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, July 07, 2015

Guru's Musings: Leslie and Staley - Gone From Starting Lineups But Not Gone From Public View

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Thought the Guru would take time to pen a notebook over all kinds of odds and ends and ramdom thoughts and reactions while having a little time on his hands.

The Guru last week finished writing a bio page(s) on Lisa Leslie for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame printed program for induction night, which will be made public Sept. 11 when the ceremony occurs.

Anyhow, while gathering the material, during the interview availability prior to Leslie's induction last month into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., some discussion took place on a reflection that isn't part of the Naismith copy but the Guru thought was worth bringing up here.

We got to a point in the narrative and reflection from Leslie, who took us through her timelime, that the Guru mentioned to her that now both herself and her longtime friend Dawn Staley, the South Carolina coach, would be together in both basketball halls of fame -- the famous inside/outside combination in USA Basketball women's history.

Leslie proceeded to respond with this passage:

"Dawn: She was a dream come true. The two of us together were a perfect combination. She’s fiery. She’s feisty. She was such a tenacious player at 5-6. She played like she was 6-5.

"Then that particular team, they called me `Hollywood' because I came from L.A. and I’m into fashion and I’m very girly but step on the court and we’re the same kind of people.

"I’m fiery. I’m feisty, I want to win. And it’s all about my team and I was a very unselfish player. She’s a very unselfish guard.

"She was like `Big girl get on the block.’ That was always her word. Like I’m on the block.

"'Don’t’ settle for jumpers' and then she said, and she’d lick her fingers every now and then and she said, `If you need help, throw it back out to me and I’ll knock down a three for you.’

"So I remember we played one time on the way to the Olympics in Australia (2000).

"There were about six seconds left on the clock. We were playing in San Diego.

"She said, `Big girl. Get on the block. I’m telling you. They’re going to double you. Look for me. Just look for me I got you.'

"The play happened just like she said. I go down. I’d get double and tripled team. Usually I’d do a crosscourt pass off a reverse,

"Dawn’s at the top of the key, I hit her and she hits the open jumper, like, `See I told you I told you.’

"Those moments I’ll always remember being with her.

"But one of the most difficult moments is when we won our first WNBA championship (2001 L.A. Sparks over the then-Charlotte Sting),

"I had to beat one of my best friends. Everyone Is crying on the court.

"I’m always like there’s no crying in basketball. They don’t go together. But I remember crying because she deserved to win a championship, too. But it had to be one of us. And of course the big girl had to win it."

Today both continue to be successful -- Leslie is on the new CBS Sports Network all-female hosting panel "We Need to Talk" and also is involved around broadcasts of NBA games in Los Angeles, as well as heading several humanitarium causes and individual develoipment.

Staley went into coaching while still at the back end of her illustrious playing career first making Temple nationally regarded and then on to South Carolina where she guided the Gamecocks to their first NCAA Women's Final Four last April.

At the moment, she is coaching the USA Basketball U-19 squad in international competition to soon get under way and is an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriuemma on next summer's Olympic staff.

Just Monday 24 hours ago the NCAA announced the annual women's basketball attendance figures and Staley's program was the leader with an average over 12,000 that broke a two-decades plus stranglehold for the No. 1 spot held by Tennessee or UConn.

The stat reminded the Guru of Staley's first year at Temple. Prior to the official start of that season (2000-01), there was either a public scrimmage or preseason exhibition game.

About an hour prior to the opening tip, the Guru, glancing at the few spectators in the standings, the Guru said to her and her assistant Shawn Campbell, who previously was a longtime UVa assistant to Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan where they both coached Staley, "When this placed starts to get filled we'll remember this night."

It never got quite that big, though there were some noteworthy numbers in the eight years in the cavernous Liacouras Center.

But, obviously at South Carolina, where the local populous had better things to do until Staley finally got the program into daylight, perhaps she can look back and remember that first night in her hometown near the neighborhood she grew up.

One other note before leaving the topic, in writing the Leslie bio for Naismith, there were so many records the basketball great set from her formative high school years at Morningside in Los Angeles, on to Southern Cal, and then with the Olympics and the WNBA Sparks, that the Guru could just touch the most prominent ones given space requirements.

So last week for a moment, the Guru briefly considered mentioning the 41 points in a game she set for Los Angeles during her WNBA career but also began to think, `What if somebody breaks it, no one is going to see this until two months from now.'

Thus, the Guru let it go and sure enough two nights later Kristi Toliver just eclipsed the mark with her 43 points against the Tulsa Shock.

Did Dolan Get the Last Laugh? This is just speculation but did MSG honcho James L. Dolan use the WNBA New York Liberty partial ownership offer to Isiah Thomas to get him safely into the presidency of the franchise given Thomas' past history in the sexual harrassment trial of Anucha Browne, now vice president of women's basketball for the NCAA.

Though enough voices can be heard from the NBA beat writers on the Knicks about what little regard Dolan has for what other people think, consider this.

