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.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Player Personnel Issues Remind That Fan-Friendly League Is Also A Business

By Mel Greenberg

Though some tweets from the fan base indicate displeasure over the events at two WNBA franchises this week in Atlanta and Tulsa, perhaps its because they were caught in the crosshairs of the women's pro league marketing community togetherness with local rosters while at the same time trying to operate as a big time business.

In Tulsa, a vastly improved club that is still struggling at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Shock were caught by surprise concerning second-year pro Elizabeth Cambage, last season's second overall pick out of Australia, announcing she was going to miss the rest of the schedule following the Olympics.

Cambage, who became the first female Olympian to dunk when she slammed one down during the games in London, had also missed the front part of the Shock schedule to prepare for the international competition.

Though she will soon be playing in China, Cambage more or less proclaimed burnout of sorts and at the last minute busted up Tulsa's welcome back to your home-away-from-home party.

In some ways, the move is not as disruptive as it would appear because the Shock have picked up some wins, including a first road triumph of the year at Atlanta's expense on Tuesday, and are showing signs of cohesion.

However, after causing a stir with her play in London that included a first-half explosion that put USA on its heels before Geno Auriemma unleashed part of his defensive dogs, er Huskies, the final phase of the Shock schedule would serve as a proving ground that would put her on display.

Since Tulsa is virtually bound for the draft lottery, depending on who the Shock lands, if they get a 1-3 pick, it would be nice to figure how she might fit with either Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

And, if the answer is in the negative, then perhaps a deal would be out there to be made that could bring in a nice bounty in return.

Speaking of bounty, that brings the other piece of news where the L'Affair de Angel McCoughtry has sort of brought a remake of Mutiny on the Bounty mixed in with drama featuring a female star not seen in the Atlanta since Scarlet O'Hara was in the starting lineup of Gone With the Wind.

Following an Olympics performance that had Dream fans, well, dreaming of another attempted dash to at least the finals, McCoughtry got into an internal tiff resulting the firing of coach/general manager Marynell Meadors, who was an assistant on Auriemma's staff in London.

While Auriemma broke the news indicating his displeasure via tweet that would lead one to believe was aimed at McCoughtry, through use of the word "inmate", the Guru hears it was the other inmates who actually sought to restore sanity and were rebuffed, it seems, via Meadors' dismissal, which occurred on her 69th birthday.

Assistant Fred Williams was promoted to the dual vacancy and former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi was retained as an assistant on the staff but Sue Panek was let go.

Williams' first order of business was to try to restore order, suspending McCoughtry, indefinitely, though it took a short while to finally admit the move, according to reports in Atlanta.

If things aren't resolved going forward, McCoughtry on the trading block could only add to the postseason off-the-court action that will include dominos out of the lottery.

For example, if Chicago falls short, is a swap to the Sky for Chicago's pick, if it is in the top three, fair value?

Or, is a Cambage-McCoughtry trade out there to be had?

There have been surprises, elsewhere, this season on the player front such as in New York, which will host Indiana, Thursday night. Just before the draft in April the Liberty learned forward Quanitra Hollingsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth star, was not coming back from the Olympics at all besides missing the front part to train with the Turkish national team.

That caused a major problem in the post attack and resulted in what has not been much help at all when New York picked with overall choice No. 7 former Tennessee player Kelly Cain, who made an exit from the Lady Vols in college to the chagrin of virtually no one in Knoville.

"Things are different today, no question about it," said former Georgia star Katrina McClain, who will be inducted next weekend into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Back in McClain's time, love of the game was a grand romance embraced by such other notables as former Olympic great and Virginia Star Dawn Staley, who after the onset of pro leagues took hold in the United States bemoaned the sport turning into a business.

"Everyone was in it for the cause until money was introduced," Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was once heard to utter from the sidelines in the early days of the WNBA when she was coach-general manager in Detroit.

The Guru remembers the short-lived start of the American Basketball League as well as the early days of the WNBA when after a tough loss, the visiting players would join the home players at tables signing autographs, no matter how long it took.

Indeed, the Guru heard a tale from one WNBA team executive this week saying a player was considering not coming back next season because the money was quite good in the country involved and they don't have to go out and promote.

"Can you believe it?" the executive said. "How many hours do these people work a day and they're complaining about an extra hour to do a promotional event."

But with all that said, the league is not going to smithereens. Most players still understand the mission. Rookies are subjected to an intense orientation session, though obviously some ears may be less atuned depending on how high the newcomer lands in the draft.

One executive speaking from a wish list said the best thing might be to get big salaries here, forget about working with FIBA -- foreign players who don't want to be here, then that's more opportunity for American players.

And play seven months with a longer schedule. If the money can found, then the (Diana) Taurasi, (Candace) Parker, and others might be quite happy to play here and not worry about also playing overseas.

The bottom line for those who follow the league and also focus on individual teams is that it is worth falling in love with members of the roster. Just don't get so involved to think a marriage has been busted when the time comes to do business with immediate and long-range welfare in mind.

Doing The Math -- How Connecticut Sun Clinched Playoffs

After beating the Chicago Sky in the Windy City suburbs Tuesday night, the Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun clinched a playoff berth, though the Indiana Fever remains in hot pursuit of the top seed.

However, when one looks at the standings it might at first seem to be erronous reporting since no one bothered to explain exactly how the postseason was achieved for the second straight year.

At first glance, with 10 games remaining and the Sun at 18-6, while the fourth-place deadlock of Chicago and New York show common 9-15 records, one might deduce that if Connecticut lost all its games and New York and Chicago won theirs, the Sun would miss out by a game at the finish.

But that scenario cannot occur because New York and Chicago play each other one more time.

So in the worst case scenario, Connecticut would tie for fourth with either the Liberty or Sky team that would be the loser between them.

Now if it's New York, Connecticut wins the tiebreaker on a 4-1 season record while with Chicago, though the season series would be deadlocked at 2-2, the Sun's overwhelming 14-3 conference record is totally out of reach by Chicago, so, again, advantage Connecticut.

Speaking of Connecticut, add former Duke star Mistie Mims to the list of walking-but-not-playing-wounded after the media reports up North revealed she will miss at least a week with a quad injury.

Olympian and former UConn star Asjha Jones remains sidelined indefinitely as a precaution because of her nagging Achilles injury.

Last season Connecticut and Indiana tied for first but the top seed in the East went to the Fever on season series. The worst case for the Sun this time around would be a 2-2 finish with Indiana. So as long as Coach Mike Thibault's team stays no worse than tied with the Fever, staying ahead in conference wins -- it's a two-game lead now with five East games remaining for each team -- will do the trick.

And in the other tiebreaker scenario, the Guru is still waiting to hear from the league what would happen in a looming, but perhaps not likely, scenario that Washington, Tulsa and Phoenix each finish with the worst record.

The three-way deadlock would need to be broken backwards to produce the 1-2-3 order for best odds at the ping-pong balls that ultimately will decide the order of the four lottery picks.

Meyers Drysdale Keeps Breaking Barriers

Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale, an executive in the front office of the NBA Phoenix Suns and WNBA Phoenix Mercury, though she is no longer the Mercury GM, will be doing about 20 games of color commentary on Suns broadcasts this winter.

Incidentally, Mercury coach Corey Gaines has the GM title.

Though she did not last long in training camp, the former UCLA star was the first female to ink an NBA free-agent deal in 1979, signing with the Indiana Pacers and subsequently worked six games in Indiana after her release doing color commentary before playing with the Women's Professional Basketball League.

That made her the first women to do so and while the talented Doris Burke broadcasts men's pro and college games, that is in a network position while Meyers Drysdale may be the only woman doing so at NBA team level.

Meyers Drysdale recently worked in London as an analyst for 13 Olympic women's basketball games and said the broadcast chores will not interfer with her being at the NCAA tournament and Final Four in New Orleans.

At the end of the last collegiate basketball season, the United States Basketball Writers Association honored her longtime legacy to the women's game, announcing the top Division I women's player voted by the membership would here on out receive the USBWA's Ann Meyers Drysdale women's national player of the year award.

Her name will also be part of the weekly women's player of the week award started last season in the same way it is done with Oscar Robertson's name on the men's awards.

Commenting on the WNBA struggles of Phoenix this season, which has had a slew of injuries, Meyers Drysdale said, "It's been amazing. Everyone gets up to play Phoenix.

"Maybe it's because of Diana, with her personality, in fact the league needs more like her. All I know is teams have come in here as bad rebounders, poor three-point shooters, terrible ball handlers, and suddenly they all look great making shots and grabbing rebounds."

Until later, when tweeting at @womhoopsguru will occur from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and perhaps a game story, that's it for the moment.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Ex-Georgia Star Katrina McClain Tabs Dr. J, Teresa Edwards and C. Vivian Stringer as Hall of Fame Escorts

(Guru's note: There is another post above this with musings and notes involving the WNBA)

In one week from today (Thursday) events will have begun in Springfield, Mass., leading to the following night's enshrinement of the 2013 class to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, which will occur at Symphony Hall.

The group will include former Georgia and Olympic standout Katrina McClain and the All-American Redheads, the first women's team to be inducted.

It would not be surprising down the road sometime in the future to see either the 1996 or recent USA women's Olympic team, both gold medalists, gain a similar honor to the All-American Redheads, considering the loaded rosters of both groups capable of individual inductions.

McClain is hard at work finishing her speech for the ceremony which comes a year after her former Georgia and Olympic teammate Teresa Edwards was enshrined along with Stanford and 1996 USA coach Tara VanDerveer.

But she recently completed one of the somewhat easier tasks, selecting the individuals who will escort her to the podium, all of which must come from a list of previous inductees.

"They really didn't limit me," McClain said Wednesday night discussing her choices who are Edwards, former NBA Philadelphia 76ers great Julius "Dr. J." Erving, and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Edwards, incidentally, will be one of few notables doing double duty because she will also serve as the presenter for the Redheads.

Another presenter at the ceremony will be former University of Southern California star and all-time great Cheryl Miller, a 1995 inductee who will join former 76er Charles Barkley and another all-time NBA great in Magic Johnson as they escort Miller's brother Reggie Miller, a former NBA All-Star.

"All three of them will be walking up there with me, but I'm the only one will will be speaking, which is good," Miller quipped this week to The Republican, which is published in Springfield.

"Lord knows what will come out of Charles' mouth. I can trust Cheryl, I can trust Magic, but I don't know about Chuck."

McClain speaking of her choices went down the list.

"'T' is obvous," she said of Edwards, who was McClain's roommate from the day she arrived in Athens, a move concocted by Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach Andy Landers as a way of toughening up his freshman star.

"Obviously, we became like sisters," McClain previously told the Guru whom she selected to write her biography for the Hall of Fame induction weekend printed program.

