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, June 01, 2011

Guru's WNBA Roundup: Still Here With Year 15 Ready For Launch

(Guru's note: Additionally to some WNBA fodder below, Wednesday at 1 p.m. the Guru will appear on the WSTR internet radio broadcast with another of David Siegel's roundtables @dishnswish, this one looking at the season with Debbie Antonelli, the voice of the Indiana Fever in the summer, and Christy Winters-Scott, the voice of the Washington Mystics.)

By Mel Greenberg

Once every five years the WNBA has produced a recurring underlying theme spoken in different variations – We’re Still Here.

Year number five in 2001 was about the ability to still survive while year number ten in 2006 meant a decade of success for the most part even though by then some charter teams had fallen by the wayside and others shifted to new locales.

Now it’s year number 15 up on deck and one could make the case that even considering the downside in the nation’s economy that have impacted cost-saving ways to get things done and roster sizes down to 11 from 13, one could make the case that the WNBA has done a better job at staying alive than many of the print media organizations that covered the league more heavily at its outset.

Of course the negative from that statement is that the league has suffered in coverage outside franchise markets – and even inside to an extent – because of reduced space allocations in sports sections and in staff sizes.

The league launches with a single game Friday night when the Minnesota Lynx and rookie Maya Moore visit the Los Angeles Sparks, whose third-year pro Candace Parker is back after missing most of last season due to shoulder surgery.

Rosters must be down to the final 11-player size by Thursday, though some teams will list 11 but be 10 in reality because of injuries such as Monique Currie of Washington and also of players staying away this season overseas such as Sandrine Gruda of the Connecticut Sun. Janelle McCarville may be missing from the New York Liberty and the Chicago Sky announced Tuesday that Shameka Christon, who missed last season with an injury, suffered a knee injury in camp and will be out at least eight weeks.

Injured players have to be cut before a replacement made unless multiple injuries crop up.

Returning to the opening preamble here, the WNBA has overcome the shrinkage in print media coverage by finding other ways to get its message out with the onset of social media and Internet access – particularly through facebook, blogs, and twitter accounts.

In fact the subject of social media came up during the league’s annual preseason teleconference with the media, which had three segments – the first was a perspective from two ESPN broadcasters – Carolyn Peck, who also coached in the league, and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo who played with the New York Liberty as one of three WNBA charter players when play began in 1997 and also was with the former Houston Comets and the Connecticut Sun.

The second segment involved new Chicago Sky coach-general manager Pokey Chatman, a previous coach at LSU who had been on the sidelines overseas, longtime veteran Dan Hughes, who coached both the former Charlotte Sting and Cleveland Rockers, and in the offseason as general manager rehired himself to return to the bench of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

The third segment involved players – Kara Lawson of the Connecticut Sun who played college ball at Tennessee and in the WNBA offseason does studio work with ESPN, Los Angeles' Parker, who also played college ball at Tennessee, and former Texas Tech star Sheryl Swoopes, who is returning to play with the Tulsa Shock and was one of the three WNBA charters with Houston. Lisa Leslie was the other original playing in Los Angeles.

Former Duke star Alana Beard of the Washington Mystics, who missed last season with an injury, was the other player on the call.

WNBA.com has complete transcripts of all that was said and John Atavilla of the Hartford Courant has all things UConn and Connecticut Sun-related off the call on his blog.

It was during the coaches segment that the concept of social media came up and here’s the responses:

DAN HUGHES: I'm easily the oldest here. With Tweeting and Facebook, I'm trying to understand it, but I think Pokey and Corey can do a way better job at relating this situation than I can. I'm trying but it's not been part of my life.

COREY GAINES: No, Dan, I'm just as lost as you are. I don't tweet, and I don't have a Facebook either. That is out of my realm. I think I missed that boat.

POKEY CHATMAN: I think from the standpoint of I'm not as young as I used to be, but I've been trying to get the message out there. Obviously with the social media thing, there are however many million, or I don't even know how many, I haven't seen the movie yet.

But obviously it's a vehicle that businesses have taken it upon themselves to get the word out. So I think from that standpoint if it's controlled from teams and organizations it's just another media to get it out.

We've also seen the flip side of it. I worry about players that don't understand the ramifications of certain things, and don't quite understand that once it's out there, it's out there. But I think if it's controlled and the media people are putting images out there and messages, why not? It's basically an inexpensive way to get exposure for a league that we're trying to get exposure in many different ways, so I think from that standpoint, it's positive.

DAN HUGHES: To be serious, Pokey's point is really well taken. I think it's like a lot of things, if it's used properly, it could be a vehicle for progress, but it's also something that could be destructive to you. It just needs to be used, I think, in a positive way. That includes not just teams, but players and all of us involved.


Return of Swoopes

During the player call segment , Swoopes, who had been inactive for several seasons, explained her return to the WNBA to play at Tulsa, a team that had been the Detroit Shock before moving last season and being reduced from a three-team league champion to a virtual expansion-type operation.

“First of all, I didn't pick the team, the team picked me,” Swoopes said. “And I mean that in the sense of I was just kind of at a place or in a place in my life where I really wasn't looking to come back to the WNBA.

“I really just kind of took the time to think about if it was something that I really wanted to do. Because I've always been the type of person and player that if I can't give 100%, then I don't want to be there and I don't want to be a part of it,” she continued.

“When I came out and worked out for Coach (Nolan) Richardson and the staff and I talked with him, I really felt like if this was going to happen, and if I really wanted to do it, this was honestly the best place for me to be in the sense of being able to do a lot of other things besides what I could help the young ladies with on the basketball court.

“I tell a lot of people that I wish not that I have any regrets on the team that I played on before but I wish I would have had an opportunity when I was 10, 11, 12 years younger to have played in a style like Coach Richardson's. I think that's probably what a lot of people were thinking and still are thinking is the style of play that he plays and his system is how in the world am I going to be able to run up and down the court in his style of play?

“The first week of training camp we had a few two a days, and I've pretty much been out of the training and everything like this for three years so obviously I'm not going to lie and say it was easy. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was one that I was ready for, one that I wanted to accept.

“And I made it through the two a days, and my body feels very good right now, health wise I feel good. To me it's not so much about his run and gun style and what he wants to do, but it's more about me just being mentally prepared and mentally tough for what is to come day in and day out. I know it's going to be a challenge, but even when I was 10, 15 years younger, it was still a challenge. I don't approach this or look at this any differently.”

-- Mel


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