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 28, 2016

WNBA Notebook: Tamika Catchings Providing Signature Farewell Visits on Her Legacy Tour

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

Tamika Catchings is embracing her final season in the WNBA by doing something special.

 While she has thrilled masses and treated everybody to a treasure trove of memories with her gifted game during a spectacular 16-year career, Catchings is delivering her biggest assist. 

The Indiana Fever forward is leaving something bigger than the game behind in her farewell season thanks to her Legacy Tour. 

Catchings and her Catch The Stars Foundation will conduct a postgame fundraising party in each of the 11 WNBA cities she visits and one in her home team city during the 2016 season. She will interact and sign autographs with fans while conducting an auction of various high-end Catchings items including the game-specific shoes she wore in the game that night. 

With intentions of establishing a legacy of giving, and at the same time helping extend her Foundation into each of those cities for future events, the Catch The Stars Foundation (CTSF) will issue a $2,000 grant to a local community partner that promotes fitness, literacy and mentoring, similar to the Catch The Stars mission for a total of $24,000 across 12 WNBA cities. 

"l'm really excited about this season," Catchings said last week during a conference call with reporters.

 "With it being my last season, one thing we talked about was that I don't want to be honored, per say, before the games or after the games, so, trying to figure out a better way for teams that want to honor me to do things.

"So, we came up with the idea of doing a legacy tour. We're doing one post game party in each city and really benefiting my Catch the Stars Foundation. With that, I didn't want to go into a city and take all the proceeds. Leaving a legacy, one thing I wanted to do was be very active in the communities."

Catchings will conduct seven bi-weekly conference calls throughout the 2016 season, intended to help promote her Legacy Tour, her final WNBA season and pre-Olympic coverage. This is a terrific idea by team public relations director Kevin Messenger and the rest of the Indiana Fever staff.

Following Friday's 74-71 road loss to Minnesota in a WNBA Finals rematch, Catchings and the Fever (2-2 overall) will play at red-hot Atlanta, off to a rip-roaring 4-1 start, Sunday afternoon at Phillips Arena.

 Fans can watch the game on NBA-TV starting at 3 p.m. with the terrific triumvirate of Bob Rathbun, LaChina Robinson and Angel Gray on the call for FoxSports Southeast.

With her University of Tennessee roots, this trip to Atlanta is bittersweet for Catchings as this will be the final time she'll play in Atlanta as a professional in a regular season game. 

It could also be memorable for the crowd as Catchings is on the verge of another in a litany of impressive milestones. In the loss to the Lynx, Catchings scored nine points to pull within 11 points of joining Tina Thompson as the only players in WNBA history with 7,000 career points.

"That is going to be emotional I'm sure with a lot of people that have been by my side from my college career, literally, all the way to where we are today," Catchings said. "I'm hoping that this isn't the last time we'll get to go to Atlanta.

"We'll get to go to the playoffs and have an opportunity. Yeah, we're going to have a lot of Knoxville fans in the house. A lot of people are coming to Atlanta."

Catchings has been blessed to compete at a high level throughout her entire career. While she's one of the bridges from the league's humble beginnings to solid present and bright future, She has never cheated the game. She even did her due diligence and reached out to Lisa Leslie to pick her brain about what to expect during retirement.

"It's funny because Lisa Leslie and I went to the rookie orientation, and leaving the orientation our flights got delayed in Connecticut so we ended up both getting stuck in Charlotte," Catchings said. 

"So, both of us ended up getting hotel room in Charlotte together and we watched Kobe's last NBA game. 

"And at one moment I stopped and I looked over and I was like, 'This is crazy.'

 "She said, 'What are you talking about?'

 "And I said, 'We're watching Kobe retire, I'm sitting with one of the greatest players in our game, ever, you, and I'm about to retire.' So we talked a little about what it meant to her to play in the WNBA and how that last season was for her. We talked to a couple of other players both former WNBA and NBA former players. 