(The Guru will be on the scene in Springfield next week, even though it will mean bypassing some key WNBA games on the seaboard.)

"As for Vivian, I had to choose her. She was our coach of the World University Games team in 1985 when we were first getting together to be the core group of that era into the 1990s," McClain said.

"She ia such a heroic figure and I learned a lot being coached by her," McClain said of the team that finished a close second to the then-powerful USSR squad 87-81 and taking the Silver Medal at the competition in Kobe, Japan.

"We felt bad when we didn't take the gold because we really wanted to win it for Coach Stringer."

That squad included former Texas star Kamie Ethridge, currently an assistant coach at Kansas; WNBA Washington Mystics assistant coach Jennifer Gillon, a former Mississippi star who was on UConn coach Geno Auriemma's staff at the recent games in London; and Andrea Lloyd, a former Texas All-American.

As for choosing Dr. J, McClain said for her it was a no-brainer.

"He was my idol and role model when I was growing up," McClain said. "Back when I started, you didn't really have women to look up to in the sport the way you can today.

"And it's not only because of the way he played the game but because of the class and dignity he always displayed."

The first major event for the inductees will be a press conference Thursday afternoon in which they will receive their jackets, temporarily, ahead of the ceremony, say a few words from the podium and then sit down for one-and-one interviews.

That night features the reunion dinner in which the inductees and their guests will be joined by past inductees in an informal setting. The affair is not listed as a media event, however, --- you can guess the end of the sentence.

Many past inductees from the women's side will be present, but the Guru hasn't yet seen the official list from his ace Naismith operatives.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Atlanta Firing of Coach Marynell Meadors Turns Dream Scene Into a Nightmare

By Mel Greenberg

The Connecticut Horde and the rest of the women's basketball world discovered Monday that a new member now exists among the media contingent that covers the fortunes and misfortunes of both the powerful University of Connecticut program at the collegiate level and the WNBA Eastern Conference frontrunning Connecticut Sun.

It is none other than the Huskies coach himself, Geno Auriemma, who may have given up the torch of leadership of the USA Basketball squad he just guided to another Olympic gold medal at the London Games but apparently has not yet entirely withdrawn both feet from the world of the pros.

For it was Auriemma, himself, who scooped the rest of the world Monday afternoon announcing on his twitter account that WNBA Atlanta Dream coach/general manager Marynell Meadors had been dismissed in the wake of an apparent dispute with team star Angel McCoughtry, whom Auriemma coached on the USA squad and also coached against during her collegiate days at Louisville in the Big East wars with the Huskies.

@marynellmeadors gets fired Atlanta owners cave in inmate in charge #coachingisaBitch Auriemma flashed the news about Meadors, who was one of his assistants on the USA squad.

It had been Meadors who took a fledgling Atlanta squad that was born in 2008 into the WNBA family and guided the Dream from a woeful 4-30 start to the playoffs the next season and then as an under-seed in the East to the best-of-three championship finals in 2010 and 2011.

Less than an hour after Auriemma's flash, the Atlanta ownership sent out a release that Meadors had been let go and that assistant coach Fred Williams had been elevated outright to both the Dream head coaching and general manager positions.

Williams, incidentally, coached the famed Cheryl Miller in college as an assistant to Linda Sharp at Southern Cal.

The Dream currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference race at 12-12, which is 5.5 games behind the Sun and 3.0 behind the second place Indiana Fever heading into Tuesday night's visit from the Tulsa Shock, the first of 10 games remaining on the Dream schedule in the regular season.

The move follows a week of drama involving McCoughtry, who did not dress for last Wednesday's first home game following the Olympic break when Atlanta beat the Chicago Sky and then missed the trip to Washington for Friday night's game against the Mystics near her hometown of Baltimore, which was also won by the Dream.

"Personal reasons" were cited by the organization for both absences, though McCoughtry had tweeted while out on the social circuit Thursday night at the time her teammates were traveling to the nation's capital.

McCoughtry, who currently leads the WNBA in scoring with a 22.2 points per game average, returned for Saturday's rematch with the WNBA defending champion Minnesota Lynx, which swept Atlanta 3-0 in last season's best-of-five finals.

"I asked coach for a couple of days off so I could get myself together," McCoughtry said. "She allowed me to do that, so I was grateful for that."

But then word emerged that McCoughtry was no longer team captain and that was followed quickly by Meadors' dismissal, which came on her 69th birthday.

Based on Auriemma's wording on his tweet and the drama preceding it -- McCoughtry did not sit with her teammates during Wednesday's win over Chicago -- it appears push came to shove in whatever was occuring between Meadors and McCoughtry.

Consequently, the Atlanta ownership, consisting of Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler, ruled in favor of shove in Meadors' direction.

Assistant Sue Panek, a former Maryland star, also departed, but former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, a Women's Basketball Hall of Famer in his first season in the WNBA, remains on the staff.

In the aftermath of the WNBA break for the Olympics, Atlanta seemed poised to become a major threat again, especially with the return of Erika de Souza, a member of the Brazilian Olympic squad who missed the front part of the season along with some foreign players on other WNBA team who opted to spent the time training with their respective national squads.

The fallout from all this remains to be known -- further details of the firing as well as how Atlanta finishes out the slate that includes three games with the lowly Washington Mystics, last in the East, Tuesday's Tulsa tilt -- the Shock are tied for last in the West -- and one with the struggling Chicago Sky.

The other five include two games with Connecticut, one with the Indiana Fever, one more with Minnesota on the road, and one hosting the Seattle Storm, which finally has its entire lineup in tact with the return of Australian Olympian Lauren Jackson as well as the return of veterans Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters, who had missed time with injuries.

The Dream did have one piece of positive news on Monday, by the way, with the naming of Sancho Lyttle as Eastern Conference player of the week.

Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver of the Los Angeles Sparks was named as the Western Conference weekly recipient.

Atlanta is getting a break in Tuesday's game against Tulsa because the Shock are still waiting for the return on Friday of second-year pro Elizabeth Cambage, who was also missing the front part of the season training with the Australian Olympic squad.

Cambage had missed the flight to Tulsa on Monday, though she wasn't slated to play until Friday night's visit to Minnesota.

Looking Ahead

With all that said, it is time now to look at the Guru's weekly conference-by-conference, team-by-team WNBA forecast. The West features a current virtual gridlock among the top three teams -- Minnesota, Los Angeles and the San Antonio Silver Stars, all of whom clinched conference playoff berths -- while Seattle is closing in on the final spot.

Having blown a chance Sunday to clinch a playoff spot when Connecticut lost to Chicago, the Sun go right back against the Sky in the Midwest Tuesday with a chance to wrap that goal up, though a challenge remains to Mike Thibault's squad for the East top spot from Indiana and Atlanta while Chicago and the New York Liberty are fighting it out for the final spot.

And in the looming four-team draft lottery pool, which is offering three prized picks at the top next April in Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, Tulsa and the Phoenix Mercury are tie for worst record at 4-19 with Washington just a game behind at 5-18.

The Mystics, incidentally, just signed former Atlanta player Iziane Castro Marques, who had been a free agent.

Now here's the weekly skinny:


1. Connecticut Sun (17-6) GB: 00 --
Having been ambushed by Chicago, the Sun go right back at the Sky at the start of a tricky four-game road trip that includes three stops this week at San Antonio and Atlanta besides the Windy City.

The Sun most likely will continue to play without Olympian and former UConn star Asjha Jones, who has been rested as a precaution because of a sore Achilles.

On Sunday the Sky defensed Connecticut's other Olympian, Tina Charles, and prevailed despite the absence of former James Madison star Tamera Young (death in the family) and Olympian Sylvia Fowles (personal reasons though a source said her knees were bothering her).

As Connecticut tries to stay ahead of Indiana, currently holding a 2.5 lead, based on Sunday's gruesome adventure, anything can happen this week, though the most likely result could be a 2-1 effort with the stop at torrid San Antonio being the biggest hurdle.

But unlike a year ago, the Sun have been road warriors this season.

A 3-0 sweep is not out of the question -- Connecticut did beat San Antonio early in the season back home when the Silver Stars were going through early struggles -- but 1-2 would be a cause for concern and 0-3 would place Sun fingers near the panic button.

2. Indiana Fever (14-8) GB: 2.5 -- This is a week the Fever have an opportunity to close the gap with Connecticut, especially if the Sun can't navigate their end of the deal.

Washington visits Tuesday night followed by a trip to New York in Newark, N.J., at the Prudential Center Thursday, and a visit from Chicago, whom the Fever have owned, on Saturday.

A 3-0 sweep is a definite possibility, though Washington and New York each have posted a win previously over the Fever. A 2-1 mark wouldn't be terrible because it would still keep Indiana heading to a second seed and home-court advantage in the best-of-three Eastern semifinals.

But going 1-2 would cede ground to Conncticut above while that mark, or worse, 0-3, would cause slippage near Atlanta, if the Dream can stabilize their current internal problems.

3. Atlanta Dream (12-12) GB: 5.5 -- The one break the Dream has in the wake of its sudden change in coaching is a schedule offering visits Tuesday from Tulsa and from Washington Thursday before Connecticut's appearance Sunday.

The best bet is 2-1 though if the Sun continue to struggle without Jones, a 3-0 run would be a possibility and that could bring Atlanta closer to Indiana, which has a two-game edge for second place.

However, the one salvation at 1-2 or 0-3 is that Atlanta is still likely to stay ahead of the Chicago-New York pursuit for fourth.

4. Chicago Sky (9-14) GB: 8.0 -- The Sky dispensed with a nine-game slide and 1-13 since mid-June by winning at Connecticut. But the Sun come right back Tuesday night followed by a trip to Indiana Saturday and a cross-conference visit from the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday.

It looks like an 0-3 run lies ahead, but perhaps Chicago has more upsets in store to stay ahead of New York. So 1-2 would be OK, while 2-1 or 3-0 would be sensational for the Sky in the current stretch.

5. New York Liberty (9-15) GB: 8.5 -- There was a lot of plane talk from coach John Whisenant Sunday in Seattle following the domination by the Storm involving the travel schedule dealt by the WNBA computer wonks.

But the long road trip is over and things lighten up a bit ahead in terms of New York's temporary home while Madison Square Garden continues to undergo three summers of renovation. This is the second of the three seasons across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Indiana, hungry to catch Connecticut, visits Thursday, followed by Washington on Saturday.

The most likely scenario is 1-1, which keeps pace with Chicago in the hunt for the fourth playoff spot. But Washington's last visit just before the Olympic break last month turned into a disaster for Cappie Pondexter and teammates.

So 0-2 could happen, which would not be helpful, though the Liberty still have an easier path than Chicago in the dwindling remaining games in the regular season.

