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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Guru's WNBA Musings: Dawn Staley Nets Hall of Fame and WNBA Top 15 Honors

By Mel Greenberg

Back when the WNBA first launched in the summer of 1997 and notables from the sports world, particularly the NBA, were being interviewed about their perspectives of the new women’s venture, one Magic Johnson made the observation that Dawn Staley was the one women’s basketball he’d pay to see play.

On Saturday the 41-yeae-old former point guard legend out of Philadelphia, now retired, made good on Magic’s valuation in producing a terrific double in the statistics of reward for career accomplishments.

At halftime of the WNBA All-Star game in San Antonio, Texas, Staley was two-fold announced as one of six new inductees to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn. and as one of the top 15 players in WNBA history.

Staley, a former top national prospect out of Dobbins Tech in North Philadelphia, is being cited for a playing career that included leading Virginia to three Final Fours, winning numerous international honors highlighted by three Olympic gold medals, and All-Star careers in the WNBA and former ABL.

She has also added coaching success to her accolades.

In the spring of 2000 Temple, located blocks from her childhood home, hired Staley to guide the Owls and overnight she erased a decade of losing and eventually made them a nationally regarded force in her eight seasons at the Big Five and Atlantic 10 school.

These days she is trying to build South Carolina back to prominence and last season led the Gamecocks to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

But to be fair also, for Staley not to earn the Women’s Hall on her first eligibility or as a top 15 honoree would have been an insult given her storied career.

The Top 15 all-time group in association with the WNBA’s 15th anniversary season was a result of voting from fans, media, and current WNBA coaches and players.

The vote for the Hall of Fame was by the executive board that met at last month’s induction though the public announcement is made at halftime of the WNBA All-Star game.

Staley likely got the word from WNBA executive Renee Brown or USA Basketball executive Carol Callan, who is also the WBHOF board president, since those are the two on the board closest to her.

Induction ceremonies have been the second week in June and Staley’s election follows Notre Dame coach and former St. Joseph’s star Muffet McGraw from this year’s class with a Philadelphia connection.

She also follows former WNBA president Val Ackerman of the same class with a tie to Virginia, where recently departed coach Debbie Ryan is a past inductee.

Staley has ties to the two women’s basketball notables who will be part of next month’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Springfield, Mass.

Former Georgia and Olympic great Teresa Edwards, currently interim head coach of the WNBA Tulsa Shock, is a lifelong friend of Staley’s from their days playing international ball together, and Staley played on the 1996 Olympic squad headed by Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

The other five WBHOF inductees are former Tennessee star Nikki McCray, who is one of Staley’s aides at South Carolina, former Old Dominion center Inge Nissen, who was part of the 1979 and 1980 national champions, and is currently associate head coach at Florida International, former Southern Cal star Pam McGee, who with here twin sister Paula, played on two NCAA champions, Washington University in St. Louis coach Nancy Fahey, who guided her team to five NCAA Division III titles, and, from the contributor category, longtime broadcaster Robin Roberts, who played basketball at Southeastern Louisiana.

Ironically, McCray follows former Auburn star Ruthie Bolton of this year’s class. During the 1996 yearlong tour of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic squad Bolton and McCray would sing the national anthem before exhibition games.

Robin Roberts is the second media member and first from the electronic side elected following the 2007 induction of, ahem, well, you know whom.

Honoring The Top 15

Aside from Staley, the other 14 WNBA honorees were the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, Katie Smith, and Lauren Jackson, the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi, the big three of the WNBA four-title winning former Houston Comets: Sheryl Swoopes (now with Tulsa), Tina Thompson (now with the Los Angeles Sparks and last of the original WNBA players who appeared every season), and Cynthia Cooper (retired and now coaching UNC Wilmington), the Los Angeles Sparks’ Ticha Penicheiro and Lisa Leslie (retired), the New York Liberty’s Cappie Pondexter and Teresa Weatherspoon (retired and coaching Louisiana Tech, her alma mater), the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings, the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Becky Hammon (originally an undrafted signee from Colorado State who first achieved All-Star status in New York), and retired center Yolanda Griffith who played for the former Sacramento Monarchs.

