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, June 06, 2018

WNBA Commentary: The 2018 State of the League Has Sparkled At Its Outset




With radiant rookies lighting up scoreboards, a franchise glittering in Las Vegas and terrific starts by the Seattle Storm, Los Angeles Sparks and Connecticut Sun, the WNBA is off to a sparkling start.


Three weeks into the season, there’s been plenty of exciting action, lots of scoring, strong storylines and headliners doing special things like Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who became the first player in league history to score 8,000 points in a win over the New York Liberty Tuesday. 


The ageless Sue Bird is second in the league in assists per game. Tina Charles is leading the WNBA in scoring. 


Minnesota’s Maya Moore probably has the signature moment of the season. 

Or more importantly her biggest fan, Liliana, who posed in front of Maya Moore’s new billboard by the Target Center, supplied that brilliant memory. That powerful photo of little Liliana stretching her arms out beneath Moore’s Wings billboard picture went viral. 


The photo captured the beauty and endless possibilities of what can happen when players are properly marketed. 


Of course, the early talk of the season have been the rookie class, which could end up being the one of the best in the history of the league. They have raised the bar of excellence with their elegant performances.


It’s still early, but they have been impressive led by No. 1 overall pick of the Las Vegas Aces, A’ja Wilson, who has posted double figures in every game this season. She leads rookies in scoring (21.0 ppg., sixth in the league) and rebounding (7.7, eighth).


Last weekend New York’s Kia Nurse operated and carved up the Indiana Fever like a surgeon by scoring 34 points. Her 34-point production was the most by a New York rookie and most by a reserve in franchise history. 

Moreover, her total was the most by a rookie since Seattle’s Breanna Stewart dropped 38 against Atlanta on June 29, 2016. 


The former UConn guard also added nine rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes off the bench. Nurse attempted half of New York’s free throws against the Fever and finished 15-for-16 from the stripe.


“It’s exciting and you have a lot of rookies who are major contributors to their teams,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “You look around the league and almost all of the first round picks are contributing in significant ways.”


That includes Washington’s dynamic duo of Myisha Allen-Hines and Ariel Atkins. They fueled a huge home win over the Minnesota Lynx earlier this season. 

Atkins started on Sunday against Connecticut. She has scored in double figures in five straight games and that included a career best 21 point effort in a road win at Phoenix.


Indiana’s Kelsey Mitchell has been a bucket stuffer since the opening game.

 She has scored 20 or more points in three of the first six games of her WNBA career after tallying 26 in an overtime loss to the Liberty last Saturday. 

Mitchell reached 100 points on the season to become the sixth player in WNBA history to have reached the 100-point mark in fewer games (Ruthie Bolton, 1997; Nikki McCray, 1998; Tamika Catchings, 2002; Seimone Augustus, 2006; Cappie Pondexter, 2006).


That’s some impressive company. 


Chicago’s Diamond DeShields scored a career best 25 points in a tough loss to Las Vegas on Sunday. 

Jordin Canada made her first career start against Dallas in a tough 94-90 loss last weekend and scored nine points. She also had nine assists and five steals – both of which were career highs.

 Gabby Williams has been solid for Chicago. 


Good luck with that rookie of the year voting.


Another major season highlight was the Aces’ home opener. It was an impressive show for sure. Players from Seattle and Washington had nothing but great things to say about the WNBA in Las Vegas. It’s definitely been special with a pregame show second to none. 


“It was absolutely amazing I don’t think I will ever experience it again this way because this is the first game in our home town,” Nia Coffey said after the Aces lost to Seattle in their home opener. “This isn’t an away game, it’s our home crowd and it’s such a beautiful thing. They want us to do well and they want to support us. It makes us work harder and helps us play better.”


Throughout the city, even in the midst of the Vegas Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, Aces logos were everywhere: billboards, inside casinos, and the floor leading to the Mandalay Bay Arena, which was awesome. 


“The atmosphere is amazing,” Seattle guard Jewell Loyd said. “Anything in Vegas is always exciting - no matter what it is…you can look at the stands and it was packed. It was awesome to see people are coming to the games and supporting. It makes us feel a lot better and it’s an all-around good atmosphere.”


Added Washington’s Monique Currie: “It's great being in Vegas. I love Vegas, it's cool to be here. I think Mandalay Bay has done a great job marketing the team and bringing the team here. Everybody has been really kind and I think the team will be successful here.”


New York moved most of its home games to Westchester County’s much smaller venue than the iconic Madison Square Garden. The Liberty are playing two games at MSG. One of them was on Tuesday against Phoenix.


“I don’t know how New York feels about playing here, but it’s a good atmosphere,” Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles said after the Lynx rallied for a win over the Liberty. “It feels like the fans are right on top of you. They made a lot of noise, they had a full crowd tonight for the opener. I feel it’s a great place to start. As women we are making progress in the world, and if we have to take a step back to go forward; sometimes that’s what it takes.”


Not to be lost has been the brilliant early season efforts of the Dallas duo of Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who are averaging a combined 43 points per game. Diggins-Smith is fourth in the league in scoring (21.6 ppg.) and Cambage is seventh (20.0). 


Stewart (22.3 ppg.) and Loyd (21.6 ppg.) have powered the Storm by being the highest scoring teammate tandem in the WNBA. The entire nation will get a chance to see them when they visit the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 10:30 p.m.


The balanced Connecticut Sun won its first five games before falling at Atlanta on Tuesday night. So between the Sun, Storm, Sparks, rookies, veterans, new arenas, locations and more, the WNBA is in an excellent place. 


The Mystics new arena will be open for business next year. The Verizon All-Star has an exciting new format that was also announced Tuesday.


Taurasi reaching a major milestone in the world’s most famous arena was perfect.


“After playing with so many players, and so many coaches,” Taurasi said. “I am happy I got to do it here with a Phoenix jersey on. I think that probably means more than all the points and all the championships I have. They took a chance on me in 2004 and they’ve had my back through a whole lot of stuff. 


“To do it here [the Garden] is pretty special. They have the purest fans. They come to the games and support their Liberty. I’ve been coming here for 14 years now and its nothing but love.”


Once she hangs up the high-tops for good, Taurasi can take solace in the fact that the WNBA will be in exceptional hands. 

No Invite, No Problem

The Minnesota Lynx may have been snubbed from the traditional White House invites given to national champions, as to date also has occurred to the NCAA women’s champions from Notre Dame, but the Lynx are still set to celebrate their 2017 WNBA crown on their current visit to the nation’s capital where they will make a second season call to the Mystics Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. 

That time start is due to allowing local fans to enjoy a watch party that evening in the same venue as the Monumental franchise sister Caps try to wrap up their first NHL title when they play at Las Vegas with a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup finals.

The Lynx, meanwhile, on Wednesday will note winning their fourth WNBA Crown through community service by dropping by Payne Elementary to host a Samaritan’s Feet Shoes of Hope Distribution. 

Samaritan’s Feet is a nonprofit organization that serves and inspires hope in children by providing shoes as the foundation to a healthy life, resulting in the advancement of education and economic opportunities, according to a release from Minnesota announcing the event.

Payne Elementary is a Title 1 school, where 30% of the students are homeless and 100% fall under “low income” status, according to the release.

Nike, Jordan Brand and DTLR Villa will donate new socks and shoes for all 340 students. The distribution of the shoes will also include washing the students’ feet.

The day will conclude with a ceremony in which the team will celebrate their accomplishments on and off the court in 2017.