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, April 24, 2015

Guru's WNBA Report: Number 22 Loomed Big For Two Reasons on a Draft Night Tribute to Lauren Hill

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The biggest number on WNBA draft night here last week  at the Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun, was 22 for separate reasons.

The first was WNBA league president Laurel J. Richie welcoming the immediate audience and those across the nation watching on TV and referring to Lauren Hill, the courageous 19-year-old Division III freshman at Mount St. Joseph’s in Cincinnati who succumbed earlier this month on April 10  to pediatric brain cancer.

In a poignant short speech, Richie re-capped the events of the past year and Hill’s cause which was embraced by the WNBA, as well as the NCAA,  and established that draft night was dedicated to Hill, who wore uniform number 22 which was used in some of the fundraising efforts to bring awareness to the disease.

But several days earlier 22 became a cause celeb because one of the loopholes that allows a female player in the United States to leave college before her eligibility expires and opt for the WNBA draft is if she turns 22 during the calendar year of what would be her rookie season.

Two star collegians exercised the escape clause in Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B, who went second to the Tulsa Shock, and Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd, who became the overall top pick of the Seattle Storm.

Considering how little WNBA players make compared to their NBA male equivalents, the action may not be the start of a big trend but it is a wake up call across the board, more so on the collegiate side of things.

Notre Dame certainly appears to have either been caught sleeping, considering Irish coach Muffet McGraw claims she got the official word several hours after the Irish loss to Connecticut in the national championship game in Tampa, Fla., or deceived.

McGraw also stated since the move that several weeks earlier Loyd indicated she was going to return for her senior season. Of course by opting out now, she was able to go No. 1 instead of being picked most likely behind Connecticut sensation Breanna Stewart.

Financially, the payout is the same in the front of the draft, though with an opportunity to be in Europe next winter a lucrative payout looms a year ahead of schedule.

As to McGraw’s reaction – she did not attend the draft but neither did UConn coach Geno Auriemma or Duke coach Joanne McCallie, who had two of the other top four picks in the draft.

Talking to some WNBA coaches off the record while discussing their picks on the record, there did not seem to be major sympathy in Notre Dame’s direction, with some saying this has been going on for some time in the men’s collegiate game and those coaches have learned to suck it up.

Several also said they usually check birthdates in the women’s junior class just in case moves occur similar to Loyd, more so than Zahui B, who as a foreigner is thought of more on the scale of those players who have had relationships with the NCAA.

But there could be an impact in recruiting on the women’s side in that perhaps birthdates may be part of the research process, though unlike the men’s one-and-done we’ve seen exist, the women, for now, would be in a three-and-done mode if they qualified under the loophole.

Hall of Fame South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, a former all-everything point guard  in high school here in Philadelphia, at Virginia in college, and then also in the pros and in the Olympics, spoke of the looming change while being on the scene to celebrate her first Gamecocks product to the WNBA, Aleighsa Welch, who went in the first round to the defending Eastern playoff champion Chicago Sky.

Ironically, Staley’s first Temple product, WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree, now with the champion Phoenix Mercury, also went to Chicago as the sixth overall pick when the Sky launched its inaugural season as an expansion outfit in 2006.

“I think you’re going to see it a little more,” Staley said of an early exit and then quipped, “Thankfully for us, Tiffany Mitchell is only 20.

“You have to (to check the birthdate),” Staley said. “You’re seeing the effects of the WNBA. Players are getting a lot better. And they want their dreams to come true a lot sooner.

“I think it was a great move for Jewell Loyd. She wouldn’t become No. 1 playing in the WNBA next year so here’s an opportunity for her to do,” Staley continued.

“I talked to her a little bit, but get your degree,” Staley said with emphasis. “You got one of the things you wanted to do as far as playing in the WNBA but just go back – I think she’s just five electives short of graduating, her mother told me so, it’s a great move for her and her family.

“I wouldn’t want to be Muffet at this point because it catches her off guard but we’re learning from Jewell Loyd as coaches as an example. You have to prep for it because obviously you recruit thinking you’re going to have a player for four years and it’s little bit of a setback making that adjustment because it’s hard replacing that player that could leave early. It’s really hard.”

As far as having the player for three years, Staley pointed out, “You can manage the roster a little bit better but if we lost Aleighsa Welch last year to the WNBA it would have been a big missing piece because of the intangible, the experience, the teaching.

“She taught our younger players how to play and sustain playing at a high level every single day.”

The reward, of course, was the Gamecocks being ranked first or second through the polling season and then making the first trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four following one appearance in the books during the AIAW era when Magic Johnson’s sister Evelyn made them a national force in the late 1970s.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno, whose player Brittany Hrynko from Philadelphia went in the first round to the Connecticut Sun and then was swapped to the Atlanta Dream for former Duke star Jasmine Thomas, commented on the culture change saying, “If a player is good enough to, they’re probably going to go.

“But the bottom line is you still have to make the roster,” which one WNBA coach said is getting shorter as more veterans stick from year to year.

Coming up in the next blog as the Guru goes through the quasi-quiet period between the NCAA and WNBA seasons are the details on the upcoming annual Philadelphia/Suburban NCAA Women’s Summer League, which could expand from 13 to 14 teams if enough players sign up.

“We have most of the adjustments worked out to go to 14 if enough players sign up,” said longtime commissioner David Kessler, who noted the moves are not many to put expansion in play.

 Mel
     



 

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