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, December 31, 2012

Siroky's SEC Report: Trends Not Changing in the SEC -- Even With New Coaches and Two Additional Teams

Guru's note: Mike Siroky haas covered Southeastern Conference women's basketball since its inception and was the original beat writer for Tennessee dating back to AIAW days with the Guru.

With this preview of the SEC, which is about the start play, the Guru welcomes his old colleague, who will kept track of the conference here on the national channel and may also appear from time to time on the Guru's local PhilahoopsW channel http//philahoopsw.com where you can also find on this New Year's Eve a roundup of four locals who played Sunday. -- Mel

By Mike Siroky

As the new era dawns in Southeastern Conference women’s basketball, what we know so far this season is the top tier of teams are nationally competitive and the returning regular-season champ leads them all.

Scrambling the lineup for 2012-13 is the absence of the retired Tennessee icon, Pat Summitt, and the addition of two more teams.

It has been since 1994 that a traditional member of the conference won an NCAA title, which is a very big deal in this league. Newcomer Texas A&M and revered coach Gary Blair won the championship with another conference two seasons ago. No league team has been in the national championship game since 2004. Those are long droughts for the SEC.

The Big East may have a stronger 1-2 punch in UConn and Notre Dame and Stanford has made four straight Final Fours but no conference can match the group of top tier teams in the SEC.

Blair’s addition is just more spice for the mix.

Andy Landers of Georgia has already eclipsed one of Summitt’s longevity records because he also was one of the coaches with the conference when the NCAA admitted this southern group to the union. With the first game of the conference season, he becomes the all-time leader in 31 seasons served.

Auburn and Mississippi State have new coaches. Ole Miss coach Adrian Wiggins had three weeks’ of practice before being put on indefinite leave while an investigation into impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct is under way.

Landers is another reason the SEC is viewed as one of the prestigious conferences, mainly because the national honors have been shared by so many one-timers lately. His teams are regular Sweet 16 attendees. He has not been to a Final Four since 1996.

His Bulldogs are well on their way to another 20-win season, at 12-1, even before league play starts. But the one loss is to unranked Illinois, a usually non-competitive team, and therein lies one of the flaws in his resume. You should beat the teams you should beat.

Kentucky The Team to Beat

Kentucky, that defending titlist in the league, seems to have the most hops to get to a Final Four this season. Their only loss in 12 tries was at then-No. 1 Baylor in the second game. They haven’t lost since. Entering the new year, there have been eight weeks of non-conference play. The top seven teams in the SEC are a combined 81-11 against the country. Two teams need only eight SEC wins to hit the valued 20-win mark and four others are already just nine short.

Everything this season will once again go through Lexington and the Kentucky Wildcats. The returning coach of the year, Matthew Mitchell, has embedded defense into the team DNA.

They celebrate a string of causing at least 20 turnovers. They have held a team to 24 total points this season, a school record.

And they are picked to win the conference. Mitchell is unafraid to talk about loftier goals.

“They're a potential Final Four team, that's easier for us to say than it is to happen,” he observes.

“But if you look at our roster and if everybody were to come together and play really hard and you get some breaks, I think they are -- they have that potential.

“Four years ago we were picked 11th (in conference) so it at least gives you some idea that progress is being made for the program.”

He is forever proud of his team’s elevation.

“I think right now Kentucky is the most exciting place in the country to play college basketball,” he said. “We have just great, great people involved, and for us, it starts with our players.

“We have some players who are now and have been working extremely hard in preparation for this season. They are working on building their character each and every day. They're working on becoming the most well-conditioned athlete they can be, and right now we're working hard just to form our team. I'm excited to be coaching this team.”

The SEC's best player, A'dia Mathies, will be that again. She is on every major All-American watch list.

And the return after a season of rehabilitation of sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill gives them a veteran they didn’t have in 2012’s superlative run. Backup point guard Maegan Conwright has been lost to the season with a torn ACL.

The twin towers at post, Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth, makes the inside hard to contain. Stallworth sat out a transfer year last season. She is another veteran addition.

The Top Challengers

Any of three of the next-best offer the best challenge to UK.

Georgia, with Landers, are likely to be No. 2 in the league. Three seniors -- Jasmine Hassell, Anne Marie Armstrong and Jasmine James have been building for this. James had some injury time off last season and that as much as anything knocked Georgia out of the conference title contention.

Tennessee has Holly Warlick as coach, with more than 28 seasons served as an assistant and a season of running the team last year when Summitt was present but not actively coaching,

They graduated four starters. Meighan Simmons has to become consistent and merely brilliant each game for them to honor the dedication to Summitt’s memory. The two seniors have no real impact and Simmons is the only junior and only player consistently in this young season’s starting lineup.

Warlick said she anticipates competitiveness. “I love this team and I love how they play so I recruited them. If I came in and hadn't recruited these young ladies, maybe it would have been more of a concern. I knew what I was going into and I knew what I was getting as far as the freshmen class. It hasn't complicated matters really.