But as much as 0-2 could happen, so could 2-0 and that could ignite a run to wrap up a playoff spot, though there are many at this point in Liberty nation that might want to be involved in the lottery in terms of building a more secure future.

6. Washington Mystics (5-18) GB: 12.0 -- Technically, Washington sits just four games out of a playoff spot but owner Ted Leonsis was already talking lottery in his blog this week when he referred to the signing of Iziane Castro Marques.

The Mystics visit Indiana Tuesday night, Atlanta on Thursday and then New York on Saturday. The best odds say 0-3, which would bring frowns to those hoping for a playoff spot but joy to those wanting Washington into the lottery because that futility could bolt the Mystics into the top spot in terms of best odds for gaining the No. 1 pick.

In a perfect storm, beating Indiana for the second time this season, catching Atlanta in disarray and then repeating the previous success in Newark, 3-0 shouldn't be totally out of the question.

But these are the Mystics. So going 1-2 or 2-1 would be good for the team's mental condition but not for the fans hoping to get another Baylor RGIII into the nation's capital in the personna of Griner.

And from a marketing standpoint, Delle Donne playing less than two hours from her alma mater and residence could cause a Washington attendance spike next season.


1. Minnesota Lynx (19-4) GB: 00 --
The Lynx arent't running away in the West this season but that's more for the improvement of those in pursuit as opposed to any decline of a squad with three USA Olympians in Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen.

Considering the opposition, 1-1 won't be awful if San Antonio steals another win from Minnesota on the Silver Stars' visit on Tuesday, considering Tulsa will come calling Friday.

But with the Silver Stars and Los Angeles on the heels of the Lynx, coach Cheryl Reeve's squad will settle for nothing else but 2-0, though the Tulsa visit will feature the first action of the season for Shock second season pro Elizabeth Cambage.

2. Los Angeles Sparks (19-6) GB: 1.0 -- The Sparks are on fire and there'll be no dousing the flames this week with visits to Tulsa Thursday and Chicago Sunday for a 2-0 mark.

If L.A. wants to keep pace with Minnesota heading into a showdown game next week, 1-1 would be a disappointment and 0-2 would be worse.

3. San Antonio Silver Stars (17-6) GB: 2.0 -- The Texans are already officially playoff bound following the recent surge so now the plan is to move up to get minimally home-court advantage in the semifinals that finishing first or second would bring in the West.

San Antonio has a tougher week than the teams above in the West, considering that the Silver Stars visit Minnesota Tuesday, host Connecticut in a cross-conference tilt Thursday and then travel to Phoenix on Saturday to play the Mercury.

The best case might be 2-1 while, obviously, 3-0 would be phenomenal. The worst case should be a 1-2 run while 0-3 puts a damper on things.

4. Seattle Storm (11-13) GB: 8.5 -- The chances of moving up are remote but Seattle is moving closer to .500 shaking off the 0-7 season start.

But as Atlanta has been the past two seasons in the East, Seattle could be dangerous as an under-seeded team in the playoffs.

The roster is now whole again following absences and injuries. And it's a light week with just a Phoenix visit on Thursday so 1-0 is a most likely result while 0-1 barely dents Seattle's situation, though for Mercury lottery fans, staying down is not terrible.

5. Phoenix Mercury (4-19) GB: 15.0 Diana Taurasi may be back on the court, but the win column is probably elusive this week with a visit to Seattle Thursday and a visit from San Antonio Saturday suggesting it will be an 0-2 week.

So, though it could increase the odds away from the best quality pick in the draft lottery, 1-1 or 2-0 would be a surprise.

6. Tulsa Shock (4-19) GB: 15.0 -- Though the comeback last week over Chicago was great for morale, this week's diet will be not as tasty.

Still, the return of Cambage Friday will cause interest in how the Shock play, considering all the narrow setbacks.

There's a visit from Atlanta, Thursday, which could be a steal if the Dream are being affected by internal issues, while wins are unlikely concerning Los Angeles' visit Thursday and the trip to Minnesota Friday.

It is probably an 0-3 week, though 1-2 is not out of the question. But to make a 2-1 or 3-0 run? That would be quite an achievement.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 27, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Chicago Sky Eclipse Connecticut Sun To Stay Alive In Playoff Hunt

By Mel Greenberg

In a sense, the Mohegan Sun Arena adjoining the vast casino-entertain complex here was an appropriate place for the down-on-their-luck WNBA Chicago Sky to be on Sunday night facing the Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun.

For all the ineptitude of six previous failed attempts to make the postseason since Chicago joined the league as an expansion team and began play in 2006, non had been more grueling than what had been occurring to the Windy City bunch since the middle of June.

Following a winter of wheeling and dealing that saw the arrival of such veterans as former UConn star Swin Cash and former Auburn star Le'coe Willingham from the Seattle Storm, along with former Notre Dame star Ruth Riley, and former Old Dominion star Ticha Penincheiro to complement a lineup headed by Olympian and all-league sensation Sylvia Fowles and former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince, season No. 7 was going to be the lucky number.

Never mind dreaming about another draft lottery that will be the best yet next April with the prospect of gaining either Baylor star Brittney Griner, Delaware standout Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, who added another USA Basketball gold medal to her collection Sunday with a triumph in the 3x3 tournament.

The promised land had arrived and sure enough Chicago started out living up to the hype in contending with the Eastern frontunners while the New York Liberty and Washington Mystics were quite behind in the Sky's rear-view mirror.

Then Prince, the WNBA's scoring leader at the time, suffered a foot injury and Chicago went into a pre-Olympic suspension tailspin that had continued even with Prince's return following the resumption of play earlier this month.

The slide drew reminders by oldtimers of the infamous 10-game plunge of baseball's Philadelphia Phillies in 1964, when competition was more simplified and the World Series was just a short grasp away as the October Classic came into view on the calendar.

When the weekend started, Chicago suffered perhaps one of the more excruciating setbacks when the Sky had al but wrapped up a road win over the woeful Tulsa Shock, only to squander the advantage and fall in overtime.

That made it nine straight, including a similar fall at Washington a week earlier, and a 1-13 overall mark since the dive began and now Chicago was back in a place that had been all-too familiar while the Liberty were suddenly inside the loop, not as much for any great rally by New York but because of the self-inflicted wounds of a team whose major league sports neighbors include baseball's Chicago Cubs.

More of the same was expected when Chicago arrived here from Oklahoma joining the missing-player game of checkers occuring throughout the WNBA with the absences of Tamera Young, said to be away because of a death in the family, and Fowles, which was characterized as for personal reasons, though a team source had noted health issues before the game.

Connecticut also had a missing player in Asjha Jones, being rested as a precaution due to her nicked-up situation in what has become a new theme: The Curse of the London Gold Medalists.

Chicago coach Pokey Chatman had joked before the game about hoping to keep the score close and then maybe taking it from there down the stretch.

Well, that became the formula for Chicago (9-14) to join the winning patrons elsewhere here who hit jackpots on the slots or walked away as gleeful winners because of their success at the tables, including a fortuitous roll of the dice.

Instead of Connecticut (17-6) joining three Western Conference teams as official members of the postseason lineup for next month's playoffs, the Sun will have to wait a bit longer.

Meanwhile, on the Chicago side, hope sprang anew with a come-from-behind 82-70 victory that flipped the Sky back into fourth place a half game ahead of New York (9-15).

Several hours after the action ended here, the Liberty lost their second straight weekend encounter on a Western swing, this one to the Seattle Storm 84-66 that moved coach Brian Agler's troops (11-13) another step closer to gaining another return to the postseason.

Trailing by seven points in the third quarter and seemingly on the way to more of the same, Chicago exploded on a 17-4 run and then dominated the final 10 minutes 21-13.

Four Sky starters scored in double figures with former Boston College star Carolyn Swords, dressed up in uniform costume as the center replacement for Fowles, had a career-high 14 points while having to defend the Sun's Tina Charles, another Olympics stalwart for USA.

Prince, looking more like the player who was leading the league in scoring before her injury, had 15 points, including three 3-pointers that put her ahead of former Sun player Erin Thorn into second place for career marksmanship from beyond the arc with 113.

Cash added 14 points, while Shay Murphy scored 10, though Penicheiro, the fifth starter, was scoreless in limited action while being plagued with the effects of a previous Achilles injury.

However, Serbian Sonja Petrovic came off the bench to score 10 points and second-year pro Courtney Vandersloot, the former Gozaga sensation, dealt 11 assists.

Furthermore, Chicago, though minus key pieces of the roster, owned the backboards with a 38-26 advantage, and also had the edge in points off transition, 22-13.

Connnecticut youngster Allison Hightower, a prime candidate for most improved player and a former recruit to LSU when Chatman patrolled the Tigers' coaching box, scored 17 points while Kara Lawson scored 16 and Charles finished with 15 points.

Former UConn star Renee Montgomery added 10 points off the bench.

"We had a little adversity trouble early with foul trouble," Chatman said afterwards of her team's unlikely triumph. "I thought in the middle, they made that run and they went up on us and then late we had three or five possessions against the zone and we stumbled, but we didn't let it effect us on the offensive end.

"We were plus 12 on the boards, took care of the ball and got good looks and it was nice to see everyone step up and we needed every single player since we were shorthanded.

"Yes, it was a good win against the best win in the East and that should give us some pause when we go back to the drawing board, rest a little bit tonight," Chatman continued while acknowleding the toughness of the Sky schedule the rest of the way.

"We don't have much time to enjoy this," she said with an eye to Tuesday's quick rematch in the Midwest between the two teams. "They're a great team and they'll make more adjustments Tuesday."

As for playing shorthanded, Chatman noted, "I've been on the other side of that when some players went down, but when you have those players that are positive energy and they're always ready for their opportunity. I talked to the team, 'I need you in three-minute spurts,' because that's what some of those role players will do.

"I need three minutes and then I'll get someone else in there to shorten the game. But the bottom line is, we played against a team that does a really good job of scouting, so we had to make some adjustments and move some people around so it was nice to see us execute down the stretch."

Chatman talked about the play of Swords, whose alma mater was a former Big East rival of UConn before the Eagles jumped to the Atlantic Coast Conference before her arrival in Beantown.

"We see her do that every day in practice," Chatman explained. "She goes against Sylvia every day, so there is no intimidation factor. She uses her size well and she is going to be in the right spot, she is going to get an illegal screen, which I don't mind, and she is going to put the hurt on someone, keep the ball high, screen for shooters, she makes the second cut and she connects the dots in basketball.

"It's not about how high or how fast, it's thinking and changing the game. No one here is surprised, they are just excited. I am proud of Carolyn, she was huge."

Still, it had to be tough from a mental and emotion standpoint to get Chicago ready for Connecticut in the short amount of time after the potential win against Tulsa, tied for the worst record in the league, was squandered.

