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, April 13, 2011

Guru Musings: WNBA Draft Day

(Guru’s note: Time to switch over to the pros for this post but on Wednesday night the Guru will be on the scene at the postseason Temple banquet so perhaps there might be some news besides the awards to the men’s and women’s teams.

Since the last college post, Joanne Boyle had her introductory press conference at Virginia; Stanford assistant Bobbie Kelsey got named at Wisconsin; and former Charlotte coach Karen Aston was named at North Texas, giving the Guru a point for a good guess at that job.

Mike Neighbors, the Xavier assistant to former coach Kevin McGuff, now at Washington, was interviewed by the Musketeers Tuesday, according to several sources. So far, no rumored names at all per the UCLA and Cal openings. And now on to the WNBA – Mel)

By Mel Greenberg

BRISTOL, Conn. –
Watching two major entities working side-by-side Monday afternoon with the WNBA draft being held at the worldwide television headquarters of ESPN was tantamount to witnessing two major banking firms going through a major.
Hartford Courant sports columnist Jeff Jacobs focusing on Maya Moore noted as an aside, “It was hard to know exactly where the WNBA stopped and ESPN started.”

Considering how downsized draft day had been the last two seasons when the event returned to NBA Entertainment studios in Secaucus, N.J., just across the Hudson River from New York, the arrangement worked out better for the most part for all parties concerned.

Unlike the early years at that site, before the brief and, obviously financially costly, setup of holding the draft at the site of the NCAA Women’s Final Four, the last two times in Secaucus the media, though not as plentiful as in the past, was sequestered in a small space and when it came time to conduct interviews after selections were made, the experience was akin to crowding everyone into someone’s bathroom.

The only thing lacking Monday here from the early draft day event was that the families and college coaches of the players being chosen were housed elsewhere in the ESPN cafeteria building on the mega-complex, which limited social access, though officials tried to comply with requests for specific individuals.

Maya’s Next Step

After four years of Maya Moore dominating headlines in leading the University of Connecticut to four final fours, two national titles, and suffering only three losses, the moment she held up her new Minnesota Lynx jersey it was akin to presidential inauguration day in Washington after a four or eight-year term had ended.

Like her Huskies predecessors in the WNBA, many of whom will be her Olympic teammates next year in London, such as Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tina Charles, to name a few, she now has two new descriptive labels – one being “former UConn star … “ and the other being “Minnesota Lynx rookie … “

Oh yes, and in the Olympics she’ll be playing for her former coach Geno Auriemma, who actually did try to put Moore’s place in the her new professional world in some perspective when he was interviewed right after the native of Georgia was selected.

“If you ask Maya that question (playing with the pros as she did last fall on the gold-medal winning USA basketball team at the World Championships), if she’s honest with you, she’ll tell you the hardest thing she’s ever done is try to play with those pros and against those pros in the world championships.

“Maya finally got a chance to see what it’s like to play against players like her and even better. So I think it prepared her for what’s coming next,” Auriemma explained.

“But for us (USA), she’s got a long way to go before she can reach the level of some of the players that have already played international, won a gold medal – she’s going back to freshman year again. She was pretty good as a freshman so that will be exciting.”

Incidentally, Moore may be leaving Auriemma on a regular basis, but she won’t be departing from playing for a coach with a Philadelphia background.

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve is a former star for La Salle, though the native of South Jersey graduated in 1988 one year before the Explorers knocked UConn out of its first NCAA appearance 72-63 in an opening round game in Storrs in the Hugh S. Greer, Field House on campus prior to the construction of Gampel.

As for Moore’s movement away from her UConn era, Hartford Courant women’s beat writer John Altavilla commented he felt like a wedding day when it was time to send a daughter on to a new life.

Which makes some of us who are his media colleagues wonder whether his season-long references in his blog to “Miss Maya,” will now change to “I Miss Maya.”

Considering the Lynx were also able to land Xavier post star Amber Harris with the fourth overall pick, let’s remember that perhaps the most valuable individual to put Minnesota in position to add to an already impressive array of talent with the likes of Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins, who suffered with injuries last summer, is Los Angeles Sparks veteran Tina Thompson.

It was Thompson’s buzzer-beater after Minnesota went ahead in the final days of the regular season that helped put Los Angeles into the playoffs and the Lynx into the lottery.

From Down Under To Over The Top

Though Moore was trotted all over the place between the various WNBA and ESPN circuit stops, including the website entities, ESPN programming venues and ultimately to the regular media types on the scene, the best thing that may have happened to Moore was the scene-stealing performance, though not intentional, by the number two pick – one Aussie teenager Elizabeth Cambage – who was just bubbly without the celebratory champagne after being made the overall No. 2 pick from the Tulsa Shock.

The way Cambage gushed with the innocence of her youth – didn’t have time to study and play basketball so college was never a consideration – one can envision her picking up extra frequent flyer miles out of Tulsa to appear on national broadcasts in the same way many WNBA players were ushered all over the TV map in the early years of the league.

“In the world championships last year, she was totally different,” Associated Press national women’s basketball writer Doug Feinberg said recalling his coverage in the Czech Republic last September.

“She was very shy but remember she is young.”

This is not to say Moore won’t be making extra appearances, but with Cambage providing the entertainment value off the court, Moore will be free to concentrate on her basketball development and use her promotional energies to help sell the Lynx in the Twin Cities.

Being the competitor Moore is, when asked if she would guarantee a playoff spot, she took it to the next level, saying a championship would be the goal.

Also, though Cambage already stated that she would be staying home in Australia next summer to make the national team for the Olympics, despite the instant assumption, she would not necessarily miss the entire WNBA season.

The Olympics will end in July and if you factor in the scheduling break for the games by the WNBA as in past Olympics summers, Cambage could be back just in time to get the Shock into the playoffs and then be a factor in whatever success comes Tulsa’s way.

Autocratic Rule

For the first time in the league’s 15-year history a draft was held without a commissioner holding office in the wake of Donna Orender’s resignation effective at the end of last December.

She followed Val Ackerman and at the moment the NBA types are still seeking a successor for Orender, saying they are looking for a business and marketing type individual.

If anything, the day proved that maybe that direction is not so terrible in terms of otherwise having someone well known from the women’s world.

Though draft days began with Ackerman and Orender holding up jerseys with the draft picks through the broadcast of the first round, and ended with their assessment of the selections to the media on the scene, Renee Brown, chief of basketball operations and player relations, did well in place of a standing commissioner.

And the players on hand all being used to media coverage handled their moments at the podium for question-and-answer sessions without seeming they were undergoing an undue hardship.

Former Gonzaga star point guard Courtney Vandersloot, picked third by the Chicago Sky, was asked about a paper her mother claimed she wrote in the third grade.

She had no recollection of ever writing it but did say that ever since way back she wanted to play in the league.

Adams Waits And Waits Until Picked

In just under a week’s time, former Texas A&M star Danielle Adams went from leading the Aggies to their first NCAA title and being named the Women’s Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player to a long series of anxious moments until she was taken in the second round as the 20th overall pick by the San Antonio Silver Stars.

The WNBA flew in 15 players and Adams was one of them but several players not on the scene went before she was finally taken.

At one point, her college coach Gary Blair talked to ESPN, saying, “I’ve got the best player that nobody’s ever heard of, and Danielle Adams deserves to be on somebody’s team.”

It reminded the Guru back in 2004 when all-time Penn State scoring sensation Kelly Mazzante arrived in Secaucus highly touted but did not get chosen until the former Charlotte Sting took her in the second round as the 18th overall pick.

Mazzante made the squad and after the Sting folded in January 2007, she was taken in the dispersal draft by the Phoenix Mercury and became a three-point shooting component in the team’s run to WNBA titles that season and in 2009.

Adams, whom the Aggies got from junior college, is used to being overlooked in the past and expressed happiness with being taken by San Antonio.

But she did note in her initial comments when interviewed on TV:

“That’s been my motto for my whole career,” Adams said later. “That I can’t play college basketball then (with) all those teams passing up on me. I am ready and I can work hard to get there.”

Whither Evans?

Though James Madison prolific point guard Dawn Evans was not one of the 36 picks, the Guru believes that someone looking to go the economy route will sign her to a training camp deal and then it will be up to her to take it from there. Remember, Becky Hammon was a walk-on as was the late Kim Perrot.

Stepping Up

Most teams, as others have observed, were able to get their needs, in some cases enhanced by draft day trade. It could be that playoff spots may well be decided in the East-West crossover games considering how competitive each conference will be with the West making the most improvements considering the losing records may teams had.

On The Airwaves

The Guru, the Seattle Times’ WNBA Storm beat writer Jayda Evans and former Washington Mystics general manager Angela Taylor will be on a roundtable internet broadcast hosted by David Siegel aka @DishNSwish on WSTR http://wstrradio.com Wednesday (today) at 1 p.m. to discuss the draft.

-- Mel


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