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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Guru's Olympic Musings: Whose Got Coaching Next -- Geno Redux?

(Guru's note: Some overnight edits to adjust and put in synch in lower item the NCAA profiles of Bird, Jones and Cash -- thank you Boneyard lurkers -- and adding more to Agler mention and adjusting Guru blog schedule prior to Thursday's WNBA game in Newark.)

By Mel Greenberg

As soon as the four-year race for the presidency gets decided and it is determined who will be seen on the steps of the United States Capitol taking the oath of office the following January, the pundits quickly hit the keyboards and grab the microphones focusing on the next battle for the White House.

So why should things be different here at Guru central, where with a fifth-straight Olympic gold medal added to the bulging trophy case at USABasketball headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., it's time to begin some discussion about who will be in charge of keeping the string going when the 2016 games are declared open in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

In the last several days the Guru has had some informal off-the-record chats with veterans over the years who have been around the block in USA Basketball circles serving on selection committees or involved in other duties.

But before continuing in this dialogue, note that this is occuring just as if the scene existing now gets superimposed to when decisions have to start being made anew.
Unfortunately, that can't be the reality because a four-year cycle is a long time in terms of the coaching and player ranks in USA Basketball.

Jobs change. The structures in place to run the process change. Players' fortunes change. Veterans suffer injuries or get slowed as they become more veterans and phenoms come along to replace them.

There are also unforeseen circumstances and events that suddenly become the top of the moment in the 24-hour news cycle.

Which is important to understand because while he quickly put aside all discussion in London for the moment about coming back again, the conensus in Guru circles is that if he wants to do it, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma should return and take another shot the same way USABasketball on the men's side quickly reached out a second time to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

But there was also a "wait-and-see" attached to the pick, which is where the 24-hour cycle comes into play.

In mid-June, Kelly Hardwick, a security official with the NBA, filed a lawsuit against her employer, USA Basketball, and Auriemma charging that while working the women's detail in 2009, she had rebuffed an Auriemma attempt to give her a kiss and that subsequently she had been taken off the delegation traveling to London.

The suit, in which Hardwick is seeking "monetary and injunctive" relief is still alive, though since the filing Harwick was seen working the NBA finals and ended up being included in the assignments for London, working with the group handling the men's team, according to several reports.

New Haven Register UConn women's beat reporter Jim Fuller, who also covers several other sports, talked to Hardwick's lawyer when the London assignment became known and the response was that it should have existed from the get-go.

But there was no comment due to the nature of the case in terms of whether the suit would now be withdrawn. Therefore, an outcome one way or another remains to become reality.

That aside, let's move forward here assuming everyone has shaken hands over legal matters and moved on, though it's not to say bruised feelings will quickly diminish.
Focusing on Auriemma, the coach, his appointment was a mild surprise at the time it was made on April 15, 2009.

Following the success in Beijing, China, in 2008, the talk was that South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, a longtime member as a player and then more recently as a coach in the USA family, seemed destined to move up from assisting Anne Donovan to heading the team in London.

But, first the rules had to be changed because from 2000 through 2008, the job had to go to an existing WNBA head coach at the time of the hire.
Donovan was in charge of the Seattle Storm when she was named but later left the club prior to the 2008 Games.

The rules were changed after 2008 but in hindsight the pick of Auriemma turned out to be correct, not necessarily as an anti-Staley action but more as a pro-Auriemma move.

One reason people have noted is the dynamic in which because of the WNBA schedule and pro player commitments overseas there is little time to bring everyone together for tours, practice, and final preparations for the Olympics.

The 12-player group for the final push reunited in Washington on July 14, just one day after the WNBA entered a one-month hiatus, and had two sessions over the weekend and then an exhibition game against Brazil before heading for the mother country.

Given the sure-to-happen strong influx of former UConn players destined to make the squad, six became half the roster, the addition of Auriemma assured a big chunk of chemistry to get the machine operating smoothly.

