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, August 26, 2011

Guru's College Musings: Delle Donne Soars Overseas; A Brief Reflection on Pat Summitt

(Guru’s note: The WNBA roundup is above this post)

By Mel Greenberg

Discussing the magnificent play of returning Delaware junior Elena Delle Donne with the recent gold-medal USA World University Games team in China, Blue Hens coach Tina Martin couldn’t be thrilled enough for the former national high school player of the year out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy.

When mentioned that the gifted athlete everyone predicted a great future for when she originally committed to Connecticut in the fall of 2007 had returned, Martin said that individual was always there through the controversy when she decided to opt out of her scholarship from the powerful Huskies and enroll at a school in her native state to be near her family and friends.

“I knew Elena was going to make the team and play great over there,” said Martin this week as Delle Donne was heading back from China.

“I think she’s in a good place right now,” Martin continued. “She’s matured, she knows who she is, she knows what she wants, and, just as importantly, she is in love with the game again.

“People forget that along with the acclaim these players are still kids trying to find their way. She wanted to be around her family and she has that.”

For those that have asked the Guru, at least at this moment in time, Delle Donne, who enrolled at Delaware with four years of basketball eligibility because she played volleyball her true freshman year, intends to finish up before focusing on a potential WNBA career in 2013.

League people have already been among those who have asked the question in side conversations during pre-game chit-chat sessions.

Ironically, because of two recurring knee injuries and a third overall at UConn causing her to miss this past season, Caroline Doty, the Germantown Academy graduate who was Delle Donne’s AAU teammate at Fencor, plans to stay with the Huskies also through 2013.

So there’s a potential reunion on WNBA draft day that summer if health and good fortune visit both players.

Delle Donne was recently placed on the preseason Wade Award watch list of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and she is likely to be on the lists of all the other individual player of the year honors such as Naismith and Wooden.

Understand, though, going into 2011-12, Baylor’s Brittney Griner and Stanford’s senior Nnemkadi Ogwumike are probably the frontrunners.

But even though the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne plays for a school in the non-BCS Colonial Athletic Association, which can compete with many teams from the other crowd, she will be a strong all-America candidate, if she stays healthy, based on her play in China.

On a roster with many of the elite college crowd such as Ogwumike, the NCAA Notre Dame national runnerup trio of Deveraux Peters, Natalie Novosel and Skylar Diggins, Maryland’s Lynetta Kizer, and DePaul’s Keisha Hampton of Philadelphia, Delle Donne had 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the gold medal win over Taiwan and was the team’s top scorer (15.7 ppg.) and rebounder (8.5 rpg.) for the tournament.

“Right now, she needs to take some time and rest her body after being overseas,” Martin said. “And then I hope she has everything she’s aiming for in the future – a great season and eventually the WNBA and the Olympics.”

Incidentally, without getting into dates that can be found at the Blue Hens’ website, Delaware’s nonconference opponents will be Rhode Island, Penn State (likely to be ranked) and Yale at home; and road stops at nationally powerful Maryland’s tournament with East Carolina and Lafayette, along with visits to two-time defending Ivy champion Princeton, Villanova, Wake Forest, Providence, and St. Bonaventure.

La Salle’s Nonconference Schedule

The Explorers under second-year coach Jeff Williams released their nonconference slate Thursday and it’s an intriguing one.

Besides playing the non-Atlantic 10 rivalries in the Big Five with Villanova and Penn, La Salle will host Rutgers (potentially ranked), Patriot League regular season co-champion Lehigh, and Fairfield. The Explorers will travel to Big East powers St. John’s and West Virginia; Albany; a flip-flop tournament at Long Island playing Florida and the host Blackbirds; CAA-contender Drexel; Loyola, Chicago; and a tournament at Dartmouth also of the flip flop style meeting Vermont and the host Big Green; and a stop at Northeastern.

