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, October 14, 2010

Manhattan Clam Chatter At Jimmy V Dinner

By Mel Greenberg

It was media day for the royalty of women's collegiate basketball up at the University of Connecticut Wednesday. However, having to make a choice and trying to avoid quick burnout from too much Huskies coverage too soon the Guru opted to attend the annual ESPN-hosted Jimmy V dinner Wednesday night here at Chelsea Piers along the Hudson River Waterfront.

The event, with several auctions designed to help raise funding to fight cancer, sets the December stage for the women's game at one of the campuses of the competing schools while the men play in a doubleheader here at nearby Madison Square Garden.

The V foundation is named for the late North Carolina State men's coach Jim Valvano, who also had New York ties. The effort -- more than $40,000 was raised Wednesday -- has become more poignasnt on the women's side in recent years with the January 2009 passing of North Carolinna State coach Kay Yow, who succumbed to breast cancer after a lengthy battle.

Allied efforts in Yow's name are ongoing to battle the disease.

Several local women's coaches were in attendance, including Hofstra's Krista Kilburn-Stevesky, who played for Yow with the Wolfpack; NJIT's Margaret McKeon, who played at St. John's; Fordham's Cathy Andruzzi, who played at Queens College, and Marist's Brian Giorgis.

New Seton Hall coach Anne Donovan, formerly with the WNBA's New York Liberty, wasn't on the scene, though nothing should be read into that.

Plenty might be read, or maybe not, from the absence of Donovan's former employers in the WNBA and the Guru will get to that in a bit.

Former Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno was in the house as was Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference comissioner Richard Ensor, a member of the NCAA women's basketball committee.

The Jimmy V women's classic this year will feature host Duke against Texas A&M at Cameron Indoor Arena. Both Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie and Aggies coach Gary Blair were on the scene and made some brief remarks along with the men's coaches who will compete.

McCallie noted that the number 95 is stamped around the team's locale in Durham, N.C., marking the number of points Texas A&M put up against Duke in a game last year.

The Duke entourage included senior women's administrator Jacki Silar, a past chair of the NCAA women's basketball committee, and sports information director Lindy Brown.

Earlier in the day, Duke's Atlantic Coast Conference and Blair's Big 12 Conference were joined by the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences to announce a Super Six Series in which two schools from each conference will compete in a two-game challenge within the group.

Duke will play Auburn, a game that was on the schedule, though both McCallie and Blair seemed to be taken a bit surprised about the announced arrangement.

Considering who is involved from the major majors, so to speak, let's call it what it really should be named -- The BCS Challenge.

Ensor told the Guru that expansion of the NCAA women's tournament will be discussed by the committee next week. Blair later voiced his objection to any tinkering with the 64-team field, noting, "As it is, ESPN doesn't have enough announcers to go around and pronouce our names right when they air the tournament."

Meanwhile Fordham's Andruzzi spoke of her recent hire, plucking operations director Jack Eisenmann, the boyhood friend of coach Geno Auriemma, off UConn's staff to be an assistant.

"Jack is tremendous, I've known him a long time and I went after him because I knew he wanted to move up and get into coaching," she said.

"I wanted someone who could bring the perspective he has from all those years with Geno and the program."

As mentioned earlier, one thing missing from the past was the usual array of officials and staff from the WNBA New York Liberty who have been regular attendees at this event.

Considering a day earlier the team announced John Whisenant, the coach-GM of former WNBA Sacramento Monarchs to a similar two-fold position in New York, one would think that, his schedule permitting, Wednesday night would have been a perfect opportunity to bring him to mingle with what is essentially the social set of basketball in the Metro area.

For that matter, having former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter on hand as the face of the Liberty revival wouldn't have hurt, either, though she might have already gone overseas.

But then again, though MSG Sports, in hosting the men's doubleheader in the Garden, has an imprint on this event, the Liberty is devoid of handlers at the moment.

Casey Sherman, the day-to-day media representative for the Liberty, left two weeks before the playoffs began, though the Guru heard she had desired to see the end of the season through.

Amy Scheer, the vice president of communications and marketing, reportedly resigned on Friday, though she is still listed on the Liberty/MSG's web site which also quickly has Whisenant listed in the corporate fold.

Longtime former general manager Carol Blazejowski, the singular face of women's basketball in the metro area (depending on how geography is applied to Rutgers), was not here. The Guru did speak with one source who had spoken with her and, yes, the move from MSG president Scott O'Neil to oust here was a total blindside.

There's also been a buzz in league circles that New York began chasing former Washington GM Angela Taylor, who's two-year contract was up after reviving the Mystics. Supposedly Sheila Johnson, the top executive of the team, got wind of the move and then ended negotiations on Taylor's contract renewal.

The Guru has not talked to Taylor recently but Johnson has been said to make similar moves in other similar situations in her business deals.

As for Whisenant's hire, the Guru was actually close to learning he was the one last week in talking to the Guru source who gave a profile of the type of person in play.

Whisenant certainly fits the profile off that discussion but the conversational waters got fouled when the Guru mentioned the Chicago dual GM-coach opening.

That led to the short-range speculation about former Miami Sol GM-coach Ron Rothstein, who is now an assistant with the NBA Miami Heat.

One source who has had dealings with Whisenant was surprised at the hire, saying, "he is not an East Coast guy."

Looking down the road the source noted that if the temporary housing of the Liberty next summer -- the first of three while the Garden is renovated -- does not go well in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., that perhaps Whisenant might become part of an ownership group to take the Liberty across the country to the Bay Area in Northern California (San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose) where a vibrant women's market awaits.

That indicates what could be problematical about the Liberty from a WNBA home office perspective on what would be worse -- No team in New York, the nation's top media market, or one that might be under-achieving and hurting in attendance that could reflect badly against the other franchises.

As for what direction Whisenant might take the Liberty to improve on the franchise-record 22-12 season and run to the Eastern championship, he is dedicated to his trademark "White Line Defense" which helped Sacramento win a WNBA title and will surround himself with people he trusts and knows the system.

What that means in terms of the roster -- Nicole Powell, the former Stanford star played for him with the Monarchs -- remains to be seen.

Goodbye and Hello

Yet another significant move in the sports information business at the collegiate level is occuring with Stacey Brann's departure from Rutgers women's basketball and Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer to Pittsburgh and a much different personality of sorts in Panthers coach Agnus Berenato.

There is also, ahem, a social motivation.

Since her arrival for the 2007 season, Brann has had to work with a run to the NCAA title game her first year, the immediate fallout from the Don Imus controversy, and Stringer's induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

She also became the first known media rep with the Scarlet Knights during the Stringer era to get the coach out of the lockerroom quicker to accomodate deadlines for those on the print media side of things.

Hasim Phillips, who worked with Brann her first season in the department and has worked with the football program, will succeed her this season.

For Brann, it may be adios to her locals, but since the Guru deals in both levels, he also knows it is not goodbye and says, Welcome!!

-- Mel


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