"Everybody just said enjoy the moment. 'You've worked really hard, you've been around for a long time and just to be able to leave the game hopefully, knock on wood, injury free and be able to leave the game the way you want to leave it: Not to get cut or something happen, it's really been a blessing for me to have a great circle of people that I can talk to about it and really enjoy the moment."

Through 24 days in March, as part of the Legacy Tour announcement, fans participated in the Tamika Catchings Legacy Tour Shoe Design Contest via TamikaCatchings.com and NikeID. Twelve top designs have been chosen for Catchings to wear and auction during her tour. Winners receive an autographed copy of Catchings' recently released, bestselling autobiography, "Catch A Star," and a Tamika Catchings Legacy Tour t-shirt.

"I picked out my favorite 12, and some of them I picked strictly because of the design and the meaning behind the shoe," Catchings said. "So, 24 hours before the game we'll release the picture of the shoe that I'll be wearing and I'll wear them in shoot around and for the game that night. It's a way of getting the fans more engaged and allowing them that opportunity.

"Each of our winners will get a goody bag with the legacy tour shirt and some other goodies that we have. It was kind of just a fun idea we came up with."

Cherish this season and savor each Catchings performance. In the two plus years, I've been blessed to write about the wonderful WNBA and cover Catchings, she has never disappointed on or off the court. 

She always displays a cheerful nature when being interviewed or interacting with fans. On the court, I was lucky to witness and chronicle in 2014, two of her best career performances. 

A spectacular 29-point performance against the Liberty in her return to Madison Square Garden along with her amazing 26-point and 11-rebound effort in a classic playoff win over the Mystics in the Verizon Center. 

What will always stand out for me is spending 20 minutes speaking with and laughing with Catchings in the Fever locker room at Madison Sqaure Garden prior to her game. She didn't rush through answers or appear annoyed at my questions. 

It's not surprising that Catchings respectfully requested that teams not do any pregame tributes for her on the road like the ones conducted for Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and most recently, Kobe Bryant.

"Having been around (former Fever coach) Lin (Dunn), who stepped down from the Fever a few years ago, I just remember everything we went to, we would get warmed up and they would have a ten to 15 minute presentation to honor her and everything that she's done," Catchings said. “

"I really appreciate that people would want to do that, but a player perspective is I just want to play the game. I just want to play and I don't want it to be solely focused on me. I want it to be focused on the WNBA - we're celebrating our 20th year - and all the excitement around that.

"I really wanted to do something that would be more impactful and be able to not focus on what we do on the court, but what we do in the community."

Tamika Catchings 2016 Legacy Tour Schedule 

Sunday, May 29 at Atlanta (3:00 p.m.)

Friday, June 3 at New York (7:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 14 at Minnesota (7:00 p.m.)

Friday, June 17 at San Antonio (7:00 p.m.)

Saturday, June 25 at Dallas (7:30 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 29 at Chicago (12:30 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 6 at Los Angeles (7:30 p.m.)

Friday, July 8 at Phoenix (7:00 p.m.)

Sunday, July 10 at Seattle (4:00 p.m.)

Saturday, August 27 at Indiana (7:00 p.m.)

Sunday, September 11 at Washington (4:00 p.m.)

Tuesday, September 13 at Connecticut (7:00 p.m.)


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WNBA Notebook: Parker and Delle Donne Bonded by More Than Just Basketball

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 There’s no truth to the rumor that WNBA superstars Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky helped James Naismith nail the peach bucket to the wall in 1892. 

 It just seems that way as Parker and Delle Donne have been a household names in women’s basketball since they essentially were in middle school. 

The two transcendent talents grew up knowing that playing in the WNBA was a reality. They watched it on television and attended many games.

 Parker and Delle Donne share many bonds from eating Taco Bell together during Delle Donne’s University of Tennessee recruiting visit to winning league MVP and Rookie of the Year honors to being the faces of the league.

 They will share the court for their respective teams, the Sparks and Sky, Tuesday night in a nationally televised showcase from Allstate Arena on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

 The undefeated Sparks (3-0) are off to their best start since 2003 after edging the New York Liberty in overtime last Saturday. Meanwhile, the Sky are 1-2 after losing Sunday in Atlanta. 

