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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Richmond Celebration of Life Service Tributes to Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis

By Mel Greenberg

Complete texts from two of the three speeches made -- both on behalf of Richmond basketball operations director Natalie Lewis, also a past star swimmer for the Spiders -- have arrived and we promised to share them with you from Saturday's Celebration of Life Service.

Special thanks to Kelly Shuman, who is the Richmond media contact for women's basketball, for keeping the Guru and Richmond sides connected as the Guru attempts to complete coverage, as promised, of the entire event.

In-depth reporting began in the previous blog and thanks to Richmond for putting in a link at their basketball website.


Here is the first, which is a remembrance from Matt Barany, who is the Richmond Swim Coach:

Natalie gave me a Thanksgiving Day card.

And I said, “Nat, who gives cards on Thanksgiving?”

She replied, “I do” with her big smile.

Well, her card was written with repeating sentences of “Thank you Matt for…” If Nat were here, she’d have hand-written notes in the mail this afternoon thanking us for being together today.

She’s inspired me to deflect attention and show appreciation for a few people in true Natalie fashion. Here are my thank you notes.

Dear Richmond Community: Thank you for adopting these women and thank you for loving us during this time.

Dear President Ayers and University of Richmond: Thank you for your hard work in establishing a place where young women can develop into great people. Thank you for your energy and your support.

Chief McCoy
Chaplaincy Craig Kocher
Counseling Pete LeViness
Keith Gill
LaRee and Brynn

Members who made sacrifices to support and mourn with us: We know these losses are felt deeply and we wish could reciprocate the love you have showered upon us.

Masters Team: Thank you for transitioning Natalie into life after swimming and making our “community” strong.

Dear Athletics: This is not a unique loss to swimming and basketball, but for all of us. The lessons from Natalie and Ginny are meant for all of us. We appreciate your understanding and graciousness. Please honor these women by winning the right way.

WBB team and staff: We will forever be linked. It’s a good thing…it’s a strong thing. Please know that we support you, always. Thank you for your love.

Dear former swimmers & divers & coaches and your families: Thank you for your service to our university. Thank you for loving each other; thank you for establishing bonds that will last; Thank you for loving me. Please hold each other as tightly as you need and please don’t let go, ever.

Dear current swimmers & divers & coaches: Even though you see the tears…I really am a tough guy! Wait until next week! Thank you for being here & now. We have a challenge ahead of us…it isn’t winning…it’s winning the right way.

Dear Doyles: The swimming family recognizes and honors her athleticism and her commitment to UR. We will honor her desire to win. Thank you.

Dear Michael: I’ve missed you. Through the pain, understand she loved you with all of her will. We know when she willed something, she willed well.

Dear Lewises: There is a hole in my heart and I can’t imagine the pain your heart feels. You have been a source of strength for me and I will forever be indebted to you.

Dear My Family: Thank you for giving me the greatest gift…the ability love and receive love. Thank you for being there for me at all costs.

Dear pregnant wife, Sam: Thank you for being my romance partner, my teammate, and my dearest friend. I am sorry I don’t sleep.

My 3 minutes (of allotted time the speakers were given) start now! I have one more note to write. The best way to honor Natalie is to pass her spirit along. I have a note for my daughter.

To My Daughter:

There is a person whom you’ll never meet, but you will feel her love every day – I promise.

When we found out we were pregnant with you, I said to your mom “Natalie will be so excited!” When we bought a house in April, I said “We’ve got to be prepared for Nat to pop in to play with the baby.”

I will be a great dad because of Natalie. She showed me how to be a positive source of happiness. She cheered, encouraged, and prayed for me to be successful. Even when she was tired, frustrated, lonely, stressed…she found ways to lift others up. She made the decision to give. She just gave gave gave us her love. I can’t wait to love you like Nat would.

It was important for Natalie to celebrate the small things…food, pictures, sunsets, her own smile, and PEOPLE. Her treasure was her family, her Michael, and her friends. She put all of those before herself. You’ll be my small celebration and you’ll be at the top of my list.

Baby girl. I learned about love from a 24 year old bright star named Natalie. I will be the best dad because she said I would. She was my believer.

I’ll see you soon and I’ll bring Nat’s love with me.

One last point… Natalie made a decision to be kind; it’s a decision we all can make. She also made a decision to love well; it too, is a decision we all can make. Don’t wait.


And here is another remembrance, which is the presentation made by Katie Sieben, a 2010 graduate and close friend and teammate of Natalie's.

It is amazing to see so many people here to honor two beautiful lives. When I walked in the chapel, Natalie popped into my head and said, “All of these people are here for Ginny and me?! This is so great.”

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Katie Sieben. I graduated from the University of Richmond in 2010 and was a part of the Spider swim and dive team. Natalie was my best friend, but she was much more than that. As I told her back in April, she was my family.

My first vivid memory of Natalie was from the Atlantic-10 Conference Championship swim meet back in 2007 in her hometown of Buffalo, New York.

I was a freshman in college and she was a senior in high school.

Natalie wasn’t even on the team yet, but she was at the meet, already showering us with her support and homemade cookies decorated with spiders.

This bubbly girl with straight, blonde hair bounded onto the pool deck with a giant smile on her face and happiness embedded into each step she took.

We spoke briefly and, looking back, I realize that was one of the luckiest moments of my life.

When this incredible girl with a heart so big entered my world. We often do not recognize the significance of moments as they are happening, but that moment changed my life forever, because that was the moment that started our friendship.

When we started living next door to each other after college, it was better than anything I could ever imagine.

I walked across the street just about every night to spend time with my Richmond family.

After a long day, I could always count on Natalie to be ready for an hour-long walk, talk and Frisbee toss in our nearby field.

I would walk out the front door of my apartment and Natalie would either already be waiting for me with a huge smile on her face, or she would be walking towards my apartment, in which case she still had a huge smile on her face, but she would also throw her hands up into the air and bob her head back and forth with glee upon seeing me.

There was something profoundly special about Natalie.

She made you feel like anything was possible. She made you feel genuinely loved. She made you feel supported. She made you feel comforted. She made you feel like you always had someone in your corner, no matter what. She made you feel like, with her by your side, you could make it through anything in life.

Being with Natalie meant you spent your days endlessly laughing, learning, cooking, exploring, going on adventures, doing arts and crafts, smiling, and hugging.

We were always astounded by the beauty of our world, whether we were watching a sunset, taking pictures of the fall foliage, or walking through the woods.

We would proclaim that the physical aspects of our world were beautiful, because they truly were. But the world was much more beautiful when you experienced it with Natalie.

Natalie was filled with endless kindness.

One morning I went for run, only to return to a treat she had left on my doorstep with a note that read “A little snickerdoodle for you. Have a good day,” followed by her signature smiley face and heart.

This year for lent, she decided to do something kind for someone every single day, but she didn’t want people to know what she had done for them.

Her gifts for people were almost always homemade, crafted with care, love and meaning.

I have homemade bookmarks, coasters, cards and hand-written letters to name a few.

The amazing thing is, I am not the only person who has examples like this. Her kindness touched everyone she met, whether you knew her for five minutes or for twenty-four years.

Natalie was the happiest person I have ever known.

Every day to her was an incredible adventure. A true gift. She was the light in every room, the joy in our lives.

When I picture her, I think of the way she would smile at me when she saw me.

That genuine smile where her cheeks would get rosy as she squinted her eyes, scrunched her nose, pursed her lips, and shrugged her shoulders. A smile that tells you how much you are loved, without ever needing any words.

I feel so thankful and lucky to have Natalie as my best friend.

She filled me with happiness, hope, and love every single second I spent with her. In 2009, she wrote me a two-page letter during a difficult time.

The last line of the letter says, “So just live your life and love.”

It’s so simple, yet so profound now. So just live your life and love. And that is exactly what Natalie did every single day of her life. I think about those words often as I now try to lead the life Natalie would have wanted me to lead.

Today I would tell Natalie that for the rest of my life, I will spread her kindness, I will sing her song, I will cherish our memories.

And as I continue our walks through our astoundingly beautiful world, I will carry her gently, I will think of her always, and I will love her forever.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Richmond Mourns Loss But Service Reflects the Joy of Knowing Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis

By Mel Greenberg

Though Ginny Doyle, the Richmond associate women’s basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis, the staff’s operations director, were 20 years apart, they became forever linked through the tragic event of May 11 when they along with pilot Daniel T. Kirk died when the hot air balloon they occupied struck a power line coming in for a landing and immediately caught fire, a few miles north of here, near the King’s Dominion Amusement Park.

But Saturday morning also was a time to know that Doyle, who was 44, and Lewis, who was 24, should forever be remembered for the joy and passion their lives brought to all with whom they had contact.

It was in that spirit that Richmond held a Celebration of Life Service inside Cannon Memorial Chapel, an event that was clear to everyone inside the nearly full chapel that in a period of deep mourning that may never end, considering the circumstances of the tragedy and the way in which two productive lives were cut short, thre can be joy in the memories of their presence.

Indeed, throughout the ceremony that lasted less than two hours, followed by a reception in the nearby Tyler Haynes Commons, it was possible for those who knew Natalie, a native of Buffalo, more so as a prolific swimmer for the Spiders athletic program also got to know Ginny a little better.

Conversely, the many who knew Ginny for her basketball stardom at Archbishop Ryan in Philadelphia and then at Richmond, and her 15 years on the coaching staff at her alma mater, also got to know Natalie much better, as well.

When the visitation service was held in Philadelphia in May on a night that was quite rainy, that was seen as the tears falling from the heaven expressing sadness over the loss.

But if that were to be true, then the likewise the glorious weather of Saturday with a clear blue sky and balmy temperatures under which the Richmond campus was quite vibrant, then that should be a sign that this was a day in which smiles and happiness over having known Ginny and Natalie trumped heartache.

