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.

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


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