WNBA: Hot Drafts Made Atlanta A Winner
By Mel Greenberg
Glancing at the roster of the Atlanta Dream it appears that Marynell Meadors, the general manager and coach, certainly looks like she has known what she was doing in building the team from nothing when it joined the WNBA before the 2008 season.
In some ways Meadors seems to have followed the blueprints of Bill Laimbeer, who managed to execute a worst-to-first turnaround when he took over the former Detroit Shock early in the season in 2002 and guided them to dethroning the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Sparks in an exciting best-of-three finals a year later with the win coming in Motown.
Laimbeer's idea was to get strength inside to compliment 2002 first-round pick Swin Cash, the former UConn star (they just keep popping up), and he was able to grab former Louisiana Tech center Cheryl Ford in the 2003 draft out of Louisiana Tech. Meanwhile former Notre Dame center Ruth Riley came courtesy of the dispersal of the former Miami Sol.
Having those two bigs were going to be the best way to contend with former perennial MVP candidate Lisa Leslie, who retired last year after what will become a Hall of Fame career.
But Atlanta's blueprint is not an exact duplicate because the Shock, who moved to Tulsa this season, had already existed and the turnaround to the title occurred in one season.
The Atlanta story is still being written in the Dream's third season, though the leap to the playoffs in 2009 made Meadors the WNBA coach of the year.
Whenver the Dream's final chapter is written, either by the New York Liberty, the Western champion (likely Seattle or by upset Phoenix), or themselves (the best ending), Meadors will then join UConn's Geno Auriemma as one of his assistants for the World Championships later this month in the Czech Republic.
Here is a look at Meadors' drafting work along with some other additions that were gained in transactions since she was hired after her immediate previous job as an assistant with the WNBA Washington Mystics.
In 2008 Meadors was able to reach several borders south of the border to Brazilian roots to gain Iziane Castro Marques in the expansion draft off the Seattle Storm roster and select Erika de Souza from the Connecticut Sun in the same draft.
The painful inaugural season resulted in the eventual landing the rights to the overall No. 1 draft pick in 2009 and Meadors chose Angel McCoughtry, who became rookie of the year after having played on runnerup Louisville against Big East rival UConn in the NCAA title game in St. Louis.
Shalee Lehning out of Kansas State also was picked in the same draft as the No. 25 selection overall in the second round.
Sancho Lyttle, another post player as were all but Lehning mentioned so far, was picked up off the dispersal of the former four-time champion Houston Comets prior to the start of the 2009 season.
The Minnesota twins sister act of guards Coco and Kelly Miller, who graduated Georgia in 2001, were reunited in Atlanta this season down the interstate from their alma mater. Coco, who helped destroy her former Washington team in the first round of the playoffs, was signed a year ago after the Mystics released her.
Kelly was acquired this season after having played on the Minnesota Lynx in 2009.
Center Alison Bales is a former Duke star who has been in the WNBA two previous seasons.
Voice of Experience
Atlanta broadcaster Bob Rathbun and the Guru first hooked up years ago when he was the main broadcasting voice of Old Dominion back in the glory days when New York Liberty coach Anne Donovan played for the Lady Monarchs along with Nancy Lieberman and Inge Nissen, among others in the talented lineup. The coach was Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star now an assistant with Washington.
Hard to believe but the Phoenix Mercury who trail Seattle 1-0 in the Western Conference best-of-three finals are the only team to follow championship seasons with losing records and Diana Taurasi and company have done it twice.
After winning the first title in 2007, Phoenix went 16-18 the next season and just missed the playoffs being the only defending champion to suffer that fate.
Having won the title a year ago in a thrilling fifth game battle with the Indiana Fever, the Mercury finished in second place this time around at 15-19.
Not only that but Phoenix is also one of just three WNBA runnersup to suffer losing records the following season with the Mercury being one of only two to miss the playoffs in this category at 15-17 in 1999 for a fifth place finish in the West.
The previous season the Cheryl Miller-coached Mercury were on the verge of delivering the Comets a 2-0 knockout in Houston until the Comets made a tremendous rally and then grabbed its second straight of the four titles at home in Game 3.
The other two were New York with a sixth-place finish at 16-18 in 2003 to be eliminated and the San Antonio Silver Stars, who were 15-19 last season but qualified with a fourth place finish in the West.
Close But Not Close Enough
The tight East race this year in which all six teams did not have a losing record as late as August created some speculation as to franchises with the best records who did not qualify for the postseason.
The Liberty tops the list at 18-12 in 1998 while Detroit was 17-13 the same season when only two teams qualified out of each conference.
