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, April 27, 2016

Delle Donne Dream Realized With USA Women's Basketball National Team Appointment

by ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

Eight years later, Geno Auriemma will finally get an opportunity to coach Elena Delle Donne.

 The Wilmington, Delaware native was one of 12 athletes publicly named to the 2016 USA Women’s Basketball National Team Wednesday morning with the announcement and player appearances occurring on the Today show in New York City.

The team was selected by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee and is pending approval by the USOC.

 The five-time defending Olympic gold medalists was announced in front of a nationally televised audience on NBC's TODAY show during the United States Olympic Committee's 100 Day Countdown celebration.

NBC has the TV rights to the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 This year’s squad that will compete for the gold medal in features nine returning Olympic gold medalists. 

Delle Donne is one of three players named to the USA Women’s Basketball National Team that will be making their Olympics debut. The University of Delaware former all-American, who has been sidelined with Lyme disease at different points in her career, cherishes the opportunity she has to represent her country.

 “It’s so hard to even put it into words,” Delle Donne said. “When Carol (Callan) told me, it was emotional. 

Just to think this entire basketball journey I’ve been on has been absolutely incredible, but this has been by far the pinnacle of my career and the best news I’ve ever heard.

 It’s absolutely a dream come true. I’ve just been soaking it up today and it’s amazing and a humbling experience as well, with how special and talented this pool of players is.”

 Of course, everybody knows by now that Delle Donne out of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy  committed to Connecticut, left the school after 48 hours, took a year off from the sport before returning to lead Delaware to two of its most successful seasons in program history.

 Auriemma is happy to have Delle Donne as a member of the USA Team.

 “She’s one of the most talented players in the world,” Auriemma said during Tuesday’s conference call with reporters.  “I am not quite sure how that translates into international competition because she hasn’t had a lot of that. She can play multiple positions. 

"This is a great opportunity for her. She may not have much International experience, but Elena is a quick learner. It hasn’t taken herself long to establish herself in the league. She’s not limited to one thing and she can help this team in numerous ways. I am looking forward to coaching her.

 “I am not surprised by her success in the WNBA. Now I am looking forward to seeing her have some similar success on the world stage and take it to the next level. I am anxious to see that.”

Delle Donne, who will return with the Sky Sunday for the third straight year for a WNBA preseason game 2 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center, playing the New York Liberty, was the No. 2 overall pick in the much-hyped 2013 WNBA Draft.

 She has unleashed her fury and beauty on the league by accomplishing something special each year in the league. Delle Donne was named the Rookie of the Year. The following year she led the Chicago Sky to an appearance in the WNBA Finals and was named MVP last season after leading the league in scoring with a 23.4 point per game average.

 “It’s crazy to think that there was a time that I put the basketball down and thought I would never play again,” Delle Donne said. “And now to get here, it’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t trade any part of that journey, I feel like it really makes this moment that much even more special.”

 Auriemma spoke with Delle Donne and outlined a few responsibilities for her as she begins her fourth season in the WNBA.

 “We talked about what this summer needs to be and what her role needs to be,” Auriemma said. “She’s not just playing as a member of the Sky, but as a member of the USA National Team. 

"That carries a certain amount of expectation to it. I feel like I know her and what makes her tick and can get to her in a way that she understands. I am sure she’ll be nervous, anxious and all of those things. Our relationship is great and I would expect it to get even better.” 

 The team, once again loaded with former UConn superstars as was the situation in London in 2012, is headlined by three-time gold medalists and tri-captains Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury).

 The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team also includes two-time Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) and Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx); and 2012 Olympic gold medalists Tina Charles (New York Liberty), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx).

 In addition to Delle Donne, competing in their first Olympic Games are Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) and Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut), who recently led the Huskies to their fourth straight NCAA title and 11th overall.

Not making the team in a surprise is former Tennessee great Candace Parker of the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks, though she could still land on the roster as a replacement for any player injured and unable to compete.

That happened to Delle Donne, who missed the 2014 FIBA World Championship won by the Americans due to a back condition and ongoing issues with Lyme Disease.

 “I think I bring versatility, so I’m able to play different positions and help with whatever team we face,” Delle Donne said. “I can kind of move around and play whatever position is needed.

 "More than anything, I want to be a great teammate. I think that’s what Team USA is all about, unselfish, high IQ basketball players who put the team in front of everything.”

Also not making the squad is Temple grad Candice Dupree of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, who was in the final pool of 25 candidates.

 The 2016 Olympic Games will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro.

 A total of 12 nations will compete in the Olympic women’s basketball competition.

 In addition to host Brazil and the USA, which earned its berth by virtue of winning gold at the 2014 FIBA World Championship, the gold-medal winning teams from each of FIBA’s five zones have qualified for Rio, including Australia (FIBA Oceania), Canada (FIBA Americas), Japan (FIBA Asia), Senegal (FIBA Africa) and Serbia (FIBA Europe).

 The U.S. will open play against Senegal on either Aug. 6 or Aug. 7 (all game times to be announced by FIBA at a later date), followed by the No. 4 team from the Olympic qualifier on Aug. 8, Serbia on Aug. 10, Canada Aug. 12, and the USA concludes preliminary round play on Aug. 14 against the No. 2 team from the Olympic qualifier. 

 All 12 of the U.S. players began competing for USA Basketball while still in high school or college, and in addition to their Olympic experience, Bird is a four-time USA World Championship Team member and three-time FIBA World Championship gold medalist; Catchings, Charles, McCoughtry, Moore, Taurasi and Whalen have captured two World Championship gold medals; Fowles earned gold at the 2010 Worlds; and Augustus, Griner and Stewart earned a gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Championship. 

