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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WNBA Feature: Young Has Been a Rock of Excellence Aiding Chicago's Return to the Playoffs

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON –
With Chicago Sky players coming and going from its lineup like commuters at Union Station during rush hour this season, forward Tamera Young has been an anchor.

Despite all the adversity and ailments that forced Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman to spend more time looking at medical reports instead of scouting reports, Young has performed at a consistently high level all summer.

Her reliability, rebounding and leadership have helped the Sky navigate a circuitous route into the playoffs for a second straight season.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity this season,” Young said Wednesday morning at the Verizon Center before the Sky defeated the Mystics 72-69. “This became an opportunity for others to step up. People have had to play multiple positions, stick together and be mentally tougher.”

Young is one of those players who’ve bounced around the basketball court like a ping-pong ball, playing out of her comfort zone in the post.

Even though the Sky are the youngest team in the WNBA with an average age of 23.3 years old, the 27-year old Scorpio has enjoyed a breakout season for the Sky out of necessity and by returning to her roots when she was a dominating force for James Madison.

Young, a 2008 draft pick by the Atlanta Dream, was one of the all-time scorers in the Colonial Athletic Association behind Sky teammate and former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne.

This season, Young is averaging 27.7 minutes per game, six minutes more than her career average. She’s started 31 of the Sky’s 32 games.

She’s one of five Chicago players to appear in every game this season. Despite shooting a nearly identical field goal percentage (42.9 percent) to last year, Young is averaging 6.7 points per game, 1.1 more than last year, while averaging 10 more minutes than 2013.

“I’ve had to be more vocal and play different positions from the post to the guard spot this season,” Young said. “I don’t mind because having more time on the floor helps you get more experience and knowledge of the game.

"That’s been able to help me this year especially with me playing more minutes. I’ve just play wherever the team needs me to be or whatever coach asks of me is what I am trying to do.”

Her experience, dynamite defense and passionate rebounding have been a guiding light for the Sky throughout the season.

Young has scored in double figures nine times this season and posted one double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) against New York.

“She’s a fighter,” Chatman said. “I like the fact that she’s revved up all the time. She has had to play positions two, three and four for us.

"While doing that, she’s maintained a high level of plus-minus rating, knocked down shots and she’s always guarding the opposing teams’ best offensive player," Chatman continued.

"You don’t get on SportsCenter highlights or are talked about on the outside. It doesn’t matter to her because she understands how important it is to us and she relishes that role," Chatman noted.

“Even though we struggled, I think some people grew and gained confidence. This group deserves to all play together. We’re getting stronger at a good time, which is exciting for us.”

The Sky has been forced to battle through a fluctuating roster after beginning the season without Epiphany Prince (seven games for personal reasons) and Olympian Sylvia Fowles (13 games with hip issues).

All-Star Jessica Breland missed two games with a lower leg injury in mid-June, the same time the Sky lost Delle Donne, their top scorer and the reigning Rookie of the Year, for 17 games due to a Lyme disease flair-up. The Sky was without point guard Courtney Vandersloot for 15 games due to a sprained MCL.

Wednesday’s game against the Mystics was the second time all-season, the Sky enjoyed the luxury of having all 12 players available.

With two games remaining at Indiana Saturday night and home against San Antonio on Sunday, the Sky have an opportunity to finish as high as No. 2 in the Eastern Conference if they win out after taking the top spot in the East a year ago in their first appearance since the franchise debuted in 2006.

One of Young’s biggest improvements this season was spending time of watching some film of herself when she was at James Madison.

She was a scorer and rebounder, so she went back to the rudiments of what made her special coming out of JMU and Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, the same high school as one Michael Jordan attended.

“I was a big rebounder from the guard spot in college,” Young said. “I was athletic, running in and seeing where the ball goes.

"I think all of that is part of being aggressive and something I’ve always done so I had to get back to it. This year I put more emphasis on going to the boards instead of ball watching. I started crashing more and running in to get rebounds.”

With her black ponytail flapping in the wind, Young soars and snatches rebounds with authority.

She enjoys the tough contact and grabbing rebounds in traffic.

While she usually sports a white headband and a black sleeve on one of her arms, Young could easily just wear a hard-hat, construction vest and bring a lunch pail to the gym because she’s doing all the little things teams need to be successful.

“She’s such a gritty player,” Delle Donne said. “She doesn’t get enough credit. We ask her to do all the intangibles and she does them. She always gives us a ton of energy because of how hard she works every single play.”

Young takes a well-deserved break from helping the Sky by buying lots of sneakers.

She also listens to music and watches plenty of movies.

Sometimes she’ll go the movie theater or she’ll slip in a DVD.

However, for the next month, Young will focus on leading Chicago to the WNBA title.

With a full roster, the Sky is more than capable of representing the East in the WNBA Finals.

That they have an opportunity for postseason success despite enduring plenty of change and a rough stretch of where they lost 13 of 16 games is attributed to Young, who helped steadied the Sky ship during the stormy seas.

With Fowles and Delle Donne, who are part of the 2016 USA Women’s Basketball Olympic team pool, Breland, and possible sixth-woman of the year Allison Quigley, it’s easy to overlook Young’s contributions.

Young has earned the respect of opposing coaches and players.

“When she was younger and first came into the league, she wanted to be a go-to scorer and do more things,” second year Washington coach Mike Thibault said.

“However, Chicago needs her to be what she is now, which is to be a great defender, rebound and make open shots in the mid-range game," he added.

“She understands and accepts her role, which is important role for them. When young players figure that out that’s how they get better. She fits their team.

"She can guard many positions and she’s learned how to play off Sylvia, Elena and Epiphany. The biggest breakthrough for her was accepting that.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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