(Guru's salute: With the end of the regular season, this is Rob's last notebook, but not the last of Rob. Only the city of Philadelphia can give you young phenoms like Dawn Staley and Mo'ne Davis and an old one in Rob, who has brought special life the past few months to WNBA coverage in the Guru's blog.
Likewise to our true rookie Megan Nipe, the former George Washington star in D.C., who has returned home to Minneapolis and will be on the Lynx trail during the playoffs while Rob will join the Guru in D.C. Saturday.
The Guru is on the scene in Secaucus, N.J., for the draft lottery sequence presentation. Those of us attending learned Wednesday the WNBA has cooked up a special surprise before the lotto balls drop -- emphasis on cooked. :) By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)
For somebody who’s always there for others with a comforting word or warm smile, Washington Mystic guard Ivory Latta needed the same affection after her world was rocked following a preseason physical examination that was anything but routine.
The lump and excruciating pain allowed a foreign thought to creep into her head. For somebody who exudes plenty of confidence, leadership, passion and heart, Latta was reduced to tears, fear and doubt.
“It was a total out of body experience,” Latta said earlier this month before a game against New York about her pre-season physical examination. “The doctor checked my right breast and everything was fine, then while checking the left breast, she hit the lump so hard, I fell of the table.
"My first thought was I can’t play basketball anymore. Then I was wondering what is my family going to think. I called my mom and told her the situation and she was unbelievably strong about everything. She just said, lets pray about it.”
Despite being in excellent shape, doctors detected a golf ball sized lump in the 29-year-old former North Carolina star's left breast.
It turned out to be benign but it had to be removed.
For African American women, the risk of getting breast cancer is lower than for white women, but the risk of dying from breast cancer is higher.
Latta had a biopsy earlier this year and is scheduled to have surgery once the season is finished to remove the remaining tissue mass.
“It was an unbelievable day,” Latta said. “It was a very emotional and scary time in my life.
"You didn’t know what to expect and the bad part was the long wait for the results. That was tormenting me every single night and I lost sleep. It affected me in a lot of ways. When I got the news that I was fine, it was like a huge weight off of my shoulders.”
Since she got the news, Latta’s trademark smile has returned for Latta, who plays with the unbridled joy of a toddler in a playground.
“I never take anything for granted,” Latta said. “I love to smile, my family and the game of basketball. Going through this situation really humbled me. I was more worried about how my family was going to take it more so than me. I am blessed that everything worked out.”
Fortunately, for Latta, the brief scare didn’t hinder her performance this season for the Mystics, who are headed to the playoffs for a second straight season.
Washington (16-18 overall) begins its best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals against second-seeded Indiana (16-18) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2.
Game two will be Saturday at the Verizon Center beginning at 5:00 p.m. and the decisive third game will be back in Indianapolis Monday at a time to be determined.
ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, who will call the Fever-Mystics series, believes Washington could be the sleeper team of the Eastern Conference.
"The reason being is that Mike Thibault has the experience, and he knows how to get the most out of his players," Peck said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "When it comes playoff time, he's going to have a scheme, and if Kia Vaughn continues to play the way that she is to go along with Ivory Latta, they could make a two‑, three‑game series out of the series that they're in."
Latta led a balanced Washington team in scoring with a 12.8 point per game average. The two-time All-Star was the heart-and-soul of a Mystic team that has earned consecutive playoff appearances for only the second time in franchise history. Latta also swished a franchise record 81 3-pointers.
Emma Meesseman is Washington’s only other double-digit scorer at 10.1 points per outing.
Monique Currie, the longest tenured Mystic, averaged 9.9 points while rookie Bria Hartley added 9.7 points per contest. Kia Vaughn also averaged 9.0 points for the balanced Mystics. The last time Vaughn visited BLF, she scored a season-high 22 points.
Each player has enjoyed its share of shining moments this season to propel Washington forward. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Kara Lawson, Stefanie Dolson, Kalena Greene and Tiana Hawkins have brought electricity to the floor whenever their number has been called this season.
The Mystics were a hit with their fans as they flocked to the world’s largest phone booth to see an energetic and fun group who always played hard this season. Washington enjoyed a 6.9 percent attendance increase from last season, which was third behind Phoenix and New York.
Currie appreciates the Washington turnaround as she is the only remaining player on the roster from the Mystics five-win campaign in 2012.
“I just think everyone has brought into coach (Mike) Thibault’s philosophy,” Currie said. “He’s brought a winning mentality here and he gives everybody an opportunity to display their talent. It’s been something fresh and that’s contributed to our success.”
Added Currie: “It’s been great working with all the girls here. We have a young team here. They are all hard workers, eager to learn and great listeners so it’s been fun being one of the older players and one they look to for answers. I try to help them out where I can. It’s definitely an honor for me.”
Because of Washington's youth, the Mystics have been at times, up and down this season. Just in the money month of August alone, Washington dropped two road overtime decisions, a close game to the Sky and won impressively over New York and Indiana.
The Mystics matchup well with the Fever as they split four games against one another with the road team winning each contest. While on the surface the Mystics finished with one fewer win than last year, they took a giant step forward this season.