“I don't feel like this is ‘Holly's World’ and I'm out there by myself."

They open the SEC at South Carolina but match up with Georgia on Jan. 6.

That’s the early test the conference is waiting for.

Carolina was the team taking part of the spotlight last season, more competitive than expected in the league and winners of an NCAA sub-regional by ousting Purdue at Purdue. They return a legitimate all-conference player in senior Ieasia Walker. Coach Dawn Staley has graduated her first group of recruits and now must coach up a promising recruiting class.

At A&M, Blair has the country's second-ranked recruiting class ready for his 10th season at A&M, 28th overall. So surprises for other league coaches will continue as the season unfolds.

He has been here before.

"It's good to be back,” he said. “Hopefully we're coming in with a little more ammunition then when I did with Arkansas in ’93. There's 14 schools and we have to learn 12 schools; they only have to learn two, and that means a lot in any sport when all of sudden you have to start preparing for 12 games."

He brings his usual understated attitude to the challenge.

"I'm looking forward to going to the schools, it's going to be fun.” He said.

“I've said to other people, we have the toughest conference schedule than anyone else. It's going to be up to us, I guess this is our welcoming gift from the SEC. We have to accept it, hopefully we will have a better schedule in a few years.”

He immersed his team with games against national favorite UConn and top 10 teams Penn State and Louisville in the first weeks and also played at national finalist Notre Dame. So they have seen what national competition has to offer and the Jan. 10 date at Kentucky will see what the league has to offer.

Junior forward Kelsey Bone – already a league player-of-the-week, is the team leader. She was also cited by two national websites for the same week. Sophomore Guard Alexia Standish has to lead as well.

Vanderbilt is always one of those teams that has statistics and quality wins, but never seem to break into the national conversation. It has always been thus.

With five starters back, including the league’s leading scorer, Christina Foggie, there are 10 overall returnees and a Top 25 recruiting class. That’s good. Center Stephanie Holzer was lost for the season with a dislocated knee in an exhibition game. That’s bad and the way things seem to go for the Commodores.

They can take most of the month to find a rhythm against lesser league teams before Tennessee arrives on Jan. 24.

The Rest of The Pack.

LSU’s Nikki Caldwell lost her point guard last season and the team floundered. She has graduated four of its five top scorers. By Jan. 27 at Kentucky, they will either have established a team identity or will have been prepared for s season-long struggle.

Also among the league footnotes is Arkansas, which finished strong with a school-record 10 league wins. But senior Sarah Watkins is the only real player of note returning.

Florida has longer for a season of success. Like so many other league teams, a 20-win season becomes expected and is usually the only statistic on which to brag.

Eight of the 12 Gators are new and six are freshmen. That means senior and leading scorer Jennifer George matches Watkins as the one-hit wonder on her team.

Auburn and Mississippi State sacked coaches after losing seasons. Not much is expected from either. Alabama which wasn’t even interested enough to drop its coach after a 12-19 run, will have Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee in three of its first four league games. Yikes.

Missouri may be the mystery team in its first season. But a 13-18 record means a roster with nine freshmen and sophomores can spend the season learning their new road stops and just work on experience.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Guru's College Report: A Surprise Frontrunner Seems to Emerge in the Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach Race.

By Mel Greenberg

And so the mission on the last of the quiet days on Thursday before the post-Christmas phase of local and national schedules kicks back in was to re-visit the massive coaching carousel of Division I coaches who landed in new offices, particularly the large group of Division I rookies who also becone candidates for the WBCA's Maggie Dixon Award, to see of a frontrunner exists.

And believe or not, it appears a clear frontrunner has emerged which satisfies both the letter of the law and the spirit of award intended when the WBCA created the honor for the late Army coach, who in her first year led the Black Knights to their first Patriot League title and ensuing appearance in the NCAA tournament before Dixon died suddenly of a heart condition a day after the Women's Final Four in 2006.

A special committee named by the WBCA exists to deliberate and determine the Maggie Dixon winner but the Guru, having served on a past committee, decided to mine the data, since he already had all the specs, to see what comes up.

Bear in mind there is still a long way to go and anyone can still come out of nowhere through conference play and into the NCAA tournament to emerge in a photo finish.

But for the moment, there are frontrunners and a frontrunner in front of the frontrunners the Guru believes.

Michelle Heard-Clark, previously an assistant to Jeff Walz at nationally-ranked Louisville, has the best overall record with a 10-2 mark at Western Kentucky, which finished a lowly 9-21 overall last year.

The next three -- Jennifer Roos at Bowling Green, Holly Warlick at Tennessee, and Keith Brown at Georgetown -- represent continuity in having received promotions off the staffs of the previous head coaches.

Warlick, following the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee, would become an interesting discussion. By letter of the law, she is a rookie though many will argue that it is a matter of gray lines to consider her a rookie in the Dixon spirit considering the number of years she served by Summitt's side.