 Understandably, the focus will be on the matchup between Parker and Delle Donne, a pair of versatile players that perform with an elegant grace who are tough to guard and fun to watch. They can score from anywhere on the court. 

They have been rock stars in women's basketball at every level.

 “This isn’t a matchup between me and Candace,” said Delle Donne during a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon. “It’s a matchup between the Sky and Sparks. 

"It should be a really fun game for us. The Sparks are playing some incredible basketball right now. They've got great depth, they've got really bright players who are making great reads, so defensively they pose a lot of problems.”

 Parker, a gold medal winner in 2008 and 2012, was shockingly omitted from the Team USA roster that will compete in the Olympics in Rio, while Delle Donne will be representing her country for the first time.

 It’s still possible that Parker could be added as a late injury replacement for somebody. During the conference call, Parker wasn’t asked at all about the perceived Olympic snub.

 She and Delle Donne are part of the bridge to the WNBA’s glorious past and positive future. 

Parker entered the league learning from Lisa Leslie.

 Meanwhile, Delle Donne came into the WNBA after a circuitous but prosperous journey from the University of Connecticut to the University of Delaware in which she took a one-year hiatus before leading the Blue Hen program to unprecedented heights.

 “Candace was one of my biggest role models,” Delle Donne said. “Candace has truly inspired me. She took me under her wing on my college visit (to Tennessee).

"We went to Taco Bell. She gave me advice to work on my versatility. That was a special moment for me and a huge opportunity for me. Versatility has been in the league for several years now, starting with Candace.”

 Parker, who recently turned 30,  appeared on magazine covers as a teenager and won a national championship at Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summit.

 Entering her ninth season with the Sparks, Parker is excited and focused on winning a championship. 

 “Being at training camp since day one, we set the tone on what the expectations were,” Parker said. “I was really excited and anxious to get the season going.

"Many of our players got in early and put their touch on things. Right now, we’re winning and spirits are going to be high. Our culture, chemistry and comradie is the best I’ve been a part of.” 

 Parker opened the season with a 34-point performance in a 30-point win against Seattle. So far, her scoring touch hasn’t traveled east in games against Washington and New York. 

It hasn’t mattered as the Sparks have gotten excellent support from a committee of contributors. 

Parker is one of three L.A. players averaging double figures with a team-leading 18.7 point per game average. 

 Though she’s a few years older than Delle Donne, Parker appreciates the Delaware native’s gifted game. 

Delle Donne is averaging 22.0 points per game after dropping 28 against Minnesota and 16 against Atlanta.

 “Her size and her versatility, and her ability to create shots is something that is second to none,” Parker said during the conference call. “She's tough to guard for a guard, because obviously she can post you up and shoot over you. She can move and use her quickness against bigger players. She’s also a great scorer and has been that way for her size.”

 Another similarity with both players is they both consider Chicago home. Parker grew up in Naperville (Ill.) while Delle Donne is beginning her fourth year with the Sky after growing up in her native Wilmington where she was the national high school player of the year competing for Ursuline Academy.

 “I love Chicago,” Delle Donne said. “It has quickly became a second home for me. The fans have been so welcoming. I love everything about this city especially since I grew up as a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls.”

 Parker has enjoyed the extra time in Chicago this week.

 “I’ve had a chance to see my family and friends,” Parker said. “It’s always special to come home and eat familiar food. It means a lot to come back to Chicago and see everybody who has grown with you.”

 Both players understand how special it is to be part of the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season. 

They have been blessed to watch players like Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, Ruthie Bolton, Dawn Staley, Teresa Weatherspoon, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson lay the foundation of excellence for the WNBA. 

Now, Parker and Delle Donne are excited to be part of the players that help deepen the footsteps of the league and continue opening doors for the next generation of girls.

 “It’s amazing to be part of the 20th anniversary,” Delle Donne said. “There are lots of great things happening and a lot more media interest. It’s been a great season, visibility-wise. It could be a great year that we capitalize on. There’s been incredible women who inspired us that helped make this league strong. Our role is to continue to grow (the league) for the kids who are looking up to us.”

