Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, September 05, 2014

WNBA Playoffs: Chicago Switches To Getting Ready For Finals Debut

By Mel Greenberg

As a public service while waiting for Rob's finals preview coming Friday, since Chicago was kind to provide extensive quotes from Thursday's press on-site conference in the Windy City, they speak for themself, so here is what was said from Coach Pokey Chatman and a bunch of players in the wake of beating Indy for the East title and looking ahead to Sunday's Game 1 matchup with the mighty Phoenix Mercury in the best-of-five series.

Also, the Guru will be in New York Friday for the WNBA's Inspiring Women's award luncheon.

Chicago Sky Head Coach & General Manager Pokey Chatman

(On Indiana as a hurdle for the team to cross on its way to the finals…)

“It’s easy to talk about because Indiana’s the team that ended our playoff run so abruptly last year, so that bad taste in our mouths stayed with us during the offseason.

I think it motivated some players to work on their individual games, to keep some things in the top of their minds, to become students of the game, to try to find experience in different aspects of the game that would help us down the road, and then we also had all that adversity that set in.

Despite some of the dark days losing 13 of 16 games, so many players being out, I think we grew from that and you saw that in the Atlanta series and Indiana so we’re finally able to get over that hurdle and gain a lot of experience in a short amount of time.”

(On whether or not Phoenix is one of the greatest women’s basketball teams she’s ever seen…)

“I wouldn’t say that, and that’s not disrespectful. I mean, back in the days of the Comets, I wouldn’t disrespect some of the banners that other groups have hung from the rafters, but I will say this: Phoenix is a wonderful team.

I think Diana Taurasi is the best player in the women’s game today. It’s not about individual stats.

It’s what she does for the sport, her city, for her coaching staff, for her team, for the fans. If you poll the people and they’re starting the franchise, she’s probably the #1 pick and then you go to the others, and there are so many other top notch players, but yes, they are a great team. We all saw their run during the season, and that’s why they’re in the finals.”

(On the impact the Sky’s playoff run is having on the city of Chicago…)

“You know, I’m glad you mentioned that.

It’s hard for me to absorb all of it in this moment, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

This is my fourth year.

This is the ninth of the franchise, so there are a lot of people who laid some foundation and went through some tough times, from ownership to management to certain players that have been here, so I’m absorbing some of the excitement that they’re experiencing right now in terms of making this franchise relevant, in watching the city embrace us, watching the media embrace us.

This is a nice moment, I think, when those players walk in here and see you guys here covering them and I always said if we win basketball games you guys would come so we just have to keep on winning.”

(On the matchup between Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles…)

“To credit both players, I think it’ll be a key matchup for both teams.

Don’t make it about those individual players because they’re so different in terms of how they affect their teams.

I think you give the experience factor to Sylvia in terms of the adversity that she’s had as an individual player and with this team, but Brittney’s probably, outside of Skylar Diggins, had the biggest meteoric rise in her second year ever, so we have to neutralize that and find a few things to neutralize her.”

(On what the Sky is going to do differently against Phoenix following two regular-season losses…)

“In both of those losses, Vandersloot and Delle Donne did not play, and that was in July and now it’s September so that helps.

And also, my memory may be wrong, but I think it was July 11th we played them here and it was a 3 or 4 point game late in the game and I don’t want to say a player’s name but we turned the ball over so we were right there in terms of, you throw all that out.

I know it’s the finals, but you know you can play with that team.

It’s just a matter of, if they’re scoring 90 points, you don’t have a chance.

You’ve got to neutralize them, and I’m glad we’re coming off one of our best defensive performances of the year because we’re going to need to be firing on all cylinders.”

(On the challenges posed by Phoenix’s offense, which has five players averaging between 10 and 16 points…)

They were asking me about enjoying the win last night, and I looked at one of the reporters and said ‘Have you seen Phoenix play lately?’

That’s why they’re good. They have so many different weapons. I think there are certain areas of play you have to try to neutralize, but you can’t keep them down.

You just have to understand they’re going to make their runs, they’re going to make the tough shots, they shoot the long ball well. Brittney may get a dunk. That’s still only worth 2 points, shake it off, get back at it. But yeah, they’re a great team.

(On Diana Taurasi…)

“I’m a fan. I’m a Diana Taurasi fan, except when we play her. I had the privilege of coaching her for 2 years in Russia. She’s phenomenal.

This is not second-hand that I’m hearing from people.

I got to witness it first-hand and she is the difference when you’re six feet tall. You can play the 1, 2, or 3.

You can make people better without even shooting the ball more than 5 times a game. You can bring people back into the fold, so, I mean, she’s the glue. She’s everything there.”