Technically, getting to the Final Four would be seen as an improvement on the final eight finish of a year ago, though others right now look at the Tennessee performance at the moment distancing the lowly perception for the year, especially in the wake of the season-opening loss to Tennessee-Chattnooga.

But Clark-Heard has come in totally new and so far has the Hilltoppers in a major turnaround. The next best would be the work of Aaron Roussell at Bucknell, having previously been a Division III head coach at Chicago, the town where Dixon served as one of Doug Bruno's aides at DePaul before taking the army job.

With those standards, the next contender for now might be Jonathan Tsipis at George Washington trying to restore the Colonials to their past glories after he served as associate head coach to Muffett McGraw at Notre Dame, which finished national runnerup the last two seasons.

But much has yet to happen, though the list below more than likely might contain the winner, especially if his or her team pulls upsets, wins a conference title and/or advances in the NCAA tournament.

Without getting into names, when the Guru served on the committee several years ago he thought he had a winner all wrapped up down the stretch. But another rookie pulled an upset to win a conference title -- their team would not have received an automatic bid -- and then pulled one of the all time shockers in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

So you never know.

Here is the list for the moment, which includes records going into the break as a cutoff starting from one game under .500 to the best and here is what has resulted. For now, just the overall records are being listed and also the final overall of last season to gauge the improvement.

Michelle Clark-Heard, Western Kentucky 10-2, Final last year: 9-21
P-Jennifer Roos, Bowling Green 8-3 Final last year: 24-7
P-Holly Warlick, Tennessee 7-3 Final last year: 27--9
P-Keith Brown, Georgetown 7-4 Final last year: 23-9
Aaron Roussell, Bucknell 7-4 Final last year: 5-25
P-Kevin Cook, Winthrop 6-4 Final last year: 18-13
Tarrell Robinson, North Carolina A&T 6-4 Final last year: 15-16
Jonathan Tsipis, George Washington 6-5 Final last year: 11-18
P-Michael Brooks, Bradley 6-5 Final last year: 18-16
Vic Schaefer, Mississippi State 6-5 Final last year: 14-16
P-Joe Tartamella, St. John's 5-5 Final last year: 24-10
Kellie Lewis-Jay, Florida Atlanttic 6-5 Final last year: 17-13
Gary Brodhead, Louisiana-Lafayette 6-6, Final last year: 7-23
P-Joe Haigh, St. Francis, Pa. 5-5 Final last year: 14-16
Kerry Cremeans, Denver 5-6, Final last year: 19-12
Natasha Adair, College of Charleston 4-5 Final last year: 7-23
Brooke & Scott Stoehr, Northwestern State 4-5 Final last year: 6-23
P-Lee Buchanan, Eastern Illinois 5-6 Final last year: 22-9
Steve Lampher, NJIT 6-7 Final last year: 13-17

P-Promoted from associate or assistant head coach (total 8)

Meanwhile, as a quick footnote on existing head coaches who made major moves, teams are not the only ones who have or are bolting the Big East for new opportunities.

Terri Williams-Flournoy left nationally-ranked Georgetown to head to Auburn, where she has the Tigers at 10-2 after they finished overall at 13-17 last season.

Likeiwse, Kim Barnes Arico left a similar situation at St. John's for Michigan in the Big Ten, though she is more on a maintenance run at 10-2 with the Wolverines, who were 20-12 overall, but the test will be to get better than the 8-8 record in the Big Ten.

Karen Aston left mid-major North Texas to return to a former place of employment at Texas in the Big 12 where she has the Longhorns at 7-2. They were 18-14 overall last season and 8-10 near the bottom of the conference.

The Guru will return to this topic at the end of January after the first half of conference play is completed and we'll see how the Dixon field is shaping up at that point of time.

On Friday it is back to the local channel, barring breaking news, as the Guru does a triple header -- two rounds of the Saint Joseph's Hawk Classic and then over to Drexel hosting American.

Look for tweets at @womhoopsguru. He needs about 15 more of you lurkers to join the crowd and make the follower total hit 2100 before the ball drops to usher in the New Year and 2013 Monday at midnight.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report -- No Gamble Here: Washington Hires Ex-Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault

By Mel Greenberg

One casino--owned WNBA team's discard became another WNBA outfit's best bet Tuesday afternoon when the Washington Mystics inrtroduced former Connecticut Sun mentor Mike Thibault as the new coach and general manager.

The GM title is an addition to Thibault's previous role, though he noted he did a lot of those duties alongside Chris Sienko, who surprisingly with Mitchell Etess in Connecticut ended the relationship earlier this month.

In some ways, the scene in the Verizon Center Tuesday prior to the NBA Wizards' game with Atlanta bore some familiarity from the lofty decade of excellence, if not any WNBA titles, that ended in the last month when Thibault was let go after leading the Sun to the regular-season Eastern title but falling short in the conference finals to the eventual new champion Indiana Fever.