Indeed, the picturesque campus reminded the Guru of that spring afternoon in 2006 at Army when first-year coach Maggie Dixon was laid to rest, having died suddenly of a heart stoppage soon after leading the Knights to their first Patriot League title and NCAA tournament appearance as a first-year coach.

The crowd Saturday was less than the service held a few days after the tragedy, when actually a good deal of the Richmond University population had already left town for its annual summer hiatus, one reason for delaying the formal tribute until this weekend.

But this weekend is also one of the key recruiting dates, a time when Ginny would have been in the gyms with other staffs from across the country.

Still, many who could not come, tweeted comments noting the service being held.

Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade, whose conference Richmond is a member, attended, as did former Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry, who oversees women’s basketball for the conference, as well as other A-10 officials who deal with the sport as part of their duties under McGlade.

This season, A-10 athletes are wearing rubber bracelets that carry signage: A10 Family Ginny-Natalie-Brian, the latter being Brian Moretti, the Saint Bonaventure women’s basketball media contact, who was serving his first year and died suddenly of cardiac arrest on site on the eve of the conference tournament in March, which was held here in the city.

The heart of the service centered on two similar presentations in which on Ginny’s side, remembrances were offered by women’s basketball coach Michael Shaffer, representing the basketball program; Cathy Rossi, a colleague and friend; and Ginny’s brother Joe, representing the family.

Understandably, at times, each struggled with their emotions over expressing the joy but coping with the loss.

Joe sent a copy of his speech, which can be found in its entirety down below, while Cathy and Michael said they will soon send electronic copies, also.

In the interim, the Guru taped everything and if enough is clear, you should see highlight quotes from associates of both individuals before Joe’s speech.

On Natalie’s side, Matt Barany, her swimming coach at Richmond, represented that program; Katie Sieben, a former swim teammate of Natalie represented that phase of Natalie’s life, and then her parents Evan and Tricia Lewis gave a dual offering.

At the end of each set of speeches, video tributes in the form of slide photos, were shown with the background music for Ginny being the tune My Old Friend, song by Tim McGraw while Love Is All Around, made famous by the Troggs, played during the photos of Natalie’s life.

The Procession of Symbols

University chaplain The Rev. Dr. Craig Kocher gave a short opening welcome to get the service under way, followed by a procession of symbols carried by friends and family of Natalie and Ginny, who then placed them on a table in the front below where the choir sat.

“The hope for the service was to create a space for some of those who were close to Ginny and Natalie to give memories, tears, laughter, and other gifts of music and stories as to who they were and goodness in body they inspired and to surround one another with our love and support as we give thanks for the lives of these two,” Dr. Kocher said in his remarks.

Rachel Mercer Perkins, a friend, and Kennedy Perkins, Ginny’s goddaughter, represented her by carrying a candle to start the procession.

Michael Dougher, the fiance of Natalie, next carried a candle.

Ginny’s Niece, Kelly Doyle, carried a a photo of Ginny’s dogs Maggie and Lexi.

Natalie’s brother Evan Jr. carried a family photo.

Ginny’s nephew Michael Doyle, carried memorabilia from Philadelphia while Natalie’s sister Caroline next carried a proclamation from the City of Buffalo that was made in August.

Genevieve, the senior captain of this year’s squad, carried the basketball with which she set an NCAA record at the time for most consecutive free throws that has since been surpassed.

That was the representation of Richmond basketball.

Chrissy Brodt and Nicole LePere, who were senior teammates and classmates graduating the same year as Natalie in 2011, carried a championship trophy.

Then several persons from the past in both sports carried a daisy chain representing Westhampton College, which is celebrating its 100th year and was established for women and is part of Richmond University.

Kate Flavin, a 2005 graduate of the women’s basketball program, and Cara McCracken, a 2009 graduate of the swimming program, carried Spider Paperweights to represent the alumni association.

Finally, Richmond University president Ed Ayers carried a folded UR Flag, which represented the university community.

Athletic Director Keith Gill after the six speeches, gave a brief address detailing some of the plans to honor the memory of the two fallen staff members.

It was at that moment, that the Guru’s tape recorder went into a software update, curious since it does not have communication capabilities, so Gill’s list wasn’t captured.

But the Guru will request a list and then note the plans in a short blog.

Joe’s speech has details about plans to convert the memorial fund established in Ginny’s name to be converted to a scholarship fund so she would always have a presence on the Richmond bench through one athlete.

Memories of Natalie and Ginny

Here are some highlights, for now, from the speeches made recalling the lives of Natalie and Ginny:

Michael Shafer: “I was given 3-5 minutes but what I’m going to do was what we always asked Ginny to do – give a scouting report in the allotted amount of time. So you iknow this is not going to be short.”

“Ginny lasted at Richmond under three head coaches – that right there is a tribute in of itself.”

“When I came, I was the new young head coach and I was going to bring in my own people. Then I met her. Three hours later she remained at the University of Richmond.”

“She was not an employe of the university. She was part of the university.”

“Ginny was probably the hardest worker in America. … She wasn’t working at all. It wasn’t work. She was doing what she loved to do every single day.”

“Sbe still had time to go to the beach .. be with her family .. go to a Phillies game. I know she lived her life to the fullest because I watched her every single day.”

“One day I asked her why she didn’t like staff meetings. She said they last too long. I said that’s because of you.”

“She didn’t sell (when she recruited). She shared her experiences at the University of Richmond.”

“She was entrenched in this community. She loved her family and she was able to love us, too.”

“She took her family recruiting.”

Cathy Rossi : “I asked her friends what they would say if they had a chance to speak. There were so many positive responses it would be impossible …

“She had a huge sense of humor and even dressing as a nun on Halloween.”

“I was so lucky to have known her and call her a best friend. When we leave today I hope we understand how blessed we are to even had the opportunity to know these two extraordinary women among us.”

Matt Barany: “I’m really a tough guy. These tears are all fake. They will all find out Monday morning. And Monday afternoon.”

“If Natalie were here, she would probably go home and write everyone a thank you.”

He then offered a bunch of thank you comments and also commented of sending a note to his yet-to-be-born daughter and who Natalie was.

Katie Sieben: “She was the light in every room. When I think of her, I think of the smile when she saw me”

Tricia Lewis : “She declared me best mom. In fact, I won every single category. She made you feel like you wre a better person than you were.”

Joe Doyle’s Complete Speech

Good morning, I am Joe Doyle, Ginny’s brother; and although many thought that Ginny and I were twins because of our looks and mannerisms, we were not, but we were extremely close in mind and spirit, just like twins. I was please (as well as nervous) when The University asked that a family member speak about Ginny. So on behalf of my Mom and my family, I want thank every one for being here today. We are grateful to Reverend Craig Kocher, President Ayers, Dean Juliette Landphair, the University of Richmond faculty, students, Keith Gill, the athletic department, the women’s basketball team and the entire Richmond community for your kindness, hospitality and support, as we come here to celebrate the life of Ginny and Natalie.

Two families, as well as the University of Richmond family, were forever impacted for the events that took place on May 9th. Literally, life changed. Natalie and Ginny were very close friends and colleagues and we can almost guess that their enthusiastic spirit caused them to take that balloon ride. Neither Ginny, nor Natalie, would have risked such adventure if they knew the true danger or the outcome. They each had too much to live for and they leave all of us steeped in grief, for the loss is still almost unbearable.

My family has been coming to Richmond and The University since 1990 when Ginny began playing for the team. Ginny played for 3 years and coached here for 15 years. Our family lived, Lady Spider Basketball year around; we probably came to 90% of the games over those 18 years. Driving 6-8 hours was never an issue for us…as long as we were going to see Ginny. Ginny was proud to work for the University and extremely proud to be a Spider. Never in our wildest imagination did we ever think we would be here, celebrating her life at the University.

My families’ memories of Ginny will be as a loving, devoted daughter, a strong and fiercely loyal sister, a dotting aunt, and for me, my idol. For others, Ginny will be remembered as a cherished teammate, a formidable competitor, a hard-working colleague, a best friend, an awesome recruiter, an amazing mentor, a player’s coach, and a caring person.

Ginny was welcoming to everyone, thoughtful, approachable, positive, honest, funny, sarcastic and loyal. Ginny could very easily walk into other people’s lives and make a connection that would last for years, we have witnessed that by those that have reached out to us over the past 5 months.

She always gave her time to conversation and when she got to know you, she showed her dry witty sense of humor. Over the years, many parents of the girls on the team would tell my Mom that Ginny was the reason they were entrusting their daughters to the University. Her integrity, character and demeanor spoke volumes to them and they wanted that for their daughters’ lives, beyond their basketball careers.

As a family, we watched Ginny so often in her role as coach, recruiter, and advocate for young women, so the words and stories following May 9th didn’t surprise us. However, as a family, we knew the “other side” of the public persona, so we knew that Ginny was also very competitive, and spoke her mind.

She was patient to a point and extremely generous; lending air miles, reward points; purchasing Phillies season tickets, summer vacations, the latest electronic gadget and of course lots of Richmond gear! Ginny had great expectations of herself and she continually challenged herself, players and others abilities to take the next step.

Although she kept an eye out for head coaching positions (at universities in the south, similar to Richmond) she truly loved her job here at the University. She always said she had the best associate head-coaching job in Division 1 Women’s Basketball.

Ginny lived life to the fullest. When opportunities came her way, her classic response would be, “let’s do it!” Ginny traveled around the US and the world; she never sat still and we have the pictures to prove it! From her earliest years, Ginny looked to athletics for fun, competition and adventure.

She begged her brother Ray to teach her how to waterski when she could hardly see over the deck of the boat.

