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, October 23, 2011

Guru's Musings: Could Delle Donne Be In The Future For the WNBA Lotto Winner?

By Mel Greenberg

Tiptoeing in the middle of several media collegiate women's basketball preview events last week was the WNBA announcement that Nov. 10 will be the day the annual draft lottery will be held to determine the No. 1 overall pick as well as the second, third and fourth for the 2012 season.

It could produce an interesting turn of events and maybe not depending on who hits the jackpot.

Granted, this is the valley year between the UConn graduation of Maya Moore from the collegiate world last April until the departure of Baylor star Brittney Griner in 2013.

In terms of players among the senior class, Stanford’s Nnemkadi Oguwmike is the name considered the frontrunner, though it’s possible whoever lands the spot could make a trade for more experienced value.

The end result might be that the pick will be someone who fills the particular need of either the Tulsa Shock, which won only three games for an all-time WNBA low; the Los Angeles Sparks, which is almost guilty of criminality in being involved in another one of these selections; the Chicago Sky, who many believed should have made headway enough to hold off the late-charging Atlanta Dream or perhaps edged the New York Liberty; or the Minnesota Lynx, who don’t need much after winning their first WNBA title in dominating style.

The Lynx, with a chance to make it two in a row, are in position to grab another No. 1 choice courtesy of a trade before the season got under way that sent Nicky Anosike to the Washington Mystics for their first rounder.

It didn’t seem a big deal at the moment until Washington plunged from a franchise high in 2010 to the near depths of the WNBA with just six wins, though, injuries aside, the Mystics have more accountability than Tulsa, which was reduced to a virtual expansion-team appearance when the Shock moved from Detroit under new ownership prior to 2010.

But at the moment, there is a wild card in all this the same way one existed in 2007 when Tennessee All-American Candace Parker had a chance to leave early, per the eligibility rules, but stayed another year. However, that exist after a second straight Lady Vols NCAA title was still an early departure, but one in which she and Los Angeles crossed paths and she went on to claim the Rookie and MVP awards in her WNBA debut.

So Nov. 10 could be a very big day in the state of Delaware, though nothing much has to be said until the end of the season.

That’s where Elena Delle Donne plays with the University of Delaware, which on Tuesday was revealed as the conference coaches’ choice to win the Colonial Athletic Association – a first since joining the conference prior to the 2001-02 season.

For all the drama the last four seasons – the short stay at Connecticut, the flight to volleyball in 2008-09, the nagging injuries of 2010 and the Lyme illness of last season – a healthy Delle Donne is now once again the player who drew nationwide attention coming through Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy.

Last summer she was the leading scorer and rebounder on the World University Games squad composed of most of the top collegiate talent that earned a gold medal for the United States.

Several players who were teammates of Delle Donne last summer had nothing but praise in discussing her during the annual Big East women’s basketball media day in New York on Thursday.

“I think she was the best player out there,” said DePaul senior Keisha Hampton, a graduate of Philadelphia’s Engineering and Science, who was an unanimous pick for the preseason all-Big East team and could land somewhere in the first round herself next April.

“Her footwork is unbelievable,” gushed Notre Dame junior Skylar Diggins, who is probably 1-2 with Baylor’s Griner going into this season in terms of the national player-of-the-year contests.

At the moment, Delle Donne has said she plans to stay and complete her four seasons with the Blue Hens. Indeed, her stock will only rise higher by leading Delaware to prominence this season.

But this isn’t the pros where you play for a signed contract, though many would argue that a scholarship to ensure your education and life beyond sport is value unto itself.

There’s no question that the drive to excel has returned with Delle Donne’s health or she would never have headed to trials at Colorado Springs, Colo., let alone make the team that resulted in an extended stay away from home over the summer.

When Nov. 10 rolls around Delle Donne doesn’t have to hold a press conference or say anything on the topic. She has until late March to declare and by then, who knows, the Blue Hens could be ranked for the first time ever in the Associated Press poll or land in the NCAA tournament with the CAA’s automatic bid.

And in being the No. 1 overall pick, Delle Donne’s commitment to family values is a WNBA marketing arm delight in selling a league whose fate as a the sister league of the NBA and its labor problems remains to be seen.

Last season, Delaware got close to an NCAA berth when Delle Donne wasn’t near herself but was able to help the Blue Hens pull a string of upsets as a seventh seed in the CAA tournament all the way to the title game.

Maybe Tulsa will trade the pick, but if not, as one WNBA executive said late in the season, “All respect to them, but Maya Moore isn’t winning any titles this season if she had gone to Tulsa as a No. 1.”

But think of the other choices: If it’s Minnesota, Delle Donne could suddenly find herself a teammate of Moore after all and would have the same luxury, because of the Lynx’ talent-rich roster, of not having to be the sole focal point.

And in coach Cheryl Reeve, she’d have someone from basically back home in terms of Reeve’s youth in Washington Township, N.J., and collegiate years at La Salle in Philadelphia.

Washington would have been great in terms of the short distance from Wilmington, let alone providing hope for a fan base that soured on all the events after the 2010 season. However, it’s only a summer away from home in the cities of desirability, not an eternity that four years away at UConn would have seemed because of her deep family attachments.

In fairness, that is not to preclude if Teresa Edwards returns as coach of the Shock, there is a worthiness playing for a five-time Olympian with four gold medals.

Chicago is a fun city, it’s in the Eastern Conference meaning multiple trips to New Jersey (N.Y.), Washington and Connecticut, and Delle Donne could be the player who enables the Sky to finally break what is now a 0-for-6 futility in making the postseason since joining the league in 2006.

In Los Angeles, you’re talking about a team that under achieved, Parker injury notwithstanding, and perhaps the Sparks would be rediscovered in their own city,

So mark that date down on the eve of the Nov. 11th NCAA season openers because like last year for the Lynx, who actually had two of the four picks but less odds than Tulsa, a tiny ping pong ball could come up big for someone when the Olympic summer arrives in the WNBA next May.

-- Mel

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