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, January 17, 2017

Guru's Guide to Reducing the 12 WBHOF Finalists to Six Inductees

By Mel Greenberg @womhopsguru

Under the new rollout on the path toward induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., 12 finalists were announced for the first time during the break in the Notre Dame-Tennessee game that was the first in the Big Monday package on ESPN2.

Until this year, the women’s hall had been the only one of the major sports halls of fame in which finalists were not first named prior to the group of inductees.

In recent summers the inductees were named during the WNBA All-Star game but many times it got lost among everything associated with the annual classic.

Now the class of six inductees from these finalists will be named on Feb. 12, along with the Trailblazer Award winner, and those that can attend will be introduced during the Women’s Final Four weekend in Dallas.

The induction ceremony will be on June 10 in Knoxville, the weekend it has occurred, but expect that to be moved since with more WNBA retired stars soon to be eligible, the league has been unhappy with festivities occurring at a time when the regular season is under way and many officials and others can’t attend because of the schedule.

For complete information here is the web site wbhof.com of the hall.

But to do things differently, the Guru will mention each of the 12 and prospects for those who might emerge as one of the six inductees.

Sheryl Swoopes – A recent inductee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in September, having been a super scoring star at Texas Tech, in the Olympics and part of the four-time WNBA champion Houston Comets, Swoopes is already being called the headliner, in part because many of today’s generation does not have ties to all the names.

To answer what you’re thinking: The Guru is aware of 11 of 12 and has met or dealt with all of them.

Joan Bonvicini – Coached Long Beach State and Arizona to high profile standings and has over 700 career victories. At the moment among the first 19 coaches on the list in terms of appearances in the AP Poll, Rene Portland (Penn State) at 10th and Bonvicini at 19th are the only two not already in the women’s hall. So consider chances strong.

Sally Bell – Having had a 33-year career in the profession, the Guru can tell you in terms of officials who worked many big games and can be known immediately in conversations just by hearing Sally. She also would be considered a strong candidate.

By the way, it is the WBHOF board of directors who call the shots on the 12 finalists and the ultimate inductees.

Rick Insell – A coach now at Middle Tennessee and who also coached the famed Shelbyville Central High power house, he would be a familiar name to the board and being operational in the Volunteer State means he would draw enough of an entourage buying up tickets for induction weekend.

If all four of these make it that means two out of the rest of the group.

So let’s do a cluster:

Evelyn Blalock, a well-known junior college coach who died in 2014, Rose Marie Battaglia, won over 700 games, a junior college coaching hall of famer, but well known for her Paramus Catholic High powerhouse in North Jersey.

Usually someone in this categorical mix makes it but unless the board decides Insell serves as well as this category because of Shelbyville, the Guru nods to Battaglia because two of her prized Paramus stars were the Donovan sisters – Anne and Mary. Rose also could be seen at many Penn State games in her time.

Christine Grant, under contributor, a founder of AIAW, chief women’s administrator at Iowa, a major meeting/ballroom is named for her at NCAA headquarters by the way, Louise O’Neal, veteran, coached Southern Conn., (not in the bio but was once the SWA at Dartmouth early in the NCAA women’s era, Nora Lynn Finch, once Kay Yow’s top assistant, but as an administrator, first chair of the NCAA committee. Currently, the top women’s exective in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Veteran, a category, means people from pre-Title IX days.

The Guru believes one of these three will make it – likely Grant because she was the power in her day and part of the Midwest philosophy that used to drive a young coach at a Catholic university in suburban Philadelphia … Shocked everyone though, when she plucked Vivian Stringer out of Cheyney to coach the Hawkeyes into a national power. As for O’Neal, she was Connecticut in that state before UConn and if the poll existed well before the Guru introduced it, her program would have gaudy numbers. O’Neal was also a person with an open mind who helped the Guru get the AIAW out of the 16-team finals circus into a Final Four format.

You want more: The Guru remembers like yesterday when the battle to survive the coming of the NCAA was on and the vote was taken in Miami to start championships, Grant stood up after the vote when reps were allowed to speak and Grant said forcefuly into the mike, “I hope you remember what you did today.” The little speech caused the Guru to quip, “It didn’t long for Grant to burn the bridge but Lopiano was smart enough to stop at the tollbooth.”

If the Guru had to vote, yes he thinks all had merit, he’d go for Finch, for one, she understood the importance of media and media partnership and selling the sport big time when people still weren’t paying much attention. It depends how many oldtimers versus the modernists go between Finch and Grant.

So who’s left for the last spot – all players:

Yelena Baranova – Russian who played on the NY Liberty in the early days of the league;

Crystal Robinson, another early Liberty player not mentioned in the bio,  also a star on the ABL’s Colorado Xplosion: Here’s a snippet from the Blaze signing Robinson to stay in NY: In my mind Crystal is one of the best two-way players in the WNBA -- it was one of my top priorities to ensure she remains in a Liberty uniform,” said Blazejowski. “And, while Crystal may be best known for her offensive prowess, she is one of our strongest defensive players, there’s no question she brings value to our team on both ends of the court.”

Kara Wolters, one of the stars of the first UConn powerhouse --- actually the third, not already inducted as are Rebecca Lobo and Jen Rizzotti. If one of these three make it, something has to give from the other category blocks – knowing the board Bonvicini could lose out this time around.

For now, the Guru would vote Robinson first out of the three when you take the WNBA career under consideration, but, Wolters means Geno comes to Knoxville. Pre-Candace Parker flap what Guru observed when Rizzotti went in is that with Pat no longer the public force because of the illness, in the land of movers and shakers – not those who live on internet social media debates – you want to make money at an event and draw a crowd – even here Geno’s the one.

As for who didn’t make it – the Guru was aware of campaigns for former Queens coach Lucille Kyvallos, who has been way overlooked for her contributions out of New York City, in fact in the arrival days, she was a major factor in helping the Guru quickly become the Guru, she also coached at West Chester.

The other that started several years ago was Brian Agler, who the Guru thought might have a great shot at least getting this far with the recent Los Angeles Sparks WNBA title to go with one wth the Seattle Storm, and the two ABL crowns with the Columbus Quest.

  And that’s the report.


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