The former Cleveland Rockers were 15-13 under the same circumstances in 1997 while the former Utah Starzz now in San Antonio were 18-14 in 2000.
Seattle (2003) and Phoenix (2006), which was Taurasi's first year in the WNBA, had 18-16 records as non-playoff participants.
No Place Like Off The Road
Few teams in WNBA history in the league's 14 seasons have had any kind of success in enemy arenas playing on the road in the playoffs, though it has been slightly better this season.
Detroit, which won three WNBA crowns, leads at 11-11, while Houston was 7-7.
Phoenix just dipped under .500 to 7-8 with the opening loss at Seattle Thursday.
New York is 7-16 after losing Game 2 of ita Eastern semifinals series at Indiana, while Seattle is heading into Sunday's Game 2 in Phoenix in which an elimination of the Mercury, ensuring a new champion, will improve the Storm to 4-8.
Atlanta is 1-1 heading into Sunday's game in New York after winning the playoff opener at Washington in the conference semifinals. The Dream went out quickly to Detroit 2-0 in the Eastern semifinals last season.
In terms of winning series, New York's 2-1 win over Indiana brought the Liberty to 10-9, fifth behind Detroit (12-5), Phoenix (8-3), Houston (10-5), and Los Angeles (13-9) in all-time playoffs participation.
In the WNBA playoff packet the retired Vickie Johnson, who made many playoffs with the Liberty and then a few with San Antonio at the end of her career, is the leader with most regular season games without a title at 410.
Runnerup? That would be the Mystics' Chasity Melvin, the former North Carolina State star, who is at 390.
Melvin also played in the short-lived third season of the former American Basketball League as a rookie with the Philadelphia Rage coached by New York's Donovan.
Speaking of Melvin, attention Christy Winters Scott, the Mystics post player may be after your broadcasting job.
Winters Scott starred at Maryland and was later an assistant coach at her alma mater but these days she does media work for the Mystics.
Well, after the Liberty edged Indiana to win Game 3 in New York, Melvin was seen outside the locker room area doing a psuedo interview in front of a video camera speaking to Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers star whose incredible shot put New York ahead to stay at the finish.
"Yeah, I'd really like to get into it at some point," Melvin said of an additional career. "I'm going to follow the playoffs and do some more practicing."
Note to D.C. area colleges: From what the Guru heard, Melvin sounded pretty good.
Depending on her overseas commitments, if you need someone for work at your websites or live at games on your local broadcasts, Melvin may be worth a consideration.
Strike It From The Record
Attention WNBA home office. Your finals guide from which most of this was drawn ranks Indiana's Tamika Catchings on the list of most playoff games without making the finals at 18.
The Guru believes the former Tennessee star and the rest of the Fever were involved in last season's thrilling championship series in which Indiana battled until the final minutes against Phoenix.
Earlier in the post Lisa Leslie was mentioned in Hall of Fame terms which undoubtedly will occur when she becomes eligible for induction in both the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Others in the playoffs who are prohibitive favorites for enshrinement upon their eligibility are Seattle's Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, Phoenix's Taurasi, while close behind are New York's Pondexter and Indiana's Catchings, and, perhaps Swin Cash (WNBA, Olympic, NCAA titles).
Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who won four titles in Houston and is now retired, was inducted into Naismith last month.
Two former Houston teammates -- Tina Thompson, now with Los Angeles as the last of the original WNBA players from 1997, and Sheryl Swoopes (NCAA, WNBA, Olympic titles) also belong in the discussion.
Atlanta's McCoughtry could get there in time but she is still young yet, needing to be on an Olympic gold medalist and/or WNBA champion.
Former stars on the Hall of Fame horizon are Georgia great Teresa Edwards, who was enshrined in Knoxville in June and will be eligible next year for Naismith, and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, the nastive of Philadelphia off three Final Fours at Virginia, four Olympic golds and one WNBA finals besides her All-America status.
Former UConn star Rebecca Lobo was also enshrined in Knoxville in June and has yet to make it out of the women's subcommittee. The group considers all nominations received by Hall officials before being allowed to move a maximum of two nominees to the main honors committee that makes the actual vote for induction.
Of course New York coach Donovan has already earned the distinction in both places for her collegiate and Olympic career.
Funny Guru story for you.
The year before Donovan was enshrined in Sprinfield she was going to be a guest of the Guru, courtesy of the WBCA which then had a table in those cheaper-cost days, but had to cancel at the last minute.
The following year she got a better seat right at the head table on the dias.