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, July 15, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: All-Star Vote No "Conn" Job

(Guru’s note: The Philly summer league report from Thursday games is below this post. If you are in melgreenberg.com simply click on the mel’s blog item on the left panel to link into blogspot and the full archive. Some source and quotes in this post stem from team and wire reports.)

By Mel Greenberg

Can one or two states control the WNBA All-Star Ballot when fans are given the vote to pick the five starters out of each conference for next Saturday afternoon’s extravaganza in San Antonio, Texas?


But it seems not likely that five former University of Connecticut stars are in the group as a result of the existing adoration from the Nutmeg State in New England and the equally passionate fan base in Seattle where two ex-Huskies are prominent members of the defending WNBA champion Storm.

The only quibble could be over the inclusion of Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 draft pick of the Minnesota Lynx who was a four-time All-American at UConn.

Moore will be the first rookie since – ahem – another former UConn great, Sue Bird -- and former Tennessee sensation Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever were rookie starters in 2002.

One could make the argument that the rookie starter should be Danielle Adams, the overall No. 20 pick in the second round by San Antonio out of Texas A&M where she led the Aggies to their first NCAA title and was named the most outstanding player of the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

If fans are miffed in the Alamo City, the Texas host locale for the All-Stars this time around, then they should have hit the ballot box though there were crowds of credible veteran nominees in front of Adams, who will likely get picked as a substitute.

And Moore would have been picked as a sub in all probability.

But beyond that, let’s look at the group of UConn alums and maybe keep in mind the statement that WNBA Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault has made over the numerous Huskies who have dotted his roster since the franchise moved from Orlando in 2003.

“We don’t pick them because they went to Connecticut. We pick them because they are great players from a winning tradition and in looking at the criteria then it so happens they come from Connecticut.”

For one, all five ex-Huskies are likely to land on next summer’s Olympic squad which will be coached by – oh yes – one Geno Auriemma who used to guide them all as collegians while racking up seven NCAA titles.

Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi has been proclaimed the best women’s basketball player in the world and has actually won two straight ESPYs as the WNBA’s best player.

Cash, who is Bird’s teammate in Seattle, has played on separate WNBA champions, including Detroit. Bird and Catchings and Taurasi have been voted starters every year since they became pros so it is not just the populace of New England and the Northwest who believes they are special.

And on the Eastern side Tina Charles of the Connecticut Sun won rookie of the year honors last season after being the overall No. 1 draft pick and has already established herself as one of the top centers in the game.

One could make the case that Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles should be ahead of Charles but the vote was close and both would be on the team in any event.

And it is possible that at least one more UConn type might make the team in Renee Montgomery of the Sun in the East who was third in the guard voting and is having her best season as a pro in year number three.

Incidentally the Big East ought to be puffing its chest out with the inclusion of two other starters in the East – Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry, a former overall No. 1 pick out of Louisville, and New York’s Cappie Pondexter, a former Rutgers All-American and former No. 2 overall pick by Phoenix who has been playing in New York last season and currently.

That makes seven of 10 with Big East pedigrees.

Pondexter drew the most votes for guards meaning someone in New York has heard of her even if the Empire State crowd has been hesitant to cross the Hudson River to date to follow the Liberty to their temporary home the next three summers at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.

And it also shows a forgiving nature considering some mild controversies Pondexter got herself involved through tweeting and for bypassing the World Championship soon-to-be Olympic squad.

The top two center vote getters in the West are both injured in Los Angeles’ Candace Parker and Seattle’s Lauren Jackson but voting was well along before both recently were sent to the sidelines.

In terms of the rest of the squads, each conference’s set of six head coaches will vote for six players – two forwards, two guards and one center and also one more regardless of position.

New WNBA president Laurel Richie will get her first challenge in terms of her introduction to the women’s game because she gets to name Parker’s replacement and then Seattle coach Brian Agler, who will head the West while Atlanta’s Marynell Meadors heads the East, names the replacement starter.

Looking at the ballot but not checking the stats so the following remains subject to change, here is how the Guru thinks the squads will fill out:

The center spot is easy in the East – Say hello again to Chicago Sky post star Sylvia Fowles.

Off the voting, forwards in the East could be interesting. Washington’s Crystal Langhorne would be a no-brainer had she not got hurt but having played the last time out, if her back isn’t causing more problems she could again find her way onto the squad.

UConn or not – The Connecticut Sun’s Asjha Jones, another former UConn player, or the Sun’s Tan White are possibilities – you have to like the fact if they don’t have pure UConn pedigrees, then ones with the Sun label are fine enough.