The ownership situation is basically Thomas taking a bit of the cost load off Dolan's hands -- remember that wild rumour last winter in one of the NY tabloids on the gossip page saying Dolan wants to dump the Liberty because he could make more money in the Garden in the summer staging rock concerts?

Anyhow, from the moment Dolan's intentions regarding Thomas became news, the whole focus was on denying Thomas the ownership share with the presidency position given secondary consideration.

But understand this regarding the Liberty, the presidency is where all the power is.

Titles notwithstanding, when Hall of Famer Carol Blazejowski was in the driver's seat, that is where everything converged.

Oldtimers associated in the past with the Liberty repeatedly told the Guru after the controversy flared that Blaze ran everything (and when she was let go then it was Scott O'Neil, now with the 76ers in Philly), Dolan was rarely seen.

Blaze speculated to the Guru last winter when that rumor reared, that, "Hey, Dolan was a great citizen for the league (considering the financial implications), a great citizen to David (former NBA commssioner David Stern) and perhaps now it's time to move on."

But given all that,with New York offering to suspend the ownership application -- the Guru has strong reason to believe the WNBA easily had the votes to oppose -- Thomas will still be the president and since Dolan doesn't actually personally represent the franchise at WNBA executive meetings, unless Kristin Berrnert (the highest NY position in terms of WNBA knowledge) is the appointee, then Thomas will be the one representing the Liberty cause.

WNBA Looking for More Coverage Several days ago in an article in USA Today WNBA president Laurel L. Richie talked about wanting more coverage of the league in terms of how the four majors are covered.

A little while back in time Minnesota Lynx and former UConn star Maya Moore penned a well-thought out piece of coverage.

Here is the problem the way the Guru sees it in terms of concept and reality.

Concept is fine -- there are stories to be told, lots of stories.

But two problems exist and there is not much of a solution to either and it is just the reality.

First, if we are talking mainstream media, as in print newspapers, the downsize of the industry means less reporters, less space, etc.

And as a starting point, the 12 cities themselves because of economics, space, etc., especially if the local. WNBA team isn't performing well, do not all make an ongoing commitment.

Few beat writers travel at all and none to the Guru's knowledge at this point in time make all their team's road games. There were places in more plentiful times where Seattle, Los Angeles, Indiana, would have one of their own.

And then, nationally, if a team isn't nearby unless there is some specific interest, those publications aren't going to be sending writers, either.

For that matter, not all the team public relations people are on the road all the time with their squads.

And here is the other thing as the Guru sees it -- the reality of the WNBA schedule is a major handicap even if there were resources available. This is observation, not complaint, so let's all understand that the Guru is looking at this academically.

The schedule does not provide the legs to create the same rhythm as the four major sports because there are not enough games.

Let's take one of the places the Guru is a regular -- Washington.

Right now the Mystics are playing one game in 13 days and other teams also have gaps. How do you generate interest when even if TV and print had no problem providing stories and broadcasts, there's no ongoing pulse -- it's start/stop.

Hey, the Washington Post does a great job given what is in its sports package and has a great guy on the beat in Gene Wang, who, by the way, covers a ton of sports.

And given that fact, with the Mystics out of sight, he is not sitting around idle until they re-appear.

However, that doesn't mean anyone who is looking for news can't find it due to newer media ventures from teams themselves and other recent startups.

In Washington, for example, owner Ted Leonsis has created a cottage industry with his Monumental Network so if you live in Philadelphia and haven't seen coverage on local star Natasha Cloud out of Saint Joseph's, there she is in the flesh and blood at the Mystics' website.

And there are other ventures such as Blue Star Media @BlueStarMedia1, which on the men's side for example has reknown scribe Dick "Hoop" Weiss over in Greece covering the USA U19 men's tourney.

They will be on the scene later this month in Toronto for the Pan Am women's games, which on the USA squad, involves incoming Villanova senior Caroline Coyer.

For a minimal fee you can get the Live Access from the WNBA on your tablets to at least see the games. And of course there is ESPN.

Meanwhile, in the last couple of days, the Guru has seen mention that the winning USA women's soccer team needs to appear at WNBA games.

But that's backwards. Looking at it in afterthought, perhaps it would have been good for the league to be in Vancouver this past weekend getting the right teams to play a single our doubleheader regular season game Saturday night before the finals.

And for those of you who think the colleges get better treatment, you should know that from once was a group of several hundred papers at the Women's Final Four without regard to if one of their teams were in the quartet or it was being held nearby, that number is zero and has been for a while.

Now there are about 15 of us that still get there but we are wearing different uniforms than in the past, so to speak.

Fortunately, the Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberg is proficient enough with his commitment beyond routine to coverage that papers without having to pay any travel cost will get a well-writen comprehensive piece by way of the wire service.

And if they do trimming like they do to all AP stories, usually the full version will be on the web at Yahoo, for example,

Anyhow, the Guru has written enough to make up for not doing his own notebook for a while. On Tuesday night, it's Philly Summer League time against this week and Thursday, which the Guru will get to since the Washington game is at 11:30 a.m.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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