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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Guru's Women's Final Four Notebook: Staley and VanDerveer Back to Game Foes

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

DALLAS – Dawn Staley, the Philadelphia basketball icon and now coach of South Carolina, and Tara VanDerveer, the longtime Stanford coach, has had their careers weave together through the years in varying degrees.

Staley played for VanDerveer on the famed 1996 USA squad that barnstormed the country for a year concluding with the Olympic gold medal from the Atlanta Games.

In one of Friday night’s semifinals, they get to be on opposite sides again, as they were in 1992, Staley’ senior year at Virginia, when VanDerveer’s Cardinal dispatched the Cavaliers and Staley in a national semifinal that left Staley forever without a collegiate national championship after three straight times at this level of the tournament.

“I still remember that,” Staley said during Thursday's press conference sessions. “I think that as many wins as I have been part of, it’s the losses that really sting. ’90, ’91, and ’92 all were opportunities for us to win a national championship.

“But the last one was probably the hardest one.

“I often look back on it and wished I had approached it a little differently because I do think I could have made Angela Taylor foul me. Especially, they put her in the game to guard me in that last play. I just popped out – I should have popped out and stopped. I could have made her foul me in that instant.”

Staley, recently named the USA Olympic coach after a long career in USA basketball, has connections to the other coaches in the Women’s Final Four.

Stanford’s VanDerveer she played against besides being coached on the ’96 USA squad. Staley was an assistant on the USA squad to Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma last summer and coached against him during the season in a non-conference loss, and also against Mississippi State’s Vic Schaefer in the Southeastern Conference wars.

South Carolina got this far two years ago and now is back to try again.

“What we learned two years ago is probably what we learned throughout our entire coaching career and not just in basketball,” said Staley, whose Gamecocks lost close to Notre Dame.

“The margin of error is so small, so small. I mean, if Aleighsa Welch makes a shot on one entity, we’re up three and the ball game is over.”

Meanwhile, VanDerveer talked about her relationship over the years with Staley.

“I think I’ve always had a good relationship with Dawn. But you know, sometimes as a player, you’re going to tell ‘em things they don’t want to hear,” VanDerveer said. “So, I mean, Dawn could probably tell you a couple of stories of things that maybe she didn’t want to hear from me.

“I have always respected Dawn’s competitiveness, her work ethic, her absolute passion for the game of basketball. If she tells you she beat me in chess, she’s a liar,” VanDerveer smiled. “We just compete. I love Dawn. I’m so proud of her.

“I think she’s just a great role model for the young women coming up. I mean, she carried our country’s flag. She’s everything you could look for in a coach and a friend. It’s just a great story.”

VanDerveer said there is one thing she noted in texting congratulations after South Carolina advanced over Florida State to here.

“I can’t cheer for you on Friday night.”

Getting the Hall of Fame Call

On Saturday morning, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame will announce its next class for 2017, to be inducted in Springfield, Mass. There are no plans to do any announcing here which might have been the case if Baylor (with finalist Kim Mulkey) or Notre Dame (Muffet McGraw) had not lost last weekend thereby putting the two coaches into Friday night’s games.

Former UConn and Olympic star, Rebecca Lobo is here doing her ESPN work and the announcement is in Phoenix at the men’s Final Four.

Mulkey is in Baton Rouge or wherever her son in playing for Baton Rouge, so likely was not notified. McGraw is supposed to be here at the coach’s convention.

Stay tuned. The other women’s nominee is the Wayland Baptist team that won 131 straight games in the 1950s.