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, January 13, 2012

Guru Interview: Cooper-Dyke Calls Delle Donne "Elite" And WNBA-Ready

(Guru’s note. Below this are two posts – local and national roundups with the local roundup including Delaware and Drexel game details as well as all CAA and Big ten games highlighted by Penn State. If you are in melgreenberg.com and arrived here first, click mel’s blog on the left to reach the other two posts and full archive in blogspot).

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, Del. – North Carolina-Wilmington reached a milestone in the Seahawks’ history playing their 1,000th game here Thursday night when they matched up with front-running Delaware in a Colonial Athletic Association game at the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center.

However, there was not much memorable to take home from a 69-37 loss in which UNCW (8-7,1-3) was held to a season-low and beyond on the scoreboard as well as shooting a dismal 23.7 percent from the field and being hounded into 21 turnovers.

While the loss did not sit well with second-year coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the former WNBA and Olympic great who earned CAA coach of the year honors last season for turning UNCW into a Cinderella story, she didn’t mind discussing Delaware junior sensation Elena Delle Donne, who has the option because of her natural senior class of joining the WNBA after this season.

Delle Donne for the moment is placing her emphasis on helping Delaware make school history in trying to win the CAA and also already has led the Blue Hens to their first-ever appearance in the Associated Press women’s poll.

The graduate of Ursuline Academy in nearby Wilmington who was the 2008 national high school player of the year recently set the women’s career scoring record at Delaware – she reached 1,748 points after Thursday’s game – and leads the nation in scoring with a 30.3 average thought that will dip a bit when Delaware updates its stats since she scored just 23 points and saw less playing time than normal because of the rout.

Of course, with a visit on tap for Sunday at Northeastern, the scoring needle can swing back up 180 degrees quickly as it has done several times in both directions as the Blue Hens have moved to 13-1 overall and 4-0 in the CAA.

At the end of last season Delle Donne, who was still recovering from the effects of Lyme Disease earlier in the year causing massive fatigue, led Delaware, a 7th seed, to a 62-47 upset of second-seeded UNCW in the CAA tournament semifinals.

“The biggest difference (in Delaware this season) is Elena,” said Cooper-Dyke, who helped lead the former Houston Comets to the first four WNBA titles in the late 1990s. “Elena is playing at a different level this year.

“She is playing great defense, she’s really the enforcer underneath the basket, she’s hitting her outside shot, which forces you to come up on her, and then she can penetrate around you,” Cooper –Dyke continued.

“I really think the intensity of Elena has changed from last year and that is the biggest difference,” Cooper-Dyke said and cited Delle Donne’s performance for the USA Basketball squad in the World University Games winning a gold medal as the main cause.

“This is going to sound a little weird but I think USA Basketball boosted her confidence. It showed her she really is an elite basketball player. She might have had some doubts in her own mind – we all knew she was the best – but if she had doubts, playing for USA Basketball, playing on the world’s stage, really gave her confidence, that push she really needed to take her game to the next level.”

As one who knows talent at the pro level, Cooper-Dyke was asked if Delle Donne could fit into the league now if she made the jump and responded, “She was a pro two years ago. Oh, yeah. She’s absolutely ready.”

“It’s really about Elena and her growth. I think the very next step for her has to be set on making her debut in the league.”

Cooper-Dyke then smiled and noted a personal interest for Delle Donne to make the move now, though it is believed she is having too much fun to leave her teammates.

“We all want her to get out of the CAA now so we can compete again. But she’s just a great player and (Delaware coach Tina Martin) has just done a fantastic job with her and the rest of the team. They have a couple of transfer players that have solidified what Delaware does with outside shooting, penetration, and ball movement – they have the complete package.”

The Los Angeles Sparks have the first pick in this year’s draft while the Seattle Storm hold the second pick ahead of the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx (through a trade with Washington) and the Tulsa Shock.

The next time around in 2013, however, if things don’t go well for Connecticut, Washington or New York, at least two of them could land in the lotto and if a West team has the first pick there’s the chance Delle Donne could land in the East close to home.

The other factor is both Baylor great Brittney Griner and Notre Dame sensation Skylar Diggins, because this will be the 22nd year of their birth, they have the option of leaving early, according to the WNBA collective bargaining agreement.

If Delle Donne declares for this summer Los Angeles would then have to deliberate whether to make her the pick or the currently perceived top choice – Stanford senior Nnemkadi Oguwmike.

Griner, if she stays, is considered the likely choice for the overall No. 1 pick next summer but if an Eastern seaboard team holds that choice, especially Washington or New York, the selection of Delle Donne could have an even greater impact on attendance growth.

With Delle Donne having claimed the Delaware women’s career scoring mark – now at 1,748 points – here are some career milestones to keep in mind with 14 regular season games remaining, plus the potential of at least three in the CAA tournament if the Blue Hens get to the title game, and at least one more in either the NCAA or WNIT.

Delle Donne needs just 13 points to pass former James Madison star Meredith Alexander and climb into the CAA Top 10 of all-time scorers.

She is also 19 away from reaching ninth currently held by Pam Bryant of former CAA member Richmond at 1,766.

Delle Donne is 273 from reaching 2,031, which would eclipse former Blue Hens men’s star and current men’s assistant Mike Pegues, who has the combined men’s/women’s scoring record at Delaware at 2,030.

When Delle Donne reaches 2000 points she will become the fifth women’s player in CAA history to get to that total.

Former James Madison star Dawn Evans claimed the CAA scoring summit last season at 2,667 – two less than the men’s mark set by former great David Robinson when Navy was a member and he finished with 2,669 points.

When Evans shot to No. 1, she past the previous CAA women’s mark of former Drexel star Gabriela Marginean who finished with 2, 581 in 2010 to also set an all-time record for Philadelphia area collegiate schools at all NCAA divisional levels.

Third on the CAA women’s list is former JMU star Tamera Young at 2,121 and fourth is former Old Dominion great Celeste Hill at 2,112.

-- Mel


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