In 2016, though a few former Huskies may not return, a few could replace them, but even so, there seems to be seven or eight spots already likely to be filled and all will have now played for Auriemma without regard to Huskies DNA.

Furthermore, Auriemma might be the one coach among the higher profile schools in the country who rule women's basketball, whose collegiate program could avoid hiccups while tending to two separate entities.

"You'd think he'd want to do it if they come back to him," said one person in recent days who has been close to the WNBA and USA Basketball scene. "He'd be the first on the women's side to do it twice and there's the prestige of guiding two gold medal Olympic champions as Coach 'K' has just done with the men."

The USABasketball crowd does not have to make the choice anytime real soon because winning the Olympic tournament carries the perk of an automatic berth to the 2014 FIBA World Championship at a country to be named.

(Note: The name on the women's side is not being changed to World Cup as it is for the men and the event is held in a different nation.)

So there also exists the possibility of a fail-safe: Let Auriemma come back in 2014 and then let everyone decide. If a return to guide the Olympians in Rio is not in his cards, then simply make sure the heir apparent is already on the 2014 staff to take over.

In conclusion make Auriemma option one and let's move on to the rest of the story. (Spoiler Alert. This is going to be a really long blog).

Incidentally, having had his UConn staff in London to serve as scouts, Auriemma and his aides are about to become the only persons in America to temporarily experience a downer when they return to campus and have to work with what is expected to be another superior Huskies group for the coming season.

Anyone else, who would be going in the other direction, would think he or she reached basketball coaching heaven.

But Auriemma and his crew won't be the first to experience the letdown. Other noted college coaches returning from Olympic squads have had the same experience going from working with a roster of super skill sets to one that still needs much more coaching and refinement.

OK, so let's say it's not Auriemma, who, then?

The talks the Guru had did not focus on gender issues, simply capability, but all acknowledge that there are sectors that would prefer a woman in charge in 2016 the same way Donovan followed former WNBA coach Van Chancellor, who guided the 2004 effort in Athens, Greece, making him at the time the first male coach of the American squad.

Bruno or Reeve?

If no Geno, many extremely warmed to the idea of DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who was on Auriemma's staff and is a longtime friend, or WNBA Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve becoming next in charge.

Traditionally, the next Olympic coach has come from the existing staff with one exception.

That was in 2004 when Chancellor was named instead of someone from the 2000 Olympic champions on Nell Fortner's staff in Sydney, Australia. Auriemma, incidentally, was one of those members.

The case for Bruno, one of the most likeable individuals in the coaching fraternity, is he has grown in the Olympic family with the middle and younger set on the squad in London, having won gold medals in international competition for USA handing U-18 and U-19 squads.

And, of course, he is on the current staff bringing familiarity to most of the future players who will compete in Rio.

As one person in the Guru group noted, "When you start this discusson, you really don't start talking about the coach -- you look at the potential players. Who do they respect and who will they play for and from that consensus you then get a handle who should get the job."

That's the reason Cheryl Reeve got high marks, though everyone quickly noted the almost mandatory requirement that at the moment she does not possess -- no USA coaching history.

That, of course, could be solved in the 2014 scenario if a coach has not been chosen for Rio by making her an assistant and possibly Bruno also on the World Championship squad and then going from there.

But the positives for Reeve are strong beginning with the roster of talent she put together and molded to lead the Lynx to last season's WNBA championship and return to contend again this year and maybe a few beyond.

Minnesota had the most representation in London with Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, all likely to be on the roster again in Rio as we look at this moment in time.

So Reeve, who also was a key assistant at George Washington in the collegiate ranks, and served on other WNBA staffs with Donovan in the former Charlotte franchise and with the ubiquitous Bill Laimbeer on the former Detroit Shock WNBA champions, has the experience and success.

Thus, she possesses a strong pedigree coaching the talent that plays for USA. And, for those looking at gender, she is a female. And for those looking for the pizzazz factor, both Bruno and Reeve are considered by those who cover either the collegiate and/or pro women's game as being as the saying goes: media friendly.