Additionally, Augustus, Bird, Catchings and Taurasi returned with a bronze medal from the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

Auriemma will be assisted through the 2016 Olympic Games by DePaul University's Doug Bruno, the Minnesota Lynx' Cheryl Reeve and University of South Carolina's Dawn Staley. 

All but Bruno have Philadelphia roots with Auriemma growing up in Norristown northwest of the city, Reeve, a former La Salle star out of Washington Township in South Jersey across the Delaware River and Staley, a former USA playing great, WNBA all-star and Virginia all-American who starred at Dobbins Tech a few blocks from her North Philadelphia home and whose first coaching job was a Tenple.

 The 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team was selected by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee. Chaired by Callan, the committee includes: WNBA appointees Reneé Brown, WNBA chief of basketball operations and player relations; Dan Hughes, head coach and general manager of the San Antonio Stars; and Chris Sienko, vice president and general manager of the Connecticut Sun; and three-time Olympic and two-time FIBA World Championship gold medalist Katie Smith, who played in nearly 200 games for USA Basketball from 1993-2008 and serves as the athlete representative.

Percentage Rises Among Top College Coaches Under Fire or Recently Unemployed

By Mel Greenberg

With the reported news of Vanderbilt's veteran women's basketball coach Melanie Balcomb ousted for reasons to be or not be made public, a large number of coaches on the all-time and active list of appearances in The Associated Press women's poll exists who have recently left jobs or have been under fire in recent seasons, particularly criticized by local media or fan base or under some sort of review either by the NCAA or internally at their current school..

These are just notes added off the news onto the running rankings of coaches in the poll kept by the Guru. The asterisks in the first group are for those coaches no longer active in collegiate ball, some of whom are deceased but not noted that way or happily retired but only seven of the first 30 have no negativity attached.

The list contains schools that they got rankings with footnotes for their current schools.

The active list follows underneath the all-time list with a cut at tied for No. 29 because of a big gap for the next coach to move up.

The list will be refined over the summer as to the one kept in the event some of the departed coaches land elsewhere in head coach Division I jobs.

These are only highlighted number of appearances in the two categories since many more on the entire all-time list have moved on in the 40-year history of the poll. The bold face on a ranking numnber accents those coaches who have been in the news or on the carousel. 

  By Mel Greenberg
Women’s Hoops Guru
(Mar.. 14, 2016) – Final

 Quick hits on AP poll (week 19 – final for coaches’ appearances week No. 19)
(This is 710th poll after week 19 for 2015-16). (Records on pages through week 19)

Coaches with Four Ranked Teams
Jim Foster (St. Joe-35), (Vanderbilt-164), (Ohio St.-171), (Chattanooga-10), 380

Coaches with Three Ranked Teams  
C. Vivian Stringer (Cheyney-85), (Iowa-155), (Rutgers-188), 428
Gary Blair (Stephen F. Austin-79), (Arkansas-67), (Texas A&M-190), 336
Marianne Stanley (Old Dominion-141), (Southern Cal-24), (Stanford*-18), 183
Lin Dunn (Miami-2), (Mississippi-1), (Purdue-130), 133
Joe McKeown (New Mexico St.-6), (George Washington-110), (Northwestern-13) 129
Don Perrelli (Northwestern-52), (S. Conn.-20), (St. John’s-1), 73
Tom Collen (Colorado St.-34), (Louisville-17), (Arkansas-9), 60
Sharon Fanning-Otis (Kentucky-4), (Miss. St.-48), (Chattannoga-4), 56
Debbie Yow (Florida-2), (Kentucky-21), (Oral Roberts-1), 24 

Kittie Blakemore, Scott Harrelson – West Virginia 8 
Sonja Hogg, Leon Barmore – Louisiana Tech 51
Jill Hutchison, Linda Fischer – Illinois St. 3
Jim Jarrett, Joyce Patterson – Georgia St. 1
Marianne Stanley, Amy Tucker – Stanford 18
Jim Bolla, Sheila Strike – UNLV 18

Coaches All Time Ranking Appearances
1. **- Pat Summitt, Tennessee – 618 (missed just 14 polls in entire AP history)
2. **-Andy Landers, Georgia – 522
3.  Tara VanDerveer (2 schools – Ohio St., Stanford) – 504
4.  Geno Auriemma, Connecticut – 464
5. C. Vivian Stringer (3 schools – Cheyney, Iowa, Rutgers) – 487 -- been embattled in recent seasons.
6. **-Jody Conradt, Texas – 395
7. Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina – 384 -- program under NCAA scrutiny.
8. Jim Foster (4 schools – St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio St., Chattanooga) – 380
9. Gary Blair, (3 schools – Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas, Texas A&M) – 336
9. **-Rene Portland (2 schools – St. Joseph, Penn St.) – 336
11.  **-Debbie Ryan, Virginia – 328
12. **- Kay Yow, North Caro. St. – 326
13. **-Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech (51-shared with Sonja Hogg) – 325
14. Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame – 313
15.**- Gail Goestenkors (2 schools – Duke, Texas) – 295
16. **-Joe Ciampi, Auburn – 290
17. **-Sue Gunter (2 schools – Stephen F. Austin, LSU) – 270
18. &&-Joan Bonvicini (2 schools – Long Beach, Arizona) – 267 -- recentlyl left Seattle.
19. Kim Mulkey, Baylor 266
20. **-Marsha Sharp, Texas Tech – 264
21. **-Van Chancellor (2 schools – Mississippi, LSU) – 261
22. Sherri Coale, Oklahoma 243
23. Joanne P. McCallie (2 schools – Michigan St., Duke) – 235 -- program under internal review.
24. **-Chris Weller, Maryland - 227
25. )(-Theresa Grentz (2 schools – Rutgers, Illinois) – 225 -- came out of long retirement in 2016
26. Brenda Frese (2 schools – Minnesota, Maryland) -- 218
27. **-Marianne Stanley (3 schools – Old Dominion, Southern Cal, Stanford*) – 183
28. **-Paul Sanderford (2 schools – W. Kentucky, Nebraska) – 182
29. **-Marian Washington, Kansas – 176
      **-Not in college or not in as a head coach

