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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Liberty's Laimbeer Stews Over His New Yorkers' Play in WNBA Opening Win Over San Antonio

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – Well, as the summer moves along each of the 12 WNBA franchises will offer several matinee events targeted to the younger set as has been the norm for most of the history of the women’s pro basketball league, that began its 21st season Saturday in three different cities.

Apparently, though, veteran New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer has taken the aforementioned concept and reversed it with a new idea: Unhappy Camper Day.

Though most of the Madison Square Garden crowd of 8,207 left the fabled arena pleased that their home team grabbed a 73-64 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars, that statistical result, not the score, was one of the few positive things about the triumph Laimbeer noted following an arrival that took a bit longer to occur than his normal postgame drill following a victory.

Laimbeer was in vintage form dating back to his days with the former Detroit Shock, which later became the Tulsa Shock, and now the Dallas Wings, when the Motor City bunch rang up three WNBA titles.

“Sorry, I’m an unhappy person and I let them know about it,” said Laimbeer, one of the stars of the NBA championship Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” era, opening his remarks.

“I hope this was the worst game we’ve played all year long. It was awful. We didn’t execute the things we were suppose to, we didn’t box out, we gave up way too many offensive rebounds, we missed free throws (20-27) all over the place.

“And our second unit had a chance to extend the game and didn’t do it. I had to put Tina Charles back in for doing that, she sat so long, this is the year I want to play her a lot less. Instead of taking care of business, it became one-on-one basketball, we didn’t execute anything, and we had missed assignments all over, and that’s bad.

“Our starters didn’t play great, but however, we got a lead, and we should extend that lead with our bench, and collectively, top to bottom it’s the worst effort we could have put forth tonight. And I told them so in strong language.”

Off of finishing with the best record in the East and third best overall, New York is viewed as a title threat with a younger roster with much talent. But to Laimbeer’s point, titles aren’t won based on what teams say about themselves or others say about them in training camp.

“They want to be all-talk, they can be all-talk, they won’t go anywhere,” Laimbeer said, saying that a lack of complete chemistry for now until the new additions get acclimated, is not an excuse. “They have to execute every minute they’re on the floor, do their assignments they were trained to do, do it on time, and collectively as a group.

“If they don’t, then they’re going to win nothing. Fortunately, San Antonio was short-handed. If they had their full squad, we probably would have lost the game. We can’t play like that and compete for a championship. And I told them so.

“There’s no rust. We have to learn what it really takes. We don’t have it. We’re all talk right now. Whether their actions will come around for us to be an elite team, and a consistent elite team, well then that’s what we’re going to find out.

“They have it within them. They have it in their locker room to be able to do it. It’s a matter of them willing to pay the price. They have to do the little things. Kiah Stokes had a terrible night. Awful. She’s in terrible shape. She can’t get the ball she got last year. I told her that in front of everybody too.

And as of last year, when the WNBA changed the playoff system so that the best eight teams without regard to division affiliation qualify, the onus now is that every game on the schedule is equally important.

New York was only third best overall last year despite being best in the East and the Liberty off a first-round bye, fell at home in a one-and-done deal to the Phoenix Mercury in the second round.

Meanwhile, following Saturday’s game, the WNBA schedule makers certainly didn’t make May an easy opening month for the Liberty, who on Thursday night host the runnerup Minnesota Lynx, winners of three titles in the last six years and almost a fourth in that period when they fell at home in the last second to the Los Angeles Sparks in the decisive Game 5 last October.

Then its on to the Mercury and Seattle Storm before returning home here on May 30 to host the Sparks.

“I’m not going to sugar coat anything this year,” Laimbeer said. “We’re going to talk about what reality is and if you want to compete for a championship, this is what you have to do. You have to do your business individually and collectively and you have to get it done. That’s how we’re going to do business. We play like this against Minnesota, we drop by 30. Facts.”

On the other side, former Liberty star Vickie Johnson had her official WNBA coaching debut ruined in the wake of the loss by San Antonio, which had to sit overall No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum (right ankle sprain), who set NCAA scoring records with Washington. Former Uconn star and second-year pro Moriah Jefferson was also sidelined with right knee soreness.

Former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride is still overseas.

Plum is not likely to play Sunday, also, when San Antonio travels a short distance South from here to help the Washington Mystics launch their season Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. In the Verizon Center, where former Delaware star and league sensation Elena Delle Donne will make her local debut following a mega trade with the Chicago Sky, her former team, and New York.

The deal landed former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn, a native New Yorker and former Rutgers star, back with the Liberty and a second tour of duty, though she says while being thrilled to be back here, her previous Liberty stint cannot be used for comparison with the current one.

“Different players. Different chemistry,” said Vaughn, who was one of the players praised by Laimbeer, who bemoaned she did not see the ball more in Saturday’s game.

Vaughn had seven points off the bench, shooting 3-for-5 from the field. Charles had a team-high 12 points for New York, while Shavonte Zeallous and Brittany Boyd each scored 10 points.

Stokes, a former Uconn star, had just two points, while Sugar Rodgers scored seven among the starters, who got 11 points off the bench from Epiphanny Prince, another former Rutgers star. Cierra Burdick, a former Tennessee stars who is another Liberty newcomer, scored 10 points.

On the San Antonio side, former Duke star and league veteran Monique Currie scored 23 points, Isabelle Harrison scored 10, both off the bench, while Alex Montgomery, a starter and former Liberty star, grabbed 11 rebounds.

Rookie Nia Coffey, a first-round pick out of Northwestern, played 16 minutes, 21 seconds, and had three points and five rebounds.