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, June 11, 2011

Guru's WBHOF Report I:: Notre Dame's McGraw Reunited With Her St. Joseph's Teammates

(Guru’s note: Directly below this post is the AP coverage of the Women’s Basketball 2011 Induction Class and below that post is the WNBA roundup from Friday night’s games. If you got here in melgreenberg.com, click mel’s blog on the left column and that will take you into blogspot for the total package).

By Mel Greenberg

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. –
No question the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend has gone green, so to speak, with the large entourage supporting Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, one of the six enshrinees in the 2011 class who will added to the Hall Saturday night in ceremonies at the Tennessee State Theatre downtown.

McGraw’s group is so large with over a 100 attendees that not all could be included in Friday night’s official events so everyone got together later at an Irish bar.

There were green shirts and some even had buttons with McGraw’s picture.

But for all the flair out of South Bend, Ind., with the former players returning to honor their coach, there was a strong accent Friday night from McGraw’s alma mater, St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.

A touch of yesteryear from Hawk Hill engulfed McGraw as she was joined by the four other St. Joseph’s starters who played with her – Kathy Langley, Mary Sue Garrity, Chrissy McGoldrick and Mary Maley.

Believe it or not, that group was one of the very first teams that your 2007 inductee Guru covered when given the women’s beat back in the late 1970s.

All that was missing were the three coaches who guided them during their era – current senior women’s administrator Ellen Ryan, retired coach Theresa Grentz, the Immaculata graduate who also went on to coach at Rutgers and Illinois, and Rene Portland, another Immaculata graduate who also went on to coach at Colorado before a long stint at Penn State.

Jim Foster, who is now at Ohio State, came along after their graduation.

Incidentally, earlier Friday St. Joseph’s announced it will host next season’s Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, wonderful news for the Guru, who will have zero travel expenses following last March’s trip to the arctic region of Lowell, Mass.

Meanwhile, during Friday night’s storytelling session, McGraw’s former teammates stood in line to come to the microphone to speak on behalf of the Irish coach and Big Five Hall of Famer who has gone to win an NCAA title and turn Notre Dame into a national power.

Actually, it was a tournament won at St. Joseph’s in the early 1990s that enabled the Irish to crash into the AP poll the first time on Dec. 31, 1990, and make McGraw one of the all-time coaches with total appearances.

They told a story of how one time when Notre Dame came to play Villanova in a Big East game, they wanted to emulate the Big Five tradition at The Palestra which used to include large banners rolled out with all kinds of insults against opposing teams both from inside and outside the area.

And so they did at the Pavilion on the Main Line.

When McGraw stepped on the court, they rolled out the banner, which read:

“Muffet McGraw cannot read this sign.”

Ackerman Reflects On WNBA

Another of the inductees is former Virginia star Val Ackerman, who in later years became the first president of the WNBA after having served as an aide to NBA commissioner David Stern.

Incidentally, the other video presenter Saturday night along with Stern to introduce Ackerman will be former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik, and not Jim Tooley or Jerry Coleangelo from USA Basketball.

Granik did have a large role in USA Basketball, however.

During the media availability late Friday afternoon, Ackerman talked about the women’s pro league she lobbied for to exist in the United States.

Ackerman said she is suppose to meet new WNBA president Laurel Richie next week.

“Sometimes it’s good to have fresh eyes come in and look at things,” she said of Richie, a marketing wonk who also is an outsider in terms of knowing the history of the sport.

As for looking back at the league, Ackerman said:

“I think we weren’t thinking about year 15, or 10, or 5, or 20 or 25, specifically, when we started,” she recalled. “We were thinking about the future and what we would call the long term.

“But without pegging a number to it, but 15 (this season) is obviously a big landmark, a big milestone for the league.

“I think clearly the league is stronger than ever. It’s so competitive now. To be able to make a roster is no small feat, let alone star in the league.

“I think women’s basketball, in my opinion, remains in the best position of all the team sports, because it’s so strong at so many levels. Girls high school basketball, girls non-scholastic basketball. College still kills.

“Women’s Final Four grows every year in terms of anticipation and so on. The national team, we’re still at the top of the heap, and then you have the pro league now marching onward.

“All of the levels are pulling their weight, so to say, but what the future holds from here, I don’t think anyone knows.

“It’s a hard business, no question. It’s not like college women’s basketball where you’re sort of Title IX protected.

“I mean the market decides the WNBA level – which teams make it, which teams don’t, whether the owners are remaining incentive-wise.

“But I think there’s a good niche there and it can grow. I think the challenges remain, identifying the core base, building on it, winning over new fans, using the NBA’s assets to the maximum effect and elevating the stars, making sure the Diana Taurasis and Maya Moores and all the great stars are uttered in the same breath as Serena (Williams) and Venus (Williams both in tennis) and all of the one-name wonders.

“If they can do that, they’re going to be fine.”

Ackerman talked about the new technology that has enabled the WNBA to overcome the decline of the print industry in newspapers to reach an audience.

“I think it’s helpful. It makes the league more accessible for sure. It makes the athletes more accessible when they have their own twitter accounts, as long as they proceed with care, for sure.

“And maybe part of the solution for women’s sports is the technology will produce lower production costs of games that aren’t such a big expense to put out there that will allow more fans to take in a game.

“You’re right, with the print media the way it is, all of the leagues have to know what’s going on with the social opportunities.

“And that’s all part of the equation in being a sports league in 2011. We didn’t have to worry about these things when we started. We were more traditional. It was print. It was ESPN televising. It was SportsCenter if you could get it.

“Now you have to sort of deal with all these other forms and outlet.”

Ackerman is a consultant to the NHL about backing women’s hockey.

“They are interested in learning more about the state of women’s hockey. They would like to be supportive. They are trying to decide the best way to do that. It’s a sport that’s clearly behind where women’s basketball was when we started the WNBA.

“But it’s an Olympic sport, it’s a collegiate sport, it’s got pockets of concentration – Northeast, Upper Midwest.

“Long before the WNBA came around, we were monitoring what was around us and paying attention and trying to figure out how that mattered to us. And the NHL, I would say, is going through a similar exercise.

“Where it leads, it’s still too early to say. But I will say I’ve been to a lot of games now and the women who play hockey, they go after it. They are incredibly skilled to play. They’re talking, chewing gum, and walking at the same time. So it’s pretty impressive. And I think the sport has potential there.

“For me, it’s a women’s sports project. It’s just another avenue, where women can get a spotlight, be in sports and excel. And I think that’s sort of a good story.”

Debbie Strohman, a former Virginia teammate, is here for Ackerman, as is her brother, husband, and two daughters and herhigh school coach out of Hopewell, N.J.

Speaking of Virginia, on Saturday the board meets to determine next year’s class, though the official announcement won’t be until the WNBA All-Star game.

However, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, a former Cavaliers star as well as Olympian and WNBA All-Star, who retired in 2006, is a first-time eligible for consideration.

In other tidbits, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, a member of the Hall, is here for Pearl Moore, whom she coached at Francis Marion, prior to taing the women’s job with the Tar Heels.

James Madison senior women’s administrator Sheila Moorman, who was an assistant coaching Moore before later becoming the Dukes head coach at JMU, is also here.

The team of the Guru, former Maryland coach Chris Weller, and former Nike executive Raye Pond, were runnerup in the trivia quiz run by Debbie Antonelli in the Marriott lobby after the Friday night session at the Hall.

The Redheads delegation can really hang late night.

And with that, the Guru signs off for the moment. He will try to transcript many of the speeches, though it won’t be posted here until he gets back to Philly, given the long drive home will be Sunday.

-- Mel

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