The Guru on his official WNBA-requested media ballot batted 14 for 15 but should have batted 1.000 after making the comparisons between his vote and the outcome.

What happened was a re-vote after the original submission was requested because of a glitch and in making the transfers the Guru overlooked Yolanda Griffith and submitted Seattle’s Swin Cash, thinking he was one short.

All 15 honorees were in San Antonio but before anyone accuses the cost for this impacting the NBA lockout do remember Addias was the title sponsor of the exercise and one would think the athletic apparel company picked up the expenses.

Looking at the nomination ballot of 30 candidates two all-time Tennessee players, who were both overall No. 1 draft picks, did not make it for perhaps different reasons so give the voters credit for their decisions.

Los Angeles’ Candace Parker, voted an All-Star starter this year but is out with a knee injury suffered last month, has not been in the league long enough considering here rookie 2008 arrival and missing 2009 because of pregnancy and most of 2010 due to shoulder surgery.

When Chamique Holdsclaw played – she was the 1999 No. 1 pick of the Washington Mystics – few could question her worth BUT she was out of uniform over the years more than wearing it as a participant.

Meanwhile, the Guru was part of a blue ribbon group who individually submitted a nomination of 30 candidates from an original list of 100.

One person who the Guru voted but did not make the list of 30 was former Temple star Candice Dupree of the Phoenix Mercury.

However, when it comes to the 20 all-timers when this exercise resumes in year 20, she should be in a group considered with Parker who will be strong candidates. Some others to think about, though many others could be added: Swin Cash (Seattle Storm), Penny Taylor (Phoenix), Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince (Chicago Sky), Essence Carson (New York Liberty), Danielle Adams, Sophia Young (San Antonio), Elizabeth Cambadge (Tulsa), Katie Douglas (Indiana Fever), Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles, and Asjha Jones (Connecticut Sun), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), and Crystal Langhorne (Washington Mystics).

Top 15 Coaches

There was no selection for head coach of the 15th anniversary team but most in internet conversations, as well as some in WNBA tweets, center on the honor if it would exist to be given to former Houston Comets mentor Van Chancellor, who might return to the league next season.

With three WNBA titles, the Guru would name Bill Laimbeer of the former Detroit Shock associate head coach.

Then after that here are some worthy people from over the years deserving mention in no particular order:

Anne Donovan (Charlotte, Seattle, New York)
Dan Hughes (Charlotte, Cleveland, San Antonio)
Brian Agler (Seattle Storm)
Mike Thibault (Connecticut Sun)
Michael Cooper (Los Angeles Sparks)
Lin Dunn (Indiana Fever)
John Whisenant (Sacramento Monarchs, N.Y.)
Paul Westhead (Phoenix Mercury)

Top 15 Front Office Executives – Player Personnel

Like certain collegiate conferences, the number in the title is not in correlation with the reality on the list. This is focused on one area and involves those who do not hold coaching titles also and order is nor specific.
Renee Brown – WNBA home office – Last of the originals
Chris Sienko – Connecticut Sun
Karen Bryant – Seattle Storm
Angela Taylor – (WNBA, Washington Mystics) – former both
Carol Blazejowski – (Former NY Liberty) – Quibble over moves but she was an architect of the WNBA.
Kelly Krauskopf – Indiana Fever
Ann Meyers-Drysdale – Phoenix Mercury
Penny Toler – Staying power and L.A. up more than down over the years.
Kristin Bernert – Don’t know if player matters involved but track record is things go well at stops – Detroit, WNBA, L.A., and now N.Y.


Connecticut Sun’s Kara Lawson on the tight races in both Eastern and Western Conferences at All-Star break: “I don’t know if it is much different than other years. It might be more the way the schedule has played out though I like where we are right now. But there have been a lot of East-West games and there are teams that haven’t seen each other yet. For example, we haven’t seen Atlanta, New York hasn’t seen Washington, and we hadn’t seen New York till this week.”


The Guru would just like to note his sympathies to Rebecca Lobo on the recent passing of her mother RuthAnn and to new UC Santa Barbara coach Carlene Mitchell on the passing recently of her uncle, who died in an auto accident, and her mom, who died suddenly a few days later and his thoughts are with you both.

-- Mel


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