Seated on the first row in front of the podium that had the 62-year-old Thibault flanked by overall corporate owner Ted Leonsis and managing partner and Mystics team president Sheila Johnson were Thibault's wife Nanci and daughter Carly, a senior player at Monmouth, which will be hosting Delaware and Elena Delle Donne Saturday at the university in Central New Jersey.

Another son, Eric, was not too far away but unable to attend because of his role as assistant women's coach at Virginia Commwonealth University in Richmond.

And like the ongoing presence in postgame press conferences at Mohegan, the media room was packed although truth be told Leonsis' organization provided a lot of house dressing to the event.

But they had a reason to be happy. Throughoout most of the 15-year history of the Mystics, the revolving door involving coaches and general managers has swung at the same frenetic pace as the ones down under the arena that lead to the Chinatown stop on the Metro.

With 12 individuals previous to Thibault on the sidelines in the nation's capital and six others holding the GM title in the front office, few times did the several organizations in charge of the Mystics get things right.

It seemed that the breaktrhough leading to a bright future occurred two seasons ago when the duo of GM Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank, who had come to Washington several years earlier, guided the Mystics to a franchise-best 22-win regular season to tie the New York Liberty for the Eastern crown and earn the No. 1 conference seed via tiebreaker for the playoffs.

But the then-upstart Atlanta Dream dipeensed of Washington in two quick games and while the Mystics' faithful still felt a solid foundation existed for the future, their confidence was shattered soon thereafter when Taylor and Plank were let go in contract disputes and Trudi Lacey was elevated to handle both jobs.

Johnson and Leonsis, incidentally, who also owns the NBA Wizards and NHL Lockout-idled Capitals as Monumental Sports & Entertainment chairman, said Tuesday that with the dual vacancies existing on the Mystics, the first priority was to get the best hire to coach and then see if a second person was needed, if necessary, to fill the GM position, which obviously didn't have to occur.

"My first goal was to find the right coach," Johnson said. " I am giving him full rein. He knows what he is doing."

Following the change two seasons ago, the Mystics went back to old times, plunging to an overall 11-57 mark over successive summers, including a league-worst 5-29 this past season.

Along the way, the fanbase bailed -- even the DC BasketCases, as passionate as any a group to be found in the WNBA, declined to contionue their entertaining chronicles involving the team and relegated their energies to just the powerful Maryland collegiate women's program.

Needless to say, if someone held a popularity contest in recent times in the arena between Johnson and Darth Vader, the latter would win in a landslide.

If fact, there was some smugness in terms of the organization getting its just desserts last month involving the four-team lottery for next April's draft.

With Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Delle Donne, and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins sitting out there as one of the all-time prize packs in the history of future rookies, Washington held the best odds to land one of them because of the worst finish.

And so the organization trooped off its in-house media cadre to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., which had followed the firing of Lacey two days earlier, ready to make a splash into a new era.

But the ping pong balls were not kind to Washington, leaving the Mystics with fourth pick and out of the loop.

Thibault, who has watched most of the Mystics meanderings from the side of riches and gold standards as part of the Sun, said Tuesday the fourth pick might be more than the chopped liver it has been designated in comparison to the trinity in front of the choice.

"I've moved up from 11th (next to last in the first round) to fourth, so that changes my perspective somewhat," Thibault said and also suggested, "I know there were a lot of long faces here when the lottery took place.

"It's not all that bleak. There are good players (one Tianna Hawkins plays just up the road in College Park) and the fourth pick is an asset. It depends how you use it. There are good players out there. It can be traded. It can be used for a lot of things."

Johnson, incidentally, contrary to previous reports, did not know Washington's pick until it was publicly announced on ESPN.

"That's why I looked the way I did when they announced it," she told the Guru Tuesday. "That's the first time I learned what we got."

The episode had an immediate impact on the coaching search because the lack of a top three pick was certainly going to dissuade some otherwise premium candidates from seeking the position.

One hope was that former Detroit Shock coach/general manager Bill Laimbeer, who won three titles prior to his departure and eventual franchise move to Tulsa, was hankering to get back to the WNBA.

Based on recent conversations, the former NBA Pistons Bad Boy and the Mystics folks were in the early phases of a collision course until New York swooped out of the blue and hired Laimbeer for both positions while also jettision John Whisenant, who coached the previous two summers.

An aside: Who would have thought back in the days of the Detroit-Connecticut Eastern wars that one day down the road Thibault and Laimbeer would still compete against each other for Eastern supremacy, but this time as leaders of Washington and New York?

Anyhow, to continue the narrative, just when it seemed that it couldn't get any worse in Washington, fiscal cliff crisis notwithstanding, suddenly luck got dsngled with the news came that Thibault was available.

"I saw that and picked the phone right up and called Ted and said, `Let's get go after him,'" said Johnson, who during the press conference told the assembled throng that Thibault "has carte blanche."

"You heard her," Thibault smiled.

Apparently, Leonsis was already on the case because his NBA general manager Ernie Gruunfeld, who worked with Thibault in the NBA Milwaukee Bucks organization, recommended the former Sun coach and the phone lines between Connecticut and DC immediately began lighting up.

