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, December 08, 2010

Guru Report: St. Joe's Tops Penn In Big 5 Win At The Palestra

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA –
St. Joseph’s finally got to play in Philadelphia again Tuesday night though the Hawks were still a few miles away from the Hagan Arena at The Palestra where they beat host Penn 60-45 in the first Big Five game of the season for both schools.

Coach Cindy Griffin’s team (5-3) was coming off a weekend split in New Orleans where St. Joseph’s lost Friday to host Tulane and then beat Detroit Saturday in the Big East Classic.

“We’re back in Philly, thank the Lord, “ Griffin said afterwards. “Actually to go 4-3 on a seven-game trip at this time of the year is ok.”

The Hawks will return to Hagan Arena Sunday when Villanova visits at 2 p.m. in one of the key matchups in the overall City Series.

Two of the losses away from home at Drexel near here and at Lehigh were narrow but St. Joseph’s struggled offensively. The shooting touch returned Tuesday night with a 49 percent effort from the field.

Michelle Baker, an early season local candidate for most improved player, scored 12 points, while junior Katie Kuester scored 11 off a 4-for-7 effort from the field, including 2-for-4 on three-point attempts. Kelly Kavallo scored 10 points and blocked three shots.

“We got a little stagnant in the second half but Penn is very much improved,” Griffin said. “(Second-year coach) Mike (McLaughlin) is doing a good job with his kids and we expected a tough battle,” Griffin said.

“Katie has been working on new opportunities to get shots off in practice and now she’s got to get them actually done in the games. Going 2-for-4 on three pointers, that’s good.”

St. Joseph’s nearly perfect domination of the Quakers (2-5) in the rivalry increased to 35-1. Penn’s lone win was a 64-57 result on Dec. 1 2004.

Freshman Alyssa Baron, who is second in the Ivy League in scoring (14.8 points per game), had 16 points for the Quakers while

Jess Knapp scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Knapp is second in the Ivy League in rebounding with an 8.2 average.

St. Joseph’s sizzled in the first half, shooting 60 percent on the way to a 35-21 lead over the first 20 minutes.

The Quakers rallied in the second half and sliced the differential to seven at 42-35 with 12 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game before the Hawks regained control to pull away.

Kuester, the daughter of NBA Detroit Pistons head coach John Kuester, a former 76ers assistant, was the star of the Philadelphia Dept. of Recreation Summer League in suburban Hatboro, especially on shooting three-pointers.

She is also a former high school teammate of Penn freshman Meghan McCullough of Havertown and the Academy of Notre Dame.

“Megan McCullough is my girl,” Kuester smiled of a friendship that is now also a rivalry across the two sides. “She’s been doing awesome so it makes me feel good to know that she’s happy.

“I’m starting to find other ways (to score) because I’m pretty much defined as a three-point shooter and I don’t just want to be seen as a single-asset player so I’m trying to get more and hopefully they’ll start to develop in games,” Kuester added.

Penn took pride in being able to rally when it seemed St. Joseph’s might put the game away well before regulation time expired.

“We’re just taking steps in the right direction, little steps,” Knapp said of McLaughlin’s rebuilding effort following his longtime stint in Northeast Philadelphia where he built Holy Family into a Division II power.

There was a time when the coaches assembled back in 1980 to create City Series competition for women that Penn had a concern of the mindset impinging the Quakers’ competition in the Ivy League.

But today Penn welcomes the early challenges presented by the other four schools besides getting ready for the Ivy weekend two-game gauntlets that begin in mid-January.

And with so many Penn players from outside the region, McLaughlin is trying to instill a mindset of what it means to play Big Five games.

“What we did as coaches (preparing for the game with St. Joseph’s) is made up a little thing about the history of the Big Five and gave it to (the team) at our pre-game meal,” McLaughlin said.

“And I did what I do with recruits,” he continued. “We walked around the concourse as a team and I showed them the history of the Big Five (on The Palestra walls in large displays).

“I know we’re here every day, but I really do think as we make steps for us in the program in order for us to win Big Five games we have to feel inside the value of what this Big Five is. I think we made steps in the right direction.”

Knapp talked about the emotions considering players know each other so well from high school and playing in the summer league.

“I think you know how to play certain players,” Knapp explained. “You’re more comfortable going against somebody you’ve guarded before – things of that nature.

“The Big Five, it’s so special that after the game it’s not just, you get in the line to slap hands (with the other team). You have girls hugging each other afterwards,” Knapp added.

“It was played tonight like it’s suppose to be played. You battle on the court and then you hug it out and move on.”

As for the game, McLaughlin said, “We made some adjustments at the half. I thought St. Joseph’s shot the ball very well in the first half, though heavily guarded. I thought they really made some quality shots. So give them a lot of credit.