More Phone Call Tidbits

Though Parker came into the league giving up a final year of college eligibility -- she missed her freshman season due to injury -- she was not seriously considering even coming a year earlier when rumors were suggesting the possibility.

Asked who the faces of her Mount Rushmore of her sport would be, Parker responded, "You're putting me on the spot. Legends in the sense who I grew up watching. Cooper, Leslie, Thompson, Swoopes.

 Asked about Uconn graduate Breanna Stewart, who is getting the arrival acclaim that she and Delle Donne received from draft night on, Parker noted: "Breanna is a great player and had a great career in college. 

"She’s campable of domoinating and changing the way the game is played. It happens in waves in the NBA. That’s following to step away and are able to shoot the ball."

As for her coach Brian Agler, who came to Los Angeles last year from a long stint in Seattle that included a WNBA title, Parker said, "I have a great relationship with Brian and very detailed and I like to operate that.

 "He’s a basketball mind and we talk all the time. He doesn’t sugarcoat things and hes very straightforward and what’s expected. My role can change from game to game and I can be a scorer but I need to be more of a facilitator. it depends what the team is going to do from game-to-game."

 

 

 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Guru's Addendum and Context to ESPN Magazine's Story on Founding and Growing the WNBA

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

In reading Mechelle Voepel's very fine piece with voices on the creation and development on the WNBA the Guru's memory was jogged to some of the discussions people had with him prior to rolling out the league.

Also clues exist from comments in the narrative to recent discussions so here is a combo of Guru comments, some recollections, and further interpretations.

We begin right from the top with this comment in the piece from Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner. To avoid confusion in the thread, Guru will be in front of items that are his remarks, etc.

Silver: "We underestimated how much marketing the WNBA would require. Historically, sports leagues are reliant on the media, and we also underestimated the media's willingness to cover us. We were also moving into a changed world where being on broadcast television didn't bring the same premium it once had."

Guru: That, dear friends is what he was talking about last fall at the symposium in New York when he made the remark about the league would be further along in success by now causing a rabid reaction devoid of homework.

Add to that was the collapse of newspapers who were on board at the outset but quickly jettisoned space and staff when they struck the financial iceberg.

Also, as the hubub to Silver's symposium answer to a question arose, a person that had experience at high levels on the NBA/WNBA co-op said of the remark, These guys are very calculating. Nothing gets said without a previous thought put into it.

Stern: " I do remember feeling really good about it, but I never could understand the disconnect and the absence of media coverage. So that became a source of intense focus for us."

Guru: Right now if you want proof of how out of conscience the WNBA is right now even with all the 20th anniversary opening weekend coverage, count the number of stories at the moment in the overall reaction to the Philadelphia 76ers becoming the first NBA team with a jersey advertising deal and no mention is made that WNBA teams have been going that way in growing style for several seasons.

Meanwhile, adding to Stern's comment just above here, with the desire to keep pumping all good things about the league and an intense effort to get everyone under the same universe, as in eliminate the ABL, anyone using phrases such as inferior talent comparing the two leagues, etc., usually very quickly a call came from New York from someone jumping on the reporting.

It was a source of amusement to those of us covering both leagues and at games when we knew the other had likely hit a nerve, we usually greeted each other on press row with "Did you get your call on that."

Also, in the early years with some exceptions, dealing with team level PR was an adventure. When requesting credentials or after some other manner you never got return calls to know things were set.

The WNBA did give national credentials to appropriate places that was helpful when being in the dark arriving at arenas though many times things were in place a surprise obviously at the moment.

The first weekend of the league, courtesy of then free spending of Sports Illustrated, Steve Lopez, a former Inquirer colleague now a prize winner with the L.A. Times but who had first gone to Time-Life, took the Guru for his perceived knowledge on a West Coast junket to the LA opener, then, off to Utah after the afternoon game where in Salt Lake a limo took us to the arena to parachute in a halftime, get what was needed then back to the airport to fly on to Phoenix.