In introducing the latest hire, Johnson said, "This is a dream come true for our franchise. He is a proven leader who has had a great deal of success in his career.

"We know he is the right person. It is going to be very exciting to have him on board. It is going to be an exciting season."

Thibault said there was just one area of concern to address during the negoations: "I needed to know from them that there was a commitment going forward and this was going to be a long term commitment on both sides. That they want this to be a successful franchise."

In sorting his priorities from the unforeseen unemployment line, some colleagues said they thought he might be more interested in a college job, Thibault said, "This fit. It fit in a whole bunch of ways for me, for my family, and I hope it is a fit for everybody involved in this organization.

"In talking to the players, they feel they are treated terrifically here," Thibault said. "The last piece is the basketball court piece, it's about getting better.

"With the resources here and the fanbase here, there is no reason this cannot be one of the best, if not best, franchises in the WNBA. After our meetings, I walked away feeling I was heading in that direction."

Thibault went over a full list of areas the Mystics need to improve, but also pointed out that the record, in a way, belied the effort, saying he never really saw the team quit.

Leonsis qupped responding to Thibault's critique, "Other than our defense, and our offense, and our foul shooting and our turnovers, we've given Mike ecverything he needs to be successful."

As for his observations of Washington last season, Thisbault said, "There was a good portion of the season, I thought that despite the win-loss record, the players competed. They played hard for the most part. When you win five games, the tendency is to throw in the towel early. I don't think they did that.

"What I thought they did was lose a lot of close games for a variety of reasons -- a turnover here, a missed b lockout there, a forced shot, they were competitive. I can't remember more than a few times they were blown out.

" The problem was they weren't good finishers. Part of that was maturity, part of that is hopefully what I will deliver to them, how to compose yourselves at the end of games, part of it is who's supposed to take those shots and when, and part of it is, we're going to have to have some talent added to it, too.

"It's not an accident that you win five games some times. But we can make progress in a hurry."

Thibault, who has led the Sun to eight playoffs spots and two championship finals, trails former Houston Comets (now defunct) coach Van Chancellor, who had expressed interest in the Washngton spot, just six short of all-time WNBA wins at 206.

"His background really is a perfect fit for us," said Leonsis.

Thibault was asked to compare the situation facing him in rebuilding Washington, which has All-Star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., in suburban Philadelphia, former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon, and former Duke stars Jasmine Thomas and Monique Currie, with what he faced when he was hired in Connecticut after the Mohegan tribe bought and moved the franchise in 2003 from its previous incarnation as the Orlando Miracle.

"The Orlando team had not made the playoffs very often, never won a playoff game from what I remember. So it was considered an under-achieving team," Thibault said.

"I'll find out of quick enough if this is a deficient team or an under-achieving team and there's a difference. I think there's some very good players on this team but I think the Orlando team that went to Connecticut at that time had a little more depth to that talent.

"The league has changed, though, since then," Thibault said. "When I first came into the WNBA, the average size of centers in the league was about 6-2.5, maybe 6-3.

"I used to think the generation of women players changed every five or six years but I think right now maybe every two or three years with the improved speed, quickness, height, jumping ability, all those things that it's progressing at a very fast rate.

"And I think that's one of the good reasons for the new rules. We have players coming into the league like Griner and Delle Donne, who are ball handlers at 6-5. I (had) a Tina Charles in Connecticut who could play at two or three different positions.

"They were pigeonhold or locked into positions when they came into the league. The skill level is much higher than it was," Thibault continued.

"I was new cold coming into the league doing that so I tried to come into the league without a lot of pre-conceived ideas so I probably have a few more pre-conceived ideas coming into this job."

Thibault said he won't hire his staff for a while and said he spoke to both Scott Hawk and Bernadette Maddox after they were also let go by the Sun and said both may want to take a year or two off from coaching.

Some believe former Sun star Debbie Black, the Saint Joseph's grad who is an assistant to her former Hawks coach Jim Foster at Ohio State, might be a good candidate.

But a person with knowledge of situations said that Black is making more money as an assistant on the Buckeyes than half of the Division I women's head coaches in the country, which creates limittions given WNBA salary structures.

Meanwhile, though things looked dark after the draft disappointment, Johnson said that she was determined to make things better and believe it or not, she put the fans at the front of her compass.

"He came in understanding our needs and came in wanting to help us," Johnson said of the interview process with Thibault. "There was a passion and sincerity about him that was amazing. I was thrilled."

Johnson implied that there was never truth to the rumors after the draft the franchise might go the way of others in previous years.

"I want you to understand I love this team and I would do anything to make it work," she said. "We dug deep for an alternative. Yeah, we were so dissapointed in the draft lottery, but you know, I recovered from it, and I said:

`Look. We've got to move on. I'm not going to let this fall apart.' Ted and I had many conversations. We joked about it. We laughed about it. But I said, `Come on. Let's just go on another road.

"`Cause we cannot let our fans down. We cannot let Washington down.' I was not going to let the Mystics down."