As a young teenager we shot a be-be gun in the backyard, Ginny very rarely missed the target, which was usually something the size of a coin!

Her accuracy was amazing whether she was shooting a be-be gun or basketball, hitting a tennis ball, driving a golf ball or throwing a football. Ginny had all the athletic talent in our family. She literally excelled at every sport.

In the Richmond community, at the University and in the world of women’s basketball; Ginny will forever be known as “Dead-eye Doyle.”

She acquired this name due to her accuracy in shooting the basketball; she was extremely humble but yet proud to bear the name! As a basketball player, Ginny was a formidable competitor.

She was extremely proud of her 1991 teammates as they secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and hosting their first game; they finished that season 26 and 4.

Ginny played high school basketball at Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls, in the prominent Philadelphia Catholic League.

Teammates have said, you always gave the ball to Ginny when she was open; simply put, she made shots! She surely wasn’t known for her assists!

Ginny held many records; played for four different head coaches, coached under three head coaches at the University of Richmond and I’d be remised, if I didn’t mention her NCAA Division I consecutive free throw shooting record, which she held for 18 years.

Ginny went on to have a ‘friendly’ free throw shooting contest against CBS Sports Commentator Billy Packer, for which she received much national acclaim, as the New York Times in 1992 described, “The Woman Who Outshot All The Men”.

Billy Packer sank 12 for 20 free throws and Ginny sank 20 for 20 free throws, with the men’s ball! My parents remember the crowd in the Robins Center yelling to Ginny, “shoot with your eyes closed” and “shoot with your left-hand.”

She actually could have, and probably would have still won! Packer actually conceded and said “Ginny could shoot whatever size basketball they handed her!” For many years her larger-than-life picture with Billy Packer adorn the corner perimeter of the Robins Center…all the while Ginny was always humble and never bragged when asked about the contest.

Ginny was a hard-worker, on and off the court. As a kid she lived on the courts (on the streets of Philadelphia), my parents often received complaints from neighbors, as the backboard was on a telephone pole in front of their house. My parents received the same complaints about her as she monopolized the local tennis courts. She would play all day and all night. Ginny didn’t like to lose! She was always picked first in pickup games, even before the guys. As a college player she lived in the gym and although she wasn’t the fastest on the court, she wasn’t going to be stopped or be outworked!

Off the court, at her job, Ginny worked around-the-clock. There were so many occasions where we would come to visit and she would be scouting a team, breaking down plays or writing a scouting report for an upcoming game.

She would work hours at home, constantly recruiting; using her time efficiently east coast calls first, west coast calls second. I can’t count the number of times, that we were in her presences, when a player, recruit or AAU coach was calling her; she would abruptly stop the conversation, leave the dinner table and take the call. It didn’t matter to us because we were so happy just to be in her presences.

My brother Ray and I would always go with her on recruiting trips when she visiting the tri-state area...again, we just enjoyed being with her. She was passionate about her work and loved what she did; everyone enjoyed being in her company. In our family Ginny was BIGGER than life itself.

I wanted to explain the meaning of Ginny’s symbols:

The CANDLE, symbolizing eternal life, was carried by Rachel Mercer Perkins, Ginny’s George Washington University college teammate, roommate and best friend and her daughter Kennedy, Ginny’s Godchild.

The PORTRAIT carried by Kelly Doyle, Ginny’s niece, is of Ginny’s Yorkshire Terriers, Maggie and Lexi. They were Ginny’s family! They went everywhere with Ginny, they literally put themselves in her suitcase before every trip! You may have seen them here on campus with her at times!

The PHILLY MEMOROBILIA carried by Michael Doyle, Ginny’s nephew, includes the Philly Phanatic, an Eagles hat, a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel; and her Philadelphia High School All-Catholic

Letters represents where Ginny came from; although she lived a large portion of her life in Richmond and had developed a southern drawl and told long stories; she was a die hard Philly sports team fan and Philly Catholic League basketball and tennis player.

The BASKETBALL carried by Gen Okoro is the actual basketball that Ginny broke the NCAA Division 1 men and women’s free throw shooting record in 1992. Ginny shot 60 consecutive free throws is one season and 66 consecutive free throws over two seasons; Ginny led the nation in free throw shooting percentage at 98.5%.

A special “thank you” to the other symbol bearers, Kate Flavin, Ebony Tanner-Moore and Danielle Bell; colleagues, Richmond Spiders and very close and dear friends of Ginny’s.

In closing, it hasn’t been easy for any of us since May 9th. It hasn’t gotten easier either; in fact our hearts ache for Ginny everyday.

But we know, we are all truly blest to have had the opportunity to be part of her life.

She truly touched many lives and her legacy will live on in our hearts, memories and stories! Through Ginny, our family has come to know so many players, players’ families, coaches, colleagues, Spiders fans and neighbors. We have created many friendships that will last a lifetime.

Ginny’s story encourages us to live our lives to the fullest, as though each day may be our last.

Our family has literally millions of memories of Ginny, as a player and coach, many here at the University of Richmond; likewise, I am sure you do as well!

Our family would like Ginny’s name and memory to always be associated with the University. We are hoping we can convert her Memorial Fund to a Scholarship Fund in her honor so that she never leaves the University of Richmond’s Women’s Basketball Team or the bench in the Robins Center.

Please remember to make a donation in her name; even if you think it is small…every little bit helps! The information to make a donation is on the back of your bulletin!

We miss Ginny tremendously, we think about her constantly, a day doesn’t pass were something doesn’t remind us of her…we see her everywhere…we are comforted in her spiritual presences and our loving memories. The life she led inspired many. To us, Ginny was larger than life. To the team, I know Ginny was very proud and for this year she would say, “let’s do it!” OneRichmond! We love you Ginny. We will never forget you!

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

USA Training: Assistant Coach Dawn Staley Reflects Over the Game She Helped Grow

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

One of Dawn Staley’s greatest gifts to the sport of basketball, which she quickly developed a love affair in her childhood, has been sacrificing to help grow the game.

Staley along with 11 other women embarked on a successful year-long tour of the United States in advance of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

While many of the players could have made much more money playing professionally overseas, they decided that playing in 40 cities and six countries in sold out arenas from coast to coast serving as ambassadors would yield a huge payment for the sport they loved.

“Some of the challenges, I remember is just the sacrifice of some players,” Staley said. “They would have loved to go overseas and make a lot more money.

" Some players enjoyed the experience of playing professionally and they gave that up to be part of this opportunity," she explained.

"The good thing was it was like playing professionally here in the United States because we didn’t have a professional league here at the time. It was a challenge. It was a tough experience but a good one.”

Almost 20 years later, women’s basketball is flourishing and in a terrific place thanks to women like Staley, Teresa Edwards, Lisa Leslie, Ruthie Bolton, Sheryl Swoopes, Katrina McClain and Cynthia Cooper.

They were able to reap the rewards because players like Nancy Lieberman and Cheryl Miller before them performed in the shadow of the men’s game but became the rare household names at the time to help give public appeal of the women's game.

The duo, plus Carol Blazejowski and Lynette Woodard, off their scoring prowess, had such superior skills to transcend both genders when it came to hoops.

One of the many stories of sacrificing in 1995 involved Edwards, who turned down a $300,000 contract to play for the USA national team that offered $50,000 for her services for the year, which didn’t include a guaranteed Olympic roster spot at the time.

The 1996 United States Olympic squad paused their normal lives, turned down opportunities to make significantly more money and become trailblazers so that Skylar Diggins and many others on this United States Women’s Basketball national team pool could enjoy the fruits of their labor.

One of most recognizable women’s basketball legends on the planet, Staley, a north Philadelphia native, is one of Geno Auriemma’s assistant coaches on his Philly-flavored USA staff along with Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, a La Salle graduate, and DePaul head coach Doug Bruno.

The 13 members of this year’s national team who survived the first round of cuts departed for Paris on Tuesday afternoon where they will continue training in advance of the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey beginning Sept. 27.

It still was unclear at how many of the seven players that weren’t at the domestic training camp will join the team overseas, although the number is now six since Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles has opted out for health reasons involving her feet.

During practice at the Naval Academy last Wednesday, Staley, who has rebuilt South Carolina's prominence from the sidelines after making Temple nationally-regarded, couldn’t help but marvel at all of the terrific talent gathered in one place.

“You’re like a kid in a candy store with so many great players gathered in one place,” Staley said. “It’s incredible. The true effect what the WNBA has been able to do, players are able to live out their dreams.

"The WNBA has been a carrot dangling in front of these guys and it gives them an opportunity to work hard at their games as youngsters. This is the finished product.”

Not long before some of the players on the current pool were born, the American women capped off a year-long exhibition of dominance with a perfect 60-0 record across 1995-96.

That set the wheels in motion for the creation of the WNBA, which began play less than a year later. It was also the trip lever for the start of the short-lived American Basketball League, which lasted two years and a few months before collapsing caused by bankruptcy.

Staley, who was an All-Star in both leagues, knew she was part of something special during that year.

For 11 months, players lived, trained, battled, laughed and bonded with each other during that experience, which helped prove that women’s basketball could thrive in the United States.

During that time there was no consistent social media presence, which meant all the players had was each other.

Yet, that team was one of most popular in history of organized sports in America.

They sold out the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the gold medal game and played in front of the largest national television audience at that point in time.

Fans flocked to their busses like bees to honey.

“That's probably one of the defining moments of my career because we tried something that had never been done before,” Staley, a WNBA All-Decade Team member, said in article commemorating the 10-year anniversary of that team in 2006 on the WNBA website.

“It was probably the closest thing to competing on a professional level that I had done at the time because we were on a team at the primes of our careers, and we were sort of like the guinea pigs to see if women's basketball could be a draw.”

