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, October 22, 2012

Guru's WNBA Musings: Indiana Is #1 And Dunn Is A WNBA Champ At Last -- As Is Catchings

By Mel Greenberg

Finally, after all these decades spanning the collegiate ranks and in the pros, Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn was able to finish off Sunday night in Indianapolis when her squad cut short the one-year reign of the Minnesota Lynx and captured the organization's first WNBA title.

As a No. 2 seed out of the East, the Fever are the first true under-seed to rise up, make the finals and evict the defending champions, who were the top overall seed and prohibitive favorite.

Instead of another Minnesota romp in terms of the domination of a year ago, Dunn's Fever ousted the Lynx 3-1 in the best-of-five series.

Winning as an underdog is appropriate for Dunn, who has had a history of taking teams and doing a total construction or reconstruction depending their state at the time of her hire.

"Building programs is what I do," Dunn quipped with much seriousness to Seattle Times sportswriter Jayda Evans back at the time of her hire to guide the Storm from its inception as a franchise.

Dunn has always been entertaining off the court with her folksy humor and twang as a child of the South -- she's a graduate of Tennessee-Martin and then went on to get a degree from Tennessee.

Your Guru remembers back in the NCAA Final Four in Tampa, Fla., in 2008 -- a season in which the Big Ten conference had not performed with luster as it did in Dunn's time at Purdue.

When the Guru entered the bar in the hotel headquarters of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), Dunn was seated with some former conference coaches who had gone on to the WNBA and she implored:

"Come join us. We're here toasting the memory of the Big Ten."

When she had become the coach of the then-expansion Seattle squad, she jested that in the expansion draft Seattle and the other three teams should be able to protect just two players.

In talking about reaction from the established coaches and teams to her concept, she said, "I don't know why I can't get my good friend (then-Houston Comets coach) Van Chancellor to call me back."

Dunn is one of only nine coaches to have three different teams get listed in the Associated Press women's basketball poll, though Mississippi and Miami were short-lived experiences when she was on the sidelines at those two schools.

Nevertheless, both programs went on to become nationally successful in the sport and then she went on to make Purdue a national force in the 1990s.

But she was gone by the time Purdue grabbed its only NCAA title in 1999 though that year in San Jose, Dunn became a focal point because in the championship contest two of her former players were on the Boilermakers and two more were on the opposing squad from Duke where they had tranferred.

At that moment, Dunn was out of work for a brief period because of the collapse of the former American Basketball League.

Midway through the ABL's second season in 1997-98 Dunn was hired to coach the Portland Fire, which she took from the bottom of the league to champions of the Western Conference.

In Seattle, in back-to-back years in 2001-02, Dunn was able to grab the first overall pick in the WNBA draft and successfully added Australian then-teenage sensation Lauren Jackson in 2001 followed by Sue Bird, University of Connecticut's national player of the year, in 2002.

But again, Dunn was gone when the recruiting seeds grew into Seattle's first WNBA title in 2004 under Anne Donovan.

By then she gravitated to the Fever organization, becoming an assistant until the 2008 season when she replaced Brian Winters as head coach in Indiana.

Dunn, incidentally, was an Olympic assistant in 1992 but the favored USA squad fell short and had to settle for the bronze medal -- the only non-gold acquirement since 1984.

In 2009, with homecourt advantage against the Fever in the best-of-five championship series, Indiana entered Game 4 as it did Sunday night, with a 2-1 advantage only to see the Phoenix Mercury rally and take the contest and then finish off at home in Game 5 in Arizona.

Twice in the early rounds of the just-completed playoffs, Indiana started out with a loss in the best-of-three series, first against Atlanta in the Eastern semifinals, which the Fever rallied to capture at home, and then in the conference finals, where they triumphed by stunning the regular season conference champion Connecticut Sun on the road.

"Now they can't say we can't do that anymore," Dunn said after the win over Connecticut in terms of rallying and finishing off opponents.