Active Coaches-All Time AP Ranking Appearances
1. Tara VanDerveer (2 schools – Ohio St., Stanford) – 504
2. Geno Auriemma, Connecticut – 464
3. C.Vivian Stringer (3 schools – Cheyney, Iowa, Rutgers) – 428 -- Been embattled in press/fans
4. Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina – 384 -- program under NCAA investigation.
5. Jim Foster (3 schools – St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio St., Chattanooga) – 380
6. Gary Blair, (3 schools – Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas, Texas A&M) – 336
7. Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame – 313
8.&&--Joan Bonvicini (2 schools – Long Beach, Arizona) - 267 -- recently left Seattle. 
9. Kim Mulkey, Baylor – 266
10. Sherri Coale, Oklahoma – 243
11. Joanne P. McCallie (2 schools - Michigan St., Duke) – 235 -- program under internal review.
12. )(-Theresa Grentz (3 schools – Saint Joseph’s, Rutgers, and Illinois) - 225 became active in 2016
13. Brenda Frese (2 schools, Minnesota, Maryland) – 218
14. Doug Bruno, DePaul – 162
15. Melanie Balcomb (2 schools – Xavier, Vanderbilt) – 161 -- reportedly ousted at Vanderbilt
16. Bill Fennelly, (2 schools – Toledo, Iowa St.) – 155 -- subject of a player lawsuit.
17. @!@!-Kristy Curry (2 schools – Purdue, Texas Tech) – 136
18. Joe McKeown (3 schools – New Mexico St., George Washington, Northwestern) – 129
19. Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky – 122 -- player defections in recent seasons.
20. Charli Turner Thorne, Arizona St. – 116
20. Jeff Walz, Louisville – 116
22. Sue Semrau, Florida St. – 108
23. ==== Jim Davis, Clemson, 106 -- recently retired from Tennessee Tech for normal reasons.
24.)))-Chris Gobrecht (Washington) - 104 
24. Dawn Staley (Temple, South Carolina) – 104
26. !!!- Jane Albright (2 schools – N. Illinois, Wisconsin) – 96
27. Sharon Versyp, Purdue – 84
27. Connie Yori (Creighton, Nebraska) – 84 -- recently resigned from Nebraska.
29. Suzy Merchant, Michigan St. – 80
30. Mike Carey, West Virginia – 76
31. Holly Warlick, Tennessee – 74 (missed Tennessee’s 15th/15th17th.18th) Vols dropped from poll.
32. Kevin McGuff, (2 schools –Xavier, Ohio St.) – 71
33. Joanne Boyle, California (2 schools – California, Virginia) – 61 -- Was on hot seat at Virginia.
33. Coquese Washington, Penn State – 61
35. Lisa Bluder (2 schools – Iowa, Drake) – 59
36. Lindsay Gottlieb, California 57
37.  ***-Kathy Olivier, UCLA 52
38. Quentin Hillsman, Syracuse – 49
38. Jim Littell, Oklahoma State – 49
40. ____Terri Williams-Flournoy, Georgetown – 48
41. Katie Meier, Miami –47
42. Harry Perretta, Villanova – 44
43. Karen Aston, Texas 39
44. @@@@- Kelly Graves, Gonzaga – 38
44.Cori Close, UCLA—38
44. #####-Jeff  Mittie, TCU – 38
44. Scott Rueck, Oregon State – 38
48. Vic Schaefer, Mississippi State – 35
48.%=%=  Matt Bollant, Wis.-Green Bay – 35 -- Been under fire from Illinois players.
48. Lisa Stockton, Tulane – 35
51. $$$- June Daugherty (2 schools – Boise St.,Washington) – 32
52. MaChelle Joseph, Georgia Tech – 31

&&-Active at Seattle;  )))-Active at Yale; $$$-Active at Wash. St.;  !!!-Active at Nevada; @@@@-Active at Oregon; ==== Active at Tenn Tech; ____Active at Auburn; %=%= Active at Illinois; @!@!-Active at Alabama, #####-active at Kansas State.)(-Active at Lafayette.

Friday, April 15, 2016

UConn Senior Trio Picked 1-2-3 to Bring Their Rewrite of History to the WNBA Draft

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru @BlueStarMedia

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – University of Connecticut superstar senior Breanna Stewart was just getting started to respond to questions in the media area here Thursday night as the newly-minted overall No. 1 pick of the WNBA Seattle Storm.

   Suddenly a big roar arose from the Mohegan Sun’s actual arena venue where the picks were being announced to the hopefuls, their families and coaches, and to the general public seated in the stands.

It was already known that Moriah Jefferson, one of Stewart’s two Huskies classmates, had quickly followed as the No. 2 pick of the San Antonio Silver Stars, sending the all-American point guard back to her native of Texas.

But the roar could mean only one thing, the confirmation that all-American Morgan Tuck, the third of the specially talented UConn trio involved in the draft, had gone overall No. 3 to the local WNBA Connecticut Sun.

Stewart banged both her fists on the table in front of her on the podium and uttered an emphatic “Yessss!!!,” the way the she often reacts after nailing a tough shot dating back to her formative AAU time spent with the Philadelphia Belles.