Thibault spoke of the fans right from the top of his opening remarks:

"Knowing what the fan support was in the past, right from the jump, Thibault said in his opening statement, "For all the fans that are out there, that have been off the bandwagon, jumped off, the wagon's big enough to jump back on. We'll take all comers to come back on, but we have aa lot to prove, and we know that. There's no miracles and it is about hard work."

Meanwhile, besides the matchups with Laimbeer and the rebuilding of the Mystics, a key storyline will be the first meetings against his former team, especially on the first trip to the casino.

Of course right now, of all places right now, the Connecticut women at the collegiate level have an unknown future in terms of opponents in light of the implosion of the Big East while the Sun still has to name Thibault's successor.

And while the Connecticut media has a major love for Thibault, those who make the road trips to Washington in the summer have often noticed the difference between the lavish pre-game media spread offered at Mohegan compared to just the soda fountain at the Verizon Center, though it was noticed Tuesday that Wizards games have a feed at $10 a pop.

So in that regard, if Thibault wants to retain their hearts, if he makes major progress this summer, he'll prove one can be a magician and a Mystic at the same moment.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guru's College Report: Time For Some Nifty AP Women's Poll Trivia

By Mel Greenberg

We interupt the beginning of this 5 a.m. report on the main channel to say at this hour, there is no further information to say that recently released WNBA Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault will be the star of the hour at 4 p.m. this afternoon at the Verizon Center when the Washington Mystics announce the latest in a historical merry-go-round of appointments in the franchise's 15-year history of mostly mediocrity.

But placed on an answer from a well placed source late Monday afternoon, there is nothing to say the coaching and/or general manager position is going to someone else.

And Thibault represents a major upgrade offering hope if not the playoffs considering the overhaul needed.

Between now and the time you see this the leaks may begin to drip. If they head in this direction prior to elsewhere, look for a definitive tweet confirming the move or, if it also comes in this direction, the move to someone else.

OK, that said, we are back on the main grid and there are several orders of business that happen on the overnight in Guru land every Monday.

One is as of last week and through most of the season, the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) again selects its men's and women's national players of the week culled from the list of conference players of the week to form the automatic nominatiion list.

As of the announcement at the end of the last season, the women's award is now named for Ann Meyers Drysdale to follow the the past and ongoing men's honor named for Oscar Robertson.

There is a winner and the announcement will come late Tuesday morning from USBWA headquarters.

As soon as it is out, the Guru will tweet at his handle @womhoopsguru.

Associated Press Women's Poll Trivia

The other thing that happens is oncde the AP releases the weekly rankings, the Guru later hits the database to update the historical files and much has happened or will happen in the next few weeks.

So, buckle up and follow along.

With the return of Colorado to the poll for the first time since 2008, Lady Buffs coach Linda Lappe becomes the 31st women to have played for and coached a team that has been ranked by the AP.

She also becomes just the eighth to play for and coach an AP ranked team at the same school.

The other seven in the distinguished group are: Amanda Butler (Florida), Pokey Chatman (LSU), Wendy Larry (Old Dominion), Cheryl Miller (Southern Cal), Carol Ross (Florida-coached/Mississippi both), Bev Smith (Oregon), and Holly Warlick (Tennessee).

Lappe also is one of six coaches on the sidelines of a ranked team for the first time this season, though all their teams have history with AP.

Part of this is due to the tidal wave of 75 changes that occurred in the offseason at Division I institutions.

The others who have or are making poll debuts in 2012-13 are Karen Aston (Texas), Jim Littell (Oklaahoma State), Tennessee's Warlick, Joe Tartamella (St. John's), and Lindsay Gottlieb (California).

Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, who is fourth on the active list for all-time rankings -- evveryone moved up one when Pat Summitt shifted to coach emeritus at Tennessee -- will soon reach Hall of Famer and former Texas coach Jody Conradt at fifth.

Conradt had 395 Texas teams show up in the AP rankings (that's Texas as in Longhorns, not several in the state), and Auriemma is now at 393.

Stanford, which needs to remain No. 1 next week, will tie its own program mark of six consecutive weeks, though that is a continent away in geographic reality from UConn, which holds all the number one marks.

The Cardinal did tie Maryland at 11th with 14 No. 1 rankings.

Baylor tied Iowa for 25th with 211 rankings and Auburn for 13th with 69 Top Five rankings.

Oklahoma tied Mississippi for 22nd with 226 rankings, while Texas A&M tied Clemson for 35th with 145 appearances.

South Carolina tied DePaul for 37th with 137 appearances.

Conference-wise, with the ongoing shifts the numbers this week show the Big 12 with six teams, losing out on the past departures of Colorado (Pac-12), Texas A&M (Southeastern Conference) and gaining West Virginia.

The SEC has five being aided by the arrival of Texas A&M. while the Atlantic Coast has four, the Pac-12 has four including the pickup of Colorado, while Ohio State's ouster by the voting board leaves the Big Ten with just Penn State and Purdue.