In the finals, the Fever actually went opposite direction by stealing the opener in Minneapolis and then after the Lynx rallied in Game 2, Indiana took over back home before sellout crowds of 18,000 plus in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, formerly known as Conseco.

So now Dunn has her title at last leaving the San Antonio Silver Stars' Dan Hughes and the Connecticut Sun's Mike Thibault as the only two coaches with longevity in the WNBA who have yet to win titles.

Getting Closure

Dunn isn't the only one to achieve closure with Indiana's win.

Of course, sentiment was with veteran Tamika Catchings, who has been in the league with Indiana since the 2001 draft when she was taken out of Tennessee.

Catchings had achieved everything exccept a championship Sunday night. Her college coach Pat Summitt, now coach emeritus of the Lady Vols, was in the house as was Pitt coach Agnus Berenato to watch her former player Shavonte Zellous continue to star for Indiana.

Fever assistant Mickie DeMoss left Tennessee after multiple terms as a longtime aide to Summitt to join Dunn's staff after the squad was bounced out of the NCAA tournament regional final by eventual champion Baylor.

Unable to see the Lady Vols gain a ninth NCAA title, DeMoss now has a WNBA ring her first year in the league.

Katie Douglas, a member of the 1999 Purdue champions, who is one of the more veteran players in the league, has her first title after two failed efforts in 2004 and 2005 with Connecticut before being traded back home to Indiana several years later.

Rutgers, meanwhile, has another alum to join New York's Cappie Pondexter, who won titles in Phoenix in 2007 and 2009.

Canadian Tammy Sutton-Brown, a 2001 graduate of the Scarlet Knights who was a member of Rutgers' Final Four contingent in Philadelphia the previous season, has her first title after playing with the former Charlotte Sting and later joining Indiana.

It seems like yesterday back in the early part of the 1997-98 season, Sutton-Brown's freshman year, when an under-sized Saint Joseph's squad upset Rutgers on Hawk Hill and Scarlet Knights legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer looked incredulously at the boxscore performance of her rookie, who was a 6-5 center, and two others and asked, "Can someone tell me how our post players combined only have five rebounds against these people?"

Well, Sutton-Brown now has a championship ring, also.

No Move For Indy GM Becomes a Good Move

To re-visit this item the Guru recently noted: During late summer as the NCAA, which is also headquartered in Indianapolis, got down to crunch time in filling the nine-month vacancy for the organization's top women's basketball administrative position, Indiana Fever general manager Kelly Krauskopf was said to be one of the individuals high on the NCAA search list.

It seems she could even be the front-runner considering a deep history that includes stints as an associate commissioner of the former Southwest Conference in the Lone Star State, where Krauskopf is an alum of Texas A&M. She was also one of the major architects, working in the NBA at the time, when the WNBA was being prepared for its inaugural summer in 1997.

But Krauskopf had her named withdrawn before the NCAA was ready to make a decision and ultimately former Northwestern star Anucha Brown-Sanders, who was most recently the top female athletics administrator at the University of Buffalo, was hired.

"I was honored they were interested, but I just didn't feel it in my gut," Krauskopf told the Guru several weeks later. "I just couldn't see myself going back to college."

Now she can take pride in what she has done over the years to eventually produce the mix that led to Sunday's championship.

WNBA Sunday

Those of you who may not have been on the scene back in the early years of the WNBA are not aware how the league elders said it was imperative that the season must end before Labor Day in September so it doesn't get overshadowed by the NFL and collegiate football and other events.

In 2003, the season did dip into September and actually with the two-time defending Los Angeles Sparks and upstart Detroit Shock on the rise butting heads, the finals held their own in terms of media coverage as well as ratings.

In later years, such as this one, the Olympics and ensuing one-month suspension of the schedule, has resulted into the playoffs dipping into October.

This time it has dipped deep into October but it seems the playoffs have survived in awareness and actually with the collegiate season approaching its annual launch, there seems to have been added attention.