During its 18-year existence, the WNBA has survived its share of challenges and hardships to thrive as a 12-team league.

League attendance and television ratings were the highest in league history, half of the teams are turning profits, ESPN is fully invested in the league and the playoffs this past season were among the best in league history.

With more and more talent, the road to making the USA Basketball Women’s National Team is more difficult than ever.

While Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Tamika Catchings are nearing the twilight of their awesome careers, players like Diggins, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Odyssey Sims, Bria Hartley and Chiney Ogwumike are just beginning.

They are part of a bright future of the WNBA and the national team.

Diggins, for one has tried not to be awestruck at receiving instruction from one of her idols in Staley, who also mentored Bird when she joined the national team in 2002.

“She’s one of the best our sport has ever had especially at her position,” Diggins said.

“I get to talk to her and be around her everyday. As a kid she’s one of the players I looked up to and one of the reasons why I wanted to play in the WNBA.

"Everything is coming full circle, which is pretty surreal. When she says something to you, she demands a lot of attention and respect from you. You listen. Everything she says has a purpose behind it.”

With what Staley was able to accomplish during her career and now being able to give back to the game is the ultimate reward for her.

In building South Carolina into a national power since moving from Temple in 2008, she’s loves turning unsure teenagers into mature young women who are productive members of society.

It’s why Staley can sit back with her legs crossed and marvel at the team she’s been blessed to coach.

Everything hasn’t been easy and smooth for Staley. She was part of the ABL’s Philadelphia Rage, which folded. Despite that brief setback, Staley continued to persevere and help grow the game.

“I think that’s what women’s basketball has been about just being able to overcome certain things,” Staley said.

“No matter what has happened or what obstacles we’ve had, we’re still standing strong. These players are better. USA Basketball is in a great place. Players are willing to come out and sacrifice their free time to try and make a world championship team.

“You got Olympians, WNBA All-Stars, college all-stars, you have a lot of talent in one room and a pretty good staff.

"Geno does a good job of getting them to all play as a unit. It’s been a great experience for me. I am learning a whole lot and having fun. I just get to sit back and coach whatever fortunate ones that are able to make the team.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Guru's Local College Report: Big Five Dates Are Set as Schools Release Entire Schedules

By Mel Greenberg

Well now that the pro season, WNBA version anyway with USA still to come for a few weeks, the Guru took advantage of the final three of the his PhilahoopsW group of 10 to finish off at least the date part of his winter schedule.

Yes, Penn, the Guru saw the note that two more nonconference games may be coming down the pike, but for this moment, this is as good as it gets to get this much done by Seot. 1.4

Time starts still needed but it is early, in fact, so early this is the earliest to get an overall look at the 2014-15 seasons ahead and unfortunately, for the Guru and those of you who care for more than one team or at least must deal with more than one team, it is not pretty.


Well it appears the Colonial Athletic Association and Big East in their league portions of the schedule are jumping on Friday night, a place once usually occupied by just the Ivy League in recent seasons and perhaps the MAAC.

So that said, there are a lot of conflicts ahead, Sundays are going to be a monster in terms of number games and that gets extended for the Guru, who also has national games to attend.

And conference switches now have Rutgers and Maryland, two of his regular stops, moved from the AAC and ACC into the Big Ten.

Anyhow, out of this work, one does emerge are the ten dates for the local Big Five round-robin.

The Guru will update again when all the time starts are in.

The conference shuffle now causes seven of the ten dates to be done by February.

Unlike last year, Penn will not see tough Big Five action later and definitely not three in a row. but the Quakers, who almost added to making history in other areas, will play all four of their games at home in The Palestra after being the visiting team all four times prior to making a successful run to capture the Ivy title.

LA Salle, on the other hand will play all four on the road, Temple will travel 3 stay home 1, while Sant Joseph's will travel 1, stay home 3, and Villanova will split 2-2.

Here, then, are the Big Five dates for your early planning and when the Guru can look at two screens at once, he will tell you of some of the conflict dates soon.

2014-15 City Series Big Five Schedule

Fri., Nov. 14 -- La Salle at Temple: On a night many NCAAs playing season opener. This used to be late when the Owls were also in the A-10.

Tues., Nov. 18 -- Temple at Saint Joseph's: Likewise, this usually came near the end for the same reason as mentioned with La Salle.

Wed., Nov. 19 -- La Salle at Penn: The Explorers and Owls were two victims of the Quakers, so what more needs to be said.

Sun., Dec. 7 -- Villanova at Saint Joseph's: By the time this game ends we could, but not definitely, know how the race is going to finish.

Tue., Dec. 9 -- Saint Joseph's at Penn: The Quakers had a near-miss last time, while this will be Game 3 for the Hawks out of the four.

Sun., Dec. 14 -- La Salle at Villanova: This will be La Salle's third of the season, so if the Hawks and Explorers are either 3-0 or 3-1, there will be a wait until February to see who wins either outright or tied.

Mon. Dec. 22-- Temple at Villanova: A traditional time that has usually be the local get-away for the Christmas break. There will be the unusual tip on the Main Line of 11:L30 A.M.

Mon., Jan. 5 -- Temple at Penn The Owls are out for revenge. If the Quakers are to win three City Series games for the first time, their first chance is right here ast Game No. 3.

Wed., Jan. 21 -- Villanova at Penn: If Mr. Philly.com sports is in the house showing his Quakers loyalties, something big may be brewing for Penn.

Wed., Feb. 4 -- La Salle at Saint Joseph's In the Atlantic 10, it is the first of two but in the Big Five it could be for all the marbles.

That's it for the moment. Rob says he has more things coming this weekend on USA. The Guru will be back, soon.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Friday, September 12, 2014

USA Basketball Training: Playing On 9-11 Brings Emotions Beyond Competing For Roster Picks

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

NEWARK, Del. –
Representing their country on a significant day in American history was an emotional experience for the 17 members and coaches of the USA Women’s Basketball national team pool Thursday night at the Bob Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware campus.

“This being 9/11 the anniversary, what we're trying to do is make a commitment that our players made to play for USA Basketball and show there's a commitment that these men and women in front of you here, they make every day,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “They make a commitment for our country. They are the greatest team in the world and we aspire to be just like them.”

While they were competing for roster spots and entertaining the crowd as part of a nationally-televised USA Basketball inter-squad showcase event, the Red Team’s 95-87 victory over the White Team became an afterthought following a very special halftime ceremony that touched everybody inside of the arena.

During that time, members of the different branches of the Armed Forces presented each player on the USA women’s basketball team with personalized silver dog tags.

The players and Armed Forces members lined up across from each other and following the exchange, there was only one thing to be said.

“Thank you,” Sue Bird said. “It was really cool to be part of that halftime ceremony. I am sure that the first words out of everybody’s mouth were ‘thank you’ when they met the person standing across from them.

"I don’t know what else to say to be honest. When this day comes, it takes you back really to where you were. That’s one of those moments in time that you’ll never forget. It’s sad but also special.”

Each Team USA participant was sincerely humbled by that extraordinary gesture. It was an unexpected treat and something that will remain with them forever.

Each player sported the symbolic dog tag that featured an American flag on one tag and each player’s name and hometown on the other following the game.

Bird and Maya Moore had their dog tags on during the postgame press conference.

“The moment at halftime brings everything together especially on this day,” Skylar Diggins said. “To be able to share this experience with all the members of the military and for them to give us something is a blessing.

" I feel like we should be giving them something for all that they do for us. This is something I will never forget and something we talked about the other day of embracing the entire experience.

"To be able to have a moment with our Armed Forces is something we won’t forget. We wear these (dogtags) with a sense of pride.”

Wearing the red-white-and-blue uniform of Team USA on 9/11, the ladies understood they were representing an entire country, a distinction that made them proud. Prior to the start of the game there was a moment of silence.

“It was unbelievable especially the ceremony at halftime,” Kayla McBride said. “It’s kind of surreal because you know you’re playing on a special day in this country. It’s bigger than us. To have the opportunity to be part of them presenting us with dog tags is something that will always remain with each one of us here.”

For each player taking the floor for the showcase event, it was also their first time playing in the state of Delaware.

They enjoyed the experience of being able to accomplish all of their goals while playing with heavy hearts. Fans were entertained by the high-flying acrobatics of Angel McCoughtry and the deft passing of Lindsay Whalen. Bird and Maya Moore had nothing but outstanding comments about Delaware.

“The University of Delaware has been great,” Bird said. “I’ve never been here before, but the crowd was into the game and that was good to see.

"I am sure the crowd would have loved to see a certain someone (referring to former University of Delaware standout Elena Delle Donne), but hopefully we were able to put on a good show.”

Delle Donne is excused from the first part of preparations with six other players on either the Phoenix Mercury or Chicago Sky, which is her team, competing for the WNBA championship.

The Mercury leads the best-of-five series and can complete a 3-0 sweep in Game 3 Friday night in Chicago.

Back here the teams were tied at 74 with five minutes remaining in the game before the Red, fueled by six points from Whalen, went on an 11-2 run to subdue the White squad.

The Red team trailed, 65-62, entering the final quarter before finding a way to prevail after yielding a double digit lead it held in the first quarter.

Officials of USA Basketball were pleased with the enthusiastic crowd turnout despite not having Delle Donne’s drawing power.

"The assessment is thumbs up," USA women's head Carol Callan told the Guru early in the night in answering how the brief visit went.

Translate that to probable future return visits the next two years when training for the Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016 occurs.

Players also expressed their approval of the site at the postgame media availability.

“We were very impressed with the welcome we received here at the University of Delaware,” Moore said. “Everything was very smooth. I thought the crowd was into it.

Overall, it was a great day for basketball, but that was just a small part of our experience. On a day like today, remembering is so important because this puts into perspective how precious life is and what’s really significant.”

