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, July 01, 2013

Guru's WNBA and College Musings: Conn's Anne Donovan Has Overcome Gloom Before

(Guru's Note: Way down at the bottom are items tied to this morning's major shifts in collegiate conference member shifts and also how many AP Poll teams in history will be taking an update regarding current affiiliations and some next year.)

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. --
Life continues to be as miserable as ever for the WNBA defending Eastern Conference regular season Connecticut Sun after Saturday night's foul-plagued 89-70 setback to the pre-season league title favorite Phoneix Mercury that dropped the Mohegan Sun Arena hosts to 2-7.

Diana Taurasi, one of the all-time UConn stars from up the road, scored 19 points, matching teammate DewWanna Bonner's total for the Mercury (7-4), who have shrugged off a shakey season start to stay with the Western Conference leaders.

Taurasi also had the rare moment of her annual homecoming of sorts relegated to the arrival of overall No. 1 draft pick Brittney Griner, the all-everything who enjoyed a sensational personal collegiatee career at Baylor.

Candice Dupree, the former Temple superstar, also scored in double digits with 18 points.

On the other side Tina Charles, another former UConn great who last matched up with Griner as a senior while the Texan was a freshman in an NCAA semifinal game in 2010, scored 25, tying former Houston Comets star Cynthia Cooper's WNBA record of 24 free throw attemps -- Charles converted 19 and also had 13 rebounds.

But missing in action for the Sun again were three significant players in Kara Lawson, listed day-to-day with a knee injury, Tan White, who has been sidelined with a broken right finger, and Renee Montgomery, another UConn alum, who has been out with a left high ankle sprain.

Next up would normally be an array of hope with Tuesday's matchup against the Tulsa Shock, which has former Notre Dame superstar Skylar Diggins making her return to the state as a rookie who was taken third in the draft behind Delaware all-timer Elena Delle Donne's going to the Chicago Sky.

Tulsa will arrive fresh off Sunday's rout in Washington by the Mystics that enabled former Sun coach Mike Thibault to tie the WNBA win record of Van Chancellor, the former coach of the defunct Houston Comets at 211.

But nothing is guaranteed here these days and looking head on at the Sun situation gloom is at an all-time high.

However, all is not totally hopeless yet unless the cavalry can't be put back together soon.

The Sun, though, mired in last place, is still within striking distance to at least recover and perhaps at worst squeek into the fourth and final playoff spot in the East with over two-and-a-half months to go.

And new Sun coach Anne Donovan, certainly not new to the league, has been in a worst spot before, though injuries weren't as much a major factor.

In 2001 with Donovan in charge of the now-defunct Charlotte Sting, the Carolinians struggled to a 1-10 start and then with Dawn Staley rallying her teammates they bolted to a 17-4 run that enabled the Sting to slip into the postseason with the fourth seed in the East.

Then, though at a home-court disadvantage in two best-of-three series that each went the distance, Charlotte opened play upsetting the top-seeded now-defunct (this phrase is getting repetitious) Cleveland Rockers and then in the Eastern finals stunned the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden with two comebacks.

In game one of the finals they almost upset the Western Conference champs featuring Lisa Leslie and company at home before the Los Angeles Sparks rallied and then closed out the finals with a sweep, winning game two in Tinseltown.

Of course, while a similar run would look magnificent compared to the current struggles, it still wouldn't be what the Sun management ordered when they dumped the 10-year veteran Thibault last fall after Conneticut fell in three games to the eventual first-time WNBA champion Indiana Fever, who have also been decimated injuries.

But the Fever have now won two in a row so in one sense they could be helpful keeping some of the middle-Eastern Conference teams at bay but it will be for naught if things don't turn around soon.

Olympic Coach Search

Though the urgent stage has yet to get close to hitting USA Basketball, things are moving along in terms of time soon becoming in play for the Americans to name, at worst, coach for the 2014 FIBA World Championship, which usually would also mean coach for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, unless it is going to be a two-part process.

It seems UConn's Geno Auriemma might have finally c0nvinced those hoping for a reversal that once was great and wonderful but it also was enough winning the gold in London last summer.

Though not everyone meets all criteria usually called for there seems to be a short list in terms of speculation.

In the collegiate world, there seems to be three names mentioned prominently:

1. Doug Bruno, the DePaul coach who was on Auriemma's staff and who also coached many players moving up the ladder when he had the U-19 and -18 teams.

2. (this is not ranking specific) Dawn Staley, the South Carolina coach and Olympic playing legend who was also on an aide on Anne Donovan's Gold medal-winning team in Beijing. China, and many thought was in the loop for next at that time and remains a sentimental choice in various sectors of followers around her throughout her career.

3. Sherri Coale, the Oklahoma coach who has drawn lots of praise in various sectors recently and perhaps the honchos are waiting to see how she guides the World University Games through the upcoming competition.

Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey get mentioned in places but Mulkey has professed to not being all that interested given the time she wants to spend with her family in the summer though we will soon be on a two-year track rather than the four-year run from the time Auriemma was named for the past quad period.

In the pros:

1. (also not ranking specific) Mike Thibault, Washington, was on Donovan's staff and has a much WNBA player respect as do all the names mentioned in this category.

2. Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx, had she repeated as WNBA champs last year, she might be on board though she has no USA coaching experience. The honchos could name her at least for the FIBA games and if it doesn't go well and they have time for a quick do-over.

