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 17, 2015

WNBA Draft: Washington Picks Cloud Bringing Sunshine to Saint Joseph's

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Aced out of the WNBA’s media draft guide, Saint Joseph’s senior Natasha Cloud was a winning card played by the Washington Mystics Thursday night when they  selected her as the 15th overall pick and third pick of the second round of the WNBA draft that originated out of here at the Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun, for the second straight year.

Cloud was not among the players invited to be here as part of the telecast but the Cardinal O’Hara graduate was at her suburban Philadelphia home with teammates, family, and friends, watching the proceedings one night after being named both the top defensive and most valuable player at the Hawks’ postseason dinner.

“It’s just great knowing how hard you work all your life for something in grade school, high school, and college, and then see it happen,” said Cloud in a phone call with the Guru.

She is also one of the first players to get drafted who also played in the Philadelphia/Suburban NCAA Women’s Summer League, where last season she was one of the top performers.

The league is currently getting organized for its start in June and commissioner David Kessler said demand is such it may expand by one to a 14th team.

Cloud was just one of several individuals who added a definite Philly area accent on the night’s activity.

Besides Cloud, who follows former WNBA All-Star Debbie Black and Jana Lichnerova as selectees from the Hawks by WNBA teams, DePaul senior Brittany Hrynko was taken by Connecticut as the 19th overall pick and seventh in the second round and then traded to the Atlanta Dream, while Rutgers senior Betnijah Laney went to the defending Eastern playoff champion Chicago Sky as the 17th overall pick and 5th choice of the second round.

When Laney gets to training camp, she will find herself in the company of another Delawarean in Delaware graduate Elena Delle Donne and also on a squad with former Rutgers all-time great Cappie Pondexter, who returned to her hometown in the offseason in a swap of former Scarlet Knights stars that sent Epiphanny Prince to the New York Liberty.

The WNBA is entering its 19th season but had the league existed much longer it’s possible that Laney could have been part of a rare mother-and-daughter combo, if the not the first, considering her mom Yolanda out of University City High also played for Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer but as an all-American at Cheyney in the early 1980s.

Princeton star Blake Dietrick did not get chosen but after the three rounds concluded she signed a free agent training camp contract with Washington.

Additionally, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, one of the sports all-time players out of Philly’s Dobbins Tech, was on the scene to support her first Gamecocks star to be picked in Aleighsa Welch.

Ironically, All-Star Candice Dupree, now with the defending champion Phoenix Mercury, was Staley’s first player drafted out of Temple in 2006 and also went to Chicago, then in its fledgling season, as the sixth overall pick.

WNBA PR honcho Ron Howard said that when names from teams and coaches began arriving in projecting draft prospects, Cloud was in the loop, but as the winnowing began in terms of looking at general overall demand, she slipped out and did not make the guide.

“Of course some of these coaches like to product smoke screens,” Howard observed.

That’s certainly true of Washington coach Mike Thibault and assistants former Immaculata great Marianne Stanley and Thibault’s son Eric.

Thibault and his staff were at a slew of Hawks games over the winter, though at one point one night when George Washington blew a game wide open, he chided the Guru for putting out a tweet saying, the Colonials had just transformed the game into a Mystics one-player combine in light of Cloud playing well while the rest of the Hawks were not.

“The thing we really like about her is she can play three positions,” Thibault told the Guru in a phone conversation Thursday night.

He had taken Dayton’s Ally Malott, another Atlantic 10 star, as the eighth overall pick in the first round but Thibault separately told the Guru here and the Washington media at the watch party in the nation’s capital that if Malott was not on the board, “we would have taken ‘Tosh as the eighth pick.”

Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin, who was at Cloud’s party, said, “For what we were told 24 hours ago, everything played out the way Washington said it would so we were not nervous about whether ‘Tosh would get pick.

“From the very beginning, the Washington people were very straight shooters with us as they scouted her and we respect them for that.”

There’s a history of former stars of nearby Maryland appearing on the Mystics roster and Cloud will bring some Terrapins DNA, having played for Brenda Frese her first season before transferring to Saint Joseph’s to be closer to her family.

Cloud was part of a poignant story in mid-December 2013 when she and her family lost everything in a fire in their home in Broomall, Pa., which is not far from the Saint Joseph’s  campus.

But the entire Hawks athletic program dug in helping to produce support and there was even a fundraiser at one of Saint Joseph’s games after the fire struck.

With her pick by Washington, Cloud’s family won’t go bankrupt following her at games.

“It’s great for them,” Thibault said. “We’re a couple of hours away so that’s 17 home games and in the East they will have easy trips to Connecticut and New York to see those road games.”

Hrynko thought she was going to have the same luxury at Connecticut,where the Sun are a four-hours drive when traffic doesn’t impede the trip.

But no sooner had she finished giving interviews to reporters on the scene then word came she had been dealt to Atlanta where she will be in a backcourt with stars Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel.

Sun coach Anne Donovan, a basketball hall of famer, said she wanted to keep Hrynko but in picking up veteran Jasmine Thomas in the deal they have someone to help another former Duke star in Chelsea Gray, who did not play her rookie season due to an injury the previous winter with the Blue Devils.

Connecticut looked like they could be called the Sun Devils in the future because the organization picked Duke star post player Elizabeth Williams as the fourth overall pick in a transformation of sorts from the UConn stars who dotted the roster.



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