Added Tina Charles: “I am always going to keep this dog tag. What the Armed Forces do for our country, any little thing, whether it’s in the office or physically in the field, means something to us and our freedom.”

NOTES: The USA Team will move their training operations up north to Connecticut where they will practice at ESPN Friday afternoon before enjoying an off-day on Saturday.

They will take the 4.5 hour bus ride from Newark to Bristol, Connecticut in the morning to start a four-day segment during which they will conclude their domestic training on Monday with an exhibition against Canada at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

The team will leave the country on Tuesday, Sept. 16 for training in Paris ahead of the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

There were many great individual performances Thursday night highlighted by Nneka Ogwumike, who scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a losing effort.

Charles (18 points), McCoughtry (16), Whalen (15), Jantel Lavender (14) and McBride (14) also had strong games.

“I think in the first half, there were a lot of jitters,” McBride said. “We were missing shots we normally make. We still hadn’t played with each other too much. We calmed down in the second half and started to learn each other. Lindsey Whalen carried the Red team in the second half and gave us that push we needed to win. I feel like the game got better as it went on.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Thursday, September 11, 2014

USA Training: Despite Roster Spots Up for Grabs, Players Looking to Have Fun in Intra-Squad Matchup at Delaware

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

Odyssey Sims promises one thing when Team USA takes the court Thursday night at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center in Newark for a nationally-televised basketball showcase starting at 7:00 p.m.

“We’re going to play hard and give ESPN a little show,” Sims said following Team USA’s final practice at the United States Naval Academy Wednesday morning. “I think there will be a lot of ohhs and ahhhs.

"We are just going to have fun and we are not going to take anything personally. I mean, we are going to play on TV, you’re always excited to play on TV, especially on national TV so we are going to just have fun.”

If the game is anything like the intense 10-minute scrimmage that occurred toward the end of practice in Halsey Gym, then fans will be in for a nice treat.

It was also the first day that Team USA scrimmaged five-on-five as the coaching staff led by Geno Auriemma spent the first two days working on various concepts.

The players, obviously split into different squads, battled each other with Game 7-like intensity.

One of the best plays was UConn incoming junior Breanna Stewart stuffing an Angel McCoughtry shot attempt in the lane.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike was a beast on the boards. There was even a hard-fought scramble for a loose ball that ended with about six players on the floor trying to control it.

“I felt like the first game we played was a little rough,” said Stewart, who is the only collegian in the 24-woman pool, of which 17 are here while the other seven are either with the Phoenix Mercury or Chicago Sky in the best-of-five WNBA finals.

“I think we were a little all too excited, I mean, that was the first time we have really scrimmaged this whole time," Stewart said.

"Once we settle in and especially the second game, we cut it a lot closer we had the lead for the majority of the game.

"So that makes us feel better going into the game tomorrow. Just to be able to get some kind of chemistry with your team obviously that makes you feel more comfortable and confident when you go out there tomorrow.”

So while there are bound to be special plays, just don’t expect the explosion of points that occurred during the entertaining WNBA All-Star Game in July.

In that overtime classic, All-Star records fell quickly. With players battling for one of the 12 roster spots, there won’t be many missed defensive assignments.

“It’s different from an All-Star Game because you’re playing with a purpose,” Ogwumike said. “All-Star Games are fun and give the fans something good to see.

"Here, we’re all playing with a purpose, trying to make a team. It’s a tryout. It’s not about you being the best on the team and it’s about making the best team.

“It’s a blessing to be here and seize the moment. There are key returnees and key players missing so it’s an opportunity for us to show what we got and learn from the best.”

One person missing from the action Thursday night will be Delaware favorite Elena Delle Donne, who is with the Chicago, which is down 2-0 to Phoenix in the best-of-five series going into Game 3 Friday night in the Windy City.

The Bob Carpenter Center was a sellout of just under 5,000 fans in May when Delle Donne and the rest of the Sky beat the Washington Mystics in a preseason game.

That number may not be equalled, but still, the Guru talked to Matt Robinson, chairman of the Delaware Sports Commission, who told him that 2,500 seats have already been sold and over 100 youth and high school coaches are coming in the afternoon to the pre-game shoot-around and clinic prior to the Showcase itself.

Meanwhile, back here following practice, Sims and Ogwumike were snapchatting photos.

Sims also hopped onto Ogwumike’s back at one point as a selfie was taken.

Skylar Diggins had a blast photo-bombing her teammates.

She also found time to treat herself to a pedicure and manicure. Of course, other players like Seimone Augustus continued to make funny faces at her teammates while they were being interviewed.

“It’s been an amazing overall experience here,” Diggins said. “I got a chance to meet a lot of new people.

"Being here really helps you understand the whole USA experience even more.

It’s so much more than basketball or just one player. We are looking forward to playing Thursday so I definitely hope the fans come out.”

Nobody knows when the first round of cuts will occur.

The only guarantee is that by September 26, the 12-man roster for the World Championships will be set.

Team USA will be spending plenty of time on buses over the next two days.

They will drive from Annapolis to Newark Thursday morning and then from Newark to Bristol, Ct on Friday morning where they will practice at ESPN that afternoon.

The final part of the USA training domestically will occur in Bridgeport (Ct.) on Sunday and Monday.

The experience has further bonded many of these competitors.

“It’s been fun here this week,” Sims said. “I am a little sore, but I haven’t been working out because my knee has been bothering me the last part of the season.

"You are surrounded by so many great players. Just being here means a lot."

Sims also is like many former collegians who had to battle UConn nationally but now get the chance work under Huskies Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma and become satisfied customers.

"Geno is one of the best coaches ever," the former Baylor star said. "Some of the things I learned that will help my game going forward are different defensive concepts, learning to move without the ball and how important to get other teammates open.”

During one part of the scrimmage, Auriemma stopped the action after a turnover that was caused by poor spacing and a lack of court awareness since it occurred near the sideline.

Auriemma calmly explained and then demonstrated to his team why making a pass that close to the sidelines would never be a good decision. He ended the mini-teaching moment by telling his team, “don’t let them push you to the sideline.”

“I think everybody got a glimpse of how we’re going to play Thursday night. “That’s the biggest thing is to have fun no matter what happens. We have cuts coming up.

"I don’t think anybody is worried about that. All of us are great here so regardless of what happens after this weekend, you can’t take anything from it but just this being a great experience.”

NOTES: The rosters for Thursday’s showcase are set.

Representing the Red Team will be Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore of Minnesota, Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta), Jantel Lavender (Los Angeles), Kayla McBride and Danielle Robinson of San Antonio, Odyssey Sims (Tulsa), Chiney Ogwumike (Connecticut) and Stefanie Dolson (Washington). They will be coached by DePaul's Doug Bruno and South Carolina's Dawn Staley.

Competing on the white team will be Seimone Augustus (Minnesota), Sue Bird (Seattle), Tina Charles (New York), Skylar Diggins (Tulsa), Bria Hartley (Washington), Briann January (Indiana), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Los Angeles) and UConn’s Breanna Stewart.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and special scout coach Jennifer Rizzotti of Hartford and a former UConn star will coach that team.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

USA Basketball Training: Fate Gives McCoughtry a Quick Trip Home for her Birthday

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

Angel McCoughtry had the best birthday anybody could ask for.

In addition to playing the game she loves, McCoughtry also had an opportunity to spend some quality time with her family.

With McCoughtry in the area as part of the USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Training Camp, she was able to make the 30-minute trip to Baltimore, her hometown.

“I am glad I am here because it’s kind of like a treat for me on my birthday,” said McCoughtry following the USA’s final practice at the United States Naval Academy Wednesday morning.

Instead of birthday cake, ice cream and balloons, the 28-year-old McCoughtry had one wish as her bones and joints cracked and creaked.

“I need some Icy Hot,” McCoughtry said with a laugh as she was removing her red sneakers. “I am sitting over here aching and just needing to stretch. I feel old.”

McCoughtry, who is young at heart, will be one of 17 players competing in Thursday’s USA Basketball Showcase at the Bob Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware’s campus. The game begins at 7 p.m. and will be televised live on ESPN2.

She has been encouraged with the training sessions and intense scrimmages against one another. McCoughtry believes the chemistry is already there among this group of ultra-talented players.

“I would say that even though we’ve been practicing three or four days, it feels like we’ve been practicing longer than that because of the high level of play here,” McCoughtry said. “It looks like we’ve been playing together a while. I am excited to play with this group of women. Hopefully I can stay on the team to help.”

While nobody has a guaranteed spot, McCoughtry’s performances for Team USA in recent years would have to factor into a decision to select her to the final 12-player roster that will compete in the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

McCoughtry was a member of the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2012 Olympic gold medal winning teams. The Atlanta Dream forward has helped Team USA compile a 17-0 record in international competition. She made her presence felt during the Olympics in London in 2012 as was second on the team in scoring (10.9 points per game) and steals (2.5).

McCoughtry was also an efficient and ruthless scorer as she led all competitors in the 12-team field in field goal percentage as she shot a ridiculous .620 percent (31-for-50).

The former Louisville all-American set a U.S. Olympic single game record for field goal percentage after going 8-for-8 against China.

“2010 was a great experience and I learned a lot about the how the international game is played," McCoughtry said. “Right after that I started playing overseas.

"I am so excited. The showcase game is going to be a lot of fun. Istanbul is like my second home as I’ve been playing there for five years. This is like a home away from home for me.”

This summer for the Dream, she helped them win the regular season Eastern Conference crown.

McCoughtry detonated for 39 points in an elimination game against the Chicago Sky.

During her career in Atlanta, McCoughtry has helped the Dream to the 2011 and 2013 WNBA Finals.