(On Epiphanny Prince's improved offensive performance in Game 3…)

“She was actually good for us defensively, but offense is the sexy part of the game and when people don’t make shots they have a tendency to hang their head, so it was really nice to see her hit that long ball and you could just see her shoulders go back and she was a little more active defensively so we’re expecting that to continue to rise.”

(On Allie Quigley…)

“I expect every time Allie shoots the ball that it’s going in. I’m surprised when she misses, and then my staff’s like ‘She only missed 2 shots. Chill out,’ but she’ll probably be in the gym today working out at some point.

I was privy to watching Allie abroad for 3 years and watching her against these elite players, so it’s not a surprise. I’m just happy she’s done it on a stage where everyone can witness it.”

(Her call to the people of Chicago – on why should they start watching the Sky…)

“Well, it’s never too late. I think if you’re a sports fan, you’re more than the final score. There’s a lot of storylines here.

There’s a lot of motivational, inspirational stuff.

And then, just our sport as a whole. There’s a different niche with women’s professional basketball. You’re closer to the players. You can touch them. You can talk to them. You get to know them as individuals so you’re more connected, and I always said if we get you out to a game you’ll return for those reasons.”

(On Elena Delle Donne’s back injury and the team’s performance without her…)

“First part: I think the back will be a lot better. Thankfully for us, when she first had a little issue we got it looked at medically, MRI, X-Ray, everything was fine there, just a little inflammation, and I think it was because you play a game, you travel, you play a game.

I think the days of rest, the anti-inflammatories, and the treatment will do her well. And I guess the good part of her missing those first 17 games was that the team didn’t panic when she wasn’t out there, so it’s one of those things, man down, man up.

And Elena’s presence helps as well. I mean, the previous game she stood out there and couldn’t move. This game we were very good defensively, and she felt like she was hurting the team if she was out there, so you know. There was a positive from it.”

(On changing venues for the Finals, from the Allstate Arena to the UIC Pavilion…)

“We’ll have our own court, so that always helps. I think it’s a more intimate crowd. I mean, obviously some games were played there before I was a coach, but at this point, you know, we’re in the finals. The basket’s 10 feet. The court’s 94 by 50, so we’ll make the most of it.”

(On the UIC Pavilion’s intimate atmosphere…)

“You know, I like that. I remember when we played in Atlanta during the regular season they played a few of their games at Georgia Tech, and I can remember it felt the crowd was on top of you, and I enjoyed that.

And the players commented about it. It doesn’t matter what I think or feel along with the players feel the same, but yeah. There will be some advantages to it.”

(On the Sky’s fan base…)

“I mean, you guys talked about it, and you know the fan base may not be large but they’re local and they’re passionate, and I hope with the success that the team has had to this point in moving forward that people will come out and support this remarkable group of young ladies.”

Chicago Sky Center Sylvia Fowles

(On the feeling from Game 3…)

“It’s still kind of here. Yesterday felt more sort of surreal, so I really had to wake up and re-pinch myself and make sure everything was real, so for the most part it’s still here.”

(On making the Finals after facing adversity and injury this season…)

“It got tough at some points, especially at the beginning of the season.

It was hard to see just to the girls out there on the floor playing without me, and just having that will power to just keep working hard and come back early also played a big factor in it, but yeah, you’re right.

It was at one point where I could have been missing the whole season, but I made it my business to come back and help these girls along the way.”

(On her 17-point performance in Game 3…)

“Points don’t matter. Just being out there with the group of young women that we have this year meant more, and just from all the stuff we’ve overcome this season.

From the injuries to one person going down to the next one down I think that feeling right then and there made it so much more worth it.”

(On Brittney Griner…)

“I really don’t have any thoughts on Brittney. She’s a good player, she brings a lot to the table. I think my main focus is playing collectively together as a team and seeing what the Sky can do.”

(On using team defense against Brittney Griner…)

“Brittney’s 6’8”. Nobody’s really getting up there to guard her. I think your main focus is going to be trying to contain her. You’re not going to stop her, and it’s not going to be a one-girl job. Everybody’s going to have to do that collectively.”

(On facing Candice Dupree…)

“Oh man. Dupree was my mentor when I first got here my rookie year, and just to be able to play up against her is going to mean a lot.

She brings a lot to the table as well for Phoenix, and she’s a very special player. And Candice is one of those other players too who you have to pretty much just try to contain. You’re not going to stop her. She’s going to outthink you. She’s going to outwork you, so it’s going to have to be done together as a team.”

(On facing Dupree in the Finals…)

“It makes it a little sweeter to be able to go up against her in the finals.”

(On changing home court venues for the Finals…)

“We still have our same team. We still have our fans there to be our supporters, and hopefully we can just pack the place and get their support.”

(Her predictions for the series…)

“I’m taking it one game at a time. I’m not going to jump ahead of myself. One game at a time.”