Only 10 days have passed since the trio completed an historic four-season domination of NCAA women’s basketball and fulfilling Stewart’s freshman proclamation of a perfect 4-0 in the national champions trophy department.

But on Thursday night the threesome authored another page of history, this time in the pros on becoming a first-ever 1-2-3 pick in the draft, this one being extra special, anyway, as the first major event of the WNBA’s 20th anniversary celebration.

It was an exclamation point to the recently concluded collegiate careers of Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck, but it was also appropriately, considering the neighboring casino, another jackpot for the UConn program under Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, who now has guided the Huskies to an NCAA record 11 championships by either a men’s or women’s coach and six unbeaten records.

“It shows how special of a group we are,” Stewart said. “When we do something with the three of us, we do it together.

“We went in as freshmen together. We won four national championships together. Now, we all were drafted together. Every single one of us – Mo Morgan – could have gone number one in any draft class.”

But Stewart has become the best of all with three national player of the year honors and four most outstanding NCAA Final Four tournament player among a slew of well-deserved accolades. 

When told of Stewart’s pause to cheer for Tuck, Jefferson said, “Yeah, we’re sisters, for sure. 

“I was walking back trying to do an interview and I heard her name and I completely stopped, started clapping. 

“I got so emotional. To be able to go through this journey the way that we have, and to accomplish the things we have – making history at the college level and now making history here – it’s something that’s unbelievable and you can’t really imagine anything being better.”

As for Tuck’s reaction on making history with her two classmates: “It was a great feeling, and I definitely agree. 

“I think when you watch your good friends get drafted, I think it’s more special than yourself getting drafted,” she added.

“So I was super excited for Stewie, super excited that Mo gets to go back home to Texas. It was just great to be able to be out there with them and to see them live the dream.”

Tuck had the most arduous journey as an undergraduate, dealing with several knee injuries before eventually healing and making the latest edition of the Huskies greats of Gampel even more fearsome before deciding to give up her extra year of eligibility.

“This day means so much,” she said. “It’s kind of weird that it happened and we’ve already had rookie orientation this week. But I’m just really excited and my name was called already and that part of is over. I’m just really excited I’ll be here in Connecticut.

“The injuries, that’s been a part of the game, that’s been a part of my game of having to fight back from injuries,” Tuck said of her previous struggles.

“ So I think it’s just made me a better person, a better player. So I just tried to use my time as I sat out as a learning experience, and I think I have. I think it’s helped me quite a bit.”

In 2002 the senior UConn foursome of top pick Sue Bird (Seattle), No. 2 Swin Cash (former Detroit), No. 4 Asjha Jones (Washington), and No. 6 Tamika Williams (Minnesota), set a precedent going in the first six while the fifth starter, Diana Taurasi, went No. 1 to Phoenix two seasons later.

Obviously, EA Arts could make a bundle, if they would also pay the Huskies stars for likeness usage, to produce a game involving both squads, NCAA reaction notwithstanding.

UConn players have dominated the league with championships won by Taurasi, Maya Moore, Cash, Bird, Svetlana Abrosimova, Jen Rizzotti, Kara Wolters, Kalana Greene, Asjha Jones, Kelly Schumacher, Ketia Swanier, Charde Houston, and Rene Montgomery.

Auriemma coached six former Huskies on the 2012 United States Women’s Basketball National Team to an Olympic Gold Medal in London and will have a slew back again this summer in Brazil, likely including Stewart, who was the only collegian on the 2014 FIBA World Champions.

She said being with the USA squad helped her become accustomed to the physicality of play at the professional level.

Playing it safe, Stewart said she wasn’t ready to make any more outrageous predictions, but then playfully hinted it may be a short self-proclaimed ban in that department.

In Seattle, which recently officially lost Australian great Lauren Jackson to retirement, though she has not played in the Northwest the last several season due to injuries, Stewart will join a roster with Bird and former UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. 

Former Maryland all-American Crystal Langhorne, a Philadelphia Belles star in the last decade, is also on the roster as is Jewel Loyd, the former Notre Dame star who gave up her last year of eligibility 12 months ago to turn pro and became rookie of the year.   

Meanwhile, on a night when a new crop of collegiate hopefuls approached the aisle of impending marriage to the WNBA, the evening featured something old, something new, but little borrowed and no one was blue.

The new was in the draft being the first formal event for recently-hired WNBA president Lisa Borders, a former vice president of global community affairs at The Coca-Cola company who has been a fan of the league in Atlanta and participated in the initiative that brought the Dream franchise to the Georgia capital.

“Draft nights before have been exciting,” Borders said.

“The three to see, as we all recall, they brought tremendous talent, and I think that we have replicated that tonight and then some,” she referenced the 2013 draft that brought in Brittney Griner (Baylor/Phoenix), Elena Delle Donne (Delaware/Chicago), and Skylar Diggins (Notre Dame/Tulsa now becoming Dallas).

“These 12 (invitees) are really special. You’ve got the three young ladies from UConn, obviously. You’ve got Ms. (Rachel) Banham (Minnesota), who hits a three-point shot like nobody’s business,” she said of the Gophers star who scored 60 points in a game this season and went fourth to the Sun.

“You’ve got the bigs who are blocking shots like nobody’s business. I really think the quality of play is going to ratchet up even more, but draft night is all about celebrating the new future faces of the league.”

Something old was really something vintage.

On Wednesday with Lisa Leslie in the house, she joined with former UConn star Rebecca Lobo, now with ESPN, and Sheryl Swoopes, the three founding players reunited to recreate their picture pose from the inaugural 1997 season 20 years later.