Even though McCoughtry’s dad, Roi, was a standout player at Coppin State in the late 70s, he never pushed her or her younger sisters into playing basketball.

It just so happened that a friend of McCoughtry’s mom suggested that she play basketball since she was tall.

It was love at first sight and McCoughtry hasn’t looked back since.

While she’s earned plenty of accolades for her basketball skills, McCoughtry is a champion in the game of life as she has become a beacon of inspiration for the younger generation.

She started the Angel McCoughtry Dream Foundation.

The mission of the foundation is to teach and empower youth to recognize their dreams by possessing good character, self-confidence and valuable life skills through trainings based on the fundamentals of sportsmanship, competition and respect which will facilitate their physical, mental and spiritual maturity.

She’s the only female basketball player from Baltimore to earn an Olympic gold medal. It’s something she doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s amazing and an honor to have that distinction,” McCoughtry said. “All of my natural ability comes from my dad.

"Overall, I have great parents that have always been supportive. I don’t think my dad even thought about his girls playing basketball. We were into dainty things coming up. It’s great that more girls are playing basketball than ever before.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

USA Basketball Training: Maya Moore Executes Her Game Easier Than Trying to Describe It

( Guru note: Enjoy another three-part package all below from crab country )

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob 1)

Maya Moore’s game is so indescribable that she can’t even describe it.

When the topic was broached with the affable Moore following Monday’s USA Women’s World Championship Training practice session at the Naval Academy’s Halsey Gym, the 2014 WNBA MVP from the Minnesota Lynx had a blank expression on her face.

It took her five seconds to begin the difficult task of describing her amazing season.

“Let’s see,” Moore said. “I tried to play in a relentless manner.

"Whatever the task is and I just want to go at it at full force. I tried to be a threat from everywhere on the floor and tried to find creative ways to score inside and mid-range from outside.

"I also tried to set screens, get steals, block shots, rebound the ball, run and create for my teammates. It was really fun to have my hands in so many aspects of the game and the team that I am on allowed me to do that.”

Moore was a basketball version of Zoe Saldana’s Colombia character: Graceful, charming and calculating with an assassins’ mentality. She turned the basketball court into her personal playground this season doing essentially what she wanted whenever she pleased. Her regular season was one for the record books.

Playing in all 34 games, Moore paced the league in scoring (23.9 ppg), the third-highest average in WNBA history behind the 25.3 ppg and 24.1 ppg by sister UConn alum Diana Taurasi in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

The fourth-year pro became the first player in league history to post four consecutive games of 30 or more points. She finished the regular season with a league-record 12 games of 30-plus points, topping the previous mark of 10 set by Taurasi in 2008.

This season, Moore guided the Lynx to a 25-9 record and the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs, despite the club being without injured All-Stars Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus for 23 and 10 games, respectively.

The Lynx became the first franchise in the 18-year history of the WNBA to win at least 25 games in four straight years.

“I was grateful to help my team when they needed me and we were very injured,” Moore said. “We had some players who were not at 100 percent to start the season.

"I was fortunate to be able to help us in whatever ways that was necessary. I have such good players and staff around me that I am able to often times to score the ball.

"That’s what happened a lot at the beginning of the season and on through the rest. I was proud of the way our team overcame all of the issues and challenges that we faced this year and never quit.”

Moore helped the Lynx advance to the Western Conference Finals where they lost in a three-game series to the Phoenix Mercury. While the scoring was nice, the injuries to Brunson and Augustus gave Moore an opportunity to expand facets of her game.

“It was one of those situations where every year I am expected to do more and lead at an even higher level,” Moore said.

“I knew that leading by example was more important than ever and that’s what I tried to focus on this year. If there was something that needed to be said, I said it and if it was something that required me to listen and follow through with the coaches instructions then that’s what I focused on.

"Whatever the moment called for that’s what I tried to do. I also wanted to bring energy, encourage my teammates and give us a lot of confidence when we’re on the court.”

Incidentally, both her coaches are here in UConn's Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the USA squad and Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star from South Jersey.

Moore was also happy with the improvement in her defense as well.

While her scoring earned plenty of attention and many highlights, the 6 foot Moore was also a human handcuff this season, locking down defenders and sprinting into passing lanes like a greyhound for steals that led to crowd-pleasing layups. Moore had a much easier time talking about her defensive approach.

“I tried to anticipate because I am a very instinctual player,” Moore said. “I combined discipline with my instincts. Sometimes that gets me in trouble but at some point, it’ll help me out. I like to take some chances, be active and use my length. I am learning to stay more disciplined. It also helps knowing my opponent and being smart.”

With defenses focused on stopping the high-flying Moore, they couldn’t. Seriously adjectives like super, phenomenal and sensational did little justice to adequately describe her many scoring shows this summer that included a career-high 48 point effort against Atlanta, the second most points scored in a WNBA game in history.

Moore also scored a Lynx-franchise record 812 points and was named WNBA Player of the Week five times, including a league record four consecutive weeks. She won three of the four Western Conference Player of the Month awards.

“I felt like was able to execute better in one-on-one situations,” Moore said. “I feel like I got to free-throw line better than I have in my career. I also focused on being more diverse in my scoring and being active on defense. I feel like I took a step forward in that area this year.”

Only 25 years old, Moore is one of the best basketball players on the planet, which is scary considering her age. Even though this is the first time in Moore’s career, she’s not participating in the WNBA Finals, the consolation prize of representing Team USA is pretty neat.

Already, the gifted Moore is one of eight players to have earned a World Championship gold medal, Olympic gold medal, NCAA title and WNBA championship.

She’s one of five UConn alumnae that can make that claim along with Kara Wolters, Swin Cash, Sue Bird and Taurasi. The other women who accomplished that are Tamika Catchings, Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper.

Moore has yet to lose a game against international competition as a member of the USA National Team, winning 17 games between the 2010 FIBA World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

She is part of a pool of 24 amazingly talented women’s basketball players trying to make the 12-man USA World Championship roster that will head to Istabul, Turkey after a training stop in Paris to compete in the World Championships, which runs from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

The 17 players present at Naval Academy will play an inter-squad exhibition showcase Thursday night at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center at 7 p.m. in a game that will be televised by ESPN2.

“It’s really fun to be teammates with some of the players that we’re constantly figuring out how to beat,” Moore said. “To be on the same team is great and you could feel the energy in the building during practice. I always look forward to this time because you get a chance to get to know some of the best athletes in the world. For me, it’s about learning, soaking it in and competing at a high level.”

Of course for Moore, it’s much easier to perform at an elite level than actually being forced to describe it.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

USA Basketball Training: Hoops for Troops Initiative A Memorable Moment For USA Contingent

( Guru's note: Some quotes compiled from USA Basketball's daily roundup )

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

Members of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team will never forget their unforgettable experience Tuesday of being visited by Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observing 4,000 midshipmen get into noon formation and march into the cafeteria for lunch, and eating lunch and chatting with the midshipmen.

Following practice and chilling with the midshipmen over lunch, Team USA held a pair of clinics in the late afternoon for local youths at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and one at the U.S. Naval in Halsey Gym Academy for children of military parents. The entire event was part of USA’s “Hoops For Troops” initiative.

“I really enjoyed (Battaglia’s) speech,” Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry said. “He talked about discipline and moreso appreciating life.

"That’s what I got from it. It’s amazing because they all love what we do and it’s like no, ‘we love what you do.’ It’s kind of like a two way street. I was really appreciative to hear what he had to say and I’m just glad to be here in this environment.”

For Bria Hartley, a special day became even more memorable.

“I had a great time at the Hoops for Troops clinic today,” Hartley said. “It was a lot of fun playing with the kids, doing the drills and having races with them – they were really fun to be around. It is always great to come back into the community and give back and do something for the kids because I didn’t always have that when I was growing up.

“Having lunch today with the midshipmen was great today. I had a great time hanging out with them. I even met a girl from New York like me. She played for the same AAU team as me. It was a really cool day and I really enjoyed it.”

Hartley is savoring the experience of the opportunity to make the 12-player roster that will compete in the World Championships later this month in Istanbul, Turkey.

She’s one of 17 players who will compete in Thursday’s inter-squad exhibition game at the Bob Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware’s campus.

The WNBA Washington Mystic guard and UConn graduate just completed her rookie season in which she helped her team reach the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Two days after the Mystics season ended in an overtime classic against the Indiana Fever, Hartley received a nice message that lifted her spirits.

“I was excited,” Hartley said following Monday’s practice at Halsey Gym. “I missed out on the last training camp because of (an ankle) injury and I remember feeling really bummed about not making it. The fact that I was invited back was exciting for me. It’s great to play against all of these top players.”

Hartley is the second youngest player in the 24-woman pool competing for a roster spot behind her former teammate of two years Breanna Stewart.

Even though Hartley will turn 22 at the end of September, the former soccer and lacrosse standout from Long Island has plenty of experience playing at a high level.

Already, Hartley has won a gold medal last summer at the World University Games and she teamed with Skylar Diggins and Chiney Ogwumike to win the FIBA 3-on-3 World Championship. In 14 career games representing Team USA, Hartley averaged 10.9 points per game.

Playing with the fierceness of a bulldog who doesn’t back down from a challenge, Hartley’s approach to training has remained the same. She had a strong rookie season in which she enhanced her reputation as a serial ankle-breaker.

“I don’t think the mindset of competing is different, at least not for me,” Hartley said. “I like to go out on the floor and approach everything the same way. I am a fairly serious person most of the time so I just make sure I am out there paying attention to what coach Auriemma is talking about or any coach I am playing for. My role is to make sure I do what my team needs. I thought I did pretty well today.”

One of the nice things about this team is that Hartley is getting an opportunity to play with future Hall of Famer Sue Bird.

