, primarily consisting of top WNBA talent that will play two exhibitions games this weekend in Hartford, Conn., at the XL Center.

The Americans meet the top-challenger Australians on Friday night and Spain on Sunday.

-- Mel