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.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Fate And Destiny Ultimately Led Minnesota To A Title

By Mel Greenberg

When a team finally comes together with all the pieces interlocked to win a championship as the Minnesota Lynx did Friday night completing a 3-0 sweep in Georgia of the Atlanta Dream with a 73-67 victory at Philips Arena to claim the 2011 WNBA title, there are moments in the past to reflect upon over how things began to fall into place.

Bill Laimbeer Joins the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves Coaching Staff

The former NBA Detroit “Piston” Bad Boy after a long run and three WNBA titles with the former Detroit Shock had been in place with the T-Wolves when an opening occurred in the winter of 2009-10.

Cheryl Reeve, a native of Washington Township in southern New Jersey across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, had become a member of his staff and after Laimbeer departed, she stayed as an assistant but also became the pseudo general manager while Rick Mahorn, another former “Bad Boy,” moved up to the head coaching position.

A year later the Shock were jettisoned by the Pistons and moved to Tulsa under new ownership. Meanwhile, Minnesota became open when the Lynx and interim coach Jennifer Gillom couldn’t totally agree to terms and she departed as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, a run that ended early into her second season in July when she was dismissed.

Laimbeer, meanwhile, backed Reeve for the Lynx spot getting into the ear of the Lynx ownership and she was hired in the winter of 2009-10.

Reeve, incidentally, was a finalist along with Anne Donovan when the Washington Mystics hired Julie Plank, which turned out OK in terms of the Mystics achieving their best-ever record in 2010 and a tie for first in the Eastern Conference.

That didn’t last long when the Mystics front office let both GM Angela Taylor and Plank go in cost-cutting moves last winter followed by some key injuries and a wholesale roster change resulting in Washington finishing with a franchise second-worst 6-28 record this season.

Reeve, incidentally, a few years earlier was a finalist for the Rhode Island job that went to former Boston College coach Cathy Inglese.

“I always look at Atlantic 10 head coaching jobs when they open because they can be good positions and I am familiar with the conference,” said Reeve, who starred at Philadelphia’s La Salle University in the late 1980s.

However, a year earlier she declined to get involved in the Temple job after Dawn Staley left, saying her heart was in the WNBA. At the time, as is the case every year, several jobs were on the verge of opening in the pro league.

What Do Reeve and Alexander Graham Bell Have In Common?

Well, the inventor of the telephone knew he had something going three centuries and five years ago on March 10, 1876, when he uttered the famous words into the speaker “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you.”

Watson responded to complete the experiment, which, of course, helped revolutionize the world.

Likewise, though longtime veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin will turn 41 on Oct. 20, age was not a detriment last winter when Reeve picked up one of Bell’s descendant smartphones to call the free agent then with the New York Liberty, perhaps saying, “Taj – come to Minneapolis – We need you.”

Reeve knew that “Mama Taj,” whom she spent time with when both were winning a title in Detroit, was perfect to bring a defensive presence and unite a roster that was going to be a mixture of very young talent with some others who had been around with experience such as former LSU star Seimone Augustus.

“Playing her kind of defense, that’s what we talked about and keeping everything on an even keel – no real highs or lows,” McWilliams-Franklin said several weeks ago about being asked by Reeve to join the Lynx cause.

After beating the Phoenix Mercury 2-0 in the Western Finals, McWilliams-Franklin looked ahead to the finals saying the meal had been good but she was looking forward to the desert. Hope she had enough bubbly Friday night to wash it down at the victory celebration.

Deal Maker

As Reeve was about to sign her contract with Minnesota a year ago, the Lynx were holding an overall No. 1 pick and the Connecticut Sun fan base and media were having tantalizing fantasies about ways to grab that choice and land UConn star Tina Charles.

Reeve eventually warmed to the idea of sending the pick and former UConn all-American Renee Montgomery for homegrown talent and All-Star Lindsay Whalen, who had her best season after previous stellar performances with the Sun.

Whalen also would be a major shot in the arm to boost attendance.

“It may go down as the greatest deal in the history of the WNBA,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said several weeks ago about the swap.

The move reminds back in the time when the Sun media crowd envisioned prying former Huskies great Asjha Jones from the Washington Mystics, which ultimately occurred.

Bad Is Good

Being awful has ways of eventually making things good in the WNBA.