As previously reported here, or maybe not, the Atlantic 10 tournament returns to St. Joseph’s for the first time in several seasons.

Former Rutgers Duo Heads South

Alabama announced the transfers of former Rutgers freshmen Briana Hutchen of Baltimore and Daisha Simmons of Jersey City, N.J.

Both were Scarlet Knights rookies in 2010-11 and will sit out this coming season per NCAA rules regarding transfer student-athletes.

Reflecting On Tennessee’s Pat Summitt

Many of you might think this section of this blog post should be at the top of the column with a headline, but when one is a longtime friend of Tennessee Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, who revealed the sad news on Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, which leads to what is still incurable Alzheimer’s disease, one must comply with her wishes.

And foremost in saying she still intends to coach, Summitt requested that as she takes to fight this demon there should be no pity party.

Much has been written quite eloquently in the last several days, but understand life is still very much ahead right now for the 59-year-old Lady Vols coaching legend.

A degree of tone of coverage seemed to undergo the same obituary mode that went into immediate effect at the time it was announced that former NBA great Magic Johnson had contracted the AIDs virus.

Given the best the medical world has had to offer, though long since retired, Magic is still very much with us two decades later.
With the wonderful love and support she has among her immediate family, personally, and in the Lady Vols program from top to bottom, Tennessee can be expected to spare no expense to try any medical procedure or pill that offers hope.

Knowing Summitt, who by the way was born on Flag Day June 14th, since Day 2 – she was hired in 1974 and the Guru entered the women’s hoops world in 1975 -- besides her being one of the first to jump in support of the Guru’s efforts to start a crazy idea as a basketball poll, she set the bar high for others to achieve.

One can say she was part of the magnetic attraction for former Temple coach Dawn Staley to leave the Owls in 2008, saying “I always wanted to coach in the SEC.”

Translation: The SEC and Tennessee have been synonymous most of the way so being at a school as South Carolina offers the annual challenge of beating the best. In fact, Staley even has some former Tennessee stars of Summitt as assistant coaches.

"Maybe they have a few secrets to help beat them," Staley joked at the time of their hire.

Staley almost pulled it off in her first years at Temple, losing in the final minute in Knoxville. The narrowness of the score helped show the Owls were on the way to becoming nationally recognized.

Meanwhile, it was noticed that there already is a call for the resumption of the Tennessee-Connecticut series, even if just one game, that was discontinued by Summitt in the spring of 2007.

Ironically the news broke on the day after she hosted a gracious party for the 2007 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class that the Guru was part of along with two former Lady Vols in Bridgette Gordon and Daedra Charles as part of the six inductees.

Hartford Courant sports columnist Jeff Jacobs, who had spoken to former Tennessee star and ESPN commentator Kara Lawson, who plays for the WNBA Connecticut Sun, concluded with this passage:

The Tennessee-UConn rivalry, the greatest in the history of women's team sports, ended on Summitt's call. Our state misses those games.

Maybe it's selfish of me, but, man, I wish Pat would schedule a game for up here in Connecticut. Make it for the benefit of Alzheimer's research. This is the one time I hope she'd forget old feuds and give our state a chance to show her how much it respects her and her game.

No pity party.

"I know one thing," said Lawson, of Tennessee, Connecticut and ESPN. "ESPN would jump on it in a minute."


Actually, ESPN has been trying to broker a resumption for some time, but beyond that effort, a game might happen anyway at some point down the line.

It is known that UConn coach Geno Auriemma, the fierce national rival, besides offering an eloquent response to the news this week from Italy, had earlier reached out with a call of support, though at the time he might not have known the exact nature of Summitt’s difficulty.

It is known that Auriemma’s earlier offering might have already started a thaw on what had transformed into an rivalry decked with ice.

So time will tell.

And as Summitt indicated the other day there may be some adjustments as she battles this thing but her time is still very much in the present.

And, yes, the Guru will be wearing some apparel Friday colored Orange.

-- Mel



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