The Guru is curious as to what the numbers will show because he knows, though twitter is a newer phenomenon, the period in which tweets were coming from people and places he follows, he has never seen traffic that high in terms of references to the WNBA.

UConn Famine

Connecticut writers were quick to note that as a result of Indiana wrapping things up, it is the first time since 2005 -- former Sacramento won -- that an alum of the University of Connecticut was not on the WNBA championship team.

That may because a few squads have grabbed many, such as the Connecticut Sun, which had five former UConn stars on the roster when they were dispatched in the Eastern finals by Indiana.

Replacing Catchings

No, veteran Tamika Catchings isn't heading off to the wilderness now that she has her first WNBA title, but Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberg tweeted late Sunday night, asking, who, now is the best player without a championship ring.

Well, the Guru went through the WNBA roster and has a result, though the emphasis was on finding players who have been in the league for a while.

Extra attention was paid to the veteran people who were on the Olympic squad who might fit the description. And you New Yorkers, before you mention Cappie Pondexter, who wasn't on the squad, remember she already has two titles in Phoenix as previous noted.

So here we go. The best players who do not have a title with some commentary.

1. Sylvia Fowles, Chicago Sky. Actually, the league is much younger in terms of doing this search, but Fowles get a small percentage shot at the top because in her five years, the Sky has yet to even make the playoffs. That might end next year, considering Chicago will have the No. 2 pick in the draft.

2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks. She also came in the league the same season as Fowles in 2008 and actually was the No. 1 pick while Fowles went second. But the Sparks have made the playoffs, though the Chicago native has missed time with pregnancy and injuries. Still, in light of talent, considering the many who have earned rings, talent here rules over longevitiy.

3. Becky Hammon, San Antonio Silver Stars. Having been in the league since 1999 as the most famous WNBA undrafted free-agent, ever, when she signed with New York, the veteran years combined with the talent makes Hammon a most definite number three on the list.

4. *Tina Charles, Connecticut Sun. Actually, the fact the former UConn great has been in the league only three seasons would seem to not really make her eligible for this discussion. However, because of the talent factor, she has to go high on the list but with an asterisk the way one was once applied to Roger Maris concerning Ruth's home run record and the expanded schedule when Maris achieved the feat. Technically, Charles goes ahead of Hammon, but being a veteran must be acounted for in terms of Becky.

5. *Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream. Like Tina Charles, not a lot of time in the league, having arrived in 2009,but still, add the talent factor and she too gets on the list, but with an asterisk for youth.

6. Candice Dupree, Phoenix Mercury. The former Temple star just missed the Phoenix title in being traded from Chicago for 2010. But she has been a multiple All-Star since her draft in 2006 and has been an Olympic also-ran.

7. Asjha Jones, Connecticut Sun. Viewing talent as per this year's performance, including being a member of the league combined with a veteran history back to her first-round draft pick in 2002, makes this an appropriate spot for Jones and the Guru concedes she might be worth being placed up a spot or two.

8. Sophia Young, San Antonio Sliver Stars. The former Baylor star has been in the league since 2006 and this seems the right spot per the specs.

Because she'sa rookie, Nneka Oguwmike with the Los Angeles Sparks is not eligible and she should get a title, soon enough, but as Catchings' career demonstrates, one never knows for sure.

Honorable mention: And the Guru believes that is it until the question gets re-visited the next time around in the 2013 playoffs. But for now, here are some other names that were gleaned in the process in terms of longevity and talent. Feel free to offer anyone you feel left out: Alana Beard, 2004 (missed two seasons), Essence Carson, 2008; Matee Ajavon, 2008; Lindsay Harding, 2007; Epiphany Prince, 2010; Kristi Toliver, 2009.

Other than issues in Washington with the Mystics in terms of general manager and coaching vacancies as well as looking over the winter at the prospective draft list, or other news coming out of nowhere, that's it for the WNBA as a primary focus and it's on to the colleges.

-- Mel






- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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