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.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guru Report: Week's Events Show WNBA's Relevancy To Life

(Guru's note: There is another post under this in blogspot about the Philly summer league draft. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click on mel's blog to get the entire archives.)

By Mel Greenberg

As much as the WNBA was developed as a way to showcase the nation’s top women’s basketball players, as time has gone on the league has shown a relevancy to reflect life in all aspects both on the court and more importantly away from the sidelines as well.

The week is not over and besides featuring the preseason competition such as the one here in the Verizon Center Thursday in which the Washington Mystics completed a back-to-back morning sweep of games by beating the Chicago Sky 66-55 the league has been in the news by either leading or being in association with several other events.

On Tuesday, former CBS news anchor Katie Couric received the top honor in New York City at the WNBA’s annual Inspiring Women awards luncheon.

On Wednesday, the same day Washington helped New York open its new summer venue for the next three seasons at the Prudential Center across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., with a morning win over the Liberty, one of the host team’s rookie hopefuls – Jessica Breland out of North Carolina – was named this year’s Honda Inspiration Award winner for battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a similar honor that went to former Drexel star Nicole Hester several years ago for likewise battling the disease.

Overseas the WNBA runner up Atlanta Dream is engaging in international diplomacy in England prior to Sunday’s exhibition in Manchester against the Great Britain contingent.

Sadly, as much as the focus has been on joy, triumph and survival, on Friday another one of those unfortunate moments struck with the news that former 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek, the overall No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft for the WNBA’s second season, died in Brisbane, Australia, at age 37 from complications of a heart attack suffered a week ago.

Nicknamed “Large Marge,” while few stateside had heard of the native of Poland who was then selected by the former Utah Starzz, which later became the San Antonio Silver Stars, she proved her worth by being a shot-blocking demon.

Dydek, who was coaching in Australia and was pregnant with her third child, which also passed away, when she was put into an induced coma, later played for the Connecticut Sun and then the Los Angeles Sparks before retiring.

Though many print publications will probably only have a paragraph or two on Dydek’s death, though the Associated Press has a sizeable obituary, a photo display at the WNBA.com website offers a glimpse as to her skill and personality.

Actually, it may be safe to actually refer to Dydek as the first overall No. 1 draft pick in league history because prior to the WNBA’s launch the previous season several star players were delivered to teams based on local appeal, such as former Southern Cal All-American Lisa Leslie to Los Angeles, former Texas Tech sensation Sheryl Swoopes to the former Houston Comets, which won the first four titles, and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo to New York.

Tina Thompson, the last of the original roster players from the WNBA’s first season and who is now with Los Angeles, was a first-round pick by Houston after deciding to play in the WNBA at the last minute over the former American Basketball League.

The wonders of today’s technology through facebook, google, and twitter, allows those with interest to find a pretty accurate portrayal of Dydek’s contributions as a player and as a mom.

Though Dydek had been retired several seasons, the league has also suffered tragic losses of others who have performed, most notably Kim Perrot, a walk-on to the Houston team who became a key star in the backcourt and then had her life cut short several years later by breast cancer.

The league’s annual Sportsmanship Award is named in Perrot’s memory.

Fortunately, the WNBA’s moments have been more joyous as was the case here in which a school-age dominated crowd of 9,502 fans saw Washington perhaps in its best-ever shape going into a season, especially being fueled by the 2010 run to the Eastern Division co-championship with New York and acquiring the No. 1 seed in the conference for the playoffs.

Alana Beard, who is back on the court after missing last season because of an injury, agreed and disagreed with the premise based on the former Duke star’s eight years in the nation’s capital in the league.

“Just being here for eight seasons, I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the little time that we’ve had,” said Beard, who was scoreless in her near-24 minutes of playing time but still provided leadership for the Mystics.

“Credit a lot of that to the coaches and their coaching style,” Beard said of Trudi Lacey, who has taken over following a promotion from assistant to former coach Julie Plank.

“It’s huge advantage of her already knowing the players and personalities and how to handle each and every player,” Beard said. “She brought in players such as Kelly (Miller) and she’s familiar with her and knows how to coach her.”
Miller, a former Georgia star and whose twin sister Coco previously played for Washington, scored 12 points. Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne picked up where she left off as one of the top developing stars. The native of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia, had 15 points and nine rebounds.

Former Rutgers stsr Epiphanny Prince had 12 points for the Sky, while Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles scored 10 points.

Rookie point guard sensation Courtney Vandersloot from Gonzaga, the third overall pick in April’s draft, had seven points but also committed seven turnovers for Chicago.

Beard wants to quash the idea of last year’s success immediately translating to forward progress this season.

“Last year was last year,” she said. “Trudi is different. We still have a lot of new players and that’s a challenge but I think she’s done an unbelievable job helping everyone jell together and helping each other’s games.

“Yeah, we won two games, but we have a long, long way to go. But the sky is the limit for this team and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Langhorne also likes the chemistry that’s developing quickly.

“We’re still a little rusty but I think our young kids like (former Duke stars) Jazz (Jasmine Thomas) and Karima (Christmas) are going to keep getting better as time goes on and get used to the system, but I think we’re looking pretty good.

“Alana will get back to her old self and that’s going to be good. Against New York we got off to a sluggish start but today we played a lot better, especially defensively in the second half.”

-- Mel


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