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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Guru's Mixed Report: Old Dominion, Delaware, Rutgers, WNBA

(Guru update: Since posting this report the Guru has learned in the Carlene Mitchell item below that UCF aide Courtney Locke who is a former Rutgers player who the Guru speculated might join C. Vivian Stringer's staff at Locke's alma mater is actually going to be on Mitchell's staff at UCSB. Right pew wrong church on initial speculation. )

By Mel Greenberg

This is one of those rare times that WNBA commentary will mix with the collegiate world here because of wanting to save a little time.

The Guru starts with Delaware's Tina Martin checking in on Thursday afternoon returning inquiries about her former coaching colleague in the Colonial Athletic Association -- Old Dominion's Wendy Larry, who announced Tuesday she was stepping down after a 24-year run that included 17 straight conference titles in the conference.

One of those came at the expense of Martin's Blue Hens, who beat ODU twice during the regular season -- a rarity in terms of winning in Norfolk, Va. -- but then in the CAA title game blew a second-half lead and lost to the Lady Monarchs in overtime.

"Right now, you don't see a lot of comment yet because I think people are stunned that this has happened and Wendy probably isn't quite ready to talk to people, yet," Martin said.

"You know I've always had the greatest respect for her not only for what she has done with Old Dominion, but the way she fought for our sport to make improvements as she sat on all those committees she's been on," Martin continued.

"It's just a sad time for a lot of us right now to see this happen," Martin said. "She had 20 wins this year -- in my world that is successful. And then you talk about the 600 wins and all those CAA titles and the way she conducted herself.

"We don't know yet if we've seen the last of Wendy on the sidelines but if we have, she leaves a tremendous legacy. I think she is definitely worthy of induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame," Martin added.

The statement announcing Larry's departure from the coaching ranks at ODU said she will be at the school next season in another capacity.

While on the phone with Martin, there was a brief discussion about her star sophomore, Elena Delle Donne, who is among a group of collegiate standout hopefuls heading to Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend for the trials for the World University Games team.

"I saw her today and gave her a hug and all that stuff and wished her well," Martin said. "It's tough competition, but Elena will have nothing to lose from the experience.

"Right now she is in the best shape and condition she's been in since coming to Delaware," Martin said of the former high school national player of the year out of nearby Ursuline Academy in Wilmington.

"Elena came back at the end of the season and really helped us out despite not really being all herself after suffering with the lyme disease," Martin said. "But she toughed it out."

Delle Donne, who otherwise might have been the leading scorer in the nation with a 25 plus ppg average, missed 12 games during the season but returned to lead the Blue Hens to upsets of Old Dominion in the CAA quarterfinals and UNC Wilmington in the semifinals before losing to James Madison in the championship.

"She's done all the things she had to do to get better and now she really looks great. We're checking on what you can and can't do in the NCAA as a coach because I'd like to go to China if she makes the team."

Stringer Looks For Help Again

One problem with being a successful coach with a skilled staff of assistants is that the aides become ripe for the pickings to be head coaches in their own right and then the hunt goes on for replacements.

And so it is that Naismith Hall of Fame Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer needs to fill a spot vacated with Thursday's introduction of former Scarlet Knights Associate Head Coach Carlene Mitchell as the new coach at UC Santa Barbara.

Actually, the departure is the last major ripple -- depending on who comes aboard at Rutgers -- from Hall of Fame Virginia coach Debbie Ryan stepping aside after a long successful run with the Cavaliers.

Ryan was succeeded by Joanne Boyle, who left California and was replaced by her former associate head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who left UC Santa Barbara.

Mitchell played at Kansas State under Brian Agler, who is now the coach of the regining WNBA champion Seattle Storm.

Agler predicted several years ago that Mitchell would one day become a head coach in her own right and had all the makings to be successful.

Several years ago Stringer lost former associate head coach Jolette Law to Illinois. She also lost Marianne Stanley previously to the WNBA, then as an assistant in Los Angeles. Stanley has since returned to the Washington Mystics as an assistant with the franchise she once was a head coach.

When Law left, Mitchell, who oversaw recruiting, was promoted to associate head coach.

Mitchell might bring more Rutgers blood to Southern California -- UCSB is quite the campus locale by the way -- in former Scarlet Knights player Heather Zurich as an assistant, according to a source who knows Mitchell well.

The comment, incidentally, was more in the form of speculation.