"I think, this is where the veteran leadership, it doesn't show itself in the final stats sheet that you guys bring to me, it shows itself in an airport, in a hotel, at shootaround, in a locker room, and talking people through it," Chatman said of her elder stateswomen.

"They talk to the youngsters and don't let them put their head down and that type of stuff is infectious and, yeah, obviously it manifests itself on the court. But once you get over that initial hump and you saw the level that came with the big lineup, the small lineup, transition and halfcourt and so in."

Cash and Willingham scored 15 points in the big run.

"You guys don't see it, but before I come to every huddle, Swin is taking to them, 'Coe is talking to them, Ticha is talking to them. And sometmes having a nice voice besides mine, that is a little loud and crazy, a teammate that you give respect, gives them a little breathing room."

Cash, who won a pair of NCAA titles at Connecticut, three WNBA titles -- two with the former Detroit Shock and the 2010 triumph in Seattle -- to go with two gold medals including the recent triumph in London, talked about surviving the dive.

It's not the first plunge because her rookie season, Detroit lost its first 13 before Bill Laimbeer became coach and began turning things around in the Motown.

"After the loss we had in Tulsa, it just sucks the air out of you and we didn't want to come in here in Connecticut with it still be lingering and everyone was just talking, from the time we lost through the next morning in the airports and when we got here, shootaround, all those things," Cash related.

"We just kept talking, talking, and keeping everyone positive and we had a really good feeling coming into this game," Cash continued.

"I did draw a little bit on how it started in Detroit," she said. "I was talking to Ruth, who was also a teammate with the Shock. "I said, 'I don't remember this ever happening in my career.'

"And then I said, 'No, wait. I remember my rookie year and that was hell on earth.' It's definitely a different dynamic here. I feel we have what it takes in our locker room. It's just pulling the pieces together. This was a huge win for us and all we can do is build from here.

"It's going to be a battle to the wire. We're chasing all these teams. We're going to just have to keep scraping and pulling out games like this one."

Cash grabbed her 2000th career rebound and now has 2,002 overall after totalling six against Connecticut.

Prince was glad to see a game go the way things had been prior to her injury, though Chatman noted before the game that some of that was a misread because the Sky had a few narrow escapes, masking some flaws she was trying to get corrected.

"It's big because it's a win and it gives us a chance," Prince smiled. "We still want to make the playoffs and we needed a win," she said and also addressed the roster absentees, saying it was a situation already experienced.

"I know in the beginning of the season, it was just a scrimmage, but I know we played without Swin and Syl and we knew what plays to run and today it was kind of similar," Prince said.

"We reminded ourselves we did it back in the beginning of the season when we weren't used to each other as much."

On the other side, it was a dismal loss for Connecticut, though the playoffs are almost a certainty, while the battle for first place and homecourt advantage in the two rounds of the Eastern Conference was reduced to 2.5 games over the Indiana Fever.

"Obviously, it's a disappointing loss for a lot of reasons," Sun coach Mike Thibault said, though he did not tongue-in-cheek lecture the media this time for making assumptions as he had after Tuesday's home escape over Tulsa.

"We had a chance, with a little help, to clinch a playoff spot and we didn't do it," Thibault said. "We just got outplayed in a lot of areas; outrebounded, our turnovers led to points. We shot the ball poorly for a stretch, particularly in the second half. They out-hustled us for loose balls."

Thibault discussed the roster subtractions on both sides Sunday night.

"I told (his team) afterwards, you can't sit here waiting for Asjha to come save you," he said of Jones, who joined Charles on the Olympic team. "They played without Tamera Young (a former James Madison star) and Sylvia Fowles.

"Today, it felt like we were waiting for something to happen, you have to make those things happen. We have our work cut out for us. This is a very difficult road trip and we're down. You have to find a way to overcome it, if you want to consider yourself an elite team."

Lawson echoed the disappointment.

"It's very disappointing, especially because it was our home game," the former Tennessee star and former Olympian said. "We're getting ready to start our longest road trip of the season and we certainly would have liked to be going on the trip with some momentum, but we're not.

"Hopefully, we can learn from it. The good thing about it, is we get to go right back out and play them again on Tuesday in Chicago, and we get another opportunity to get a win against them."

That would add to the huge pile of conference triumphs to date, which could come in handy if Connecticut is tied for first at the end of the season with Indiana, as they were a year ago but were related to the second seed because of losing the series with the Fever.

Storm Douse Liberty

Meanwhile, New York coach John Whisenant, following the loss to Seattle, was bemoaning the current road schedule, which the Liberty ended before starting a long homestand Thursday night hosting Indiana at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

"I've heard NBA counterparts say that the schedule at times just makes it an impossible chance for you," Whisenant commented. "Without taking anything away from Seattle, the league ought to take some of our loss.

"It was a terrible schedule. We've gone from New York to Connecticut to Phoenix to L.A. to Seattle and back to New York in nine days and we've played six games," he noted. "When you add in that we're not traveling in lears (private jets) like the NBA guys ... we're going through airport checks and getting there an hour and a half early. It's really hard."

Competition-wise, New York still has a big advantage over Chicago, including one remaining game against the Sky, the rest of the way.

Whisenant did have time to praise the Storm.

"With that said, I have picked Seattle to be a contender for the Western Conference championship," he observed. "That's knowing (defending champion) Minnesota has a whole bunch back, and L.A., with their rookie (former Stanford star Nneka Ogwumike) and the addition of Alana Beard and San Antonio has been a surprise and has played very, very well.

"The West is loaded with those four teams, but I think Seattle, now that they've got Lauren (Jackson) back -- and when she gets back in rhythm like I know she can -- I can see them getting into the playoffs and winning the whole thing."

New York beat Seattle at home last month prior to the Olympics when Jackson missed the front part of the season training with the Australian squad.

Whisenant used to compete in the West when he coached the former Sacramento Monarchs.

"I told the coaches out here that and wished them good luck. I like this bunch. This is a good franchise. Lauren is one of the best women's basketball players in the world and Sue (Bird) is arguably the best point guard and when you get that combination with two other leading scorers of all time there in Katie (Smith) and Tina (Thompson) -- they're a good crew and they'll be right in the thick of it. The fans should jump all over it and enjoy it.

"But we've got our own issues," he said of the Liberty. "We have some limitations that we try to overcome and we've played pretty well ... to be 3-and-3 with the schedule we've had, five of them on the road. I was most proud of my team because we could have lost by 30, but they never gave up. They were still trying even though legs were dead. I was pleased with my team in that respect."

The Storm snapped a three-game losing streak and Bird posted her first double double of the season and 20th of her career while it was also the fourth points-assists double double in the WNBA.

She had 20 points and dished 10 assists. Rookie Shekinna Stricklen out of Tennessee scored 12 points and was the second overall pick in the draft via the trade with Chicago that sent Cash and Willingham to the Sky.

New York's Cappie Pondexter, another former Rutgers all-time great, had 23 points, the only Liberty to score in double figures. It was also the 14th time this season and fifth in six games since the Olympic break that she has reached or passed the 20-point plateau.

"We've got to keep getting better -- that's the big thing," Pondexter said. "I'm just trying to make sure this team gets to the playoffs. For us, we've got to keep moving forward."

The Guru will return in 24 hours with the weekly look-ahead in the WNBA, barring breaking news, though most of the day will be spent driving back home.

Team reports contributed quotes to this story.


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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: New York Gaining Playoff Advantage During Chicago Sky-Dive

By Mel Greenberg

It looks like the Connecticut Sun may not have seen the last of the New York Liberty following last week's conclusion of the five-game series between the two WNBA Eastern Conference rivals in which the Sun went 4-1.

As result of the Sky-dive in Chicago, highlighted by Friday night's overtime come-from-ahead loss in Tulsa to the Shock and looking at what's left on schedules, unless the Sky can find a way to play the way they were prior to Epiphanny Prince's foot injury, the Windy City group seems draft lottery-bound again, while New York is on a road headed to the playoffs.

If it comes true, this will make it 0-for-7 since Chicago joined the league in 2006 in terms of making the playoffs.

Meanwhile, New York would probably finish with the fourth and final playoff spot in the East so if Connecticut hangs on to its first-place lead, the two nearby rivals would meet in the first round in a best-of-three affair.

Even if Chicago, which has had Prince back in the lineup following the pause for the Olympics, had won its last three of its last five that included setbacks to the Liberty and overtime defeats at Washington and Tulsa, New York still had an advantage between the two.

The other two Chicago games were losses to the Atlanta Dream.

New York doesn't have a slew of likely wins left but it projects to fare much better than the Sky, which is on a 1-13 plunge, effectively putting the Liberty back in the playoff race.

The price of moving forward for New York can be costly, however, while the cost of a return to mediocrity can actually work out for the Sky.

Since the Liberty may not last long in the postseason, it means New York won't be involved in this fall's lucrative draft lottery involving the four non-playoff teams with the prize of Baylor's Brittney Griner most likely attached to the team that lands the No. 1 pick. Furthermore, there's also high-valued Elena Delle Donne out of Delaware and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins among the projected top three picks.

At best in terms of the lottery, the schedule that favors New York over Chicago on the winning side would also have probably led to no better than the fourth-best shot at the No. 1 pick in the bounce of the ping-pong balls.

The reason is the Liberty, barring a complete collapse, are not going to lose more games than the Western Conference's Tulsa Shock and Phoenix Mercury and the Eastern Conference's Washington Mystics the rest of the way.

Likewise, Chicago, if it doesn't make the playoffs, while looking like it may lose a ton of its last 12 games, it won't drop enough of them to get a better advantage over the other three likely lottery-bound teams.

But for the second time in four years, a galling situation awaits New York if Chicago is fourth in line among the odds for the No. 1 pick and then gets lucky.

In 2009 New York was involved in a three-way deal early in the season with the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx and dealt away its first-round pick, which at the time didn't seem a terrible move since many believed the Liberty would land in the playoffs.

But they did not and their pick, which was in the hands of Minnesota, was dealt in the famous trade to Connecticut, who selected New York local star Tina Charles, the former UConn sensation.

Minnesota certainly didn't suffer in terms of receiving Lindsay Whalen as part of the Connecticut trade but a year later the Lynx, off of good fortune, was back in the lottery and won the rights to pick another UConn star in Maya Moore.

That led to last season's championship and contention for another title this time around.

So imagine if Chicago wins the lottery because with the talent on its roster, the playoff drought would certainly end, barring injury, in 2013.

That moment of irony, if it came, would rival the 1984 NBA draft for Chicago, which was holding the third pick but, thanks to the Portland Trailblazers picking Sam Bowie second, the Bulls suddenly found themselves in position to pick one Michael Jordan out of North Carolina.

