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 02, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: College Coach Waxes Nostalgic Over Lynx's Cheryl Reeve

(Guru’s Note: There is a post above this on the impact on the Temple women’s basketball program if the Big East presidents vote Sunday to make the Owls an offer as a full member of the conference.).

By Mel Greenberg

As the Minnesota Lynx prepare to take the floor Sunday night in the Target Center in Minneapolis against the Atlanta Dream in the opener of best-of-five WNBA championship series, one person who is not surprised at the team’s success under second-year coach Cheryl Reeve is her college coach Bill “Speedy” Morris.

He is currently the longtime boys coach of St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia’s Catholic League.

Though returned to the high school ranks, Morris initially moved to collegiate level in the mid-1980s and was hired at La Salle to coach the women and then the Explorers men, making that a first for a coach at a Division I school.

“Cheryl was a great player for us and I wish her the best,” Morris said from his home Saturday night.

Morris, known for his antics and quips, confirmed a story that Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma referenced recently when he did the color commentary of one of the Lynx games in the Western finals against the Phoenix Mercury.

“I didn’t recruit Cheryl – she was already there as a freshman when I arrived,” Morris recalled of the former high school standout from Washington Township in southern New Jersey (South Jersey in the vernacular) across the Delaware River.

“One time I took the team to Chinatown and I had to get on her for something and Cheryl started to cry,” Morris said with a chuckle.

“I said, `You’re crying. Why are you crying? I’m crying because I have to coach you,’” Morris related.

“Then later I pulled Gina Tobin aside and said, `Go talk to Cheryl and tell her not to worry, that everything is ok.’”

Reeve was voted the WNBA’s coach of the year this season after guiding the Lynx to a league-best 27-7, one of the better regular season records in the WNBA’s 15-year history.

After Morris left to coach the La Salle men, a move incidentally made by Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw who then held a similar position with the Explorers, Reeve finished her collegiate career under John Miller, who has been in recent seasons the girls coach at Mount St. Joseph’s in the Philly suburbs and led them to a state title several years ago.

She then joined Morris’ staff at her alma mater for a few seasons and then took an assistant job with Northwestern’s Joe McKeown when he was coaching George Washington in the Atlantic 10.

Reeve went on to coach at Indiana State and then later joined the WNBA as an assistant to Anne Donovan when she was coaching the former Charlotte Sting.

She also assisted San Antonio’s Dan Hughes when he was with the former Cleveland Rockers and then joined Bill Laimbeer’s staff, winning one of the three WNBA titles by the Detroit Shock prior to Laimbeer’s departure and the team’s eventual move to Tulsa under the same nickname.

The Lynx, which is recent seasons have been built upon high draft picks collected because of mediocre finishes, are the latest to go from an endangered franchise to one basking in the glow of transforming into a title contender.

There was a time that the Seattle Storm prior to their first title in 2004 were considered a potential threat to be cast aside until the championship helped turn things around.

Several years ago the Indiana Fever, who were beaten last week in the Eastern Finals, were believed a target for dispersal or movement elsewhere.

But they made the 2009 finals, drew terrific crowds in a terrific complete five-game series won by the Phoenix Mercury, and have been on solid footing since.

Atlanta, which is in its second finals in two seasons after joining the WNBA as an expansion outfit in 2008, has undergone two ownership changes, including one earlier this season.

Though the Dream has yet to win a championship, Atlanta has been on a solid streak overcoming adversities in terms of injuries and having temporary departures from the Dream’s star foreign players in Sancho Lyttle (Spain) and Erika de Souza (Brazil). Both players had to take leaves of absences to play for their respective country’s national teams in qualifying tournaments for next summer’s Olympic games in London.

Ironically, both Atlanta and Minnesota have picked up supporters in their respective home cities with enhanced focus in the wake of miserable letdowns from local pro teams such as baseball’s Twins in Minneapolis and the Braves in Atlanta.

Revolving Door

No news yet on moves that may be made in Los Angeles or Tulsa, which both had coaches exit on the same weekend in early July.

The Tulsa Shock, during its second season in which a record was a set at a WNBA-worst 3-31, lost Nolan Richardson, the former Tulsa and Arkansas men’s coach who resigned and was replaced in an interim capacity by former Olympic great Teresa Edwards, who was an all-American at Georgia.

Jen Gillom, now assisting UConn’s Geno Auriemma with the USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team, was fired from the Los Angeles Sparks during the team’s early struggles that continued when Candace Parker was lost for a large part of the summer with a knee injury.

Gillom will also serve with former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan as assistants to former Colorado coach Ceal Barry running the USA Basketball Pan American Games entry later this month.

When Gillom departed the Sparks, former assistant Joe Bryant was promoted as an interim to a second tour of duty with Los Angeles, where he previously held the head coaching position.

It is not known if Bryant wants to return or if the Sparks want to go in the proverbial different direction.

Edwards said to her media after the final home game in Tulsa she would like to return but wasn’t going to lobby for the job but would still like to remain with the organization no matter which direction it heads with an eye to next season.

“The way these things go, I don’t think you will see moves at either place until after the first of the year,” said one veteran WNBA observer who asked to remain anonymous. “They save a lot of money doing that. That’s just the way it’s been for a long time.”

There are some people with successful WNBA coaching experience that have had said Washington could be a good job but speculated Trudi Lacey will likely get a second season where she is also the GM because of the Mystics being disrupted by two key injuries that affected their performance.

Former Duke star Monique Currie had a knee injury in Europe and didn’t return until just before the end of the season while Alana Beard, another former Duke star, missed a second straight season because of a sprain on her right foot, which underwent surgery that caused her to initially miss all of 2010.

State Of The League

The Guru is not on the scene in Minneapolis – didn’t know how to run a bake sale for airfare but still considering Atlanta – but per the tradition of the two WNBA presidents at previous WNBA finals before her, Laurel Ritchie will have a session with the media Sunday prior to the opening tip.

Perhaps instead of asking the repeated worn question about impact on the league by the current NBA Labor situation someone might inquire in which ways the league may go in terms of translating the reported $10 million deal the WNBA got from Boost Mobile to be the first marquee advertiser.

Perhaps some of it could be used to increase roster size from the current confining total of 11, which has had negative impacts on teams when injuries have occurred or other situations such as the Atlanta departures.

Of course someone could counter that de Souza’s trip to Colombia with the Brazilian team was the best thing to happen to Atlanta considering the way Iziane Castro Marques, another Brazilian, stepped up against Indiana when she returned to a starting role.

-- Mel


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