Terrible Phoenix teams begat former UConn great Diana Taurasi as a first round overall No. 1 pick on the Mercury in 2004, former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter as an overall No. 2 in 2006, and veteran Tangela Smith in a draft-day deal from Minnesota in 2007 after picking Lindsey Harding (now with Atlanta) as the overall No. 1 pick.

The result in 2007 several months later was a first-WNBA title followed by another one in 2009 before Pondexter was shipped to New York the ensuing winter in a mega three-team deal involving Chicago. That swap saw former Temple star Candice Dupree move from the Sky in the Windy City to the Mercury.

Likewise, Minnesota landed Augustus, the MVP of the finals, as an overall No. 1 in 2006, followed by former UConn star Maya Moore, the rookie of the year, this season and the overall No. 1 after beating out the Tulsa Shock, ironically, in the lottery ping pong ball procedure.

They also got Rebekkah Brunson as the overall No. 2 pick off the dispersal draft of the roster of the former Sacramento Monarchs, with the Liberty taking former Stanford star Nicole Powell as the top pick.

Reeve in April also had a fourth overall pick, courtesy of a trade with the Connecticut Sun a year ago sending draft pick Kelsey Griffin out of Nebraska and Xavier star Amber Harris was selected.

She also signed former George Washington star Jessica Adair, who had played for Joe McKeown, now with Northwestern. Reeve spent five seasons as his assistant with the Colonials in the 1990s helping them reach the Elite Eight in 1997.

That makes two former players on Atlantic 10 champions who picked up WNBA titles in their resumes Friday night.

Prior to Reeve’s arrival a year ago, former Stanford star Candice Wiggins was a high pick, and last year Reeve was able to take former Virginia star Monica Wright as a high pick.

Incidentally, the winning Lynx just picked up $10,500 per player, for being the champions, while the Dream, after being dispatched 0-3 in the finals for the second straight year (please don’t use the NFL Buffalo Bills comparison), collected $5,250.

And in keeping up with the building block moments theme, the Minnesota organization should find a way to get some of that $10,500 to veteran Tina Thompson, the last of the original 1997 WNBA players, who now is with Los Angeles.

In the final week of the season a year ago, Thompson hit a last-second shot against Minnesota that ultimately put the Sparks into the playoffs and the Lynx in the lottery and in position to get Moore.

Getting Richer?

A preseason deal with Washington that sent former Tennessee star Nicky Anosike to the Mystics returned their overall No. 1 pick, which is now in the lottery, so it is possible that even as a champion the Lynx could very well being making an overall No. 1 selection in April.

Hometown Joy

Moore in winning the title in Atlanta was able to have many of her hometown folks from where she grew up in the suburbs to be part of what was a franchise record sellout crowd of 11,543 in the arena making three strong attendance numbers when considering the two 15,000 plus crowds in the Target Center in the Twin Cities for Games 1 and 2.

Former UConn star Charde Houston is also on the Lynx roster.

At the rate things are going, soon women’s inductees from UConn into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., are going to be as plentiful as past greats of the NBA Boston Celtics.

For now, only coach Geno Auriemma is an inductee since most of the top candidates are still playing. But one of these years Rebecca Lobo, who broadcast the finals for ESPN2, should get a nod, while Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix) should be first-eligible picks in the fifth year of their future retirement.

Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti and UConn broadcaster Kara Wolters, by the way, played on the 1995 NCAA champs for the Huskies and later were on the roster of the WNBA champion Houston Comets, which disbanded two seasons ago. Wolters also has a gold medal.

Now with two NCAA titles and a WNBA crown with a potential Olympic Gold medal next summer, Moore also joins the list as future leading candidate upon her eligibility.

Perhaps Swin Cash might also be in the mix with three NCAA crowns, WNBA titles in separate cities, and an Olympic gold medal.

Good Luck Glen

Lynx owner Glen Taylor, who is also the owner of the NBA parent Timberwolves, is having to through mixed emotions the past several weeks.

With the WNBA team, there has been the thrill of the title run and kudos tossed his way for not giving up on the team in hard times on the court and in the stands.

Tuesday there will be the victory parade and downtown celebration in Minneapolis.

However, in his other role with the T-Wolves, Taylor is on the owners’ committee currently embroiled with the players in labor negotiations that are threatening the NBA season.

“I just knows when he’s here, he loves watching his Lynx,” Reeve said the other day.

What’s not to love?

-- Mel

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