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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.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rushdan's Hour At Rutgers

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK --
Sidelined by a knee injury in her rookie season, 5-foot-9 redshirt junior guard Khadijah Rushdan of Rutgers has had a crowd of talented players and future WNBA stars in front and alongside her throughout most of her collegiate career to date.

Though she was already on the bench with her injury as a freshman, Rushdan could cheer on the likes of Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon in the backcourt and Kia Vaughn and Rashidat Junaid in the post when the Scarlet Knights advanced to the 2007 NCAA title game against Tennessee.

She then had another crowd behind her in a star-studded freshman class though two have since departed leaving true juniors Chelsey Lee, Nikki Speed and April Sykes as the trio of survivors from the original fab five.

The mantle of leadership a year ago fell to Brittany Ray, who has since graduated.

But at Big East media day Thursday morning in New York City, Rushdan sat as the lone player representative along with Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer at the table reserved for Rutgers interviews.

"Time’s flying," Rushdsan smiled. "I can’t believe I’m at the end of my fourth season, especially in collegiate basketball. It’s been fun. I’ve learned a lot. But I’m excited for the season."

It will be a challenging one considering the Scarlet Knights are going with a reduced roster of just nine players.

But Rushdan, out of St. Elizabeth High in Wilmington, Del., has seen and endured almost every conceivable situation from highs to lows.

"I’ve experienced it all," Rushdan noted. "Obviously everybody’s ultimate goal is to play in a national chasmpionship game. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been able to play with a lot of great players, play against a lot of great players so it’s been a great experience."

Media members up in Connecticut, where the two-time both unbeaten NCAA champions are again the Big East favorite, envision a fun fantasy national tournament early round matchup in which the Huskies might meet Delaware if the Blue Hens won the Colonial Athletic Association.

Then UConn could go against Huskies-defectee Elena Delle Donne, the former national high school player of the year who returned her scholarship three seasons ago and decided to stay home.

Delle Donne actually will play with Delaware in the Nutmeg State next month when the Blue Hens travel to Yale.

But a Rutgers-Delaware matchup, if it came about, would actually recreate a rivalry that already happened when Rushdan and St. Elizabeth battled Delle Donne and Ursuline Academy annually for the Delaware state high school championship.

"Yeah, that one, if it ever happened, could be a lot of fun," Rushdan said.

What may not be fun for the fan base however is a preseason pick of seventh by the Big East coaches for Rutgers, which has usually been among the top choices over the last decade.

Rushan simply shrugged off the conference Big East ranking.

"We don’t necessarily focus and pay attention to the number that we get, it’s more of playing basketball," Rushdan explained. "Just because you have a number at the beginning of the season, it doesn’t mean you are going to have that number at the end of the season.

"It’s all about how one’s playing, how another team’s playing and the things you accomplish during a season."

The schedule is a little less arduous than in previous seasons but Rutgers will still see the likes of Stanford, Tennessee, and Texas A&M out of conference before meeting the mob of NCAA tournament contenders in the Big East.

"It’s tough," Rushdan said of the competition. "But that’s we’re so successful at the end of the season because of the teams we see at the beginning of the season.

"`Coach' makes sure we always have one of the toughest schedules so that prepares us. It won’t do us no justice unless we played the top teams because it prepares us for what’s coming ahead for us. So being able to play the top teams helps us a lot."

With Ray departed, Rushdan is enjoying her new role as the Scarlet Knighta' designated (or volunteer?) blogger from inside the team.

"It’s interesting," Rushdan said. "It gives me a chance to connect with everybody and how this team is and little things that a lot of people don’t know."

Villanova Stays Optimistic

The Wildcats finished 14-16 overall and 3-13 in the conference last season and the Big East coaches don't have high regard this time around, picking Harry Perretta's team at 14th as he begins his 33rd season.

But that's ok with 6-3 senior center Heather Scanlon, a Cardinal O'Hara graduate, and redshirt-sophomore forward Laura Sweeney of Cherokee High in Marlton, N.J., who came off the bench in a starring role to help lead Villanova to a 4-0 sweep of the Big Five.

"Harry likes to compare us to a couple of years ago – the team that was 8-21," Scanlon said. "It’s not because we’re a horrible team or anything negative, it’s just we’re so young. So a goal of ours this year is just to come together as a team and improve upon the young players while still striving forward and trying to win games."

As for playing in the Big Five, Sweeney enjoys the local competition in the City Series round robin in Philadelphia.

"Each season we take each game one by one but the big Five is fun because it always prepares us for the Big East and it’s good to get those games under our belts and get experience and hopefully win a couple so we have confidence going into Big East conference," Sweeney said.

Scanlon also spoke about one of Villanova's new additions -- three-point shooting ace Lindsay Kimmel, a junior forward and transfer from Temple.

"Lindsay brings a lot to the offensive end because she can shoot from so far and she has excellent range. She can create moves to the basket as well. I think it just takes getting used to the offense and fitting in."

Noteworthy

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, a Big Five Hall of Famer for her playing career out of St. Joseph's, was congratulated on her forthcoming induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., in June.

"That's still a long way away," said McGraw, who guided the Irish to the 2001 NCAA title. "I wonder if they'll still give it to me if we have a bad season.

"I have a lot of time to mess it up," she laughed.

The Irish, who return sophomore sensation Skylar Diggins, were picked fourth.

McGraw talked about the toughness of the conference.

"We lost four games in the Big East last season and looking back elsewhere, that still would have been good enough to finish either first or second in a lot of other conferences around the country."

Meanwhile Naismith and Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Anne Donovan made her Big East media day debut as the new coach of Seton Hall, fresh off of guiding the WNBA New York Liberty to a resurgence and tie for first in the East in the regular season and a trip to the Eastern finals.

Donovan is still a little stunned at the surprise firing of longtime Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski, the basketball legend out of Montclair, N.J.

John Whisenant, who was the GM-coach of the former WNBA Sacramento Monarchs replaced both Blazejowski and Donovan combining the two jobs.

"You know it should have been a sign when they wouldn't go for more than a one-year deal when I was getting the coaching job last winter," said Donovan, who had been the interim in 2009 after Patty Coyle, now a Pittsburgh assistant to Agnus Berenato in the Big East, was let go early in the season.

"But then we got (former Rutgers star) Cappie Pondexter and we did so well this season (franchise record of 22-12) that you thought things would be ok."

Donovan accepted the Seton Hall offer before the WNBA got under way last summer but was allowed to stay for the season.

Whisenant got a positive endorsement from Rutgers' Stringer, whose assistant and former player Chelsea Newton was with Sacramento when Whisenant guided the Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA title.

"Chelsea said the Liberty will do fine under him and called all our (former Scarlet Knights) on the Liberty to tell them things will be ok."

Newton was a surprise draft pick by Whisenant after her collegiate career ended and was a key player in his White Line defense.

Speaking of WNBA postseason transactions, the Washington Mystics have yet to replace former GM Angela Taylor whose contract was not renewed after helping turn the franchise around the last two seasons.

Assistant coach Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star and Old Dominion coach, checked in this week to discuss her induction next month into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

Stanley, who soon heads to coach again in Russia this winter, spoke briefly of the move by ranking Mystics executive Sheila Johnson, saying it was a surprise.

Asked if the ouster might have come because Taylor might have been contemplating trading Alana Beard, the Mystics All-Star who missed all season with an injury, Stanley said, "I have no idea what the reason was, but I do think a lot of people out there are running away with their fantasies if they think that was the cause."

-- Mel

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