Leslie had left prior to Thursday night, but the other two had a pre-draft session with the media and were joined by former WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley, who was on hand as South Carolina coach to support her senior Tiffany Mitchell, who was drafted in the first round ninth overall by the Eastern Conference playoff champion Indiana Fever.
“When the WNBA first started and just hearing what people had to say: You know, there’s no way it’s going to last; won’t be around that long,” Swoopes reflected. “And to be able to sit up here and look at us now, look at the W, the success of the league, I think kind of speaks for itself.”

Swoopes, a Texas Tech scoring machine who was one of the standouts of the former Houston Comets who won the first four WNBA titles, now coaches at Loyola of Chicago and was recently voted into the 2016 induction class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

“You know, the players are very different; the talent is very different, and without a doubt, it’s such an honor to still be involved with the WNBA in some capacity,” said Swoopes, who was honored by the league in the fall with a pioneer award.

As for the draft itself, while the UConn success was a story line of arrivals from the collegiate world, the Connecticut Sun itself, which calls Mohegan home, dominated the wheeling and dealing at the professional level with a blockbuster trade even before the complete 12 picks of the first of three rounds had finished being announced.

With new coach Curt Miller, a former Los Angeles Sparks assistant, at the helm in tandem with general manager Chris Sienko, one of a few separate coach/GM positions in the league, the Sun ramped up the local excitement after the UConn 1-2-3 became official by adding to taking Tuck at No. 3 with the selection of high-scoring Minnesota senior Rachel Banham at No. 4, a position acquired in an off-season deal with Atlanta.

Banham, who was on opposite sides when Miller coached the Indiana women in the Big Ten several years ago, was ecstatic.

“My heart was just beating very, very fast,” she said of the early wait to hear her name announced. “I really did want to come here so I was really hoping to hear my name. When I heard it, I was almost in shock, and I was so happy – so many emotions and I just can’t wait.”

After the new Dallas Wings, formerly the Tulsa and three-time WNBA champion Detroit Shock, took Michigan State’s Aerial Powers, another player who took advantage of a loophole to give up one more year of eligibility, George Washington senior Jonquel Jones, a native of the Bahamas, found out that scripts can change of the fly and sometimes two trips within minutes of each other are necessary to comment on one’s fate.

Taken sixth overall by the Los Angeles Sparks, thanks to a Sun swap with Connecticut craving the post play of Jones, one of the stars of the Atlantic 10 conference, She was back in short order to talk to the media after the league revealed the Sun had given L.A. the 15th and 23rd picks in Thursday’s draft, Connecticut’s No. 1 pick a year from now, and former Duke star Chelsea Gray, who was their top pick a year ago, while picking up Jones and the Sparks’ 17th pick in Thursday’s action.

“That’s life,” Jones said. “You have to be able to adapt and make changes. … I talked to coach Miller extensively. He felt my game could translate really well in his system. He told me that he was really high on me. If the opportunity presented itself, I knew he would try to do something.

“I know this team has a really good fan base. The people here get really excited about basketball. It makes me really excited. I’m really excited to suit up in a WNBA Jersey.”

The Sun in the second round used the fifth pick and 17th overall to take Jamie Weisner, who helped Oregon State land their first Final Four appearance, and in the third and final round, the Sun used the 27th overall and third pick of the round to take St. John’s Aliyyah Handford, whose Express teammate Danaejah Grant went 31st overall and seventh in the third round to Washington.

Rutgers saw two players taken with Kahleah Copper, the only Philadelphian selected, going seventh overall in the first round to the Washington Mystics, and Rachel Hollivay going 13th overall and first in the second round to the Atlanta Dream.

Copper will find familiarity when she gets to training camp next week in the nation’s capital with former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud from Cardinal O’Hara on the roster along with former Rutgers star center Kia Vaughn. Additionally, she will play only a few hours away from family and friends.

“It worked out perfectly,” Copper said. “I chose Rutgers because it was so close to home. Now, to be a part of the Washington Mystics is a dream come true. I am familiar with those players in Washington and excited to follow experienced veterans who know what they are doing.”

Many of the picks appeared energized and were more bubbly with the media than they were seen in their collegiate careers.

Texas’ Imani Boyette, who was taken 10th overall in the first round by the Chicago Sky, when asked if she was looking forward to playing with Elena Delle Donne, responded, “What type of loaded question is that??? Who doesn’t want to play with Elena Delle Donne. That’s a tongue twister, how do you’all say that all the time.

“I want to play with Elena Delle Donne. I think she’s amazing. In my fantasy, if I could do WNBA Build-A-Player with myself, I would make myself a little bit of Elena, a little bit of Brittney, a little bit of Sylvia (Fowles), and I’d be perfect. I’m excited to play with Elena Delle Donne. I’m excited to meet her.”

Many players who played on teams handled by UConn, paid tribute, some grudgingly, such as South Florida’s Courtney Williams, whose Bulls always lost to the Huskies in American Athletic and old Big East competition.

After initially admitting a dislike for Auriemma’s group, Williams reversed herself and gave the team a pass for the fans having cheered for Williams when it was announced she was going eighth overall to the former three-time champion Phoenix Mercury.

A former Philadelphia Belles player, Temi Fagbenle, who played for England in the London games and most of her career for Harvard before playing her last season of eligibility at Southern Cal, just missed the Ms. Irrelevent slot, taken in the third round at 11th and 35th overall by the defending champion Minnesota Lynx.

The last slot went to Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee, taken by the New York Liberty, who went for the injured Bulldog star because of the upside coach Bill Laimbeer thought she had in the team’s future.

Prior to her ACL in the stretch drive of the season, several times were expressing interest in Caroline Coyer, a Villanova senior and two-time Big Five player of the year.