The next day we went to the Mercury game where Steve had not heard back on his credential requests. At the parking entrance a guard had the list and it went like this.

Steve Lopez? Nothing here.

Sports Illustrated? Nope.

Mel Greenberg? Oh yeah, fellas, come right in.

Rick Welts, NBA executive, 1982-99:  "The last 20 years have shown we did some really smart things. But we guessed wrong on at least as many things as we guessed right. We thought that the best stewards of our WNBA teams would be the NBA teams. ... That didn't always prove to be the case. We were wrong on the audience, though people still debate the audience."

Guru: Adding to those early expections that by now in 2016 almost every NBA would have a sister team. When the ABL folded, the Connecticut crowd pleaded for a franchise and were told repeatedly Our teams as in NBA, our arenas. 

But then NBA owners stopped being all-in. And so the Mohegan group outbid the Hartford group for a jettisoned franchise and just like that they became the gold standard of the league. The GM, Chris Sienko, btw, had been the GM of the ABL Hartford team.

Two Guru thoughts of the moment: Someone needs to celebrate Carol Blazejowski, the former New York Liberty president who was a huge behind the scenes person on the road to launch. People at college level who didnt know Val Ackerman's NBA status expected Blaze to be the commissioner.

And from reading everything, somebody needs to ramp up appreciations to Rene Brown.

Meanwhile, Ackerman and the Guru go way back to serving on committees pre-WNBA and common ties for different reasons with her alma mater, the University of Virginia.

Had not the USA team derailed in Barcelona, the last Olympic loss, the WNBA might have happened sooner.

David Stern, then longtime NBA commissioner, made a remark in the run-up to the Barcelona Games, highlighted by the USA NBA superstar Dream Team, that something needed to be done so women didnt have to go overseas to stay in Olympic shape.

But the loss to the Unified Team sent plans back to the drawing board.

Over the years the Guru and Stern would cross paths at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend.

The Guru could always stick a thermometer into the health of the league by something Stern would interject in the chit-chat like when things looked like trouble loomed and he said, Be nice to them. They need all the health they can get.

But in another year, he suddenly said off-topic of the moment, Hey, the league is doing great. They are starting to make money.

So that's a little sprinkle for now but the Guru will be back with more in the next 24-48 hours.

-- Mel
















Thursday, May 12, 2016

WNBA Begins a Milestone Season

BY ROB KNOX

(@knoxrob1)

 The WNBA has endured plenty of challenges, trials and tribulations during its existence. 

 Still, the league has thrived.

 Some thought the WNBA would be a humorous memory by now. 

Instead, the joke is on those bleacher critics as the league has conquered adversity by delivering the perfect blend of triumph, pulse-pounding drama, memorable moments, and transcendent talent with pleasant personalities along with fan-friendly franchises throughout its first 19 seasons. 

 The biggest victory for the WNBA is it has given women an enduring opportunity to play pro hoops in the United States that didn’t exist in 1996 when Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Sheryl Swoopes famously declared “We Got Next.” 

For a few years, they actually had two with the short-lived American Basketball League playing in the winter until it collapsed under bankruptcy a month into its third season.

But that allowed the influx of superior talent to enter the same tent and allow the WNBA court competition to accelerate.

Additionally, the league, at the time, gave hope to little girls dreaming of the same chance to make that a reality and become the next Dawn Staley, Teresa Edwards, Chamique Holdsclaw, Ruth Riley and Katie Smith. 

 Fans have been able to witness the WNBA game grow bigger, faster and stronger. The quality of play is at a supremely all-time elite level with every player now having grown up from little girls who were able to view the league in their formative years.

 As the WNBA embarks on its landmark 20th season with five games on Saturday, including New York-Washington at the Verizon Center beginning at 7 p.m., the league’s new branding campaign is “Watch Me Work.” This will be a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals won by the Liberty in three tight games.

 The WNBA will deservedly celebrate its arduous journey and look toward a super-bright future. 

 Among some of the television highlights this year include on Saturday, June 7, ESPN debuting a three-person booth with Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck teaming with reporter Holly Rowe as the New York Liberty visit the Los Angeles Sparks – a rematch of the historic first game in WNBA history. 