Plenette Pierson of the Liberty is also a strong candidate pending the condition of her knee, which she hurt during Wednesday’s win over Atlanta.

Tangela Smith of Indiana or Michelle Snow of Chicago wouldn’t be a shock though their vote totals were down the line.

As for the East substitute guards, like it was stated, Renee Montgomery of the Sun merits strong consideration as does Chicago rookie Courtney Vandersloot and/or her Sky teammate Epiphanny Prince, the former Rutgers player or New York’s Essence Carson, another former Rutgers star.

And let us not forget Sun veteran guard Kara Lawson who could do play-by-play from the floor considering her winter gig doing women’s games for ESPN.

Over in the West one forward undoubtedly should be Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson, a former Georgetown star who has been racking up double doubles all season. Then it’s a tough pick between Phoenix’s Candice Dupree, a former Temple standout who has All-Star experience, and the Mercury’s Penny Taylor, along with Adams and San Antonio’s Sophia Young, the former Baylor star.

Injuries make the center spot wide open so there is room for another rookie in Tulsa’s Elizabeth Cambage, though Minnesota’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin is a golden oldie notable.

Two guards will emerge from this group in San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, a veteran All-Star, Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus, and, in the golden oldie department again, perhaps Los Angeles’ Tichia Penicheiro.

But if we’re talking oldies let’s not forget Seattle’s Katie Smith for one more bow unless one wants to think modern with former Penn State star Tanisha Wright on Seattle.

So even if the UConn cream keeps rising to the top, the rest of the All-Star solution is still not too shabby.

San Antonio Snaps Losing Streak

It didn’t happen until the final seconds Thursday night but San Antonio got rid of its three-game losing streak when rookie Danielle Robinson hit two foul shots with 1.6 remaining on the clock and the Silver Stars (9-4) at home in Texas beat Seattle 69-66 in the only game on the WNBA schedule to move into second place in the Western gridlock a half-game behind Phoenix (9-4) and one half-game ahead of Minnesota (6-4).

Seattle (7-5) is in fourth 1.5 games out of first and 1.5 ahead of Los Angeles (5-6).

Danielle Adams, the rookie steal by the Silver Stars, had 23 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, while Robinson finished with 12 as San Antonio ended a six-game slide to the Storm.

Seattle’s Wright scored 18 points, Cash had 13, and Bird scored 10 but shot 4-for-16 from the field on the start of a three-game road trip for the Storm.

“I was just in the grove and I was feeling it,” Adams said of her heroics. “I had a whole bunch of open shots and I decided to just take over.”

Adams was similarly effective in April when she helped rally Texas A&M over Stanford in the national semifinals and over Notre Dame for the NCAA title.

Bird, who has won a few of her own for teams, complimented Adams’ play.

“She’s tough,” Bird said. “She’s obviously an inside-outside player, and they were putting her in spots where we would have to to help off once they drove, and they were looking for her. She’ a rookie; so hopefully we’ll get used to her game.”

Meanwhile, all four WNBA games Friday night have value highlighted by the Minnesota Lynx’s visit to Indiana (10-3) where the host Fever (10-3) have the WNBA’s best record, own a franchise second-best seven-game win streak and sit atop the entire East.

Minnesota, is trying to stay near the top of the Western crowd.

If the Lynx can help with a win over the Fever, New York (8-5), which is two games back in second, will try to move closer and also distance itself from Friday’s opponent, the Connecticut Sun (6-5), which is a game behind the Liberty and just got plastered Wednesday at Indiana on the second stop of the three game road trip.

Phoenix (9-4), trying to stay on top in the West, is coming off its winning high-powered two-team shootout at Minnesota and will host the desperate Washington Mystics (2-9), which has a four-game losing streak and second worst record in the WNBA.

Los Angeles (5-6), which won at San Antonio Tuesday night to snap a five-game skid all on the road, finishes the seven-game journey at Tulsa (1-12), which is after its first win in three tries for interim coach Teresa Edwards, who was promoted last Friday after Nolan Richardson resigned.

On Saturday there are two games on the schedule: In the East Chicago (7-7), holding fourth, visits Atlanta (3-9) holding a three-game edge over the Dream and looking for more in what would be the final playoff spot in September.

Seattle, which split two games at home with Minnesota, now travels to the Lynx as the crunch in the West continues.

Hopefully, the Guru will be back in Newark, N.J., Friday night for the Liberty-Connecticut game and right back here at the next sunrise.

-- Mel


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