“I thought we kept them a little better off balance in the second half but we couldn’t get over that hump. We got it down to seven, then they executed or we missed a shot.

“But I was proud of the way we gave ourselves a chance to hang in there. If you hang in there at the end, you don’t know what is going to happen.”

The WNBA Commissioner Vacancy

Longtime agent Bruce Levy, who was around well before the WNBA launched in the summer of 1997, offered his thoughts late Tuesday night in a conversation with the Guru about Friday’s announced resignation of WNBA President Donna Orender, effective Dec. 31.

“First, the one thing is I would not necessarily read anything bad as the future of the WNBA because Donna Orender is leaving,” Levy said of the former Queens star who succeeded Val Ackerman, the league’s first commissioner.

“I think they are more stable now with 12 teams then they were with the original eight. Furthermore, you have more independent owners now wanting a stake in the league and it’s no longer situations where you have NBA owners complaining of having WNBA teams stuffed down their throats.

Levy endorses former New York Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski, a Hall of Fame scoring legend, as a potential candidate.

“I know there’s been a lot of criticism of her running the Liberty, and, yes, even I had my moments with her,” Levy said. “But people should really know when she worked for the NBA, she did so many numerous things to get the WNBA launched.

“I’m one of the ones who expected her to be named the first president but I understood the appointment of Val Ackerman and I know Val and I was ok with it. But Blaze has done a lot of things (NBA Commissioner) David Stern would want when it came to running the Liberty in the largest media market in the league.”

Levy tossed into the hopper two other names that haven’t been mentioned in either media or message board speculation.

“I think (Rutgers Coach) Vivian Stringer might be a good candidate – I don’t know if she is even interested. And maybe, considering understanding the business side of the way the WNBA operates, she might be a better fit if the vacancy becomes a dual set of hires as has been suggested as a possibility.

Then again, she might be ready for a change in her career at this point or maybe not, but it’s just a thought I had,” Levy said.

“Another name I haven’t seen but I think would be a good candidate is Beth Bass, the head of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA),” he continued.

“Think about it. She’s in a charge of an organization that has several thousand members and you talk about every kind of coach in the world in the membership – WNBA, NCAA Divisions I, II, and III, NAIA, High School – and you can keep a group like that still viable and cut sponsorship deals, I think she has excellent qualities.”

Bass has worked at Tennessee in her collegiate years and has also been with Nike so she certainly has a grasp of the business world in terms of women’s basketball.

Incidentally, in a shameless plug while on this topic, the weekly radio show from Swish Appeal, hosted by moderator par excellence David Siegel (for all the work he does), will feature yours truly, Slam Magazine’s Ben York, who has written for other places on the world wide web, and Q. McCall of sports nation in a round table discussion on Wednesday afternoon.
OK, it was really an around-the-cell-phones discussion.

The web site for the broadcast taped Monday is http://www.wstrradio.com. The formal name is Dishin’ & Swishin’: The World of Women’s Hoops.

Collegiate Coaching Changes Report

So looking for another topic, the Guru decided to see how selected coaches were doing so far in their first year at their current institutions.

In terms of well-known individuals with WNBA ties, Former New York Liberty coach Anne Donovan is 5-4 at Seton Hall, while Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is 4-2 at UNC-Wilmington. Former Stanford star Jennifer Azzi, who played for the former Detroit Shock (1999) and then the combo Utah Starzz-San Antonio Silver Stars, is making her head coaching debut and is 2-5 at San Francisco.

Karleen Thompson, who coached the Loa Angeles Sparks and then the Houston Comets, filled in at Clemson for the first few games while Itoro Coleman, a former Penn State assistant who is new at her alma mater, gave birth and went 3-1. Coleman has since matched it after her return.

Elsewhere, Stephanie Glance, the former North Carolina State assistant who filled in with the Wolfpack while the late Kay Yow battled cancer but did not get to succeed the Hall of Famer, is 5-2 at Illinois State. She spent last year as an assistant at Tennessee on Hall of Famer Pat Summitt’s staff. The Redbirds, incidentally, play on the Doug Collins Court, named for the former NBA star who is coaching the 76ers in Philadelphia.

Dianne Nolan, a former Fairfield coach out of Gloucester, N.J., near Philadelphia, who was an assistant at Yale, is 3-5 at Lafayette, which will play one more game before hosting La Salle Saturday in Easton, Pa.

Scott Rueck, who succeeded LaVonda Wagner’s controversial exit from Oregon State, is 5-3 with the Beavers.

Maureen Magarity, a former assistant at Army to her father Bill Magarity, is 1-5 at New Hampshire. Her first game as a head coach was at Notre Dame.

That’s it for now.

--Mel

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