“What I am most pleased about is we’ve had to do it by committee because we don’t have a superstar,” Thibault said. “We don’t have anybody in our core group that’s been part of an Olympic team or first or second team All-WNBA. We don’t have that big person where we can throw the ball down to and say ‘hey get us a big shot’ so we’re learning to do it a different way.”
Thibault had his own recipe for success when he took over at the end of the 2012 season. He immediately held individual meetings with the returning players over the phone or in person.
“I knew it would be a culture shock for them,” Thibault said. “I was able to lay the ground work. The first order business for me was to shake things up and find new energy. I went out and recruited. Got Ivory as a free agent and traded for Kia Vaughn who was a restricted free agent.
"I had to change the energy in the building by playing a different style and pace. I told them there were going to be high expectations and there’s not going to be excuses. The second part was ridding ourselves over time of the previous culture. It maybe wasn’t fair to a couple of players who were guilty by association. The only way I felt like we were going to go forward was to change things so that’s what we did.”
It’s hard to argue with the results.
The Mystics, despite owning the worst record in the league at the end of 2012, missed out on drafting one of “Three to See” in 2012.
Many people looked at that as another setback that would set the franchise back a few more years. Instead, Thibault turned it into a positive. They earned the fourth draft pick which yielded Tayler Hill, who is getting her groove back after missing most of the season after giving birth to her son. Hill has the potential to be special.
“The franchise has had unfortunate luck in the lottery,” Thibault said. “We had to build with young players. You look at teams like Phoenix and Minnesota, they were built through the lottery.
"They suffered for many years to get to where they are now. I don’t know that I could go through that; not making the playoffs for four or five years. We’re trying to be competitive every year by developing young players and I think we’re making progress with how we’re doing. We’re getting better.” SEASON-ENDING AWARDS:
Here’s my end-of-the-year awards ballot that I made contributions to: Allie Quigley, Chicago (Sixth Woman of the Year), Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut (Rookie of the Year), Tameka Johnson, Seattle (Community Service/Sportsmanship), Maya Moore, Minnesota (MVP), Skylar Diggins, Tulsa (Most Improved), Brittney Griner, Phoenix (Defensive Player of the Year) and Sandy Brondello, Phoenix (Coach of the Year).
These choices were very tough as there were many deserving players. For my first team All-WNBA, my ballot was Griner, Diana Taurasi, and Candice Dupree of Phoenix along with Tina Charles of New York and Maya Moore of Minnesota. I’ve been wrong before, so I am interested to see how many, if any, I got right. FEVER FACTS:
The Indiana Fever are in the playoffs for the 10th straight season and 11th time in their 15-year history. The last time the Fever were a No. 2 seed, it won the 2012 WNBA title.
The last time Indiana faced the Mystics in the East semifinals, it advanced to the WNBA Finals. Tamika Catchings is six rebounds away from becoming the all-time playoff leader in that category. Catchings has played in all 51 playoff games in Fever franchise history. DRAFT LOTTERY:
The 2015 WNBA Draft Lottery presented by State Farm will be held in Secaucus, N.J., on Thursday and televised on ESPN2, the WNBA announced today.
The telecast, hosted by Temple grad Kevin Negandhi of ESPN, will air during halftime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Washington Mystics and the Indiana Fever (tip-off at 7 p.m. ET).
The winner of the Lottery will secure the top pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm, to be conducted in April. The Tulsa Shock, Seattle Storm, Connecticut Sun, and New York Liberty – all of whom did not qualify for the playoffs this season – qualified for the lottery.
Tulsa and Seattle, which both finished the year at 12-22, will have the most chances to land the top pick (359 chances each). Connecticut, which ended the campaign at 13-21, has 178 chances via its own finish and another 104 from New York (15-19).
Connecticut owns New York’s first-round pick in 2015 following a draft day trade last April in which the Sun received the Liberty’s first round pick next year as well as Alyssa Thomas and Kelsey Bone in exchange for Tina Charles. Also expected to play for Connecticut next season will be Chelsea Gray, who sat out this while rehabbing from an ACL injury suffered during her senior season at Duke.
Some of the top talent expected to be available in April are Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Connecticut), Elizabeth Williams (Duke), Isabelle Harrison (Tennessee), Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch (South Carolina) and Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray (Cal). Of course, the 2016 class will feature Breanna Stewart and Jewel Loyd. PEAK PERFORMERS:
Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx, Courtney Paris of the Tulsa Shock and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury have won the 2014 WNBA Peak Performer Awards for scoring, rebounding and assists, respectively.
The WNBA presents the Peak Performer Awards annually to the players who lead the league in each of those categories during the regular season. Each player will receive a trophy crafted by Tiffany in honor of their accomplishments.
Moore earned her first scoring title with an average of 23.9 points per contest, finishing ahead of Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins, who ranked second (20.1 ppg). For Moore, the 23.9 ppg is the third-best single-season output in league history behind only the 25.3 ppg and 24.1 ppg from Taurasi in 2006 and 2008, respectively.