Dayton represents the lone mid-major coming out of the Atlantic 10 while the Big East has just three UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville, and the latter two will soon be heading to the ACC leaving just the Huskies, who may be heading for a future identity as a mid-major barring some wise decision to dispense with the whole lingo and come up with something new.

That's it for now.

-- Mel

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Guru Commentary: Villanova To Thrive Among Big East Defectors?

By Mel Greenberg

The atual column is over on the local channel but for those of you who visit here and not the other, here is the link http://philahoopsw.com since it also discusses the effect all this will have on the NCAA women's tournament.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guru's College and WNBA Report: Laimbeer Talks Tweety andFord; Stringer Talks Conference Shift

By Mel Greenberg

The Guru has been busy on the local circuit, which of course is now over in http://philahoopsw.com instead of all in one place over here so as long as you visit both you are not missing anything.

But in playing catch-up here on the Guru's national collegiate/WNBA longtime channel, there are some things worthy to play catch up.

The Guru begins with Sunday's annual Maggie Dixon Classic doubleheader in New York, but on the WNBA side of things where new coach/general manager Bill Laimbeer, who had guided the former Detroit Shock to three league titles, had a brief session with the media prior to the opening tip of the first game between Rutgers and Louisiana Tech.

Much of what he said has been reported, but not everything.

Laimbeer in speaking of being hired in New York noted that he had already held strong considerations of returning to the WNBA before the Liberty came along, delicately saying one can read between the lines.

So let's put on the bifocals and look a little closer at the fine print.

If one gets to late August, it would have seem quite likely that Laimbeer would have surmised Washington, which went on to finish with the worst record, was going to have an opening that, if he got involved, would probably cover both coach and general manager jobs since Trudi Lacey held both positions.

The only other spot that wasn't official going into next year was in terms of Atlanta and the dual positions with the Dream.

But the ownership did what was expected in giving Fred Williams power to continue the dual roles he was given in mid-August when Marynell Meadors was cut by the ownership in the controversy involving All-Star and Olympian Angel McCoughtry.

Then back in New York, or New Jersey in terms of the temporary home in the Prudential Center, Steve O'Neil, who hired most of the Liberty front office two years ago, abruptly left MSG Sports, resulting in a change in terms of who oversees the Liberty representing the Madison Square Garden family.

Since several are longtime associates of Laimbeer, a conversation probably began quick enough and voila the Bad Boy was back in the WNBA.

Since Laimbeer also made it clear that the Rutgers alumni association, except for All-Star Cappie Pondexter, is no longer on safe grounds -- he didn't say it that way but did say that what the roster becomes for 2013 will be determined when he puts his system into play in training camp.

And since Laimbeeer can wheel and deal with the best of them, the No. 5 pick in the draft, the intangibles Essence Carson brings to defense, the desire to potentially change his posts thus meaning Kia Vaughn, if she doesn't fill Laimbeeer's bill, to use a turn of phrase, are all tradeable commodities.

Of course, many have speculated that Laimbeer might be ready to bring Shock stalwarts Tweety Nolan and Cheryl Ford from the glory days to help the Liberty get the title they have unsuccessfully pursued since the inaugural summer of 1997.

Well, baring some smoke screen or change of situation, those two things won't happpen based on Laimbeer's response to the Guru's question concerning both.

"I have not had any discussion with Cheryl Ford," Laimbeer said. "She's overseas playing right now. From what I understand, she had the knee surgeries and it's difficult for her to play 12 months out of the year and overseas she's making a good salary so I guess ...

"Tweety is also one sitting out there, but she's property of Tulsa (the former Shock). She's also overseas and has not come back to the WNBA for a few years and I think she has language in her contracting prohibiting her from coming back."

And for the few of you who might have missed it, the draft, which will be held the same day income tax filing is due on April 15, will air from ESPN headquarters for the third straight year, but in prime time at 8 p.m.

So hopefully, the temperature won't cause foggy conditions in Bristol when we all stumble out of there in the middle of the night.

Stringer Talks More On Rutgers' Move to the Big Ten

Since the New York media had their first chance to ask Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer her viewpoint on the Scarlet Knight's recent announcement on leaving the Big East for the Big Ten, she did respond beyond the talking points she made on the day the conference shift announcement became official.

"Want to hear the company line?" Stringer began. "To me, I'm losing friends, it's not just coaches, it's people, colleagues, and we'ved been proud of the Big East, I continue to be proud of the Big East ...

"I don't think a lot of people realize what it means, personally, because of your colleagues. I coached in the Big Ten for 12 years (at Iowa). It was good to have the welcome back -- I don't know what to say.

"We'll enjoy our time in the Big East, but I promise you we'll continue to play the best teams that are here in the East, so, in a way, we have the best of all worlds, we're still here in New Jersey, New York, we will play in the Big Ten and we'll play the teams that are around here."

In Praise of Maryland

Since Division I games are hard to find during finals and a light schedule, on Tuesday the Guru zipped down to Baltimore where Towson of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) hosted nearby Maryland, which allowed several opportunities along with the basketball.

