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.

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Basketball squad he just guided to another Olympic gold medal at the London Games but apparently has not yet entirely withdrawn both feet from the world of the pros.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:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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

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