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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

WNBA: Sugar Rodgers Has Been a Special Spice in the New York Liberty's Revival

Guru's Note: The All-Star reserves announced late Tuesday night in the East are listed below after the feature interview.

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

Sugar Rodgers’ journey to being a key contributor to the New York Liberty’s best start since 2001 has been arduous.

However, thanks to a steely determination along with the motivation of her mother’s memory, Rodgers has successfully navigated the rocky road in which she was her homeless for a period of time as a teenager.

“I lost my mom and my house,” Rodgers said. “I was basically homeless, living house to house, with my coaches, best friend and just anywhere I could lay my head at the time.

"The passing of my mom (from lupus in 2005) was my motivation to succeed in life. I had to do something. I couldn’t get into the drugs or the gangs. I had to do it for my mom because I know she worked so hard for us.”

Rodgers admitted that basketball saved her life.

“Basketball was my outlet,” Rodgers said. “When I went into the gym, I forgot about everything that was going on at home.

"I just focused on getting better. Basketball got me out of a lot of situations. Technically, basketball took me out of the ‘hood and gave me opportunities to see the world and do different things that kids from my area wouldn’t have had the chance to do.”

Rodgers’ mom, Barbara, is beaming from above with pride at the young lady her daughter has developed into.

Sugar became the first in her family to earn a college degree and then she was drafted out of Georgetown here, where she got her higher education, in the first round of the much-heralded 2013 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx, in which she was reserve on a championship squad.

Fast forward three years later, a relaxed and smiling Rodgers rested comfortably on a black leather chair prior to her team’s game against the Washington Mystics at the Verizon Center about two weeks ago politely answering questions.

It’s the perfect picture of the affable Rodgers, who has found her groove in her third season in the WNBA.

Her game has blossomed and because of it, New York leads the Eastern Conference.

The soaring Liberty extended its winning streak to four games and overall record to 11-5 with a hard-earned 81-77 road win over Seattle Tuesday night at Key Arena as former UConn star Tina Charles scored 30 points.

The Liberty finishes the first half of its season Wednesday night against Los Angeles (10:30 p.m., NBA-TV) after winning seven of its last eight games.

Sweeping the road swing farthest west has always been difficult for Eastern teams visiting Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle, which the Connecticut Sun did earlier this season before its current slump and New York could be the second to do it with as win over the Sparks.

Rodgers has been in the middle of the surge for the Liberty, averaging 11.8 points since June 21 against Atlanta.

New York went 4-1 overall when Rodgers started.

A sharp-shooting guard with a quick trigger finger, she scored a career-high 23 points in a win against the Sparks on June 28 back home in Madison Square Garden.

“I treat everything the same, whether I come off the bench or whether I start,” Rodgers said. “I prepare the same way and try to be consistent in what I do.

"It’s more of a confidence thing for me right now and everybody believing in you. In the beginning of the season, I was struggling with my jump shot and they say great shooters, keep shooting and that’s what I did.”

Rodgers has reached double digits in scoring nine times this season.

While Charles is making a strong case for league MVP honors, Rodgers has been the perfect complement.

She’s tenacious on defense, electric on offense and a leader among a team with plenty of seasoned veterans. She’s one of four Liberty players with a championship ring (Tanisha Wright, Swin Cash and Candace Wiggins are the others).

In the win over Washington two weeks ago, Rodgers finished with 15 points, hit a pair of critical free throws in overtime, and buried two 3-pointers in a game that featured a 17-minute delay because of a power outage in the arena.

Rodgers scored 13 points, all in the second half, while dishing out a team-high five assists in a victory over San Antonio last week.

In the Liberty’s most impressive victory of the season, Rodgers scored eight of her 10 points in the second quarter in a 75-73 comeback win at Phoenix on Saturday.

New York scored a season-best 27 fourth-quarter points while ending the game on a 13-4 run over the final 2:52 to sweep Phoenix for the first time since 2012.

“My coaches’ and teammates have continued to push me,” Rodgers said. “Just knowing that my teammates have my back means the world to me. They continue to swing the ball to me and they’re not going to say, ‘she’s not going to make the shot, so why should I swing the ball to her.”

Even though she was Georgetown’s all-time leading scorer with 2,518 points and helped the Hoyas advance to three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, Rodgers spent most of her time glued to the bench in Minnesota as a rookie.

Looking back, it may have been the best thing that happened to her.