(On making the finals for the first time as one of the league’s more experienced players…)

“You make me sound old. I mean, I have been through a lot with this organization, and fortunately I’ve been able to play 7 seasons here with Chicago and not bounce around from team to team.

We had our good moments. We had our bad moments. Some weren’t sweet. Some were better than others, but like I said before this point in time and winning the Eastern Conference for the first time and making it to the finals made all of that bad stuff worth it.”

(On comparisons between the Sky and what they hope to bring to the city after Jackie Robinson West…)

“Just their fan base and what they brought to the city. A lot of hope and a lot of spirit, and hopefully we can carry that over and those fans come back over here and support us in these basketball games.”

Chicago Sky Point Guard Courtney Vandersloot

(On how making it to the finals after adversity puts a smile on her face…)

“It does. I was thinking earlier today at one point, you know we were in last place in the conference.

There weren’t many people who thought that we would be even in the playoffs, let alone sitting here as the Eastern Conference finalist.

But we all did, and that’s all that mattered, and I think that says a lot about our team. We stuck together and fought through all these injuries and illness, and we won when we needed to win.”

(On the benefits of beating Indiana…)

“I think that especially last year, our first year, we were on such a high and then we played them and it was a sweep that was over in two games. I think that’s what makes it the best.

It would have been great to beat anybody in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’s nice that it has a little rivalry and it’s close and the whole thing.”

(On facing Phoenix in the Finals…)

“They’re very talented. They’re deep and they have a lot of experience, but I think if you look at all of the rosters we’re one of the best teams that matches up with them, starting with we have somebody that can contain Brittney, and I think that’s huge.

Obviously, their roster is great, but we haven’t played them this season at a full roster and I think that’ll be a big factor.”

(On the first two games of the Finals…)

“Well I think right now we’re just taking one game at a time, so the first game obviously we want to go in there and win as many games as we can. If that’s two, then that’s awesome. If it splits, we’ll come back here looking pretty good at home.”

(On her role as a floor general…)

“I think for me it’s just me doing my job.

That’s really what I want to do going into every game is just get as many people involved as I can.

I think that’s when we’re at our best. I think Game 1 as a team we only had 6 assists, and we just don’t win very often when you have that few assists, and this game I think it was 20-something, so it’s a big difference, and that’s how we play and that’s how we want to play continuing on.”

(On whether or not moving to the UIC Pavilion will impact the team…)

“I don’t think so. Honestly, I haven’t really thought much about it just because it wasn’t even a factor until last night, you know, and we got back late. I think wherever we play our fans have been great to us this year, and they’ll follow us wherever we go.”

Chicago Sky Guard Allie Quigley

(On heading to the WNBA Finals…)

“It’s kind of a surreal feeling. I think yesterday we were all just feeling so good before the game, and I think it showed on the court. I know we say all the time that ‘this is our moment,’ but it just felt like that the whole game.”

(On defeating Indiana…)

“We were tired of driving home on that bus losers, so it was nice to be able to come home winners on the bus last night and I think that we finally figured them out and could figure out how to play well together and beat them on their court.”

(On her former coaches contacting her during the playoffs…)

“Yeah, a few people have. Old coaches and, you know, Coach Bruno just congratulated me and just how proud they are and it just feels great to have their support still.”

(On what the Finals berth means for women’s basketball in Chicago…)

“I think it’s huge. I mean, it’s never happened before and I feel like everything we’re doing is kind of history every time so it just feels great to finally give back to them because they’ve stuck by us for so many years.”

(On the matchup with Phoenix…)

“They have a big roster.

You know, 1 through 5 is over six foot, and they have a lot of Olympians and talented players on their team, but looking back to the games that we played them I think we played them pretty close at home and not bad at their place.

It ended up being a blowout, but I think that we’re confident and anything can happen now. It’s the playoffs and it’s the finals, so anything can happen.”

(On the benefits of looking back to the regular season against Phoenix, even though the Sky played those games with a limited roster…)

“Yeah, we’re a different team, but I still think looking back we can see different matchups and maybe how they guarded us and how we guarded them and just what was working and what wasn’t, and now we’re a different team like you said so I think that we’re just going to take the good stuff we’ve been doing lately and try to bring it into this next series.”

(On what makes Phoenix a good team…)

“I think from the get-go they found a way to play well together. They’ve had so many talented players, but they can all give something up just for the better of the team and I think that offensively they move so well together and share the ball so well that that separates them from a lot of other talented rosters.”

(On bench players stepping up when starters are hurt…)

“I feel like just because we had so much adversity and so many players go out early a lot of us bench players got an opportunity and got a lot of minutes to get some confidence so if something like that happens again, god forbid, I think that we’re ready to step in and make a difference.”