They are two of the greatest basketball players to come from Long Island and play for UConn. It’s almost like a torch passing from Bird to Hartley. Quite naturally, they have plenty of respect for each other even though they are 12 years apart.

“I remember Sue controlled the tempo and helped others get better,” Hartley said. “She’s the type of player who creates for others and herself. That’s the type of player I want to be. It’s pretty awesome to know that we’re two of the best to come from Long Island and now we’re playing here together.”

The entire USA contingent enjoyed themselves Tuesday mingling and snapping selfies with midshipmen. It was certainly a day that left a lasting impression on everybody. Auriemma, who has experienced everything there basically to do is in life to do was in awe at witnessing the noon lunch formation.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Auriemma said. “To move 4,000 midshipmen in like that and have them all sit down and eat, it took about 10 minutes to do all that. Then when you walk into that room, I’ve never seen 4,000 people eat at one time and do it in such a fashion. It kind of leaves you staring. I can’t believe they do all that.

“From the whole ceremony, from the time they got into their formation, while they were marching in, just the whole tradition about what they do, it was great for our players to see that. To see that kind of precision that they take great pride in. I didn’t want it to end.”

NOTES: Tickets for the USA Basketball Showcase can be purchased through the Bob Carpenter Center box office, by calling 302-831-2257 or online via ticketmaster.com…

Wednesday will be the final practice (9:30-11:30 a.m.) at the Naval Academy before the team starts moving up North along the East Coast that will take them to Newark (Del.) Thursday, Bristol (Ct.) Friday and Bridgeport (Ct.) on Sunday and Monday…The team will have an off day on Saturday.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

USA Basketball Training: Navy Collegiate Women Get to Work With The Pros

By Mel Greenberg

If you're a young, aspiring vocalist, perhaps a big moment in your career might come if a headlining musician comes to town on a shakedown tour and invites you to perform together on stage.

In sports, at times, the experience can be similar.

That's the way it was Tuesday afternoon for the Navy squad wth the rock stars of women's basketball in town for a few days at the Naval Academy training for selection and preparation for the the USA Basketball women's participation in the FIBA World Championship, which begins later this month in Turkey.

All but one of the players on the USA training roster are among the best of the best in the WNBA. The exception happens to be the reigning women's collegiate player of the year in Connecticut junior Breanna Stewart.

Besides another session of workouts by the USA players, the group along with the Navy women's squad, which have won Patriot League titles in recent seasons prior to last winter, split into two contingents to give clinics in the afternoon.

One group for the greater Annapolis community led a session across town.

A smaller one, for the benefit of families housed either at the academy or nearby Naval base, was held here in Halsey Gym, where the USA women have been doing their workouts.

So for a brief time, the national hopefuls and Midshipwomen were one unit, leading drills at various workstations to the youngsters who came.

"It's just been a phenomenal experience seeing them all here," said Navy junior Rebecca Richmond, who is in the same collegiate classnationally as Stewart.

"We're with people we've watched on TV, read about," said Richmond, who is from Superior, Colorado, which is near Boulder, but not far from the USA Basketball headquarters to the South in Colorado Springs.

"Today, I ran a session with Sue Bird," she said of the WNBA All-Star Seattle Storm point guard and former UConn all-American. "I was, like, starstruck.

"It was awesome to do something so simple, something that I did when I was a little kid, that I saw her do and now I'm doing it with her. It's just a phenomenal experience."

Incidentally, Rchmond's coach Stefanie Pemper was a court coach earlier this summer in Colorado during the tryouts for what became the USA gold-medal winning U-18 squad guided by South Carolina's Dawn Staley, who is here as an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma with the national team.

"All the support from the people at the academy today has been phenomenal. Everyone has been so excited to see the women here. It's just so awesome for women's basketball," Richmond said.

She also noted that the experience is giving her own team extra juice to prepare for the season ahead, which, for you people in the Guru's local Philadelphia area group, includes a visit from reigning Ivy champion Penn on Nov. 22.

In the past Navy has tangled with former four-time Ivy winners Princeton, even upsetting the Tigers during one of those matchups, so maybe there's some arrangement for Pemper's group to go at it with whomever is the reigning champs at the moment from the ancient eight.

Pemper was once in that world as an assistant at Harvard, another of the traiditional Ivy power houses.

"It's just awesome seeing (USA) doing the same drills we do," Richmond said. "It gives us motivation but at the same time in working with these players makes our little dreams come true.

The USA contingent has one more session here Wednesday morning and then moves on to Newark, Del., to play an intrasquad game 7 p.m. Thursday night, inherently a mini-WNBA All-Star game, at the University of Delaware, the collegiate home of Elena Delle Donne of the Eastern Conference champion Chicago Sky, currently meeting the Phoenix Mercury in the best-of-five WNBA finals.

Phoenix went up 2-0 with amother home win Tuesday night and could wrap up the overall third title and first sinced 2009 when the series moves to Chicago for Game 3 Thursday night.

However, the USA staff here had to be cheered by seeing Delle Donne play much better after being bothered in recent games and limited in time because of a sore back.

Delle Donne is a candidate for the USA team, one of seven in the pool excused for the finals, along with Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner, former Temple star Candice Dupree, and Chicago's Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Vanderrsloot.

With post players Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker out of the mix because of surgery, as is Minnesota guard Monica Wright, Delle Donne has an enhanced chance to make the squad, if she's healthy, as does Brenna Stewart.

Following Thursday, which earlier in the day the USA staff and players will hold a clinic for youth and high school coaches at Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center, the group will move up to Bridgeport, Conn., for a Sunday session and then a friendly Monday night against the Canadian National Team.

Both games will be on ESPN2.

Then it's on to overseas for a lead-up tournament in Paris, France, before opening the World Championship against China on Sept. 27 in Istanbul.

USA then meets Serbia the next day and Angola Sept. 30 before likely moving into the next rounds Oct. 1-5.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

USA Basketball Training: The Road to A World Championship is Under Way

( Guru's note: This is the first of a three-part package. Under this post, Rob has a feature with Sue Bird and under that your Guru has some notes, talking with officials about Thursday's game at Delaware without local favorite Elena Delle Donne being on the scene, and other items. )

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

As soon as the first day of the USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team practice concluded Monday afternoon, Seimone Augustus’ demeanor quickly changed from serious to silly.

Augustus had a blast picking with teammates Maya Moore and Sue Bird, who were being interviewed.

She also offered an interesting take on turning 30-years-old. Then when it came time to offer a few thoughts, Augustus couldn’t stop smiling and laughing.

Make no mistake, this week-long training session that will take the team from here at the Naval Academy to Bridgeport (Conn.) is all business for the two-time Olympian from the Minnesota Lynx.

“Today was a typical first day,” Augustus said following practice at Halsey Gym. “It was high energy and great players competing at a high level. We just have to settle down a bit and get to our comfort zone.

"Balls were flying around today because everybody was excited. Overall, it was great and some players separated themselves a little bit as far as seeing who’s here to play.”

She was one of 17 players present on the first day of practice.

Augustus is part of a pool of 24 amazingly talented women’s basketball players trying to make the 12-man roster that will head to Istabul, Turkey after a training stop in Paris to compete in the World Championships, which runs from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

Three players (Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings and Monica Wright) withdrew from Team USA consideration Sunday due to surgeries for injuries.

Augustus’ knee, which caused her to miss a few games this season, is feeling much better.

The former LSU star, who turned 30 in April, had a unique view of her new found number. Of course, Jay-Z once said that “30 is the new 20.”

“You reach the 30 club and everybody starts to talk to you like you’re 65,” Augustus said. “When you hit 30, people start asking you when are you going to retire?

"I just hit 30, but I feel good and I think the week of rest really helped me. I am going to try and stay consistent with my game and be a leader since I am one of the older players now.”

Seven of the players, including Elena Delle Donne and former Temple star Candice Dupree, are currently playing in the WNBA Finals.

Augustus will be one of the featured athletes competing in the USA Basketball Showcase event at the University of Delaware Thursday night in a game that will be televised live by ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.

“I thought it was a good day,” Augustus’ teammate Maya Moore said. “You know, we had a lot of teaching and a lot of just foundational things that the coaches wanted to put in and I thought we all picked it up pretty well.

"The energy was solid and just working out some of the rust from either coming off of a season or being off for a few weeks but I think we built a pretty good foundation today.”

This pool features a wonderful mix of players from three-time Olympians Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird to Kayla McBride, who just completed a memorable rookie season this season with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

“Being one of the youngest here it is kind of hard just to play the first day, because there’s a lot of thinking and you don’t’ want to mess up - and then you end up messing up,” McBride said. “But I think by the end of practice everyone kind of settled in and I’m just excited for day two.”

One of the toughest things for the committee is deciding who the final 12-woman squad will be when the USA departs for overseas next week.

Consider that this roster features three WNBA MVPs (Moore, Tina Charles and Diana Taurasi), along with eight of the last 13 WNBA Rookie of the Year honorees (Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Delle Donne, Moore, Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Augustus and Taurasi).

Furthermore, Augustus, Bird, Charles, Dupree, Sylvia Fowles, McCoughtry, Moore and Taurasi were members of the 2010 gold medal World Championship team. That influx of talent is a great thing and a curse for Team USA.

“It’s not going to be easy, because we have 17 here,” Team USA coach Geno Auriemma said. “In the pool we have seven that are (still) playing. So, even if you cut five players off of this roster and you’re at 12, next week you’re back to 19. It’s not going to be easy. Getting to this number wasn’t as easy as it’s been in the past.

“In the past it might have been very simple trying to find out who the 12 best players in the country are. Everybody knew who they were. Boom, let’s do it. Fifteen at the max.

"Now, you get to 20 and you still go, ‘well, what about this guy? What about that guy?’ So, we’re in an enviable situation as far as that’s concerned that we have many more choices than we used to eight years ago.”

