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.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Guru's WNBA Playoffs: Coaching Matchup in Finals A Rarity On Several Fronts

By Mel Greenberg

Some notes here and there during the first of two off-days of the WNBA finals:

On Sunday prior to Game 1 of the WNBA finals in Minneapolis, first-year president Laurel Richie noted that this is the first time in the 15-year history of the league both teams – the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream are being coached by women.

Many WNBA champions in the past had coaches with NBA pedigrees such as former Detroit Pistons “Bad Boy” Bill Laimbeer coaching the Shock to three titles, former Los Angeles Lakers star Michael Cooper coaching the Sparks, and former Lakers coach Paul Westhead coaching the first of the two Phoenix winners in 2007.

Anne Donovan, now coaching Seton Hall back in the collegiate ranks, was the first female to win a title guiding the Seattle Storm to the first of their two titles in 2004.

But this is only the fourth time that both coaches in the finals have had coaching collegiate women in their backgrounds.

Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve coached Indiana State’s women for five seasons from 1995-96 through 1989-2000 but also was a longtime assistant; serving two seasons at her alma mater at La Salle and then five seasons alongside Joe McKeown, another Philadelphia native, who was at George Washington at the time. He currently is beginning his fourth season at Northwestern
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The Atlanta Dream’s Marynell Meadors coached at Tennessee Tech, way back in the Immaculata era – only 17 days until the Mighty Macs’ movie debuts in theaters by the way. She also coached at Florida State.

A year ago when Meadors took the Dream to their first finals in three seasons of existence after joining the league as an expansion team in 2008, Seattle’s Brian Agler had coaching at Kansas State in his resume.

Having guided the Columbus Quest to two titles in the former ABL, he was the first to win pro women’s titles in both leagues and there won’t be more because the league died under bankruptcy at the start of its third season.

Incidentally, one of Agler’s Kansas State stars was Carlene Mitchell, who was to become a longtime member of C. Vivian Stringer’s staff at Rutgers and is starting this season as a head coach in her own right at UC Santa Barbara.

Prior to last year one must go way back to the early days of the WNBA for the other two moments.

When Van Chancellor took the former Houston Comets in the league’s inaugural season of 1997 to the first of four straight titles, he had been a longtime women’s coach at the University of Mississippi.

The coach of the opposition New York Liberty was Nancy Darsch, currently an assistant at Seattle, but who had once coached the Ohio State women and also was an assistant to the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee.

A year later, Chancellor’s opponent guiding the Phoenix Mercury was the former legendary player Cheryl Miller, who had served a brief stint at her alma mater coaching the Southern Cal women.

That finals was notable in a best-of-three format for Houston coming from way back in the second half of Game two to tie the series and then win Game 3 to keep the title string alive.

Where Were You in 1959?

One of the Minnesota papers covering the finals in Minneapolis noted that this was the first time a pro basketball championship was being contested in the Twin Cities since 1959 when the pre-LA. Lakers were in Minnesota with Elgin Baylor.

The Boston Celtics with Bill Russell and company, who started a run of eight straight titles, swept the Lakers in four straight in the NBA finals.

Duel of the Point Guards

In the starting point guard matchup between the Lynx’s Lindsay Whalen, a former University of Minnesota All-American who grew up near Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Dream backcourt ace Lindsey Harding, a former Duke All-American, one will get to experience their first title stemming from a combination of their pro and collegiate careers.

But both have been involved in tantalizing close setbacks before.

Harding was on the overall No. 1 seed Duke team in 2007, her senior year, which lost to Rutgers in the final one tenth of a second in the NCAA Greensboro (N.C.) regional semifinals at the Sweet 16 level when she missed two foul shots.

A week later she was the first overall pick of the draft by Phoenix, which dealt her to Minnesota for Tangela Smith, who became a key component in the post with her veteran experience to help lead the Mercury to their first WNBA title in 2007.

Harding endured more misfortune that year in suffering a knee injury.

Whalen was a rookie on the Connecticut Sun, which in their second season after moving from Orlando under new ownership advanced to the finals against Seattle.

The Sun took Game 1 but lost Game 2 by a score of 67-65 on a three-point shot missed by former UConn star Nykesha Sales that would have won the series. She finished that game with a WNBA Finals record 32 points.

The Storm came back to win Game 3 for their first title.

Back with more as the news warrants.

-- Mel

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