(On her playing strategy…)

“I think that whenever I’m in I’m trying to be aggressive and, especially at the 1, it’s just a different look for us so I think that just being aggressive whether it’s my shot or if someone’s doubling me then just getting it inside to Sylvia or whoever’s open, really.”

(On her unique path in the WNBA…)

“It feels awesome just to know that all these ups and downs over the years and hard work has paid off and just to finally be able to truly feel a part of it.

I’ve been on teams where I’ve been the 11th or 12th player and we’ve had some success, but it’s different when you’re actually contributing and a part of it, so it just feels really good just to finally be here.”

(On whether or not she was waiting for a chance to prove herself…)

“Yeah, for sure. You know, just staying positive and keeping the faith that it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and I had a lot of family members and Coach Bruno and other coaches believing in me and telling me along the way that ‘just stick with it. You’re gonna get your shot, you’re gonna get your shot.”

(On reflecting on her journey…)

“I was a little bit after, just when I saw my family and talked to them a little bit. I just had some time to reflect on the bus a little bit, so yeah, I definitely thought about it.”

(On the postseason feeling like a completely different season…)

“I think so, for sure. Like you guys know, we’ve had so many ups and downs all year, and it’s like we play a really good game and then go blow it the next game, then play a really good game.

We never really got into a rhythm until the playoffs started I think, so right now we’re feeling really good and they say it’s a new season in the playoffs and that’s really what it feels like.”

(On what it’s like, as a Chicagoan, to be on the cusp of bringing a championship to her home city…)

“It feels amazing. It’s hard to think too much about it right now because we’re so in the moment and it’s just kind of an amazing ride we’re on right now, so it would be great to do something like that for Chicago and to be a part of a team like that, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time and try to steal some wins in Phoenix.”

Chicago Sky Guard/Forward Elena Delle Donne

(On her back injury…)

“It’s felt better. I woke up this morning, I’ve been going to appointments, I still have a bunch more to go to to try to figure it out and just do something to relieve the pain in order for me to be out there and play, and be able to move a little bit.”

(On Jessica Breland’s play in Games 2 and 3…)

“It was huge for Jess to come in and play some really important minutes.

I kept going up to her and just saying thank you because I needed someone to be able to kind of just pick up the slack for me because I wasn’t able to move.

I felt like I was holding back the team, especially on defense. I couldn’t grab rebounds. I couldn’t get in to help side, so she was phenomenal in coming out there and giving us the boost we needed and filling that 4-spot for us.”

(On her feelings watching the game from the bench…)

“It’s pride, and they were up by double digits most of the time so I didn’t have to freak out too much. I was banging on the floor and cheering for them, just enjoying it and trying to soak it up and they played such a magnificent game it was just fun to be out there watching it.”

(On her overall feeling heading into the finals, despite her injury…)

“I’m excited, and luckily we do have a couple more days to rest and hopefully I can get this whole back thing sorted out but I’m just glad we lived to play another day and we’re still fighting.”

(On having to admit that she needed to sit out in Game 3…)

“It’s pretty rough to say that, but when I’m just unable to move and use my legs properly I knew I had to sit out and figure this thing out and hopefully the team would come through and win, which obviously they did.

They played incredible, and now hopefully some of the doctors will have some answers for me to get me going back.”

(Her call to the people of Chicago – on why should they start watching the Sky…)

“Chicagoans love champions, and they love to see their team make it to the finals, so hop on board and we’re fine if you want to jump on the bandwagon and join us.

We’ve got a phenomenal team.

You come watch us once, you’ll be addicted. And we need the support. We need to definitely fill up the stands because we know Phoenix is going to do the same.”

(On Phoenix’s record and success…)

“Yeah, it definitely represents how great they are and they are just so good.

They have so many incredible people that can step up from night to night.

Obviously, Diana is the key, but other than that they also have a bunch of other superstars on that team so it’s definitely going to be a challenge.

Hopefully Pokey’s coming up with some great defensive schemes for us, and I trust that she’s going to have a great plan.”

(On what sets Phoenix apart from other teams in the WNBA…)

“You know, Diana. She’s a phenomenal leader to them.

She’s been in championships before, she knows what that championship mentality is all about and I think she brings that to her team every year.

And like you said, they’re deep. They’ve got incredible talent on that team, and then with this new coach they’re playing some phenomenal defense, and everybody knows that defense wins championships.”

(On her matchup with Brittney Griner in both players’ sophomore seasons…)

“I think it’s great hype for the league. Obviously, Brittney and I are completely different players, but you know the whole 3 to See campaign. It’s always a good thing to see us match up again, especially in the finals, so I think it’s just good for the league and hopefully it’ll bring some attention.”

(On the success of the “3 To See” campaign and on talent in the WNBA…)

“There’s just pride to see that this league is growing. Every player in this league is so talented, and every year I feel like the talent pool grows, so it’s just great to see that.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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