Guru's WNBA All-Star Sidelights: Prez Gives Upbeat Report: WBHOF Class 2016
By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru
Also for Blue Star Media
UNCASVILLE, Ct. -- Expansion, transition and double decade were part of the key points on Saturday’s pre All-Star game discussion from WNBA president Laurel J. Richie with the media.
Without putting a timeline on reality for results, Richie said she was launching an expansion committee from representatives of the 12-team league.
“I do feel like based on the calls we’re getting, the expression of interest from owners, potential owners from different geographies and the depth of talent in the league that I think is prime for expansion, we will now formally begin to for a committee to talk about that.”
The league, originally eight teams all partnered with NBA franchises, reached its max-point at 16 following the collapse of the American Basketball League in the winter of 1999 after two seasons and a short of two months that led to a large influx of talent beyond the direct feed from colleges and internationally.
It then began to peel off and dropped as low as 11 while along the way the Chicago Sky entered under independent ownership in 2006 and the Atlanta Dream did likewise in 2008.
The Connecticut Sun, evolving out of the franchise that was the Orlando Miracle arrived in 2003 as the first with no NBA ties and today the ownership dynamic is 50-50 among the ownership groups.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned in my first five seasons with the WNBA, there is no single model,” Richie said. “What it really boils down to is a great ownership team, a fanbase that understands, appreciates and supports us in a community that supports us as well.
“So we have shining examples in our affiliated teams and shining examples in our independent teams.”
Back in the preseason, New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer, who has also coached the former Detroit Shock so has a long history with the WNBA, called for growth.
“There has to be expansion,” he said. “There are too many good players not making WNBA rosters sitting out right now. They’re not going to expand roster sizes anytime soon to the way to do it is through expansion.”
The Bay Area seemed ready for a team when the Los Angeles Sparks were suddenly cast adrift before former NBA great Magic Johnson came along with a group to rescue the franchise and keep them operating in tinseltown.
The league has also had games in the preseason in different areas – there was a tourney in Disney World last year, Chicago has had two successful homecomings for Elena Delle Donne at the University of Delaware where, by the way, the Philadelphia 76ers D-League team plays, and there was a doubleheader in Louisville in May that allowed Atlanta to bring second-year pro Shoni Schimmel and Angel McCoughtry to play in front of the fans that cheered them in college.
Backroom talks have been going on about next year giving Indiana’s retiring star Tamika Catchings a homecoming game in Knoxville, either pre-season or in-season on Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend, depending on the availability of the University of Tennessee’s arena to kick things in motion.
Several teams with other Tennessee players have expressed interest and there is an outside chance a doubleheader could even occur as it did in Louisville.
In terms of transition, this week the Tulsa Shock, which has been in Oklahoma five years after moving from the once-successful Detroit market, the last time by the way any WNBA team has uprooted, was approved to move to Dallas next season and will play in the Arlington suburb.
On the business side, Richie cited a four-percent attendance growth to date, new offseason partnership deals with Kaiser Permanente, HARMAN and NIKE, and Pepsi.
Nine of the 12 teams now have marquee partners, the most recent being right here on the Connecticut Sun.
Richie noted an upgrade of the WNBA and team-affiliated websites, though there has been much criticism so far of the functionality so tinkering continues.
Social media engagement is up 52 percent, the key entity in cyberspace being Live Access, which most times with good internet connections is one way to see almost all games not on ESPN, which has a long-running deal with the league and even originated SportsCenter on the Road from here this weekend.
Besides ABC, by game time a decision had been made to add ESPN and several of its other properties to the All-Star broadcast.
Richie said a meeting with the players produced a desire to add to the weekend activities with such things as some form, maybe not quite the way, of the skills competition that used to be held on the day of public practices before the main event.
Next year the focus will be on Year 20, two decades of WNBA seasons, which will fall in the Olympic cycle when many of the top stars of the league play for USA and other national teams.
Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame 2016 Class Called to Order
Though the word got out through some sources ahead of time, during the game the next induction of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame was announced with ceremonies set for June 11 next year.
Headlining the group is longtime Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale who has a record of 420-206 all with the Sooners and three NCAA Women’s Final Fours.
Under the contributor category are longtime and retired referee June Courteau, who is now coordinator for women’s officials in the NCAA, and the late Bill Tipps, a past chairman of AAU Girls Basketball and member of the USA Basketball Games Committee (1988-96).
Players Jackie Stiles, who is the all-time NCAA leading Division I scorer with 3,393 points, and former UCLA great Natalie Williams, who played in the ABL and WNBA as a pro are also in the class as is Texas high school coach Joe Lombard, who has compiled a record with 1165-109 guiding Nazareth and Canyon High to those victories along with 17 state titles in 37 years of coaching.
More here will come Tuesday and earlier elsewhere after an media availability held with the class on Monday afternoon.
The class was voted by the board as each group is every year on the afternoon of the induction ceremony in Knoxville.
There is an initiative under way to perhaps announce finalists, which would be a first for the WBHOF, during the winter, and then the class itself, earlier then now, perhaps at the Women’s Final Four with the ceremony then held its usual time, though even there is a clamor in WNBA circles to move that date since the league season is in progress and many times individuals can’t get to Knoxville to salute one of their own.
Shooting the Breeze
Some leftover soundbites from the Guru chitchatting with players during Friday’s practice session that had yet to be chronicles.
The first, involves former Temple star Candice Dupree, who made her first start through the van vote for the West and won her first WNBA title last summer playing for the Phoenix Mercury.
“Finally, nine years in,” Dupree said of last year’s sweep of Chicago 3-0 to take the title.
Talking of the success of her former Temple coach Dawn Staley, who led South Carolina to the Women’s Final Four, Dupree said, “I actually left the team I play with overseas to get to see her since I’m from Tampa, so that made it easy.”
Dupree said she has been approached several times from the Philadelphia Big 5 about being honored in the Hall of Fame, to which she said, “They keep asking me every year but it’s hard to accept right now since I’m usually in the middle of the other season playing overseas.
“I’ll do it one of these years after I’m done but hopefully that isn’t going to be for a while.”
Second-year pro Emma Meessemen of the Washington Mystics was asked to talk about rookie Natasha Cloud of Saint Joseph;’s, who was moved into the starting lineup last weekend as the Mystics then went 3-0 into the break after Mike Thibault changed the lineup.
“I could not say she’s a rookie, the way she plays,” the Belgian national said. “She’s really knows the game. Sometimes she has to learn something and you only have to tell her once.
“It’s like I’ve known her more than just a couple of months. She’s so open and warm. I’m happy she’s on my team so I don’t have to play against her.”
Going into the game, Pokey Chatman, coach of the Chicago Sky, noted, “It’s great. I get to be with the greatest players in the world and I don’t even have to coach them – just sit back and watch them go.
“And the amazing thing is they have so much respect for each other. During the season they may be battling each other on the court, but now they’re sitting down, having a cup of coffee with each other, talking about interesting things.”
Pondexter Just Happy to be Here
When the fans vote was announced for the starters, Chicago’s Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers great who was traded to her hometown in the offseason from the New York Liberty, seemed to have lost a ton of votes from when she was picked out of the New York market as opposed to now.
“Did I lose that many votes?” she asked when a suggestion was made before being told, it’s tough to tell the actual falloff.
“Hey, what difference does it make, I’m here, right?” she smiled on being one of six East reserves picked by the Division coaches.
“I think this should be in Chicago. We should make a bid. I’m going to start campaigning for 2017,” Pondexter smiled.
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