Bruno brings his Chicago roots to the table while Reeve, like Auriemma, was bred on basketball in Philadelphia, though she was born across the Delaware River in South Jersey.

As for other other potential persons, though perhaps further down the list, in the current WNBA coaching ranks, Atlanta's Marynell Meadors, who also is on Auriemma's staff, has taken the Dream from a brand new franchise in 2009 to two WNBA Eastern Conference playoff titles while in both cases beginning as a lower seed.

Some other names are Brian Agler who has made the Seattle Storm one of the top teams and has a 2010 WNBA title besides leading the former Columbus Quest to two titles in the former American Basketball League and has an extensive background scouting foreign talent.

Dan Hughes, a member of the USA group making personnel decisions, in San Antonio is also a popular figure while Connecticut's Mike Thibault, who was on the 2008 USA Olympic staff, also gets high marks. Some also note Indiana's Lin Dunn, who was an aide on Theresa Grentz' 1992 staff in Barcelona.

Of course, here again, in the WNBA conversation about most of these people is one can't project coaching or even league situations four years down the road.

In fact, there was a sector thinking at the time of Auriemma's appointment that he got the job because perhaps it was a hedge against the WNBA being out of existence.

That discussion was rooted because of the deep economic alterations that began concerning the WNBA at that time when the overall U.S. economy was also down.

This is not to say that feeling is prevalent today about the league being in danger, because it is not.

But for those of you who enjoy the hobby of saying "What if ... ", a USA friend of the Guru once said the upside would be players could come together and train all summer while going on a few tours and playing exhibition games in the states.

Whither Staley?

Now moving on, obvious there is also much strong sentiment for Dawn Staley, who has been bleeding Red, White, and Blue since the day she first put on a uniform in the USA family, winning three gold medals beginning with the 1996 squad in Atlanta.

Some believe it is now or never for USA to go to Staley, knowing it would otherwise become an eight-year wait and 16 overall before turning to her, though she has told the Guru more than once, "I would never in my life ever say no to any request from USABasketball."

USA winning gold medals is her top satisfaction, though one objectively must look at her other coaching life in terms of having much on her plate.

That began taking a lowly-regarded Temple program in the spring of 2000 and turning it into a nationally-respected operation by the time she left for South Carolina in the spring of 2008.

Though it has taken a bit longer than the job she did transforming Temple as a neophyte coach, Staley has rebuilt the Gamecocks' fortunes in leading them back into the Associated Press national rankings and also into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last season.

That got her a $50,000 raise to $725,000 combining base and package as reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer in June.

When Staley got an extension through 2016 and raise in April 2011 as reported in the school's student paper, it also said that if she stayed through 2013, which is this coming season, South Carolina would let go the final $150,000 on a loan she's been paying back after the Gameocks picked up the tab on the $500,000 buyout to grab her from Temple.

(Which is why it was never an issue for the Owls to take Staley's good friend Tonya Cardoza from Auriemma's UConn staff to succeed her.)

Incidentally, when The Inquirer reported Staley's recent raise in June, the item said her buyout at South Carolina was reduced from $400,000 to $200,000 if she left ahead of the end of her deal.

So there's always the possibility between now and then that should Virginia falter -- the Guru doesn't think that's likely to happen -- it got a little cheaper for the Cavaliers to pursue Staley next time around.

But back to the USA discussion, the roster in Rio should still have some of her former playing contemporaries -- potentially Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, and most definitely Diana Taurasi -- to help run the squad.

And if Staley is given a solid staff, that should be enough to overcome having been out of the loop, though if she's the one, that move to announce her for 2016 should be made by the end of the next college season so she can plan her dual life ahead.

Looking at other possibilities the Guru noted to his group that Nell Fortner, who headed the 2000 squad, and Gail Goestenkors, who was an assistant on two USA Olympic squads, are currently on the unemployment lines.

