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, June 02, 2015

Rob Knox's WNBA Notebook: Liberty Focusing on Basketball Unhampered by the Thomas Hiring

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

NEWARK, Del. –
The day after a frenzied media storm that featured 15 television cameras and over a dozen columnists from many major newspapers from across the country was much quieter and normal for the New York Liberty as it prepared for its preseason opener on Friday, May 22 against the Chicago Sky at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center.

Three media members spoke with Liberty players and head coach Bill Laimbeer following the Sky’s 83-55 victory. The rest of the dozen or so reporters in attendance were focused on Delaware homegirls Elena Della Donne and Betnijah Laney, both playing for the Sky.

All of that media day activity wasn’t there to chronicle the start of Tina Charles’ second season in the Big Apple, the major trade in which the Liberty acquired Epiphanny Prince for Cappie Pondexter, first-round picks Brittany Boyd and Kiah Stokes, Swin Cash’s beautiful wedding ceremony or the key veteran signings of Candice Wiggins and Tanisha Wright, players with winning pedigrees.

Nope, they were there because MSG honcho James Dolan has made Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas presumptive president and part-owner of the New York Liberty despite Thomas being the central figure in a successful sexual harassment suit by former NBA New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne, now vice president of Women's Basketball in the NCAA. They all came out to hear what Thomas had to say.

On Monday, 11 days after all the tumult at the Liberty's training center, the league announced a subcommittee of the owners had convened to consider Thomas' application and then to make a recommendation to the full ownership groups.

But back in Newark at the preseason game on May 22, while the swirl of media attention was tough, it ultimately could be a positive for the Liberty and the WNBA.

That’s why Laimbeer appeared at ease as he sat on the bench laughing while members of the Liberty participated in pregame drills.

“Everybody knows who the Liberty are now,” Laimbeer said. “During media day, we told them very clearly to write whatever stories they’re going to write.

"However, we also told them, don’t go away. Come back in five weeks, look at the product, write about how we play and how the ladies are.

"No question, it was a really good boost publicity-wise for our franchise. The good thing is our owner Dolan is heavily engaged with us, which is a huge bonus for us. We’re really happy with how things are going right now.”

Many of the Liberty players have been focused on building chemistry as they have several new faces from last season’s team. Consider that nine out of 15 players on the photo roster handed out in the Liberty’s preseason opener had on different team uniforms.

Unfortunately, many of them have had to answer endless streams of questions about Thomas’ hiring.

Thomas did have an open discussion with team members. There will be regular team meetings with Thomas throughout the season.

“Were focused on basketball,” former Rutgers star Essence Carson said. “We’re letting the front office do what they do.

"As a team, we’re making sure we’re focused on everything that’s happening between those four lines.

"That’s why we were brought here to play basketball and win games. Everything else we’re just letting play out. For us, we’re getting used to the new faces and acclimated to our system.”

Through the first two preseason games, the Liberty have been led by rookies Rebecca Allen, a 22-year that was signed from Australia and Stokes. Allen has scored in double figures in both preseason contests against the Sky and Dream.

Then Monday night in Minnesota, while Allen scored in double figures again, Charles scored 19 points and Wright scored 11 in the Liberty's 85-80 loss to the Lynx that saw New York erase a 21-point deficit that existed in the first half before the Lynx pulled ahead at the finish.

Stokes, the former UConn star, is averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game; she narrowly missed out on her second-straight double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds against Atlanta on Wednesday at MSG.

"We love our rookies," Laimbeer said in Delaware. "Now we need our guns to get here and step up."

Stokes is getting ample opportunity to learn her role with New York averaging 26.8 minutes per game, which ranks eighth in the league, and her 11 boards per contest are tops in the WNBA during the preseason.

The new look Liberty open their 19th season this weekend against Atlanta (Friday at MSG) and Washington (Saturday at the Verizon Center). Both games start at 7:00 p.m.

“We’re happy with our two first-round picks,” Laimbeer said. “We’ve also added a lot of enthusiasm and athleticism into our ball club. We’ve gone from being a plodding, non-shooting basketball team to being really fast and that can shoot.

"Now, whether we can rebound with the best of them, we’ll find out. I know we’ll play defense.”

One of the Liberty’s key cogs will be missing to start the season as Prince fulfills her obligation to compete in the Eurobasket Women 2015 Tournament from June 11-28 in Hungary and Romania.

Prince left on May 22 to play for Russia, and will report back to the Liberty once competition at Eurobasket 2015 has concluded.

A Queens, N.Y. native, Prince holds dual citizenship and has played internationally for Dynamo Kursk of the Russian Premier League since 2012.

“While I am sad that I will miss the start of the New York Liberty season, part of being a professional women’s basketball player is fulfilling international obligations,” said Prince in a Liberty statement.

“I am glad I was able to be at camp for and am excited to be here in New York, and play in front of my family and friends. I will be following the team through the start of the season, and can’t wait to return, and step out onto the court wearing a Liberty uniform for the first time.”

LYNX PRIMED FOR ANOTHER RUN: Minnesota was in Washington last week for a preseason game against the Mystics.

Though the Lynx were on the short end of an 89-63 score was irrelevant.

It was the Lynx’s first preseason game featuring numerous players who were fighting for roster spots.

Minnesota is looking to return to the WNBA Finals after falling in three games to Phoenix last year. The Lynx have won at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons, becoming the first team in league history to accomplish that feat.

Of course Olympians Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus as well as veterans Rebekkah Brunson and Monica Wright have roster spots locked up and they will be key to another strong season for the Lynx.

Head coach Cheryl Reeve has liked what she has seen from her veteran core during preseason.

“They have been engaged in whatever we’ve done,” Reeve said. “I believe it’s important for the younger players to see that this is the level you have to play at every time you step onto the court whether it’s in practice or during games.

"They’ve been doing a lot of teaching so I’ve been pleased with those four in particular. We kind of go as they go. They are locked in and it bodes well for us. We still have some things to get through that could make it more challenging for them from a depth standpoint.”

The Lynx, who released former Xavier star Amber Harris who had been a first round pick several years ago, begin their season Friday night at home against Tulsa.

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS: As I look into my crystal ball, here’s what I have come up with as the eight playoff teams: Sky, Fever, Dream, Mystics, Lynx, Mercury, Shock and Silver Stars.

The final four will feature the Mystics-Sky and Lynx-Mercury with a Sky-Lynx final. The Lynx will return to the WNBA mountaintop this season. Of course, I’ve been wrong before.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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