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.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

WNBA: Washington Mystics Merrry-Go-Round Returns

By Mel Greenberg

For the last two seasons there was at least one place in the nation's capital where change actually did seem to occur.

That would be at the WNBA Washington Mystics. After an ongoing revolving door consisting of coaches and general managers who mostly produced non-playoff finishes, it appeared that stability and forward progress had finally arrived at the Verizon Center.

Quarterbacking a revamped roster was Angela Taylor, who was named general manager in October of 2008 after a front office stint with the Minnesota Lynx and a decade of work as an aide to Renee Brown with both handling player relations in the WNBA's home office.

Soon after Taylor's Mystics hire, she brought in Julie Plank to be coach and the duo proceeded to steer the team into two straight playoff appearances including this past season with a franchise-record 22-12 mark that enabled Washington to tie for first with the New York Liberty in the East and gain the top seed in the playoffs.

Although the Mystics died quickly in a 2-0 rout by the Atlanta Dream, in existence for only three seasons, in the first round, Taylor, after the team's exit, spoke eagerly with the Washington Post about the direction the longtime forlorn franchise seemed to be heading.

All seemed cheerful until Friday when Taylor was apparently sacked, a fate that may or may not befall Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb Sunday afternoon in his return to Philadelphia to face his former Eagles team on which he starred until his trade in the offseason.

(Hey, have to throw a little sports current events to sucker traffic that will be googling McNabb's matchup against Eagles renaissance passer Michael Vick at Lincoln Financial Field here in Philly.)

Past dismissals from the Mystics have been treated as ho-hum affairs by the fan base. Well, thanks but maybe things will get better.

But they rarely did until Taylor's arrival.

This time the suddeness of her dismissal has actually brought comments of shock and appreciation for her work based on remarks seen on the internet Saturday.

Nearly nine hours after the post here Saturday morning suggested all signs had pointed to the Taylor's ouster, the Mystics issued a terse release with a quote from Sheila Johnson, the previous owner who is now under Ted Leonsis. She issued a brief statement saying Taylor's contract was up and the two sides could not reach agreement.

There seems to be a difference of opinion from Taylor, although when she checked in with the Guru late Saturday afternoon she said she was not ready to comment what went down.

But in one of her tweets Saturday she did note that in her time in the WNBA from the beginning of the league in 1997 she had "never been about money."

Ironically, not knowing what was just ahead, Taylor had gone to the sports movie Blindside prior to her getting the word from Mystics upper management.

"Right now I really have no plans," Taylor said when asked if she might pursue GM vacancies with the Chicago Sky, if the front office restructure allows the hire, or the New York Liberty, whose MSG Sports ownership recently dumped Hall of Fame legend Carol Blazejowski after her 14-year run at the helm.

Reaction to Blazejowski's ouster has been mixed, in part for the tough way she ran the operation. But Taylor has always been one of the more popular executives in the WNBA.

She is a Stanford graduate who played for Tara VanDerveer on two NCAA champions in the early 1990s, including the squad which ended Dawn Staley's collegiate career at Virginia in an overtime win in the 1992 semifinals.

Although still in a little shock from what went down, Taylor appeared to be in good spirits late Saturday, even tweeting encouragement for the Cardinal football team at her alma mater.

She said she definitely would stay in the Washington area "through the holidays" sand it could be that since Taylor has a good handle on the collegiate scene across the country you may soon see some written commentary at a place with which you are quite familiar.

Based on the terseness of the Mystics release, you probably won't see much public reaction from players or the coaching staff but Taylor's reputation is such, it is a good bet that several opportunities may come in her direction quickly.

For now, however, instead of a clear vision into next season at the Verizon Center, the mist from nearby Foggy Bottom has enshrouded the Washington franchise once more.

One thing, at the rate vacancies are occuring, the WNBA may be able to save a bunch of meal money for attendees at the league meetings in New York which are just up ahead.

Soon, enough GMs may be gone and if not replaced there might be adequate funding to increase playing roster sizes by one to at least a dozen.

Temple's Dupree On the Verge of Gold

Only the host Czech Republic stands in the way of a return to gold medal status in the FIBA World Championship for the UConn-dominated USA Squad in the title game early Sunday afternoon.

If the Americans continue to roll, USA coach Geno Auriemma, also head of the two-time defending NCAA champion Huskies, will be well on the way in the three-year run for glory at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

Despite the heavy dose of five former UConn stars and senior all-American Maya Moore, another USA player is delivering on the prediction made by her former collegiate coach.

When Dawn Staley, who was still coaching Temple before her eventual move to South Carolina, retired from active competition following a stellar career filled with three Olympic gold medals, she predicted that she would continue to live on the playing courts through her Owl post star Candice Dupree.

So far Dupree has gone on to All-Star status with the WNBA, initially as a first-round draft pick in 2006 with the then expansion Chicago Sky and this past season with the former WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury.

Of course, although playing different positions, the two were able to cross paths during Dupree's rookie season when Chicago played Staley's Houston Comets squad twice. The duo were also on opposite sides for the annual All-Star game in New York that summer.

-- Mel

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mel,

Thanks for breaking this (unwelcome) news and continuing to follow this story.

It's rare for Mystics fans to agree about anything, but the consensus, as you point out, of the fans posting on the message boards and social media (as well as private communications I've gotten) is that Angela's departure is a HUGE loss for the franchise.

We just don't understand how this could happen. I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks again.

Eileen

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