3. Brian Agler, Seattle Storm, says he's not been approached, but his past success, especially dealing with a multitude of injuries, aka Lauren Jackson, to keep his team compeetitive.

4. Dan Hughes, San Antonio Silver Stars, is on the players selection committee, but they could end up in his corner of none of their other choices come through.

5. Bill Laimbeer, New York Liberty, by his own admission says the players wouldn't have trouble dealing with him -- the brass, that's another matter.

6. Carol Ross, Los Angeles Sparks, a longshot but it wouldn't be surprising to see her picked to at least be on the staff of the next regime.

7. Anne Donvan, Connecticut Sun, is your wild card. Like Auriemma, she believes once is enough, given the pressure to keep the string going and all that jazz.

She's not campaigning for it, she's not looking for the honchos to come begging at the door in desparation, but, unlike Auriemma, she will privately acknowledge if the door knocks or the phone rings, you don't dismiss the honchos out of hand and have to listen to what they have to say.

Thibault Ties Record

Sunday's win enabled first-year coach Washington Mystics coach and 11-year veteran Mike Thibault to tie the WNBA mark of Van Chancellor, as mentioned in the above item, at 211 victories.

Thibault can take sole possession of the mark in Washington's next game Saturday when the Mystics, ironically, host the Seattle Storm.

Why, ironically?

Because Storm coach Brian Agler holds the American women's pro coaching record for wins currently at 231, but factored into that total is Agler's success in the defunct American Basketball League, where he won two titles in the league's two full seasons guiding the Columbus Quest in Ohio.

Agler's WNBA total -- he also coached the Minnesota Lynx at their outset -- is 159.

Using the current coaches who have been around the block in the league -- besides Chancelllor and former Los Angeles Sparks' coach Michael Cooper -- here is the win list as of Monday morning this first day of July if the Guru did this right, considering how he had to do it.

WNBA Regular Season Wins

211 - Mike Thibault, Washington Mystics, prev. Connecticut Sun
211 - Van Chancellor, Houston Comets
197 - Dan Huughes, San Antonio Sliver Stars, Cleveland Rocker, Charlotte Sing.
169 - Anne Donovan, Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Seattle Storm, Charlotte Sting, Indiana Fever (was interim).
167 - Michael Cooper, Los Angeles Sparks
159 - Brian Agler, Seattle Storm, Minnesota Lynx (231 overall)
142 - Bill Laimbeer, New York Liberty, (also defunct) Detroit Shock
139 - Lin Dunn, Indiana Fever

Doing the Collegiate Conference Shuffle

Coming up following the tricky revisions of the Guru's Associated Press women's poll database history as ranked teams become part of the mass conference shift that kick in today (July 1) and along the way the rest of the summer, the effects on conferences on those shifts.

Today in New York is an event -- The Atlantic Coast Conference is having a to-do as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame becoome official members.

There is also a non-event -- Former WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman, the new commissioner of the newly-organized Big East is not having a headquarters ribbon cutting at her apartment building since at the moment home is serving as operations control until at least some temporary real estate can be found to start the hires to produce an active staff.

By the Guru's count, 220 conferences are different this morning then they were 24 hours ago through additions and subtractions. Most web pages have some kind of welcoming.

Here's the Guru's roll call on a fast check.

Up and Running:

The American -- AAC
America East
Atlantic Coast
Atlantic 10
Colonial
C-USA
Horizon League
Metro Atlantic
Patriot League
Northeast
Summit League
Sun Belt
West Coast
Western Athletic Conference

Some Presence

Mountain West -- Welcome video

The Rest

(nu) Big East -- Splash Page with picture of new commissioner
Southland -- Guru having site access problem, perhaps they are updating
Missouri Valley -- Creighton still in, Loyola of Chicago not yet
Big West -- Maybe in a few hours considering time diff. but still has Pacific
Great West -- Likewise for Utah Valley

AP Historic Poll Teams Changing Now That Need the Update

Cincinnati -- Old Big East to The American
Connecticut -- Old Big East to The American
Creighton -- Missouri Valley to New Big East
DePaul -- Old Big East to New Big East -- We're keeping these a continium
Florida Intl -- Sun Belt to C-USA
Georgetown -- Old Big East to New Big East
Georgia State -- CAA to Sun Belt
Houston -- C-USA to The American
Louisiana Tech -- WAC to C-USA
Louisville -- Old Big East to American then to Atlantic Coast (2014)
Marquette -- Old Big East to New Big East
Memphis -- C-USA to The American
Middle Tennessee -- Sun Belt to C-USA
Notre Dame -- Old Big East to ACC
Old Dominion -- CAA to C-USA
Pittsburgh -- Old Big East to ACC
Providence -- Old Big East to New Big East
Rutgers -- Old Big East to The American then to Big Ten (2014)
St. John's -- Old Big East to new Big East
Seton Hall -- Old Big East to new Big East
Syracuse -- Old Big East to ACC
Temple -- A-10 to The American
Villanova -- Old Big East to New Big East
Xavier -- A-10 to New Big East

Next Year

East Carolina -- C-USA to The American
Idaho -- WAC to Big Sky
Louisville -- The American to ACC
Maryland -- ACC to Big Ten
Mercer -- Atlantic Sun to Southern Conference
Rutgers -- The American to Big Ten
Tulane -- C-USA to The American
Western Kentucky -- Sun Belt to C-USA













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