Only four players from mid-major schools were picked in George Washington’s Jonquel Jones, James Madison’s Jazmon Gwathmey, the Colonial Athletic Association’s player of the year to Minnesota and then traded to San Antonio for veteran guard Jia Perkins, Florida Gulf Coast’s Whitney Knight, third and 15th overall to Los Angeles, and BYU’s Lexi Eaton Rydalch, second in the third round and 26th overall to Seattle.

The only two foreigners picked, not counting Jonquel Jones, were Bulgaria’s Lia Galdeira, seventh in the second round and 19th overall to Washington, and Belgium’s Julie Allemond, ninth in the third round and 33rd overall to the Indiana Fever.

The league will start play earlier on May 14 since play will suspend in late July until mid-August while many WNBA players compete as Olympians in Brazil.

As for what happens to everyone else during the month of inactivity?


“So of course we’re thinking about it,” the personable Borders said with a wink, “but it’s a secret. You’ve got to stay tuned. We want you to come back.

“We’re going to start this draft tonight and get this season tipped off. We’ll come back with more information about what’s going to happen during the Olympic break. But I don’t want to be a spoiler here and  tell you everything.

“Great question, though.”







Friday, April 08, 2016

Siroky's Musings: A Return to the Women's Final Four After a Long Absence

By Mike Siroky

For the first time in a long while I took a trip by myself.

When the women’s NCAA basketball tournament started 35 seasons ago, I was one of 37 accredited media.

Two of my best friends were also there as broadcasters, I had a photographer and knew three other national writers. That’s seven of the 37. It was a small group then.

I thought of many of them, the departed and the living, coaches, players and media I had shared a time with.

There are not a lot of us left. In fact, there are but two media.

The NCAA, long used to producing the men’s game, had a media room, code for free beer and pretzels at the end of a workday.

I had met the guy in charge of that.

After the first day he asked me why he was sitting alone in the room.

I told him we did not believe it was real as the predecessor to the NCAA had done nothing for those who covered them, once even scheduling the national semifinal between two Eastern teams as the second game on the northwest coast, meaning it started after midnight.

There were no phones available.

I was one of the few to make deadline in time for the Sunday edition because on of my best friends had a telephone connection at the seat next to me for his radio broadcast and when he finished I was ready to send.

Ticket prices at the first NCAA championships were $2 and $5. There were slightly more than 9,500 fans.

In between, 20 million have attended the Final Fours.

Tickets are now up to $800.

Before the decline of newspapers in recent years, more than 600 media types were given credentials.

They have drawn as many as 28,000 fans (19,000 last season; 15,277 this).

More than 7.2 million have attended.

My little party has a lot of partygoers.

I brought Frank DeFord, the best sports writer ever have I read, with me. In book form. His autobiography. It relaxes me.

I set off on a gray, windy, cloudy day. I like gray, cloudy, windy days. They allow me to think.

As I approached title town, the sunshine broke through. It was glorious.

It reminded how many of these trips to an event had involved my latest pickup truck, just a solitary guy on the road for more than 35 years.

They know me at the NCAA. The credential was ready, already with the ID pic.

The adventure began.

They gave me the best seat. Center. Courtside. Third row on the riser.

I found a free place to park 5 straight days. They always feed the sportswriters.

I marveled at all the gatherings. The parties at fancy places.

I met so many coaches who said they appreciated my writing. Humbling.

I met so many former players who I covered then. One of them, a three-time VP of this tournament revealed she does not eve pick up a ball anymore because she is too competitive and would want to kill anyone she played against; cannot play for fun.

These former All-Americans come here because many of them present awards.

A few of them were surviving members of the first women’s Olympic team, 1976.

About that time, college hoops started and they became the bedrock of the better programs.

The neat thing about women’s hoops are the legends for the most part, are still with us. The historical connections are real people. Hugs all around.

The games were good, too.

Rick Nixon and the NCAA invited the Division II and Division III finalists to play here too, one time only, on the inbetween days.


Imagine the thrill for non-scholarship players (Division III) coming to the grand stage to represent their division in front of national media at the national site. One of them came from Alaska. Talk about friends and family travel commitments.

That is sort of women’s basketball defined. Passion that started with Wayland Baptist barnstorming teams until now, first class all the way.

The winning teams were all undefeated, all coached by men, as were all four of the Division 1 teams. That’s a combined NCAA record.

For me, the neatest sidelight was seeing the undefeated Division II champs from a Christian school, in their first year of eligibility after moving up from NAIA.

The coach was unafraid to talk of a Christian life.

Pretty cool

But the highlight of the sidelight was seeing a certain forward perform.

She had struggled with injuries but was needed in the big game and played on.

There are 40 minutes to a basketball game She played 37, second most of anyone to win the championship of Division II.

For me the personal thrill was I had covered her mom when her mom was a player at the University of Tennessee.

The big-time originals are just now producing college-aged kids.

I was the only one who realized this was a first: A Final Four starter mom with a Final Four starter daughter.

What a shared joy as me and mom hung out.

Most times, it is all about the access of being there. Had I not been there I could have not helped the former player get a lot of backstage access that made her once in a lifetime thrill all the better.

Had a photographer friend shoot pics of the current player, which he would not have done had it not been noticed.

And this was a one-in-a-lifetime event for Division II and III, no matter how enjoyable, though there may be more since Geno Auriemma, coach of the Division I champion Connecticut squad endorsed making it a regular happening in the future, as did many other Division I notable.

They bid out their title towns, too.

A rare confluence allowed all three title games in the NCAA’s hometown which included swapping an original destination for a Division 1 Regional site.

Just a marvelous opportunity for me when my low-flying angels help fools such as I.

