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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guru's WNBA Draft Lottery Musings: Beginners' Luck for Seattle Delegation Yields Top Pick

By Mel Greenberg

In the WNBA when you have the talent and stay mostly, if not entirely, injury free, the league rewards you for being first, second, third and fourth in the two divisional groups and issues you one of eight shopping coupons at the completion of the regular season.

This allows you to navigate the aisles of the Nordstroms, Neiman-Marcuses, and Bloomingdales to go on a bling spree and chase the best the league has to offer in terms of rings and a championship trophy.

But when you are among the four have-nots, you get invited here on the Jersey side of the Hudson River at the NBA Studio Central across from the docks of Gotham the play the WNBA draft lottery in the shadow of nearby outlet country where the Nordstrom Rack set hangs out.

Some years you get a steal, but in others maybe you land some apparel that will either look good enough for your fanbase or worthwhile enough to make a deal with your sister teams for something more appealing.

But once you arrive here, skill or devious strategy from those who appeared to be wearing tank tops in public all summer gives way to the odds.

That's when beginners' and other forms luck created from percentages and the dropping of ping pong balls takes over.

Some would say, experience in casino operations could be useful but that produces mixed results -- a year ago it paid off for Mohegan Sun honcho Mitchell Etess, also the top executive of the Connecticut Sun who got the overall No. 1 pick and with his group used the pass to pluck Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike in the regular draft in April following a francise-worst and 2013 WNBA worst finish.

Etess said here Thursday night, the placard indicating the 2013 grand prize can still be found in his office.

This time with actually two slips of paper -- the extra being courtesy of a draft-day deal that sent former No. 1 pick Tina Charles home to her native New York in return, in part, for a Liberty first-rounder that became a lottery pick -- the results weren't as good.

The Sun suspense in the pecking order ended quickly when league front office executive Renee Brown pulled out Connecticut's two picks first in the exact order of the odds so the New York pick was actually No. 4.

"I didn't really have any expectations after last year was so exciting," Etess revealed after the broadcoast of the procedure during halftime of the Washington-Indiana playoff opener ended.

"When I saw the graphic 10 percent for the Liberty pick, 28 percent four our pick -- I wasn't surprised. I thought maybe we could move up one but when I saw the odds, the chance of getting No. 1 was very, very slim."

But chalk in a rarity held, so beginner's luck worked for Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler and new front office executive Alisha Valavanis, a former assistant athletic director at the University of California who is the team's chief operating officer.

Seattle was left standing when the Tulsa Shock, who has an ongoing history at these things of missing the grand prize after tough and worse finishes.

But for both, the real prizes would be the return of former high picks such as Seattle's Lauren Jackson, the 2001 overall pick who has missed two WNBA seasons because of commitments to her native Australia's national team and also health issues.

In the case of Tulsa, it would be the return of former overall No. 2 pick Elizabeth Cambage, who is also an Australian.

In fact it was after the automatic choice of Jackson, then at the tender age of 19 but eligible under one of the league exemptions, that the lottery was instituted.

The next year, despite the new deal, Seattle cleaned up again, taking Connecticut's Sue Bird even though the Storm did not have the best odds.

The proud recipient both times back then was coach Lin Dunn, who didn't last to see the duo success result in a title in 2004.

But Dunn, who retires at the end of this season, has done alright elsewhere, winning the 2012 title with Indiana and she was back in the playoffs again Thursday night.

Since Dunn has been with Indiana, the closest she's come to dealing in outlets is to devise strategy to get the ball in the hands of future Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings.

After Bird came aboard, Seattle went on to go to on a postseason run simmilar to Indiana's that ended this year.

The event here was new to Agler, who's own history of achievement, which is worthy of a Women's Basketball Hall of Fame invite, includes the only two titles with the Columbus Quest in 1996 and 1997 in the short-lived American Basketball League.

"When you're in position to take a Brittney Griner or a Sue Bird, you don't really control the draft," he referred to gaudier occasions in lottery history such as last year when the famous Three to See trio of Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins were up for grabs.

(Aside: Thursday night's pre-broadcast nifty media feed outnumbered the total in the room, who were Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberg, your Guru and Kate Bennert of WNBA.com.

Next time around the grand prize will be UConn's Breanna Stewart with several others also worthy for the have-not qualifiers.

Indeed, for Agler, with the picks announced at the earliest ever enables Seattle to put the past summer behind and move forward to restore the Storm to its past performance.

Tulsa, yet to make the playoffs since taking over the franchise of the former three-time champion Detroit Shock, gained even more sentiment from the masses Thursday night.

Detroit, by the way, after the arrival of current New York coach Bill Laimbeer in 2002, pulled a worst to first in 2003, getting recently retired great Ruth Riley, the former Notre Dame all-American as a dispersal pick, and then plucking Louisiana Tech star Cheryl Ford as the overall No. 3 pick.

But Tulsa president Steve Swetoha isn't looking for sympathy because this is a place he no longer wishes to be whatever time the lottery takes place after the regular season ends.

"We're just that one more (Iplayer) away," he said, noting the rapid improvement of former Notre Dame superstar Skylar Diggins in season two this summer and the arrival of fofrmer Baylor star Odyssey Sims in April's draft.

"There might be some players (this coming collegiate season) that were under the radar and suddenly rise to the top," Swetoha said.

"It's not like four years ago when there was a need. We hope this player comes in and adds another piece to the puzzle.

We've built through the draft.

"Players we drafted two, three years ago now add another year of experience so it might be a good year to be a two."

It isn't like Tulsa was blown out of the water the last two seasons, losing a slew of close games of which a small percentage reversed would have precluded Swetoha from behing here.

"No question Liz will make our team better if she comes back. It could change the overall dynamic of what we are looking for. We are set at the guards.

"I hope I don't see these guys next year. I hope not to see these guys for a long time."

Of course, you never know when a deal not given much attention could give Tulsa the best of both worlds -- playoff pursuit of the title and perhaps such a deal here acquired here in outlet country at the same time.

As for New York not being eligible to make the short trip here from Madison Square Garden, as one league insider said, "Considering this draft and they picked up Tina Charles?

"At some point you have to believe that the move is going to pay off."

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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