As for the playoff hunt between New York and Chicago, the Liberty hold a one-game lead over the Sky and are underdogs on the rest of the their trip West this weekend playing at Los Angeles Saturday night and then Sunday at the Seattle Storm, which now has Lauren Jackson back from the Olympics.

Jackson took the first half of the season off to train with Australia and was not with Seattle when New York caught the Storm sleeping back in Newark, N.J., last month.

In looking at the comparison of what's left for the two teams, New York projects to a best-case 7-5 and worst case 5-7 range, while Chicago could be looking at 2-10 or 3-9, meaning the remaining game next month in New York, while a must for the Sky, may not be much help for the visitors.

Chicago must pull a string of upsets and hope that games being called winnable for New York in the following group land in the loss column for the Liberty.

Here are the opponents left for each team.

New York (9-13, 12-Games left, 5-A, 7-H): Washington (3, 2-H, 1-A); Los Angeles (2, 1-A, 1-H); Seattle (1, 1-A); Chicago (1, 1-H); Tulsa (2, 1-A, 1-H); Phoenix (1, 1-H); Indiana (1, 1-H); San Antonio (1, 1-A).

Winnable: Washington 3, Chicago 1, Tulsa 2, Phoenix 1. It is understood though that all are capable of beating New York.

Chicago (8-14, 12 Games left, 7-A, 5-H ): Connecticut (3, 2-A, 1-H); Indiana (1, 1-A); New York (1, 1-A); Los Angeles (2, 1-A, 1-H); Minnesota (1, 1-H), Washington (1, 1-H); Phoenix (1, 1-A); Seattle (1, 1-A); Atlanta (1, 1-H).

Winnable: New York 1, Washington 1, Phoenix 1.

The Lottery Hunt

Friday night's overtime win by Tulsa over Chicago was also big for the Phoenix Mercury, which now is tied with the Shock for worst record in the WNBA at 4-18, a half-game ahead of Washington, in terms of viewing things upside down in determining who will go into the lottery ping-pong ball fiesta with the best odds.

Phoenix, with the ongoing soap opera of whether Diana Taurasi will be back in the lineup, and Washington will probably dash to the wire in the world of non-winners, as opposed to the high end of the league, which does have some intriguing races for playoff seeds, etc.

Tulsa, which welcomes back Australian youngster Elizabeth Cambage Friday night following her absence due to Olympics training, may actually be capable of winning some games, considering her presence and the season-long competitiveness of the Shock.

So here is a look at the three teams, while the fourth will be either New York or Chicago, whose remaining schedules were part of the previous discussions.

Even with Taurasi back in action, the injury-riddled situation concerning the rest of the Phoenix roster doesn't guarantee much of an improvement in wins.

Phoenix (4-18, 12 Games left, 5-A, 7-H): Indiana (2, 1-H, 1-A); Seattle (2, 1-A, 1-H); San Antonio (1, 1-H); New York (1, 1-A); Connecticut (2, 1-A, 1-H); Chicago (1, 1-H); Los Angeles (1, 1-A); Minnesota (1, 1-H); Tulsa (1, 1-H).

Winnable: New York 1, Chicago 1, Tulsa 1.

Washington (5-18, 11 Games left, 6-A, 5-H): Indiana (2, 1-H, 1-A); Atlanta (3, 2-A, 1-H); (New York 3, 2-A, 1-H); Connecticut (1, 1-H); Los Angeles (1, 1-H); Chicago (1, 1-A).

Winnable: New York 1-3, Chicago 1 but not betting house on any of them. New York is a range.

Tulsa (4-18, 12 Games left, 8-A, 4-H): Indiana (1, 1-A), San Antonio (3, 2-A, 1-H); Atlanta (1, 1-A); Los Angeles (1, 1-H); Minnesota (1, 1-A); Seattle (2, 1-A, 1-H); Phoenix (1, 1-A); New York (2, 1-H, 1-A).

Winnable: Phoenix 1, New York 1-2.

Devil of a Deal: Angel for Cambage?

Apparently the ongoing post-Olympics absence of Diana Taurasi with the lowly Phoenix Mercury isn't the only roster action causing a stir.

After receiving praise for her play with USA Basketball on the gold medalists in London, former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, one of the WNBA's top players, has been missing from the last two games with Atlanta.

Dream coach Marynell Meadors has characterized McCoughtry's situation as day-to-day with hopes of the fourth-year pro returning soon.

Meadors, by the way, was with McCoughtry in London as an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma on the USA staff.

But what if the situation, if it's not for health reasons, is becoming harmful to team chemistry.

Then how's this for what is at the moment a fantasy deal between Tulsa and Atlanta.

Should the Shock land the No. 1 pick in the lottery and take Griner, there are those that say, from a basketball standpoint, the 6-8 Griner and Cambage in the same lineup at the same time might be counterproductive.

So if you're Tulsa, what do you do?

First, let's see how she plays in the remaining games with the Shock when she returns Friday night to see if she can build off her performance with the Australians in the London games.

By the way, there are also those who say it can work or at least a system can be made to get the best out of both in Oklahoma.

Well, if Tulsa wants to keep the pick, then where can the Shock get value for Cambage?

Maybe Atlanta, if the McCoughtry situation starts to become untenable.

Incidentally, the Dream play Minnesota Saturday in a rematch of last season's WNBA finals won by the visiting Lynx in a 3-0 sweep.

And, if the McCoughtry situation settles, then how about possibly a deal for Erika de Souza, who had been on the Brazilian squad before being dropped.

However, one associate of the Guru who was in London attending the games and is a longtime observer of the WNBA, said that Cambage, first, needs to play in the WNBA, considering her youth and if she wants to get tougher and improve her game.

Secondly, she needs to be with other Australians, the associate said. So if deal is to be made, if one is to be had, that transaction needs to be done with WNBA teams with other coutrywomen of Cambage: Ergo, Seattle (Lauren Jackson), Phoenix (Penny Taylor), or Indiana (Erin Phillips).

But much has to occur yet to even think of that kind of scenario on Tulsa's end, but the Guru is tossing that in for a little conversation to keep you coming back for more.

Next stop is off to Connecticut for Sunday night's game with Chicago that is a must-win for the Sky while the Sun are inching toward completing phase one of their season agenda: clinching a playoff spot.

If New York is swept Saturday and Sunday while Connecticut wins, the Sun's magic number will be one in terms of the mathematics. A tie four fourth with New York goes to the Sun on a 4-1 season-series win.

If Connecticut sweeps Chicago, including the Tuesday visit, the Sun have the tiebreaker also off of what would be a clinch of a four-game season series with the Sky with one game remaining.

The Sun, though, have already clinched conference record as a tiebreaker over Chicago if the teams finish 2-2. The conference record would not apply, obviously, in any deadlock with New York.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guru's WNBA Outlook: New York Out To Sky-Scrape in Chicago

By Mel Greenberg

Landscape wise, New York, the city, has long been identified with its many skyscrapers reaching up and towering to impressive sights.

But its WNBA team, the Liberty, which actually is midway through its three-year temporary residency across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., will be seeking to do some Sky scraping of a different sort Tuesday night when it visits Eastern Conference rival Chicago in the suburbs of the Windy City.

Prior to the month-long break in mid-July for the Olympics, the two teams had some distance and reversal of current fortunes between them.

The Sky (8-11), through addition of veteran talent in Olympian Swin Cash, the former UConn star; Ruth Riley, the former Notre Dame star; and Ticha Penicheiro, who was a program all-timer at Old Dominion, seemed headed for their first playoff appearance in six attempts since joining the league in 2006.

New York (7-13), injury-riddled, and shorthanded in the post, seemed well on the way to be on the sidelines during the postseason, though lottery-bound has its own rewards this particular time around.

But then Epiphanny Prince, the former Rutgers star who was leading the league in scoring, suffered a broken foot and Chicago began skidding in reverse.

The slide has continued and after squandering a visit Sunday to the Washington Mystics, one of three teams not holding potential playoff spots that Chicago is meeting in a four-game stretch, the Sky are suddenly hanging on for dear life stuck with a 1-10 plunge, though Prince returned for the last two games when the WNBA season resumed.

New York, meanwhile, which now has Plenette Pierson back in the post after missing much of the first half of the season, managed to steal (in terms of predictions) a home win off Eastern front-runner Connecticut last Thursday before the the Sun took revenge at home two nights later and finished the season series between the two teams at 4-1.

But the Chicago loss on Sunday now has New York just 1.5 games behind the Sky in the contest for what would be the fourth and final playoff spot in the East with a month left in the regular season.

There was some irony in the Chicago game concering the battle of former Rutgers stars on the two teams' rosters.

A year ago there was a game in which Washington's Matee Ajavon fouled Prince at the finish in the Mystics' Verizon Center, sending Prince to the line to connect with the game-winning points.

For a moment it looked like that scenario would repeat but as the final seconds of regulation wore down, Ajavon nailed a long three-pointer to send in the game into overtime and then former Duke star Jasmine Thomas launched a trey for the game-winner which was enhanced with another former Blue Devil, Monique Currie, hitting two free throws for the final points.

So suddenly, besides projecting the concept of Baylor star Brittney Griner, considered odds on to be the pick of whoever wins the draft lottery among the four non-playoff teams, or Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins in a Liberty uniform, one begins to think things might go the other way and Griner becomes the female Michael Jordan of Chicago if the Sky are the ones holding the top pick.

Then, again, Diggins is a potential home-town sort of choice if Chicago landed one of the other two top picks.

"I can you tell you this," said a member of the Chicago organization. "Fans might talk like that but that is not what is on the mind of this coaching staff."

That's because Pokey Chatman, the former LSU coach, had always been about winning while John Whisenant, the New York coach in his second season with the Liberty, never had to deal in the lottery, dating back to his success as the former coach-general manager of the former Sacramento Monarchs.

So in the realm of being able to still be playing in October, this game is a must on both sides because, quite frankly, Chicago, unless the Sky reverses back to early season form, and New York, will still be underdogs in most of the games left on their respective schedules.

Chicago and New York both play probably lottery-bound teams later this week with the Sky visiting the Tulsa Shock (3-17) while New York will visit the woeful Phoenix Mercury (4-17).

But otherwise it's a tough slate ahead for both.

Sunday's loss for Chicago was a demonstration how quickly emotions and mindsets have to re-adjust when the Olympics intrude in a WNBA season.

Just a week earlier the Sky's Swin Cash and Sylvia Fowles were celebrating with their USA teammates the capture of another gold medal, which was achieved in London.

Now, it was back to the grind with a sour taste attached to the way Sunday's game went down the tubes.

"This one's really tough," Cash said. "Last week celebrating, I just had to take that moment and understand that it's past. I got to focus on Chicago. I mean we're in a dogfight now to make the playoffs. Games like this really hurt you but right now we have to get back to Chicago and get ready for New York, which is coming in as another hungry team.

"The games don't stop. The season keeps going."

And with that note, it's back to taking advantage of an idle Monday and resume looking seven days ahead, conference by conference, team by team.


1. Connecticut Sun (16-5) GB: -- Holding a three-game lead over the Indiana Fever, coach Mike Thibault's squad can add one more Tuesday night when the Tulsa Shock visit, still without Australian sensation Liz Cambage, who will be absent several more games before rejoining the team following her participation in the Olympics.

Then it's a stretch of rest before hosting Chicago, Sunday.

Connecticut did not see the Sky until just before the break so Chicago will be the Eastern team the Sun plays the most in the conference the rest of the way.

The Sun have an extra incentive as they trail Minnesota by a game for best overall record. Gaining the advantage there is critical because if both teams make the finals, the better record awards the perk of homecourt advantage in the best-of-five championship series.

As for the rest of it for determining the homecourt perk, if the records are the same and the fact that the two teams split their crossover series 1-1, it's too early yet for that discussion.

Meanwhile, the best bet for Connecticut is for a 2-0 week, though 1-1 won't be terrible if the one loss is Chicago. But losing two this week beginning with Tulsa's visit, yes, that would be a Shock.

2. Indiana Fever (12-7) GB: 3 The Fever head West this week and in keeping pace with Connecticut it will be a challenge, beginning with Tuesday night's visit to the Los Angeles Sparks, who are in a three-way fight for the conference lead.

It is a must win in trying to catch Connecticut because otherwise by the end of Tuesday night, Indiana could be another game behind. Then it's off to the Seattle Storm on Thursday, which will be Australian Lauren Jackson's second game of the season for the Storm after missing the first half for the Olympics (see the West discussion below).

The trip concludes with a visit to Phoenix Saturday.

Indiana could go 2-1 though more likely 1-2 is what might happen. A 3-0 run would be great but 0-3 is trouble, especially considering that the now healthy Atlanta Dream str just three games behind the Fever, though last week's win over Atlanta was helpful to the Midwest folks.

3. Atlanta Dream (10-11) GB: 6 Now that Erika de Souza is back after missing the first half of the season training with the Brazilian Olympic team, and Angel McCoughtry off her rookie Olympic experience is even more of a force, this is a week the Dream can make some inroads.

Atlanta needs some separation from Chicago in the standings -- the Dream are a game in front -- and also has to close in on Indiana to get homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern playoffs they'll likely participate in as the two-time defending conference playoff champions.

Yes, the Guru knows. Homecourt disadvantage wasn't a problem the last two seasons but one never knows how long that deficiency can continue.

The Chicago situation can be handled Wednesday when the Sky visit, then there's a visit to Washington Friday night followed by Minnesota, the WNBA defending champions, visiting Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back deal for Atlanta.

Most likely it looks like a 2-1 week, though 3-0 is not totally impossible. However, neither 1-2 or 0-3 would be acceptable for the three-game tally that will be completed following the Lynx visit.

4. Chicago Sky (8-11) GB: 7 Most of the Sky's situation has been addressed in the opening preamble. Chicago has a chance to flip into the third spot, though considering how Indiana handled the Sky, maybe fourth place is a better poison.

More deadly, would be not making the playoffs at all. So the push begins when New York visits Tuesday night in the front end of a back-to-back. The second game in the set Wednesday launches what is essentially the start of a three-game road trip through Sunday.

Following the Liberty game, it's off to Atlanta, for Wednesday's game, then the weekend features a trip to Tulsa Friday and on to Connecticut Sunday.

The best case would be 2-2, though 3-1 is possible if Chicago could turn it around. Obviously 4-0 would make somebody on the roster WNBA Eastern player of the week, barring a sensational statistical performance elsewhere.

But if things are not good, 1-3 barely keeps Chicago afloat and 0-4's effect would be known once the Liberty's week is concluded.

5. New York Liberty (7-13) GB: 8.5 As terrible as the Liberty looked most of the way, here they stand close enough to be in the playoff hunt, but having to navigate a horrific schedule to get there.

So, as mentioned, in the preamble, from the New York side, the Tuesday game is also a must for the Liberty's long range aspirations. Next, it's a trip West with a Thursday stop at Phoenix, which has its own deal if both finish in the lottery pool.

The weekend is a problem because the stops are at Los Angeles, Saturday, and Seattle, Sunday. Before the break New York caught the Storm asleep but now the Liberty must contend with Lauren Jackson back on the squad.

So the best hope is 2-2, though 3-1 is not totally out of the realm and 4-0 would certainly catch attention. But 1-3 and 0-4 would not be good unless Chicago is sliding in a parallel universe.

6. Washington Mystics (5-16) GB: 11 The Mystics had a highlight moment beating Chicago from behind Sunday, though if Washington lands in the lottery and misses out on the top spot or the second or third by one game and a ping-pong drop away from the Mystics, the win over the Sky will have proven costly.

But for believers in a run to the postgame, Washington is only four games behind struggling Chicago. However, the schedule maker for this week has served the following meal: a Tuesday night visit to the San Antonio Silver Stars, who have won 11 straight and are battling in the West, and then a visit from Atlanta Friday night.

If Vegas had a line on Washington's outlook it would be 0-2 so 1-1 would be acceptable. Of course, 0-2 could be a good thing for fans cheering for the lottery. If the Mystics go 2-0, Congress will not call for an investigation of the Mystics since they are the home team of the House and Senate.


1. Minnesota Lynx (17-4) GB: -- Well, after righting the ship, the Lynx look like world-beaters again, though truth be told, dieticians (and naysayers) would say the result is inclusive after feasting on Tulsa.

But the week is easy in terms of total work, but more difficult in terms of the opposition. Minnesota visits Seattle, which managed to beat the Lynx without Lauren Jackson and now have her set to play for the Storm against the defending champs.

Then it's off to Atlanta Saturday for a rematch of last season's championship opponents in which Minnesota executed a 3-0 sweep.

Seattle, which is still players down to injury, is an unknown entity. The odds still favor a 2-0 week, but 1-1 is acceptable. If the week goes 0-2 then start applying the up-for-grabs tag in terms of this season's WNBA playoffs.

2. San Antonio Silver Stars (15-5) GB: 1.5 The Texans have won 11 straight and have inserted themselves into the WNBA title discussion.

The wheels might still be rolling through Sunday. It all starts with a Washington visit Tuesday; a trip to Los Angeles, Thursday; and a Tulsa visit on Saturday.

Call it "lotto week" with a shark, or its that sparks, in the middle. That would be Los Angeles, which the Silver Stars have owned thus far. That can't continue, can it?

If they can keep the mastery going, it will be a 3-0 week. However, 2-1 will see the end of the win streak but not the Stars' effort since the 2-4 start at the beginning of the season. Considering the other possibilities for the week, mathematically, if its 1-2 or 0-3, someone should check Dan Hughes' home to see if General Santa Anna is alive again.

3. Los Angeles Sparks (16-6) GB: 1.5 Candace Parker had a sensational Olympics and now seeks to do likewise for the Sparks' run in the West and beyond.

It's an interesting week for Carol Ross's troops with a visit from the Eastern-hungry Indiana Fever Tuesday night, then San Antonio on Thursday and New York on Sunday.

The fortunes say 3-0 is possible if the Sparks can dispatch the San Antonio hex, but otherwise 2-1 seems likely and good enough to stay in the Western fray at the top of the conference.

The worst case seems 1-2, but depending on which is the 1 will determine the definition of that mark. As for 0-3, unthinkable, though Los Angeles has surprised before.

4. Seattle Storm (10-11) GB: 7 Lauren Jackson is back from missing the first half of the season and the first test if the Storm are more of a threat will be the game against Minnesota at home Tuesday night.

Still, it may be a little early this late to put a guage on the storm, win or lose Tuesday, considering Seattle mastered one win over Minnesota without Jackson in the lineup.

The rest of Seattle's week has Indiana visiting Thursday followed by New York on Sunday.

The most likely outlook is a 2-1 week, though 3-0 would get the fans in the Northwest all giddy. But it could go 1-2, though that wouldn't be a sign of panic. However, 0-3 would cause nervousness, though tanks, er, thanks to the records below, the playoffs are still likely for Seattle.

5. Phoenix Mercury (4-17) GB: 13 Well, it has business as first-half usual for the former two-time WNBA champions. Phoenix continues to pile up the losses and Diana Taurasi, back from a robust appearance in the Olympics, is still not in uniform.

On Sunday it was a tooth problem, causing a new group of people to ache over the Mercury's motives. It's said the former UConn great will be back this week, but the schedule gods certainly put Phoenix in position to spend a few wins and still stay in tank mode or whatever one might call it.

New York visits Thursday in a battle of non-playoff squads, as they are defined at the moment, followed by Indiana on Saturday. That's two measley games.

The Liberty are still making efforts to get in the postseason loop so depending on what goes down in Chicago Tuesday will have some impact on New York's state of mind when the Liberty visit the desert.

Speaking of Taurasi, the Guru was humored by a rant from an repuditable internet site on Monday demanding her return considering the same site in June took issue with those in the Guru world who were light-heartedly applying the tanker label to Phoenix, saying such an act was not possible in the WNBA.

Still, the Taurasi factor notwithstanding, it's still an injury-ridddled roster in Phoenix. So on that factor, it looks like 0-2 ahead but 1-1 could happen. If it's 2-0, well the critics will quiet for a few hours before they start again.

6. Tulsa Shock (3-17) GB 13.5 Apparently, it's still going to be a short while before second-year pro and Australian Olympic sensation (besides Lauren Jackson) Elizabeth Cambage gets back to the Midwest.

So the hunt for getting a nice deal in the lottery continues while at the same time Tulsa is showing more of a pulse than last season.

However, the end game is still the same and this week is unlikely to see a change considering a visit Tuesday night to the Connecticut Sun, followed by a visit from Chicago Friday, and a visit to San Antonio Saturday, are on the slate.

Chicago, depending on how it goes with New York on Tuesday, might be attainable, certainly Connecticut on the same night hosting the Shock does not seem likely. As for San Antonio, enough said.

Most likely, it might be an 0-3 week though 1-2 is not far off. But if it goes to 2-1 or 3-0 the Delle Donne family may want to see if some of the department stores in the Wilmington (Del.) Mall also exist in Tulsa.

And with that, the week ahead is over.

As for the Guru, back to Connecticut -- mode of transportation to be determined -- Tuesday night where tweeting @womhoopsguru will occur and possibly a gamer afterwards leading a roundup.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Atlantic 10 Women's Title Game Joining Men's Semifinals at Brooklyn's Barclays Center

(Guru's note: The A-10 has since announced but women will play day of men's semifinals so it's a tripleheader. Also, Beneath this blog there is an extensive interview, believed one of the first if not the first, with new Anucha Browne Sanders, new vice president for the NCAA women's basketball championships in all three divisions. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click mel's blog on the left and you will be taken to the blogspot archive.)

By Mel Greenberg

The Atlantic 10 women's basketball tournament is about to have a dramatic alteration when it is held this March and the conference announced the change Thursday morning.

The first three rounds through the semifinals will return to the campus of Saint Joseph's at the Hawks' Hagan Arena as they were held last season in what was one of the more successful events.

It was the first time the A-10s were in Hagan since the ugrade from the venue's previous designation as Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.

But what will be different is following the semifinals results, the two surviving teams will head home, or, in the case of the Philly membership group if one or two are still alive, remain home until the following Saturday when the championship will be decided at the new Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., as a tripleheader with the semifinals of the men's tournament. The women will play at 7 p.m.

"I really want to do a big splash with our first year and this is an opportunity to really do something great in terms of the experience for our women," Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade recently told the Guru, cautioning at the time that the change was not sealed, contracts still had to be signed and ESPN, which has televised the title game at 5 p.m. on a late Monday afternoon, had to be on board with switch.

The Barclays Center is configured for 18,200 seats for basketball.

"We defintely wanted to be back at St. Joe's because there was nothing but positive feedback from last year's tournament, but this is an opportunity to then extend the event into a great setting in the New York market."

McGlade said the coaches were informed of the plan at the spring meetings and all seemed on board with it.

"We heard things like 'high risk but high reward,'" McGlade said.

(Aside, the Guru is thrilled if this happens because he now gets freed up to get to the Big East semifinals without abandoning the A-10).

"People have never been totally happy with the 5 p.m. start," McGlade said, referring to a time which negatively impacted attendance. But that was the only way to get slotted by ESPN and conference officials felt it was important to get that exposure.

The A-10 women's title game will be the first women's event to be played in the Barclays Center, which will be the new home of the former NBA New Jersey Nets.

"I think it's a super idea," said new George Washington coach Jonathan Tsipis, the former Notre Dame associate head coach who will be guiding the Colonials in the nation's capital.

"I mean, how many times do you get a chance to play in a brand new NBA arena? I think it's great for the athletes involved. You have to try something different.

Obviously I wasn't here, but I don't think them going to Lowell, Mass., several years ago and playing in front of a handful of people was a great experience, other than the winner was guaranteed to be going to the NCAA tournament."

Of course another upside is that if a school had both its men's and women's teams in the finals, that situation wouldcause a major boost to attendance.

"The subway stop is right there if people don't want to drive to New York and outside on the plaza we already had plans for entertainment for the men's tournament," McGlade said.

The men's and women's tournaments will be the last chance for Temple to win titles again in the conference before heading for the Big East next season.

Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin talked positively about the proposed move last week before the Hawks departed for Ireland where they are currently on an exhibition tour.

"I like it," Griffin said. "First, we're back here and I know everyone had a good time and we had great crowds and the atmosphere was electric."

Though Saint Bonventure made the NCAA field as an at-large team, Dayton upset the Bonnies in the title game putting a dent on what had been a landmark season.

"And the rest is great," Griffin said. "Especially for the lower seeded teams advancing from the first round. I mean four games in four days (to win it) is really strenuous."

When recently reached, Xavier coach Amy Waugh, who took over her alma mater last season, noted, “I think it's great for the student-athletes to have the chance to compete for the championship in Brooklyn.

" It sounds like the arena will be fantastic, and the opportunity to visit that area while also playing for a title will be very special. Obviously it will be a different schedule in terms of preparation between the semifinal and final rounds, but I think it's an adjustment that, if managed well, can be an advantage in the postseason.”

The Guru now heads to Newark, N.J., for Thursday night's WNBA game between the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Guru's NCAA Special: Interview With Anucha Browne Sanders -- The New VP of WBB Championships

By Mel Greenberg

For much of the WNBA's 16-year existence, the women's pro basketball league founded under the auspices of the NBA took a page from the growing popularity of the collegiate game in the NCAA and tried to build on it.

Now it appears the NCAA has taken a cue from the WNBA.

The powerful governing body last Thursday finally filled the vacancy for the most important women's basketball position in the organization that had been vacant nine months and one tournament since the November departure of Sue Donohoe, who had been vice president of the Division I championship.

Now that job, with a refinement that additionally includes overseeing the rest of NCAA women's basketball in Divisions II and III, has been given to former Northwestern star Anucha Browne Sanders, who had been Buffalo University's senior associate athletic director in marketing as well as the Bulls' senior women's administrator.

Turning to a woman with strong marketing skills follows the WNBA hire in May 2011 of its third president, Laurel Ritchie, who was plucked from a marketing world in which she possessed tremendous talent.

But unlike Ritchie's predecessors in founding president Val Ackerman and her successor Donna Orender, the Dartmouth graduate had no basketball background.

Browne Sanders, the nation's leading scorer her senior season at Northwestern in 1985, of course has dined on basketball most of her life from her days in her native Brooklyn thru college and then in through her marketing career in the NBA and back to the collegiate world.

She is familiar to most administrators and coaches, serving on the boards of the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletic Administrators (NACWAA) as well as the Black Coaches Association.

"I think she'll do a great job," said Debbie Corum, an associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference who has served with Sanders on the NACWAA board.

"I think Anucha brings great marketing skills, which we need to grow this game and grow the tournament. I think she sees herself as a former basketball player in which she has an opportunity to to really help grow the sport which she loves and make a difference.

"She's smart. She'll be courageous. And she'll become a great leader."

Browne Sanders' hire completes what amounts to an entire internal overhaul in the basketball operations at NCAA headquarters since Mark A. Emmert became president in October, 2010, following the death, caused by cancer, of Myles Brand, who had been a strong advocate of women's athletics during his tenure.

However, Michelle Perry, who had been Donohoe's right-hand woman, is expected to remain on the staff.

Perry, who has been popular with the media, especially during the annual operations of the women's tournament, has been the wonk guiding participants from all levels in the mock bracket excercises at NCAA headquarters in which the invited laymen simulate the work of the tournament committee when it comes time to select and seed the 64-team national women's tournament.

Donohoe was a proponent to open up the inner workings of the NCAA to allow coaches, administrators and the media learn more about how the committee goes about its business.

Browne Sanders said she talked to Donohoe, now in charge of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, when considering the job.

Having Perry around is similar to the situation at the WNBA executive level where Ritchie at the outside of her new job was able to turn to Renee Brown, who is still in place since she joined the league when it launched in the summer of 1997.

In a telephone interview with the Guru on Wednesday Browne Sanders said she's never participated in the exercise, but at least with such persons as Perry and Tina Krah, another former basketball player, still on the NCAA staff, there will be people with institutional knowledge to help the new VP get acclimated.

Browne Sanders' salary terms have not been revealed but during the original posting a range of $200,000-$400,000 annually was revealed, figures which many women's administrators at the conference and university levels privately take exception to when compared to the recent hire of Dan Gavitt to become vice president of the men's championship in all three divisions.

"I mean we talk about equality and they're both hired to do the same job, essentially, and his pay is going to be much higher," said one women's administrator who asked to remain anonymous echoing others with similar commoments.

Both Gavitt and Browne Sanders will report to Mark Lewis, recently hired to oversee the NCAA's entire range of championships.

Even if Sanders is trading in her current Buffalo life on the shores of Lake Erie for a return to big city action in Indianapolis, home of the NCAA headquarters, at the lower side of the reported salary range, money would be the least of her concerns.

That's because Browne Sanders, the mother of a son and two daughters, eventually landed an $11.5 million settlement in January, 2007, following a jury ruling in her favor on sexual harrassment charges against then-New York Knicks general manager-coach Isiah Thomas and MSG.

Browne Sanders, who worked for the same organization that is the parent of the WNBA New York Liberty, had been a marketing executive with the Knicks and was fired in January 2006 when she complained about Thomas's actions.

The ruling was actually for $11.6 million but newspaper reports mentioned that NBA commissioner David Stern urged the Knicks to settle, especially since Browne Sanders had sought additional compensation that was likely to cost the organization several more million dollars.

But life has moved on since she was a prominent figure in the nation's sports pages during the trial and in the interview with the Guru Wednesday Browne Sanders talked about the future and the opportunity she has been given following a nationwide search to fill the position.

"I was asked if I had any interest in the position, and, of course I did,"
Browne Sanders related. "Obviously women's basketball is a passion of mine. It's where I got my beginnings. It's the foundation of my career.

"I'll be working in a capacity that will help allow me to grow the game and bring it to the next level, and that's what really seemed attractive to me," she continued.

"I was approached by the search committee and the NCAA and asked if I was interested in interviewing and I said, 'Absolutely.'"

As for her early vision, Browne Sanders responded, "I really don't come in with any real pre-determined ideas. This is going to be a delicate role.

"I'm privileged. I think first and foremost, there's a lot of outreach. Spending time with our head coaches across the NCAA -- Divisions I, II, and III -- and spending time with our ADs and our conference commissioners and our SWAs and our administrators.

"Spending time with the WBCA (Women's Basketball Coaches Association). It really is understanding the current state of affairs and then getting from different players -- student athletes and fans, as well -- it's really understanding where we are and what is perspective and what is needed to improve where we are."

The topic of marketing came up early in the interview, considering many around the game have sought to see the NCAA help grow attendance and pick attractive venues for the tournament.

Of course, in her time with the Knicks in the nation's top market, Browne Sanders was able to view the WNBA operation through the sister New York Liberty organization, which was run at the time by Hall of Famer Carol Blazejowski.

"I think I learned a lot when I had an opportunity to oversee marketing at Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks," Browne Sanders said. "But it's very different. If anything, I learned from how the Liberty approached their fan base and marketing.

"And here in the Buffalo market, I've been able to take from all my experiences in marketing ... and on the Olympic project ... and clearly I have a deep experience in marketing but I reiterate that the women's game is different.

"The fans are not the same fans that are on the men's side, so we have to treat it differently. We have to look at things differently. We have to look at approaches that have to be different," she added.

"So all that remains to be seen. And I think the most important thing is listening to people who are in the throes of it every single day. Again, those are our coaches, our fans, our student athletes, our conference commssioners, our ADs, the WBCA, and getting to a place as to what is the best go-forth strategy for our game."

Browne Sanders was impressed with what she saw at neighboring Saint Bonaventure, which had a landmark season in landing a national ranking for the first time and making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

The Guru asked about two hot topics involving the tournament in recent seasons in terms of expansion of the field and moving off the current dates either backwards or forwards to limit being overshadowed by the men's tournament occurring at the same time.

"It's still wide open and the jury is still out," Browne Sanders said. "A lot of people have different opinions. And my plan is to come in and really spend time understanding the implications of moving, implications of of staying, implications of format changes, location changes, how we determine sites. All those things need to be digested and we need to spend some time on."

Recalling Life at Northwestern

Browne Sanders has many ties to persons in the game and friendships and noted former Liberty coach Pat Coyle, now on the staff of Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato, and Joe McKeown, the current coach of her alma mater at Northwestern who previously coached George Washington and is a native of Philadelphia as is Coyle.

"Joe's a great guy," she said. "I've known him a long time and he's had success wherever he's coached."

One of her daughters is about to enroll at Northwestern on the Wildcats' nationally-prominent lacrosse team.

"Anucha is sensational," McKeown returned the compliment. "I think she'll do a great job. I've had her come here a couple of times as one of our all-time players in the program and have had her talk to the team."

The Guru talked with Browne Sanders about her younger days when she played for Annette Lynch and then Don Perrelli.

Coming out of Brookyn, Browne Sanders was asked about her recruiting process.
"Duke, Brown, Holy Cross, obviously Northwestern, Boston College, there were several schools, Iona, too," Browne Sanders said.

So what was the magic that made the Wildcats her decision to head to the Midwest in the suburbs of Chicago?

She responded, "I had the option to be near a large city, phenomenal academic reputation, I had a really good feel for the coaching staff and the committment to the student athlete experience.

"And I thought about it and I went there to visit and it really came down to between Duke, Brown and Northwestern and I chose Northwestern. Now my daughter will be there as a freshman and playing lacrosse so I'll be following them in another sport."

Guru note: Check back here throughout the day. There's big WBB news coming out of the Atlantic 10. Thursday night your Guru will be in Newark for the Liberty-Connecticut Sun game.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guru's WNBA Musings: Cambage & Jackson Highlight Impact of Returnees Sidelined Before The Olympics

By Mel Greenberg

Forget that talk about all things even out when it comes to this season's WNBA schedule.

It is what it is whome one considers all the other variables just to produce a schedule that had to factor a missing month to pause for the Olympics in London, dates extending beyond the normal ones on the back end, arena availability, among other considerations.

Some traveled a lot before activity halted on July 13 and some did not.

But when one looks at individual teams, there are differences also.

Those that played the Seattle Storm and the Tulsa Shock a lot, for example, had an easier shot, injuries notwithstanding, because of the absences of Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson and Shock second-year pro Elizabeth Cambage who bypassed the opening months to train with their national team in Australia for the Olympics.

Now that the two will be back in the WNBA, the challenges will be greater.

Diana Taurasi saw minscule moments on the front end in Phoenix with the Mercury because of a strained hip flexor and saved herself to star in London with the USA team.

More injuries on the Mercury will detract from the return of Taurasi, though the good news-bad news is that the Guru is hearing some whispers that the former UConn star still may not play much, if at all, and remain a cheerleader on the bench.

The answer for sure will come as early as Thursday when Phoenix visits Seattle, which has a five-game lead in the standings for the last playoff spot in the West.

If true, the bad news is a virtual adios to the postseason for Phoenix but the good news is lottery here we come.

Atlanta missed Erika de Souza, who was with Brazil, but she is back. Furthermore, fourth-year pro Angel McCoughtry, the former Louisville star who was in uniform the first half, returns from London with added experience that makes her even more dangerous on a Dream squad likely to pick up steam in the seedings race in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs.

Epiphanny Prince, the former Rutgers star, had the Chicago Sky playing above high expectations for a first-ever playoff spot before suffering a broken foot that caused the team to stumble through most of the July push.

Now she's back and while the Sky could still continue to drop, the potential of New York going on a surge is not worth betting the house even if Plenette Pierson is back in uniform because the Liberty may still struggle considering how heavy the load is in terms of going on the road.

Furthermore, New York was negatively affected in the post by the decision of former Virginia Commonwealth star Quanitra Hollingsworth to train with Turkey for the Olympics and declare she would stay in that country following the dousing of the flame in London.

Also, consider the Liberty will be meeting more teams that will be stronger than they were prior to the break beccause of absences and injuries.

Additionally, New York opens Thursday night at home in an absolutely must-win game against the Eastern Conference frontrunning Connecticut Sun and then travel to Mohegan to do the same deal Saturday to match the opening weekend in June when they were swept by Mike Thibault's squad.

Now the Sun could be even tougher given the experience thrid-year pro Tina Charles and veteran Asjha Jones just went through as defensive forces for their former UConn coach Geno Auriemma in London.

Cambage and Jackson Factor

All of that said, the focus here is on the return of Cambage in Tulsa and Jackson in Seattle and how they will impact, though it may still be a few games before they are in uniform. Additionally, Seattle is missing Ann Wauters and Tina Thompson who are still recovering from injuries.

"I don't know if we can climb up to a spot or two in front of us," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "But if we are all together at the close and playing well, we might be able to start making some noise when the playoffs begin."

Cambage drew attention in London because of a dunk she threw down -- the first in Olympic competition for women -- in the early rounds and then her first half performance against the USA squad when the outcome with Australia was still in the balance.

But whatever happens, they are not only going to be impacting in terms of their own personal performances but also on the league race even if Tulsa is out of the playoffs and Seattle plays so-so.

Cambage will only be facing the Charles-Jones Sun combo that shut her down in London just one more time, and actually, forget that because that's not happening since she may not yet be back to play for a few more games.

However, because there is a three-way taffey pull at the top of the West, any win by Tulsa or Seattle impacts the other end of the line besides also affecting the remainder of the two-set six-team crossover competition against the East.

And there is also the lottery at the bottom end of the standings that will also come into focus.

Though Tulsa at 3-15 had the worst record overall, Phoenix at 4-15 and Washington at 4-14 are right there with New York the fourth in the lotto projection at 6-12.

But New York could easily out-slide the other three and end up with the best chance to come up the winner in the ping-pong ball determination on the order of who gets picks No. 1-4.

And for you neophytes who might be visiting here for the first time because the Olympics made you more interested in the WNBA, the next draft at the top is a gold mine with the highly coveted Baylor sensation Brittney Griner, perhaps the best of the group, Delaware star Elena Delle Donne and Notre Dame player-sports journalist Skylar Diggins.

In terms of the Cambage-Jackson factor, here's what you need to know about the rest of their schedules in Tulsa and Seattle.

Out West, the San Antonio Silver Stars closed out the first half with a nine-game win streak following a shaky 2-4 start and were humming on all cylinders.

But Tulsa still has four games to play against Dan Hughes' squad so there is a chance to be really disruptive in terms of San Antonio finishing first or second in a bid to have opening and second-round home-court advantages.

Here are Tulsa's and Seattle's remaining games with also a #note indicating opponents in the projected lottery hunt:

Tulsa vs. the West

vs. Minnesota -- 2 away, none home, total 2
vs. San Antonio - 2 away, 2 home, total 4
vs. Los Angeles - none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Seattle -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
vs #Phoenix -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
West total -- 4 away, 6 home, total 10, vs. lottery-bound 1

Tulsa vs. the East

vs. Connecticut -- 1 away, none home, total 1
vs. #New York -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2*
vs. Indiana -- 1 away, none home, total 1
vs. #Washington -- completed and went 1-1
vs. Chicago -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Atlanta -- 1 away, none home, total 1
East total -- 4 away, 2 home, total 6

*-The New York series comes on the final weekend.

Overall total -- 8 away, 8 home, total 16 -- lotto opponents: 4

Seattle vs. the West

vs. #Phoenix -- 1 away, 2 home, total 3
vs. Los Angeles -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Minnesota -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. San Antonio -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
vs. #Tulsa -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
West total -- 3 away, 6 home, total 9. vs. lottery-bound 4

Seattle vs. the East

vs. Connecticut -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Chicago -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Atlanta -- 1 away, none home, total 1
vs. #New York -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Indiana -- 1 away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Washington -- none, series completed, total 2-0 sweep.
East total -- 2 away, 4 home, total 6. vs lottery-bound 1.

Overall total -- 5 away, 10 home, total 15. lotto opponents 6

Shocking Deliberations

Now comes the time to play general manager/coach of Tulsa, replacing for the moment first-year head Gary Kloppenburg, the former Indiana assistant who has done a quality job to date, despite the record.

Here's the question:

Let's say Cambage plays like the Cambage that performed in the first half of the USA game but the luck of the draw, no matter where Tulsa finishes, produces the number one pick.

And so it gets interesting because there are choices to be made before the throng assembles at ESPN studios next April to welcome the new influx of talent.

If you're Tulsa, do you keep them both? Or is the better way to go is to deal one or the other -- the Griner pick or Cambage.

Obviously, in terms of the collegians, Griner is coveted by everyone, though only the four lottery teams prior to the draw have the best chance to add her unless some deal can be made with another club on a contingency basis.

But now suddenly Cambage has high value, especially for teams that need a strong presence, and then you can build around Griner. Maybe you can swing a trade down among the lottery teams depending what you do.

Some think trading Griner might be the thing to do while others believe Cambage may be the way Tulsa would go if making a move.

Agains, as in the Olympic coaching exerise post about 2016 earlier this week, all discussions were off the record, especially since none of the persons chatted with are involved with the Shock.

Some wouldn't be surprised if Cambage is dealt -- Tulsa may not be her cup of tea, English or other wise, as a town and one person noted unless you're Seattle who got lucky with Jackson, who has had longevity, there is a certain unreliability among the staying power desire of foreigners.

"You can look at a bunch of them, with talent, who left teams," said a veteran WNBA observer.

The Connecticut Sun is one example of playing foreign roulette though the squad has thrived because of other players possessing the deadly quality against opponents known as UConn DNA.

So let the pro games return in the USA and it will be a fascinating run top-to-bottom between now and mid-September and beyond, but not necessarily for the same reason.

Up next:

As the sun of nature -- not Connecticut -- is rising in the East, the Guru after a morning catnap, is still due to interview Anucha Browne Sanders, new NCAA vice president of women's basketball championships, all three divisions,this afternoon. If the schedule holds, the Guru will be back with that discussion right here Thursday morning prior to the trip to Newark, N.J., for the New York-Connecticut game.

And as a side note, after wise remarks made over the years about the Guru's late night phone calls, the Penn State entourage currently on a trip to Paris, where on Tuesday they crossed paths with the Duke entourage by the Eiffel Tower, made the happy discovery that it is possible to actually talk to the Guru in the middle of the night while gazing out the window in France in broad daylight.

-- Mel

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