They'd be available year round but while there was not any negative reaction, there wasn't a lot of positive reaction, either, given other options.

An up-and-coming name is Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti, the former UConn star who has guided U-18 and U-19 groups to gold medals and is on the same track previously taken by Bruno.

It may be too early for the head coaching job but it would not be surprising to see her land an assistant position. Iowa State's Bill Fennelly, who coached the World University gold medalists last summer and some previous USA teams, also has familiarity with players such as Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, who are two of a bunch of potential future Olympians.

Baylor's Brittany Griner went to the head of the class over those groups when she trained and toured with the WNBA crowd prior to final roster and then decided recess was more preferable this summer due to academic and family situations.

Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey were also mentioned by several people if none of the other names mentioned here materialized.

So for now: to be continued on this topic.

Olympic Future Famers

So whose's the best since the run of five gold medals started in 1996?

Everyone in London seemed to want to stay politically correct and pay hommage to the USA brand without getting involved in picking one gold medal championship squad over the others, including this one.

But looking at the rosters, this one seems clearly the best by one standard.
Because of eligibility factors and other considerations and careers that still have a long way to go before completed, it will be a time to see if this comes true.

But on the surface, when all is said and done, barring greatness on future USA squads likely to occur, this squad is destined to become the most decorated in terms of total Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, current financial situation notwithstanding, and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame likely inductions.

All 12 are no-brainers for the Women's Hall located in Knoxville while many could land in Naismith in Springfield, Mass., especially if the Naismith folks expand the number of women, restricted to two, allowed annual consideration off recommendations from the subcommittee.

Since the Guru has deemed them all future WBHOFers, let's look at the roster in terms the other hall looking at highlight accomplishments but not individual playing stats that are probably already strong enough.

The Guru is going off the top of his head at this late hour so feel free to send a correction to a total that seems off the mark. And remember, there's also FIBA World Championship golds that aren't being mentioned here.

Dead-sure for Naismith:

Sue Bird, 3 golds, 2 WNBA, 2 NCAA titles, 1 more FF.
Swin Cash: 2 golds, 3 WNBA, 2 NCAA titles, 1 more FF.
Diana Taurasi: 3 golds, 2 WNBA, 3 NCAA titles.
Candace Parker: 2 golds, 2 NCAAs, much more to come.
Maya Moore: 1 gold, 2 NCAAs, 1 WNBA, much more to come.
Tamika Catchings: 3 golds, 1 NCAA, but plenty other items to qualify.
Tina Charles, 1 gold, 2 NCAA titles, a much more to come.

Strong Candidacy for Naismith:

Seimone Augustus, 2 golds, 1 WNBA, 3 Final Fours, more to come.
Sylvia Fowles: 2 gold, 4 Final Fours, more to come.
Asjha Jones, 1 gold, 2 WNBA finals, 2 NCAAs, 1 more Final Four matching Bird and Cash NCAAs in these profiles.

Building a Foundation:
Angel McCoughtry, 1 gold, 2 WNBA finals, 1 Final Four, more to come.
Lindsay Whelan, 1 gold, 1 WNBA, 2 other finals, 1 Final Four, more to come.

So that is seven sure-shots, three others close, and time will tell on the other two but they are at the young end of the scale.

The Guru was about to go into another item, focusing on the WNBA, but has a few days so he will give you a rest.

He is scheduled to interview Anucha Browne Sanders, new NCAA vice president of women's basketball championships I,II, III divisions, on Wednesday, so if it comes about, that's Thursday's blog.

Then on Wednesday there will be a discussion on how Aussies Elizabeth Cambage and Lauren Jackson are going to impact the WNBA the rest of the way when they return to their teams for the first time this season having taken time off to be with their Olympic team in training.
There will be other WNBA items also pending the teleconference and the Guru will be on the Dish'N'Swish podcast later in the week.

And there is some big news looming out of one of the conferences the Guru covers because of local teams who belong, but mums the word for now.

-- Mel



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