Skylar Diggins, the winner of this year’s WNBA’s Most Improved honor, is one of a number of players who are in the World Championship and Olympic pool for the first time. Other players include Courtney Vandersloot and Briann January

“It’s tough,” Diggins said. “It’s a tough group of women. Geno even said it last night that we have more and more players who can play at this level every year. You pick any of these girls and it would be well deserved, you’d go over there and do well. So, while you’re here, you just play ball.

“You just have to be yourself, find out what you do well and stick to it. It’s not necessarily the 12 best that played, they’re trying to pick a team.

"That doesn’t mean you’re not good.

"You’re invited here to be among the most elite in the world and in my opinion it’s the best of the best. So, you just have to play your game and just show up every day and sweat.”

Augustus has part of the Team USA since her collegiate days at LSU. She’s been on both sides of making the roster and being cut from it.

“It’s always exciting to get an opportunity to represent my country,” Augustus said. “(Lindsay) Whalen and I were talking about this on Sunday that we’ve been part of USA Team since we were 19 or 20.

"To see the growth and maturity of our program and of the players we’ve been playing with, it means a lot. I’ve been one of the few ones who’ve been cut before and then have to come back and make the team. The process alone brings you joy to know that you’re here and you can help your country.”

NOTES: On Tuesday, Team USA will conduct two clinics for local youths, as well as visit and have lunch with the USNA Midshipmen as part of USA Basketball’s Hoops for Troops program.

The USA Basketball National Team will have a chance to watch the USNA Midshipmen gather into their noon meal formation outside of Bancroft Hall and proceed in formation to King Hall. The U.S. squad will then spend time visiting while eating lunch with the Midshipmen at King Hall.

Later in the day the USA National Team will split up to conduct two USA Basketball Youth Development Clinics at 5 p.m., both of which will offer instruction on skills and fundamentals to local youths.

Half of the USA Women’s National Team, along with half of the U.S. Naval Academy’s women’s basketball team, will participate in a clinic at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County with approximately 75-100 children, while each team’s remaining players and coaches will take part in a clinic for approximately 30 children of U.S. Navy personnel in partnership with the Moral, Welfare and Recreation Department.

“A goal of USA Basketball’s youth development initiative is to get more young people playing the game; to re-engage and re-energize youth to participate in the sport,” said Jim Tooley, USA Basketball CEO/Executive Director, when USA Basketball’s schedule of summer youth clinics were first announced on July 28.

“We feel one of the ways to do this is through these youth clinics. USA Basketball wants to connect with basketball players of all skill levels to promote, grow and elevate the game. At the end of the day, our mission is to make basketball the most user-friendly and successful sport in the country.”

“Our players and coaches have always been devoted to community and service with young kids,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director. “This is a natural extension of our Hoops for Troops program to engage with local youth and military families.

"We’re proud to be in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County and the U.S. Navy MWR. Clearly the benefit of participation is not just with the young basketball players, but our athletes and coaches also come away fulfilled and inspired.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

USA Basketball Training: Senior Veteran Senior Sue Bird Sets Sights on More Personal Memories

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

Despite being the oldest member on the USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team Training Camp roster, Sue Bird zipped around the Naval Academy court with the energy of a toddler after eating candy.

Even though Bird, who was named one of the 15 greatest WNBA players in history, has enjoyed a decorated career that has included five Euro League titles, three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA championships along with numerous individual accolades, she treated Monday’s first day of training like a rookie trying to make a lasting first impression.

“I think by nature, my position, the good thing is I have always had to be a leader,” a smiling Bird said following practice. “So to be the oldest now and kind of continue with that leadership role, it hasn’t really changed much so I don’t feel old if that makes sense. I’m just doing what I’ve always done.”

The Syosset, Long Island native who turns 34 next month, has an opportunity to become the first woman in USA Basketball history to make four World Championship teams.

Nothing is guaranteed and Bird of the WNBA Seattle Storm where she became the overall No. 1 draft pick in 2002, knows she has to be at her best during this week to earn a spot on the team.

“That would be amazing, you know, it would be an honor, and it would be very special,” Bird said. “I don’t take anything for granted. You kind of just learn that as you go, not to take any moment for granted. I just want to have fun with it.”

She was one of 17 players present on the first day of practice at Halsey Gym.

Or you could say, she was part of another UConn alumnae reunion within the USA training camp as she was one of five former Huskies (Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson) participating in workouts along with current UConn junior Breanna Stewart.

Diana Taurasi is currently helping Phoenix in the WNBA Finals.

Furthermore, Geno Auriemma, the first person to return for an encore appearance as the USA Basketball World Championship Team women's coach, has guided them all at UConn, while Jennifer Rizzotti, the Hartford women's mentor, who is serving as advance scout and floor coach, is also a former Huskies all-timer.

Like Auriemma, Rizzotti is also a Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Bird is part of a pool of 24 amazingly talented women’s basketball players trying to make the 12-man roster that will head to Istabul, Turkey after a training stop in Paris to compete in the World Championships, which runs from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

Betwen now and leaving American soil, the team will also play an intrasquad game, billed as the USA Basketball Showcase, Thursday at 7 p.m. at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center and then Monday make a stop to play the Canadian National Team in a friendly at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

Seven of the players, including former Delaware all-American Elena Delle Donne and former Temple star Candice Dupree, are playing in the WNBA Finals.

With Delle Donne excused to play with the Chicago Sky in the WNBA finals, Bird will be one of the featured attractions competing in the USA Basketball Showcase event that will be televised live by ESPN2.

A roster spot on this elite squad would complete a terrific comeback for Bird, who sat out the entire the 2013 WNBA season after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee.

Even if she didn’t make the roster, the 2002 No. 1 draft pick has already succeeded as she averaged 10.6 points per game this season for the Storm and earned her eighth All-Star nod.

She performed at a high level this season. Her presence on the court was an awesome site for fans and her Seattle teammates.

Missing that year proved to be a blessing in disguise for Bird, who experienced the same thing after tearing her ACL during her freshman year at UConn.

Of course, Bird has a degree in communication science, so she has an understanding of how she would share her story if it was up to her.

“If I was to write the story about myself, I think one of the pivotal moments for me was getting hurt in college freshman year,” Bird said. “Having the game taken away and just being forced to watch and you learn so much.

"It’s everything from bigger picture things to something as small as where my teammates like to catch the ball.

"It happens just because you’re observing. Sometimes, you tend to miss things when you’re playing because you’re in the moment and the game is going so fast.

"To have it happen 12 years later was good for me. Having to sit back and observe and learn again was good for me.”

Bird is among the pool of players along with Swin Cash, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings that are links from near the humble beginnings of the WNBA, which launched in 1997, to where the league is now.

They have continued to perform at a high level during their careers despite the immensely talented players entering the league every year.

The strong competition has forced Bird to be at her best, but she’s happy to be challenged on a consistent basis. Her assists has helped fuel the furnaces that burn inside of her teammates.

When Bird entered college, she was lucky to have plenty of motivation from the likes of Philadelphia's Dawn Staley, currently serving as an assistant coach on the USA staff, Sheryl Swoopes, Teresa Edwards, Ruthie Bolton and Katrina McClain, who helped blaze the trail for her and many other women.

She remembers the 1996 USA Women’s National team being a “machine.”

Bird and her AAU team drove down to the Palestra in Philadelphia on the University of Pennsylvania campus to watch them in person during the USA’s successful barnstorming tour in which they blew out China in the game.

That squad along with the undefeated 1995 UConn women’s team fueled Bird’s passion to play a sport she enjoys.

That era of women’s hoops also helped her realize that her dream of playing basketball in the United States would become a reality.

“Even though I was one of the first generations of women to go to college knowing that there was a WNBA, basketball was already going,” Bird said.

“We were helping it to continue to grow and it was already there for us. Those players like Dawn, Sheryl, Lisa Lelise and Rebecca Lobo got it going for us. It was up to us to keep it going.”

Whenever Bird retires, she can feel great knowing that the league is in terrific hands.

One of the many things that fill Bird with pride is watching the maturation of Bria Hartley, who is also part of the USA Basketball World Championship pool.

Like Bird, Hartley is a native of Long Island and won national championships at UConn.

Now, Hartley is one of the many hungry young players Bird is mentoring and competing with for a roster spot on this team at the same time.

“It’s great to have somebody come from where you grew up and kind of watch her do similar things,” Bird said. “I am happy and proud of her. She did a lot to get better and grow in college.

"She played well today. It’s been fun for me to watch all of those young players improve.

"The league has gotten so much better and the talent is amazing. To make a roster is so hard and to pick a team is not easy and that’s one of the more special things about my career is to see how much better the WNBA has gotten.”

Through it all, Bird has grown stronger, wiser and resilient.

Proving that age is just a number and a state of mind, Bird’s gorgeous game has stood the test of time.

She has played 107 games in a USA Basketball uniform, which means she’s the only member of this pool in triple digits.

Bird is third all-time in assists in USA World Championship history with 70. In the 2012 Olympics, she led all players in assist to turnover ratio (3.27) and was second in assists (4.5 per game).

As one of eight women on the planet with at least NCAA and WNBA championship as well as an Olympic gold medal, she is on the verge of achieving something no other woman alive has accomplished.

Overall in those categories she collected two NCAA crowns, two WNBA titles and three Olympic golds to already cement her future status likely to include induction in both the Naismith and Women's Basketball Halls of Fame.

Bird hasn’t given one thought to retiring soon.

“You know, when you know,” Bird said of a potential timetable for retiring. “I think for me I feel good and I am healthy.

"For me personally this summer didn’t go well for me or my team. I look forward to the opportunity to help us move on next season. I am excited to be playing.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad