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, September 27, 2012

Guru's WNBA Draft Lottery Report: Winners and Losers - Delle Donne Chicago Bound?

(Guru's note updated: Considering the length of this post, you've been warned, the Guru at the top, so it doesn't get lost, would just like to say he'll be on the scene at Connecticut for the playoff opener Thursday night tweeting the game with New York @womhoopsguru, besides posting a story.

The WNBA will issue a major postseason award before the game as it begins handing out the hardware from the media panel of voters. The guess, per past tradition on how these things get trotted out, is that the host Sun's Mike Thibault is going to be named Coach of the Year, which he has won in the past. But the Guru now hears from a reliable source that they are going with the biggie quickly naming Tina Charles of the Sun MVP. The other award could still happen.

That's it. for the moment.)

By Mel Greenberg

Though perhaps one of the most exciting playoffs in the WNBA's 16-year history in terms of early rounds to trophy presentation are about to open Thursday night, next season is now even more highly anticipated in the wake of Wednesday night's revelation on ESPN's SportsCenter of the lottery results determining the top four picks in next April's drafts.

For the third time in their history, the Phoenix Mercury, which stood with the second best odds at the grand prize, captured the brass ring again with the No. 1 pick, followed by the Chicago Sky, which was fourth in line but got second; the Tulsa Shock, which landed No. 3 holding the third best odds, and, alas, the forlorn Washington Mystics, which followed Tulsa's footsteps of a year ago: going in at No. 1 and finishing with the fourth pick.

The results now bring more of a focus as to the probable destinations of three highly-coveted game-changing senior talents in defending NCAA champion Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, who was the nation's leading scorer in 2011-12; and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

Phoenix seems likely to take Griner or Delle Donne, while Chicago will favor whom the Mercury don't select, though Diggins' locality in terms of Notre Dame's proximity to the Windy City might get some consideration.

That will leave Tulsa with whomever of the trio is still alive when WNBA president announces next April, likely once again at ESPN headquarters, the Shock are on the clock.

It was an especially exciting night for Delle Donne, who watched the broadcast with her family at home while texting back and forth with Delaware coach Tina Martin.

Throughout Wednesday Delle Donne was tweeting her anticipation toward the lottery announcement.

"At least she knows the possibilities and she's good with all of them," Martin said Wednesday night following the broadcast. "As for Chicago, she's always been a Bulls fan and she loves the city.

"I'm so happy for her. When you think where she was four years ago, and now she's ready for a great senior season, ready to go to the next level, and back enjoying the sport she loves. There was a time when maybe none of this would be happening."

Martin's reference was to Delle Donne's original declaration to go to the powerful Connecticut, then leaving within 24 hours of her arrival, ultimately citing homesickness as a cause, and then enrolling at Delaware where she took a one-year hiatus from basketball but played on the Blue Hens volleyball team.

Her attachment to her older sister Lizzie, who is disabled, was a major contributor to the homesickness, but at Delaware, Delle Donne found a balance and for those who continue to question whether she has the passion, listen up class and let's quickly review this for the umpteenth time.

After suffering the aches of dealing with Lyme Disease her sophomore basketball season, Delle Donne pushed herself into top shape to try out for the USA World University Team, featuring the best collegians in the nation in the group classified just below the WNBA/Olympians.

She became the top player among top players on the way to a Gold Medal -- Griner was at the time with the Olympic hopefuls -- and that translated into a landmark season in 2011-12 for Delaware in which the Blue Hens crashed the AP Poll rising to to the Top 10, a blitz of the Colonial Athletic Association, and advancement to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden, a Delaware grad and former U.S. Senator, became a fan and one can envision, November election notwithstanding, the VP and President OBama showing up at Chicago games in his hometown as well as visits to the Mystics if the Democrats are still in control of the White House.

In terms of geography, the best deal for both parties would have been for Delle Donne to play with the Mystics, but Chicago is in the Eastern Conference, meaning there could be as many as eight-to-nine visits next summer to games hosted by Washington, the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty.

Delle Donne already displayed WNBA off-court readiness prior to the draft through the phone interview she gave to NBA-TV, giving firm, solid answers.

And for those who have knocked Delaware being a mid-major school, there's nothing mid-major about Blue Hens attendance, which is registering 3,000 season ticket sales to date for the 5,000-seat Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

That is also the same total to date, according to what Martin has heard from school officials, involving sales for the first-second round NCAA games in March in which Delaware will be one of the 16 host sites.

Once the celebrations over last season subsided, Martin has been busy working on her program's post-Delle Donne future -- six seniors graduate -- as well as getting ready for the encore season that will begin with the WNIT.

If the Blue Hens likely advance off the first round, Georgetown and North Carolina, both Top 20 caliber opponents, could be ensuing hurdles and the school is already looking at ways to accomodate both a tournament involving Delaware's highly regarded volleyball program and a second-round WNIT game.

Meanwhile, Delle Donne seems likely to be a teammate one way or another of UConn/Olympic legends Diana Taurasi (Phoenix) or Swin Cash (Chicago).

All that said, let's look at the winners and losers that have emerged off the results of the ping pong ball system that produced the draft order at the top of the line.

First, the winners:

1. The WNBA itself. -- Once the college season begins and the pro playoffs have concluded, the league usually gets relegated deep to the back of the room with occasional rote references here and there.

Not this time.

In actually setting precedent by moving the draft lottery announcement up from its usually October-November past and getting it broadcast for the first time in NBA style on ESPN, a buzz has been jump started.

"Let's say Phoenix gets the No. 1 pick," an official from the league home office said a few weeks ago in a conversation with the Guru about the timing of the lottery. "That could set off a major discussion about who fits better in their system in terms of who the Mercury might take."

Indeed, right off the bat during the broadcast after the revelations, Carolyn Peck, a former collegiate and WNBA coach who is an ESPN analyst during women's baketball games, got the debate going, declaring DelleDonne should be the pick.

But Phoenix executive and Hall of Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale takes issue with that.

Though no longer a GM and involved directly in personnel decisions -- Phoenix coach Corey Gaines has the title and input also exists from the top in Amber Cox -- Meyers-Drysdale counters, "Anyone can fit in our system -- Griner or Delle Donne.

She also feels that Delle Donne or Diggins are No. 1 pick caliber players in their own right and all three should get equal billing instead of the focus just being on Griner.

"Once more, we really haven't been running (on offense) the way we used to since (former Rutgers all-American) Cappie Pondexter went to New York," she noted.

Though the picks below the three are not getting matched with graduating seniors, look for WNBA coaches and even players, when not overseas, being an ongoing presence at NCAA games all winter making evaluations.

That will lead to on-the-spot media interviews from print-internet-broadcast folks who cover the collegiate scene, locally and nationally.

There have been TV announcements before but not on the scale of Wednesday's presentation.

The famed lottery of 2004, in which Diana Taurasi the UConn great was the grand prize, was revealed by former WNBA president Val Ackerman during halftime of an NBA game.

Ackerman announced the picks in rote and quickly, concluding with, "And the No. 1 pick goes to the Phoenix Mercury. Congratulations."

Needless to say, it was slightly more electric in the desert when the news was received.

2. Delaware -- Enhanced TV coverage could be headed for the Blue Hens to display Delle Donne in action just as likely the spotlight will also be on Griner, mostly because Baylor is a favorite to repeat its NCAA title, and Notre Dame with Diggins.

Most of the other reasons have already been addressed as to the Delaware benefits.

3. Chicago Sky -- As the regular season came to an end last weekend and Chicago lost out to New York by one game, actually two in terms of tiebreakers in terms of the needed swing, for fourth in the East and the final playoff spot, coach Pokey Chatman expressed a desire to do an action usually associated with nausea.

The finish made it a perfect 0-for-7 in terms of Chicago attempts advancing to the postseason.

"I guess you might say I'm feeling a lot better tonight," Chatman laughed over the phone while talking to the Guru on her way to spending some time at her home in Louisiana before heading overseas for her other coaching gig.

"To be in the mix with those players is exciting. And for them to have elevated themselves to that level is a tribute to them."

There had been speculation among observers whether Chicago's future as a franchise might be endangered with another failed run at a playoff berth.

But with Delle Donne or Griner, depending on the Phoenix pick, look for everything to upgrade, including media coverage. And the Sky, with a talented roster that already includes Swin Cash, Sylvia Fowles, and former Rutgers' scoring star Epiphanny Prince, will draw on the road, if team marketing departments have their act together.

"I think a lot of travel plans for everyone in the league is about to happen," Sky assistant Jeff House said about checking prospects for the draft, especially in the deeper rounds.

Chatman's feeling is similar to Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve, unhappy in 2010 with being edged out by Los Angeles in the last week for the playoff only to turn around several months later and luck out with the right to pick UConn great Maya Moore.

The Lynx were second in line with the odds prior to that draft, the Sky's odds were even longer at fourth, making them even more of a winner.

In 2010 it was Tina Thompson's shot at the buzzer in the last week of the season for Los Angeles against Minnesota that made the difference between a playoff participant and one in the lottery.

Though in close games, losing players and coaches say it didn't necessarily come down to a deciding play, certainly key moments down the stretch can be sited for New York's position as a playoff starter at Connecticut on Thursday night while Chicago sits on the outside, but with a brighter future.

"Considering the injuries they have suffered, getting a scorer like Delle Donne, if Griner is taken, really helps them," said Doug Bruno, the DePaul coach whose nationally-ranked collegiate group shares the Chicago sports landscape with the Sky.

So, as the Guru as been citing, Chicago got a top prize because Kristi Toliver missed an open trey and Candace Parker missed two foul shots, enabling New York to rally for an unlikely win.

The Liberty, courtesy of the WNBA schedule, went 4-1 against Washington, while Chicago went 3-1. But it should have been 4-0 but for Matee Ajavon's trey to force overtime and Jasmine Thomas' trey in the closing minute in the extra period giving the Mystics their only win in post-Olympic phase of the schedule.

One can also add a narrow loss to Phoenix as part of a 2-15 slide that also included, right after the loss to Washington, a second straight collapse, this time at Tulsa, in which Chatman can look at the film and figure out which players on a leaky defense now deserve thanks upon further review.

4. Phoenix Mercury -- Odd how life works out.

It was last April in Denver at the Women's Final Four that Meyers-Drysdale showed up to present Baylor representatives Griner's national player award from the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) that several days earlier announced would now be presented with the former UCLA great and Basketball Hall of Famer's name as part of the plaque.

Minutes earlier, however, word was received about the ACL injury to
Australian Penny Taylor, an integral part of the Phoenix attack, that would likely sideline her for the season.

Say what you will about all the ensuing events that followed, including Taurasi appearing in just eight games, when Taylor has been missing, Phoenix has struggled. You could look it up, and if you don't want to, the Guru will go to the newly-married Big Ben of the desert to provide the answer.

Thus, in light of the mishap, the Guru quipped to Meyers-Drysdale in Denver, "Who knows? You might be seeing Brittney a lot more down the road."

For all the tanking suspicions, the reality is that with Taurasi playing more, Phoenix still wasn't going to win that many more games and make the postseason, where it has usually resided.

It still took a while after Taurasi came into the league in 2004 before Phoenix won the first of its two titles.

But now with Griner or Delle Donne, even Diggins, Phoenix next season, could join the past clubs of Minnesota, Seattle, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Houston with dominant runs if everyone is healthy, including former Temple star Candice Dupree.

5. Tulsa Shock -- One can say if Tulsa had not rallied against Chicago in that overtime or gained the 84-80 triumph at Atlanta when the Dream were in turmoil, or beaten Phoenix in either of the two wins, the Shock and Phoenix would have been in exchanged places going into the ping pong ball bounce.

But at No. 3, considering they sat at No. 3, Tulsa looks at the likely possibility that the addition of Diggins is a major addition to help get the franchise back to winning times when it was known as the Detroit Shock.

Expectations were mixed and, at least, Tulsa didn't land at No. 4, which is a drop below the elite status of the first three picks.


1. Washington Mystics -- Though not Jewish, looking at all of Mystics executive Sheila Johnson's comments in ESPN's Graham Hayes' story prior to the actual revelation of picks makes it ironic that on Yom Kippur she was attempting to atone to the fan base for past sins by the Washington front office.

It looks like the remarks fell on deaf ears in terms of redemption and some of those still dismayed by the dismantling of a coaching-front office combination of Julie Plank on the sidelines and Angela Taylor as GM after the landmark 2010 season are whispering that in getting the No. 4 pick after having the worst record, and one of the worst ever in WNBA history, the Mystics got what they deserved.

It's a major setback, though holding No. 4 isn't terrible. But whereas landing any of the top three would have produced a treasure trove of interest in either the coaching or GM vancacines or both following Trudi Lacey's ouster Monday, some might be having second opinions.

In re-visiting the candidates list suggested the other day for Washington, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to reunite former Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors, as the GM, and Dream assistant Joe Ciampi, the former Auburn mentor who is a Women's Basketball Hall of Famer she hired prior to the season, as the head coach.

"Marynell knows how to put a team together," said DePaul's Doug Bruno, who served with her as assistants this summer to UConn's Geno Auremma on the USA-winning Golds Medalists in London.

At the time of the Plank-Taylor ouster, as part of the famous Johnson teleconference with local and national reporters announcing Lacey's elevation, in discussing economics, she managed to ruffle feathers in the WNBA home office as well as other places at team level in suggesting everything was going to financial hell.

Coming when the league was already making cutbacks, including reduced roster size, her remarks fueled WNBA naysayers who were forecasting impending collapse.

Right now, to hear Johnson say it in Hayes' story, until the Mystics get over the disappointment, someone should put safety ropes along the banks of the Patomac.

Given the right combination, though it may now take longer, the Mystics could still find their way back but as of now, Washington has entered a modern day version of Valley Forge.

2. New York Liberty -- OK, here's the flip side of the Chicago/New York finish in the East.

If things had gone in reverse, the Liberty would have been in the Sun's spot, hence they would be looking at -- you guessed it, landing Elena Delle Donne.

"That surely would have saved her family a lot of travel money this summer," one follower of the league quipped.

Not to worry. The Delle Donnes always find a way.

But New York, especially if the Liberty doesn't get to the second round, should worry because if Chicago becomes a force, unless the playoff field expands, it's going to be tough to get return a third straight season.

Maybe Indiana's aging process accelerates, which could help. Otherwise, do the math here.

If Chicago looks to be inside the playoff loop next season, who is the most likely to be replaced?

Actually, that was suggested for this season back in April and it was headed that way but was halted moreso by Chicago's mis-deeds than New York heroics.

With one more summer playing in the arena named for a piece of the rock in the Prudential Center, a way has to be found to close the Grand Canyon of attendance on most dates at New York home games.

Delle Donne could have meant an instant attendance spike and return of the old days of media coverage out of the New York market.

Fortunately, if she lands in Chicago, there could be a three-game value when the Sky comes for visits.

But with Griner and Diggins likely in the West, that's only two more visits ny the heralded rookie class.

Of course a trip to the finals this time around, or winning the whole shebang could be helpful, but the odds on that right now are worse than Chicago's before the lottery.

There might be another path to redemption, though, and it could cure the major rebounding deficiency.

Perhaps Tulsa may want to offer second-year pro Elizabeth Cambage for value in return.

She might be willing to play in the environs of Manhattan, but the Liberty can't get away with sending the Shock a string of beads.

Since Tulsa learned to live and grow without Cambage this summer, post players may not have to be in the equation.

But Essence Carson and New York's No. 5 pick position just might do the trick.

There is the matter of the defensive demands of Liberty coach John Whisenant.

"Listen, it isn't all complicated," Meyers-Drysdale said. "You just have to play hard and he has been able to get players to buy into his system."

If nothing else, just show Cambadge the bright lights of New York.

That has been known to close deals before.

Just ask Pondexter, who left the desert of Phoenix to return near her alma mater.

Otherwise in the short term, Pondexter, a Windy City native, may be as close to Chicago as New York might ever get when the summer of 2013 comes calling next June.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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