The Big Game

An empty main event basketball arena early on game day is its own cathedral of worship. Magnificent arching space. Graceful. Sacred silence.

The grids set up for bands and cheerleaders in a holding area off court patiently await their exuberant human occupiers, all color and fluff, noise and practice, though muscle memory has surely set in.

College students at this level, they are also very representative participants, also on a trip of a lifetime, cheering for their school in a game played by their contemporaries.

The buses unload below street and seat level. The teams arrive.

Very purposeful walks by two teams coaches, intimate supporters, for each game.

Upstairs, the champs of Division II and III are signing autographs. Before the game, they will carry the court-sized American Flag for its honors. A last-minute snack is offered to the professional viewers.

I love being in a building where a life-sized Orange can walk past and then a full-sized Husky on two feet and neither even gets a second glance. Where face paint is anticipated in certain areas.

Now the pageant can begin.

The best team in he country started out so well you wondered how fast the clock could run.

In this first year of quarter play in the women’s game, the comparison of segments is too evident.

Only one player scored baskets for the lesser team.

The better team distributed as better teams do and led by 15.

There was not much evidence of a real fight yet.

By the half it was over, the winning team already had 50 and the losing team would not score as much until the closing minutes.

The winning team kept scoring, of course, and the three senior starters outscored the whole other team.

The winning team had completed 399 passes in the game. The best player alone had received 45 and passed 43, all between the two top scorers. The top player also passed 27 times to another player. The third all-star had completed 37 passes

But there’s more.

To me, the fourth senior is the best story.

In reply to a Twitter from the best player in America, 5-4 Briana Pulido walked on at UConn.

Yes, earned a spot on the toughest roster as mostly a practice player but going through it all for three season and now with three championships.

It’s the dream of every child in America to just get a chance.

For all the naysayers of tough coaches you get a glimpse of his true self ever once in awhile.

So, as the fabulous team wrapped up the unprecedented fourth straight season another one undefeated -- they call it Four for Fourever -- the coach naturally cleared the bench so the three senior All-America starters could get a just ovation.

The Big Three had outscored the other team all by themselves, never to be denied

Still with one minute left he leapt up, called a timeout and got Puli into the game.

UConn missed a shot, then claimed possession at the other end. The coach motioned Puli into the corner and the point guard of the moment saw it. The ball shot her way and she shot the ball.

The angels smiled. Nothing but net. More tears, the seniors on the bench exploded more than any other group.

Forevermore, she is in the NCAA record book for scoring. For evermore, she scored the last points of the record championship season.

The team floated to the other end of the court truly in flight.

One of the All-American seniors said, “I probably jumped the highest I've jumped all season when she shot that shot. We were so excited for her, and to end the game the way she did, it was great. And we got 82 points, so we got wings.”

Back home that's the total that gets the UConn faithful a free culinary item.

TheY floated into each other’s arms, the last time alone as this team on a basketball court.

The seniors are already separated by the mists of time.

Pulido was in the mishmash.

A starting freshman guard, the one who broke her foot and missed playing in the final game, said, “It was so important that she made that shot. No one else knows. So important.”

The guard who fed her the ball for the shot said, “It’s such a fitting ending. She comes into practice every day and makes sure there is energy, that we are ready to go. For her to come in and hit that basket, was incredible. A fitting ending.”

In the moshpit of hugs and tears in the rope enclosure at midcourt, Pulido gave and got hugs and tears.

So how was making The Shot?

”It was everything,” she said. "It was not designed. The ball just came and I shot it.”

She moves on of course, but to Med School, a well-developed brain in that athletic body, maybe the smartest person n the group.

Soon they were cutting down the nets, a strand at a time.

The other seniors insisted she stay on the ladder, immortalized with them in a class picture.

In the end, they were just a group of girls, sitting on the awards stand, not wanting it to ever end, their legs dangling and kicking a bit, arms all around each other.

And that is why I have covered this game for two thirds of my life: Moments you get to share, to witness and report.

“It was everything. I shot it.”

Indeed. The party continued as I left to find my truck and chased the moon northward.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Tennessee DNA Reaches NCAA Finals

By Mike Siroky

INDIANAPOLIS -- The teams of the greatest women’s basketball league – The Southeastern Conference --  did not stop when the games of conference competition did.

A record nine teams made the post-season NCAA eliminations.

To the surprise and delight of almost everyone associated with the conference, Tennessee survived the longest, to the Elite Eight round.

Coach Holly Warlick took some deserve criticisms as the Lady Vols finished the season with a program-worst 13 losses, unranked for the first time as the playoffs started.

But they won more than anyone else in the tournament.

Warlick has the national record of four Elite Eights in her first four seasons.

And all the important contributors return, so they are by no means a dead team. But most of the conference heavyweights this season will have a decided group of talent back.

And unlike the coaches' poll, there is no post-championship AP poll, so Tennessee broke another tradition and finished unranked for the first time in the 40-year history. It will be interesting next season to see where the media voters place them before the marathon of the season.

 *Tennessee was not forgotten at the Final Four this season.

In fact, here’s another first, for the NCAA and the Lady Vols.

A starting forward on the Division II Champs of Lubbock Christian was 6-5 hometown girl Kellen Schneider.

Her coach, Steve Gomez, said of her championship play: “Today Kellyn Schneider was huge for us.  She's been hurt.  The conference tournament she didn't play two games.  She gutted it out one game in the Elite Eight against Bentley and played some good minutes. 

"We just knew this rest was going to be good for her.  So without her recovery -- I don't even know what her stats are -- I just know her presence is just so good for us. 

