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.

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

8 Comments:

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One thing that could complicate Stanley's hiring is that she's also working overseas during offseasons for the Russian giant UMMC.

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