One, the Guru had some driving distant to test part of his new 200 plus playlist of hits that have been added to the iPad for those traveling situations.

It was a chance to renew ties with the crew running a well-know Italian restaurant open late nights -- they actually had been concerned since the Guru hadn't been in the area since the end of the WNBA because of the break from making the Washington trips and the current season in traveling to Maryland in College Park and George Washington, to name a few.

Which reminds, the Guru expects to be visiting the Colonials at the Smith Center when they play Saturday afternoon.

But it was also a chance to take a look at the injury-riddled Terrapins who continue to thrive in spite of a reduced roster.

That didn't stop the carnage Maryland delivered on yet another CAA school to the point that the Terrappins and Princeton could make good replacements for the banished Old Dominion and Georgia State squads in nexst March's tournament.

That aside, Towson coach Joe Matthews had compliments to toss in Maryland's direction after the whipping:

"Give (coach) Brenda (Frese) a lot of credit. They're one of the better teams in the country regardless of their injury situation.

"Sometimes, though they lost some great players, it just forces some of the other kids -- they shoot it reallly well, they play well together, they're hungry, they're relentless -- a lot of respect for them. they play like an elite team," Matthew continued.

"Other than St. Joe's (a loss last month in Philadelphia), they've beaten every other mid-major team, the average score is 90-45 and tonight was no different from that standpoint. They're a good represenstation for women's basketball.

"I still think they're a Final Four threat. First thing you notice is they've got only eight kids and how deep a run can you make with just eight kids in ACC tournament play in back-to-back nights," Matthews observed.

"But, hey, they're relentless. They have to have a lot of luck in terms of health. They're an ankle sprain away from a lot of trouble.

"But the thing about Brenda Frese that never ceases to amaze me, and Brenda and I have been close friends for a long time, I think Brenda coac her individuals as well as anybody out there.

"And what I mean by that is she gets her kids -- the definition about overachieving is getting more out of that talent, no matter who it is and Brenda does that consistently. She doesn't have a kid on the roster who doesn't believe that they're absolutely the best kid on the floor.

"And give her credit for that. I think they can be very special."

After the finals break, Maryland travels to Delaware next Thursday in a game that would normally be intriguing in light of the Terrapins were the only team to beat the Blue Hens in the regular season in a closely fought contest.

But Delaware had sensation Elena Delle Donne, who because of recurring effects of Lyme disease that knocked her out of 12 games her sophomore season, she has appeared once this time around and that was last month in a game she still scored 22 points.

Delaware is a CAA sister school of Towson.

If Delle Donne were to play against Maryland, Matthews observed, "I remember calling Brenda last year after that game and was talking about Elena and she told me they felt like they defended their butts off and defernded her as well as they could and she got 33 (points).

"With someone of Elena's stature you always have a chance. That kid could erupt for 50 in a given night and keep you in the ball game. It would be a good matchup and be real, real interesting to see."

Next up on this side of the fence -- an early look at the 43 contenders for the WBCA's Maggie Dixon rookie coach of the year award and their progress to date.

-- Mel

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Guru's Special Report: New Podcast Spinoff - Dishin & Swishin: Philly Style - Coming To PhilahoopsW

By Mel Greenberg
Well, there are all kinds of things happening Wednesday over at the local channel http://philahoopsw.com

The Guru is pleased to announce a new feature -- a local spinoff at the local spinoff of the men's http://philahoops.com

They have video, they have audio -- but the Guru has a new podcast -- Ta Da.

Cue the music for the arrival coming Thursday morning of Dishin & Swishin: Philly Style co-hosted by none other than Mr. national Dishin & Swishin -- David Siegel of hoopfeed.com.

Full details are over at the philly site but once the link is ready it will be posted here, philahoopsW. hoopfeed.com, and at the Guru's twitter @womhoopsguru.

You can read in the announcement of new ESPN women's anchor Kevin Negandghi, yes, another Philly guy, and past history in his fledgling student days doing a weekly WBB show at Temple.

The first episode will be simul-podcasted just like new TV series launch from long-running existing ones.

One of the first guests is Penn State coach Coquese Washington who has already engaged in a sensational interview, and, if he is available, philly boy Geno Auriemma, if he is ready to repay the Guru for a little exposure in the formative years of the Hall of Fame coaching career.

Also on the report is a preview of Wednesday including a matchup of two future WNBA stars -- no, nnot Griner and Diggins -- we're talking Shante Evans (Hofstra) against Niveen Rasheed (Princeton) in Jadwin Gym.

Also, it was dead locally in Division I, Tuesday night, so the And-One leads with a big DII local battle -- Philadelphia U. vs. No. 13 Holy Family.

So get over there and start reading. In a few days we'll have some poll stats and the first look at the Maggie Dixon rookie coaching race -- it's a race to us -- the candidates just compete by winning games per the WBCA rules of the awards.

-- Mel

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