“In Minnesota they teach you how to win,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t get a chance to play, but they taught me how to mentally stay together when you don’t play.

"I think it was good for me because all my life I had been used to playing and there you have to learn how to cheer for your teammates and be a good teammate. Even though I am playing a significant role here, I take everything that I learned from Minnesota as a rookie and last year and keep moving forward.”

Believe it or not, golf was Rodgers specialty sport growing up until one day her older brother nailed a wooden backboard and a bent rim to the side of their house.

The rest was history for Rodgers, who immediately became quickly adept at playing basketball and learning the nuances of it from watching.

From there, Rodgers played on an elite AAU travel team, which ultimately helped her earn a scholarship to Georgetown where she turned the old rugged Big East into her personal playground.

“Everybody always says to me that your mom would be proud and that’s all I ever wanted,” Rodgers said. “I always said no matter what you’re going through, there’s a way out.

"I made it out. Wherever you are, you have to keep dreaming. If you dream and you believe it, then you can accomplish it," she said. "If you let others dictate what you’re going to be, then it’s not going to happen. You just have to keep believing.”

ALL-STAR RESERVES ANNOUNCED: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm was named an All-Star for the ninth time and Cappie Pondexter of the Chicago Sky earned her seventh honor, the WNBA announced during halftime of Tuesday night’s Phoenix-Los Angeles game.

In addition, seven other reserves chosen by the league’s head coaches for Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star 2015 – five for the Eastern Conference and two for the Western Conference – were picked as All-Stars for the first time.

Bird, who made her All-Star debut as a rookie in 2002, has been selected to participate in nine of the 10 All-Star Games played since she entered the league (she missed the 2013 season due to injury).

Seven times she was voted in as a starter, and in 2014 she was added to the West squad by WNBA President Laurel J. Richie as an injury replacement for Seimone Augustus.

Pondexter joins Tina Thompson as the only players in league history to be selected to the All-Star Game while representing three different teams.

The former Rutgers standout was an All-Star three times apiece with the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty, and will now represent her hometown Sky. Thompson, a nine-time All-Star, was selected while playing for the former Houston Comets, Los Angeles Sparks, and the Storm.

Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star 2015, featuring the Eastern Conference All-Stars against the Western Conference All-Stars at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., will be nationally televised by ABC on Saturday, July 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Highlighting the group of first-time All-Star selections are Western Conference players DeWanna Bonner of the Mercury and Plenette Pierson of the Tulsa Shock, both two-time WNBA champions and former winners of the WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year presented by Samsung.

Bonner, who earned championship rings with Phoenix in 2009 and 2014, won the Sixth Woman award in each of her first three seasons in the league (2009-11). Pierson won league titles with the then-Detroit Shock in 2006 and 2008, and took home the Sixth Woman honor in 2007.

Eastern Conference players making their All-Star debuts are former Penn State star Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone of the Connecticut Sun, former Maryland star Marissa Coleman of the Indiana Fever, and former UConn All-American Stefanie Dolson and Belgian Emma Meesseman of the Washington Mystics.

Rounding out the West roster are three reserves who are returning to the All-Star stage. Lindsay Whalen of the Minnesota Lynx was selected to her fourth straight All-Star Game and her fifth overall.

The Sparks’Nneka Ogwumike and Danielle Robinson of the San Antonio Stars are both three-time All-Stars who have each been selected for the third year in a row.

With the addition of Bird and Ogwumike to the West roster, seven former No. 1 overall picks have been named to Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star 2015.

Bird (top pick in 2002) and Ogwumike (2012) join Minnesota’s Augustus (2006), the Atlanta Dream’s Angel McCoughtry (2009), New York’s Tina Charles (2010), Minnesota’s Maya Moore (2011), and Phoenix’s Brittney Griner (2013).

Because of injuries involving Tulsa's Skyler Diggins, voted a starter, Augustus, also named a West starter, and Whelan, replacements will be made by WNBA president Laurel Richie and the coaches will name new starters.

Phoenix's Sandy Brondello is heading the West while Chicago's Pokey Chatman is handling the East courtesy of their teams advancing to last season's WNBA finals won by Phoenix.

On the healthy side, former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne of the Sky, the top overall voting choice her rookie year in 2013 and this season, will play for the first time after missing her first opportunity because of a concussion suffered just before the classic and then sidelined a year ago at the time in her ongoing battle against Lyme disease.

Coaches in each division selected six reserves but were prohibited from voting for their own players.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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