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, May 19, 2015

Guru's WNBA Report: Mystics Rookies Natasha Cloud and Blake Dietrick Relish Arriving at the Next Level

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

After four years of being leaders of their respective teams at Saint Joseph’s and Princeton, it’s new faces for Natasha Cloud and Blake Dietrick as they attempt to make the opening day roster of the Washington Mystics.

Nevertheless both exhibited boundless energy Monday afternoon as the blend of rookies and veterans went through the interview paces of the WNBA team’s annual media at the Verizon Center.

The odds for the most part are more with Cloud, who spent her first collegiate season nearby at Maryland in College Park before the former Cardinal O’Hara star switched to the Hawks.

Cloud was viewed a ton of times by Mystics coach Mike Thibault as well as assistants Eric Thibault, his son; and Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star, last winter hoping she’d stay under the radar, which occurred as they picked her in the second round behind former Dayton star Ally Mallot.

Thibault, though, minced no words on draft night saying that had not Mallot still been on the board, he would not have hesitated to take Cloud in the first round.

Dietrick was signed as an undrafted free agent, but possessing qualities in which Thibault felt the Ivy player of the year deserved a shot from the Tigers squad that made history with a 30-0 season before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“Fit in first, learn what we’re doing,” Thibault said about the role of rookies on a squad in his third season after being let go from a decade running the Connecticut Sun.

Thibault thinks that his squad should now be thinking about winning the WNBA title.

“It’s no longer a case of trying to get a little better. We’ve had people who have played together for a while,” Thibault said.

“I told the team, though always worry about just the game in front of you, it’s like when a new college coach comes in and most of the team had existing players but now these are all our own players.”

Former Duke star Monique Currie departed over the winter ending the run of the longest surviving Washington player under Thibault.

“I think our rookies have a chance to make an impact this year. We start with Ally Mallot, she’s a true version of a stretch four. She can play around the basket and at the three-point line. She has a great, great offensive sense.

“I think her biggest adjustment will be at the defensive end. Natasha Cloud is one of those people who have played at all three wing positions, perimeter positions in college.

Initially, we’ll probably play her more as a small forward and because of her length and her size at six feet, she can handle the ball well enough to be a point guard,” Thibault continued.

“We’re going to use her as a kind of multi-dimensional offensive player and then the other part she has going for her is she’s been an all-league (Atlantic 10) defensive player in college for several years, so she can guard all three perimeter positions and that gives you the ability to do a lot of different things with the team defensively.

“I expect a lot from them right away.”

As for the motivating factor to sign Dietrick, Thibault noted, “With Blake, you saw a player who played both guard positions, you have a player who is a very capable three-point shooter. She’s a tall guard which allows her to do a lot of things.

“She knows she has a battle on her hands just to try to make a roster but it’s an opportunity for her to come in and see what she can prove. Watching her in college, I thought she made good decisions and anytime you have an offensive weapon that can stretch the floor, I think you need to give them a shot to see what they can do.”

Dietrick said she got the word of Washington’s interest as the draft got under way.

“They were in that time slot and coach Thibault made the call,” she said.

She already got a taste of WNBA action during the first night of camp, which got under way Sunday.

“We did some workouts and played some pickup, so it’s been pretty good so far. We’ll get a better sense once practice started but so far its been good.”

The only Ivy player who has made an impact was Allison Feaster of Harvard in the early part of the WNBA history that began in 1997 and she went on to be an all-league player.

While that Crimson team has been considered the league’s best, Dietrick last season was the signature star on the Tigers squad that over the last five seasons matched much and even surpassed some of that Harvard’s group accomplishments.

“I’m so happy to represent Princeton and the league and Annie (Tarakchian) was at the USA tryouts this past weekend as well. We’re all doing big things for Princeton and trying to make our mark and out our names out there.”

Cloud, meanwhile, would become the first Big Five player to make a WNBA roster since Temple’s Kristen McCarthy was drafted by Connecticut in 2007, though the last to make her mark occurred the previous year when Owls all-time great Candice Dupree was picked sixth overall by the then expansion-Chicago squad.

She was later dealt to Phoenix and was a key in the Mercury’s third league title last season and has had several All-Star accolades.

For Cloud, who played the last several summers in the Philly League, whose draft is Thursday night, landing on the Mystics is tops being on a team only a few hours from home.

And living in Washington, with the city’s role in America, is great.

“It’s really cool,” Cloud said of being in the nation’s capital.

As far as her first hand’s on action, Cloud explained, “It’s a faster pace. It’s more physical. It’s kind of similar to your transition from high school to college figuring out to fit in, how to adjust, things that worked in college won’t necessarily work here at this elite level, so it’s figuring out your fundamentals, your ball handling and all that stuff.”

Rob Knox, who will return covering the Mystics as well as providing features on the rest of the league and his WNBA notebook, was on the scene Monday and will have more stories out of here later in the week. Rutgers graduate Lamar Carter, who is the SID at Howard here in the District, will also be making some contributions.

But the Guru did ask Thibault, looking at the competition in the Eastern Conference, who made the most improvement.

“I don’t really have a feel for that because right now there’s still a lot of question marks from teams in our league. In our division, Connecticut had a big loss with (Chiney) Ogwumike being out,: he said of the reigning rookie of the year out of Stanford.

“What Sylvia Fowles does with (reigning Eastern Conference playoff champion) Chicago will have an impact. New York’s added new pieces but they haven’t played together yet. Atlanta’s going to miss Sancho Lyttle, possibly, in the early part of the season so I really feel our conference is in flux and at least early in the season,” Thibault said.

“So if somebody can get off to get a good start and get some momentum can maybe take control of it a little bit.”

In Thibault’s first season down here, the Mystics saw the Western teams early and was able to feast enough off of them to make the difference in landing a playoff spot to bring joy to the fan base and then returned again to the postseason last season.

Now, it’s about going much further.

“Right now, I’m not going to worry about what other teams are doing. I can’t control that. We’ll try to worry about what we’re doing and take control of that each day.”

On Tuesday, the Guru will be on the scene at the Mohegan Sun for the Connecticut Sun Media Day and then on to New York Thursday before seeing the Liberty the next night battle Chicago in the Sky’s return to Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center to give star Elena Delle Donne another homecoming.

Rob will also be at the game.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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