Paris earned the rebounding crown by averaging 10.2 boards per game, more than double that of her previous career high of 4.1 rpg (in 2013 and as a rookie in 2009). The fifth-year pro edged out three-time rebound leader Tina Charles (2010-12) of the New York Liberty, who finished second with 9.4 rpg. Paris’ 13 double-doubles tied for third in the league with the Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike, behind co-leaders Glory Johnson of Tulsa and Charles.
Taurasi’s 5.606 assists per game (185 in 33 games) paced the league and earned her the distinction of being the first player in WNBA history to have led the league in both scoring and assists at any point in her career (she led the WNBA in points per game in 2006, 2008-11). This year, Taurasi narrowly edged out three-time assists leader Lindsay Whalen of Minnesota, who finished second with 5.559 apg (189 in 34 games). SHOWTIME SHONI:
Shoni Schimmel of the Atlanta Dream was named the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
En route to earning the first Player of the Week honor of her career, Schimmel – the MVP of Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star 2014 – led the Eastern Conference in assists (4.7 apg) and ranked second in scoring (15.3 ppg).
The University of Louisville product tied for sixth in the East in three-point field goal percentage (.375, 6-of-16) and contributed 3.3 rebounds per contest as Atlanta posted a 2-1 record for the week and improved to 19-15 overall.
The Dream enter postseason play this week as the No 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Schimmel, the Dream's first round draft pick this April, opened her week with a career-best 24 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists against the league-leading Phoenix Mercury on Aug. 13.
That outing included a 20-point second quarter, the second largest scoring barrage in one quarter in WNBA history. She then registered 13 points and nine assists in a 92-76 win over Tulsa and closed the week with nine points, two assists, two boards, and a steal at Connecticut. The rookie concluded her regular season averaging 3.6 apg and 8.3 ppg, third and sixth among rookies, respectively. TERRIFIC TOLIVER:
Kristie Toliver of the Los Angeles Sparks was named the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week. Toliver earned her first Player of the Week honor of the season and the second of her career after guiding the Sparks to a 2-1 record for the week as Los Angeles secured the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The sixth-year pro ranked third among Western Conference players in scoring (18.7 ppg) and tied for fourth in assists (4.0 apg). She also placed second in three-point field goal percentage (.563, 9-of-16) and third in overall field goal percentage (.667, 22-of-33).
Toliver began her week with 29 points, five assists and three boards in a 71-63 road win over the Minnesota Lynx, the No. 2 team in the league.
Her 20 second-half points in that game were a key factor in the win that locked up a playoff berth for Los Angeles.
She then registered 20 points and six assists in a 77-65 win over the Seattle Storm. The University of Maryland product finished the regular season averaging 11.8 ppg and 4.1 apg. OUTSTANDING ODYSSEY:
Odyssey Sims of the Tulsa Shock was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month presented by Samsung for games played in August. This is her second consecutive Rookie of the Month presented by Samsung honor.
For the month of August, Sims led the league in scoring (23.5 ppg) and minutes played (36.6 mpg), placed seventh in three-point field goal percentage (.410) and tied for ninth in assists (4.0 apg). Among rookies, Sims was third in assists and placed second in three-point field goal percentage. Sims scored 20 or more points in five out of the six games and 25 or more in three of those contests.
In a 96-90 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Aug. 5, Sims scored 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field to go along seven assists and five rebounds.
In Tulsa’s regular-season finale against the Minnesota Lynx on Aug. 16, Sims collected her fourth 30-point performance of the season, scoring 31 points and connecting on five three-point field goals in an 80-63 loss.
Sims finished her first WNBA season leading all rookies in points (16.7 ppg), assists (4.2 apg) and minutes played (34.4 mpg). Overall, Sims ranked third in the league in minutes played, sixth in points and tied for sixth in assists. MORE'S POPULARITY SOARS:
As the Andrea True disco song goes, Moore Moore Moore. How do you like her, how do you like her.
The media group selecting the regular season award winners likes the former UConn great enough to give the Lynx sensastion a first-ever MVP award in front of another past Huskies all-timer in Diana Taurasi.
The Associated Press first reported Wednesday night that Moore was going to be the recipient of the top individual honor.
Meanwhile, with record-setting game action on the court this season, including the Phoenix Mercury setting the record for most regular-season wins in league history, Moore’s 30-plus points in a record 12 games, and eye catching rookie Shimmel’s MVP performance at the Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star Game, basketball fans have responded to one of the WNBA’s most compelling seasons with increased viewership, attendance and digital increases.
The 2014 WNBA regular-season highlights include: The WNBA regular season on ESPN2 averaged 235,000 viewers, up +2% over last season (231,000). The WNBA Draft on ESPN2 was the most viewed in the network’s history, averaging 413,000 viewers, up +9% over last season (379,000). NBA TV had its most viewed WNBA regular season, up +4% over last season, after recording its second most-viewed WNBA Opening Night in its history.
The league’s social media community had record growth with new Twitter followers up almost double and new Facebook likes up five-fold compared to last season. Overall, the WNBA has nearly 7 million fans and followers combined across all league, team and players pages. Some information in this report was compiled off press releases issued by the WNBA.
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