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, April 14, 2011

Guru Report: Rutgers Lands Prized Recruit Betnijah Laney

By Mel Greenberg

In the arms and legs and skills race among women’s basketball powers in the mighty Big East, Rutgers picked up a prized weapon Wednesday with the signing of a national letter of intent by Betnijah Laney of Clayton, Delaware and Smyrna High.

That means Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer will have coached two generations of Laneys, considering former All-American Yolanda Laney played for Stringer on the Cheyney squad that advanced to the first NCAA title game in 1982.

No one knows whether contact with a prospective athlete almost directly out of the womb is an NCAA recruiting violation but Stringer noted her first introduction to the younger Laney as part of her statement in the Rutgers press release announcing Laney’s addition to an already highly-regarded recruiting class of incoming freshman for next season.

“This has been a dream come true,” said Stringer. “I have never waited on a player as long as Betnijah. It’s been 18 years. I first held her in my arms at three months old and I believed then that she would be a great talent and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to coach her. Her skills are what everyone talks about; she’s a relentless athlete and one of the most competitive people I know which is not a surprise because I coached her mother Yolanda.”

Laney is the second McDonald’s All-American in the Scarlet Knights fold among the freshman class, which has also gained Willingboro, N.J., native Briyona Canty. Shakena Richardson and Syessence Davis of Neptune, N.J. are also listed in top 100 recruiting lists and a fifth recruit is Christa Evans of Jackson, N.J.

Obviously the Rutgers fan base is giddy over the shot in the arm to the Rutgers roster, which has another Delaware product in Khadijah Rushdan of Wilmington who will be a senior next season.

But considering the gold mine that lost some of its luster with a pair of defections off the last super class from 2008-09 it will be interesting to see how patient the fan base will be during the front part of the season while Stringer is trying to mold the newcomers into her complicated defensive strategies.

Actually, this class will have the benefit the last several Rutgers classes did not because at least there is now some upper class leadership in place to bring the newcomers along.

That experience was lacking two years ago when Epiphanny Prince bypassed her senior season to play in Europe and prepare to compete in the WNBA where she became a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Sky.

Nikki Speed, April Sykes and Chelsey Lee are still around from the last super class but Jasmine Dixon transferred to UCLA, helping the Bruins return to prominence while Brooklyn Pope went to the Brittany Griner-led Baylor squad.

Though Rutgers again made the NCAA tournament with a closing rush and a bit of help on the final day of the regular season when a series of upsets put the Scarlet Knights in sole possession of fourth place in the Big East, the run from November’s tipoff to the finish line was a tenuous struggle.

With the success Georgetown’s Terri-Williams in the NCAA tournament, Temple’s Tonya Cardoza in the Atlantic Ten, UNC Wilmington’s Cynthia Cooper-Dyke in the Colonial Athletic Association and former UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell who recently left for LSU, to name a few, a new generation of young black female coaches have arrived.

From one standpoint, it is the type of growth Stringer has always wanted to see develop, but from another with Rutgers’ reduced profile last season it was hard to determine whether youth was a factor or whether a trend of decline had begun.

But Laney and the other newcomers when blended with the rest of the brood could restore Rutgers to its past residency in the weekly Associated Press poll, which the Scarlet Knights were absent from this past season.

Coaching Carousel

The Guru noticed that some of his West Coast followers took the Guru to task on saying in the previous post that there were no names of any sorts being heard for either the California or UCLA vacancies and that former Cal coach Joanne Boyle, who left for Virginia, was pushing for her former associate head coach Lindsay Gottlieb who is the head coach of UC Santa Barbara.

Well, actually, when the Boyle move was transitioning from rumor to fact involving the Cavaliers, the Guru did note that perhaps Gottlieb could get in the mix to move to the Golden Bears.

So to clarify, perhaps the Guru should have said no word has leaked or surfaced of either contacts being made by UCLA or Cal or by candidates interested in replacing Boyle.

Meanwhile, the Guru attended the postseason Temple banquet here in Philadelphia Wednesday night and while several sources noted that a new deal for Tonya Cardoza is still being worked out, her remarks in handing out awards did not make her seem like she is anxious to move on.

Granted all was calm during the banquet in the former regime of Dawn Staley several weeks before South Carolina came knocking with a $150,000 raise above what was already a hefty package at Temple.

While Cardoza may not yet be getting the $500,000 deal Staley had prior to her departure, she most likely is being treated well enough to force prospective poachers to get ready to empty the bank to steal her away from North Broad Street.

Cardoza, who never said much in public in terms of conversation with the media during her 14 years as an assistant to Geno Auriemma at UConn, once again displayed bits of humor during her remarks reviewing the Owls season.

In noting that newcomer Shey Peddy, who was named Temple’s most valuable player and is a leading candidate for Big Five player of the year at next week’s awards banquet, is from Cardoza’s home town in Roxbury, Mass., Cardoza pointed out “I’ll decide if she is the best player to come out of Roxbury.”

Peddy and senior Qwedia Wallace shared the defensive player award, Natasha Thames won the Henry B. Sklar Award for academic excellence and community leadership while the Owl Club academic award went to senior Marli Bennett. B.J. Williams was named most improved.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s had its awards dinner Wednesday night at Drexelbrook, the site of next Tuesday’s Big Five women’s banquet.

The Guru did not see a posting on the Hawks winners or receive an email but will catch up.

Also, the Guru will pass along word of preparations for the annual Dept. of Recreation NCAA Women’s Summer League, which begins at the end of May.

-- Mel


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