So who's out there to join a staff that might have a Rutgers women's squad ready to return to the form of the middle of the last decade?

Well, one person who could get an interview is former Scarlet Knight Courtney Locke, a native of Texas, who after graduation returned to the Lone Star State for a two-year stint as an aide at Texas-San Antonio before spending the last three seasons at Central Florida.

Locke's recent duties centered on recruiting and in two of those UCF surprised by winning Conference USA titles.

If hired, Locke would become the third former Rutgers player who was under Stringer on the roster, joining Chelsea Newton and Tasha Pointer.

Several years ago when Stringer was determining a hire, though she went elsewhere, she was enamored a bit of the work by Tory Verdi, who had been on the staffs of the WNBA Connecticut Sun and Columbia before moving on to Nebraska for five seasonns, including last season's all-time run by the Huskers.

Verdi just spent his first season as an assistant at Kansas to Bonnie Henrickson.

It's not known whether Stringer might try to snare Stanley back, considering how well the post players performed when Stanley was on the staff during the run to the NCAA title game in 2007. Nor is it known whether Stanley would be interested considering there's always the chance WNBA head coaching openings will occur at given moments in time.

Stay tuned.

WNBA: Sun Hits A Grand In Preseason Opener

On Thursday morning the Guru overslept and missed attending the New York Liberty media day in Newark, N.J., at the Prudential Center, which will be home to the charter WNBA team the next three summers while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.

For those who haven't been following the tale -- the Garden will take that long to get done because construction can't be executed in the winter while the NBA Knicks and NHL Rangers perform along with men's collegiate basketball and, yes, women's basketball in the form of a St. John's game or two and, of course, the Magggie Dixon Classic women's doubleheader in December.

Anyhow, there was still plenty of time, however, for the Guru to zip back to Connecticut for the Sun's first exhibition, which was against China, but more so not all the top players from the national team.

Somewhere there's an observation to be made in all this but what happens when you take one former Tennessee player and surrounded her with four other starters with UConn pedigrees -- you go on to a big lead and win the game easily 101-63 in the Mohegan Sun Arena before a lively crowd of more than 4,000.

Kara Lawson was the Tennessee alumna though somewhere there is a comment she has UConn blood in her DNA off her excellent work as a women's commentator and studio analyst for ESPN, which is located in Bristol, Conn.

The four ex-Huskies are Tina Charles -- last year's rookie of the year -- Asjha Jones, who appeared well healed from last season's sidelined injury, third-year pro Renee Montgomery and newcomer and second-year pro Kalana Greene.

The latter played for the New York Liberty, helping the team to a franchise-record 22 wins and a tie for first with Washington in the East. The Libs beat the defending champion Indiana Fever in the conference semifinals but then fell to the Atlanta Dream in the conference finals.

Next week the Sun will play the San Antonio Silver Stars twice -- once in Connecticut on Wednesday and then Friday at the Mohegan Sun's other establishment by the same name in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Greene talked about being traded.

"Yeah, it was great coming here knowing so many players and knowing the system, but it was tough leaving New York because, first of all, you're in New York, and we did a lot of great things last year."

Greene, by the way, was overseas when the trade came down on draft day with Sydney Colson of the newly-crowned NCAA champion Texas A&M Aggies being taken by Connecticut and then dealt for Greene.

The former Huskies post player said she was officially informed of the deal in a call from MSG Sports head Scott O'Neil, the person who ousted longtime general manager (actually her title was higher) Carol Blazejowski and replaced her with John Whisenant, who also became coach to fill the vacancy left by the departed Anne Donovan, who is at Seton Hall.

Whisenant held similar dual roles with the former Sacramento Monarchs, who he guided to a WNBA title in 2004.

Ex-CBS Anchor Katie Couric Named 2011 WNBA Inspiration Award Recipient

Katie Couric, who finished Thursday night a longtime stint as the first solo female news anchor at one of the major commercial TV networks, is the 2011 WNBA Inspiration Award winner and will be honored Tuesday at a lunchoen in New York at which former all-time WNBA great Lisa Leslie, who played for the Los Angeles Sparks and is now retired, will receive the CieAura Pioneer Award.

Past winners are former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (2006), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Good Morning America's Robin Roberts (ABC), political commentary Cokie Roberts and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Contract talks between Couric and CBS broke down in April. Some reports have her heading to ABC, potentially to host a talk show next year.

-- Mel



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