"And so I just learned that it's definitely a team that functioned together and nobody ever felt selfish.  And so I just feel like they toughed it out.  We didn't play a lot of players.  I didn't know how good a shape we would be in.  I was really concerned physically how we'd do.  But I just feel like they were tough and unselfish."

She played 37 minutes of her final game, the second-most of anyone.

The Lady Vol connection?

Her mom is Jill Rankin, a UT All-American.

They become the first mother/daughter to each earn their way into an NCAA Final Four.

At 6-2, she is a couple of inches taller than Jill, who said, “All my children are.”

Jill also said the title experience and going undefeated in their first year of eligibility in Division II was surreal.

It was so amazing to see mom and daughter embrace afterwards and share the moment of bliss.

Jill said all of her children were worried for the title game, but not Kellen.

They were all lined up in Indy second row behind the bench and press row, cheering madly as Lubbock Christian led by 14 with four minutes to go then withstood a final rally and executing better at the end, to win by five.

Kellen tearfully hugged mom and dad at courtside as she clutched her miniature version of the title trophy. Then it was back to whooping it up with her teammates and pictures all around.

By the way, all the Division 1 Final Four coaches were men and Division II and III were won by undefeated teams coached by men. Combined it’s an NCAA first.

*Georgia had the biggest win in the immediate off-season.

The SEC coaches went with the easy choice for coach of the year, going with the one who had the most talent.

But the national Women’s Basketball Coaches Association took a recommendation we first put forth, that a rookie who does more with less is the true coach of the year.

Hall of Famer and former Georgia coach – for more than 30 seasons – Andy Landers said he agrees with the concept. He broadcasts for the SEC Network nowadays.

So not honored in conference, but chosen the WBCA’s National Rookie Coach of the Year is Bulldog coach Joni Taylor. The honor was celebrated with national recognition at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

She led a team that won 20 and resurrected itself despite never being ranked but making the NCAAs anyway.

“It is such a great honor to be named the Spalding Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year,” Taylor said. 

“Maggie was one of the great young coaches in women’s basketball, and her legacy will leave a lasting impact on this profession.

“This award is not possible without the hard work and dedication of my family, our coaches and our student-athletes here at Georgia. Everyone bought into what we wanted to accomplish this season, and this award is a testament to our great university and all those involved with this program.

“I just want to thank the selection committee for this tremendous honor, and I am thrilled to accept this year’s Spalding Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year award.”

Taylor began the year by leading the Lady Bulldogs to a 12-1 non-conference record, which was the third-best start by any coach in SEC women’s basketball history in his or her first season with their respective programs.

She led her team to seven wins in the last nine regular season games to reach the 20-win mark and a 9-7 record in the rigorous SEC. 

Georgia’s 21-10 record marked only the 12th time in league history that a first-year head coach won 20 or more games in his or her inaugural season at an SEC school. 

 ”Success in your first season as a head coach is a remarkable feat. The WBCA is pleased to announce Joni as the winner of the 2016 Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year award,” said WBCA Executive Director Danielle Donehew.

“Joni has captured our attention with her team’s accomplishments this season. Joni has demonstrated immediate success in commanding all aspects of managing a program and will continue to shine in the coaching ranks for years to come. We celebrate her effort on the basketball court as a teacher and equally applaud the extensive role she plays in impacting the lives of her student-athletes.” 

The Spalding Maggie Dixon NCAA Division I Rookie Coach of the Year award is named in honor of the late Maggie Dixon, former Army head coach, whose success during her inaugural year at the Black Knights’ helm was remarkable.

Dixon was named 2006 Patriot League Coach of the Year after leading Army to the conference title and its first-ever NCAA Division I tournament appearance. Dixon passed away on April 6, 2006, just a few weeks following the Black Knights’ appearance in the NCAA Tournament. 

*South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley will immediately transition to being an assistant on the Olympic team, helping coach Geno Auriemma.

SC sophomore A’ja Wilson earned First Team Associated Press All-American and First Team Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association honors. Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell was named to the AP second team; junior center Alaina Coates is AP honorable mention.

*Washington coach Mike Neighbors mentioned two SEC coaches he grew up with in coaching terms when preparing for the Final Four, Gary Blair of Texas A&M and Vic Schaefer of Mississippi State.

“So the gave me some great stuff and some really bullet point stuff that's really helped us this week,” Neighbors said.

“ Anybody that would return a phone call that's been here, I’ve certainly wanted their input.”

*Tennessee senior center Bashaara Graves was named honorable mention Associated Press All-American.

*Kentucky had the fifth player leave the program when senior Ivana Jakubcova decided to use her final season of eligibility elsewhere. She had come to UK from Murray State Junior College in Oklahoma. UK gave her a full release.

She will graduate this spring with a degree in psychology and will be a graduate transfer elsewhere. The native of Bratislava, Slovakia, played in 24 games this year.

*South Carolina senior guard Tiffany Mitchell is the league representative on the five-player Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) Award team. The overall winner Is, of course, Breanna Stewart.

The honor is chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I women’s basketball coaches, national basketball media and fans for senior student/athletes in NCAA Division I women’s basketball who have notable achievements in classroom, community, character and competition.

 Mitchell was judged to have shown excellence in all four areas. She had a pair of 4.0 grade point average semesters. She incorporated community service into her schedule, speaking to elementary schools and taking part in Special Olympics and Relay for Life events.

She is the first Gamecocks to merit All-American notice since 1989.

Mitchell finished first in program history in scoring with 1,885 points, second in career 3s percentage (.399) and career free throw percentage (.773) and ranks among the program’s all-time top in seven other categories, including school records for games started (135) and games played (139).

*Texas A&M senior guard Courtney Walker was named honorable mention Associated Press All-American.

*Kentucky junior Makayla Epps was named honorable mention Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American.