Lobo played in that inaugural game as a member of the Liberty.

 Throughout the season, ESPN will look back at great moments in WNBA history, including year-by-year flashbacks. 

The history lessons will be great as well as the vintage footage of Leslie dunking, Cynthia Cooper dominating the league’s early years while leading the Houston Comets to four consecutive titles and Teresa Weatherspoon’s incredible halfcourt shot to win a game in the inaugural WNBA Finals and extend the series in Houston to a decisive third game won by the Comets. 

 While they are showing flashbacks, make sure to include footage from the movie “Love And Basketball” that featured members of the Los Angeles Sparks. 

Or show clips from the time that Leslie, Staley and Ruthie Bolton schooled Martin Lawrence and his crew on the iconic sitcom “Martin.”

There’s also plenty to be excited about this upcoming season such as the return of Skylar Diggins from a major knee injury and Diana Taurasi after sitting out last season.

Furthermore comes the professional debut of Breanna Stewart, the consistent brilliance of Candace Parker playing with an extra chip on her shoulder after not being selected for the USA National Team and 10-time All-Star Tamika Catchings, a monument of excellence, playing her final season after an awesome career with the Indiana Fever.  

 And yes, Maya Moore is back and ready to lead the Minnesota Lynx to a fourth title in six years. 

The Lynx has a chance in 2016 to become the second four-time champion in WNBA history. 

Reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne, the former Delaware superstar all-American, is ready to raise her game to another level this season with the Chicago Sky as she preps for her first Olympic experience in Rio.

 The league has been a success despite what attendance numbers, television ratings and other metrics say. 

While those figures help gain revenue and sponsorships, the WNBA can’t be measured on those things alone. 

 More talent has made competition for roster spots fierce. The WNBA started with eight teams, expanded to 16 before shrinking to its current 12-team format for now. 

 The league is poised for more success under first-year president Lisa Borders, who brings more than 25 years of experience in operations, marketing, government relations and public service. 

She has immediately energized the WNBA with her passion and enthusiasm. Borders has already placed her mark of excellence on the league. 

 The WNBA is in great shape and 2016 promises to be fun especially with some of significant changes set to take place this year. 

 A more balanced regular-season schedule means more cross-conference matchups than ever before. 

Rather than seeding each conference one through four, the top eight teams regardless of conference will qualify for the postseason with the conference winners gaining the top two seeds.

 From there, those top two overall seeds will receive a double bye while the first two rounds of the playoffs feature single-elimination games. Additionally, the teams will be re-seeded each round.

 The league unveiled new uniforms during the offseason, and all 12 teams will feature a special “WNBA 20th” commemorative logo on the back neckline of their jerseys. Most noticeable will be the colored home uniforms that have replaced the home whites league-wide.

There's new leadership at the helm in Connecticut with former Los Angeles assistant Curt Miller, who also coached at Indiana and several other collegiate stops, having replaced Hall of Famer Anne Donovan.

Remarkably, that is sole coaching change in the offseason.

However, In San Antonio, longtime veteran Dan Hughes said this will be his final season and former Notre Dame and WNBA star Ruth Riley has been announced as the general manager in waiting and then both will determine Hughes' replacement on the sideline.

The Silver Stars now have an in-state rival with the move of Tulsa, originally the three-time champion Detroit Shock, to Dallas, where they will be known as the Wings.

 So sit back, relax and appreciate the special qualities of the WNBA.

 Mystics Outlook

 While there’s plenty that’s new, Washington will remain largely the same team they were when they walked off the Madison Square Garden court after their playoff loss. 

They may be the same in name only, but early indications from our nations’ capitol are that many of the Mystics are enjoying strong training camps.

When Washington lost the battle in the final moments of that third game with New York, veteran coach Mike Thibault said he was hoping the team was hurting and would channel the loss into a desire to excel further this season.

 Second-year guard and Broomall native Natasha Cloud will run the team until Ivory Latta returns. 

The former North Carolina point guard will be out the first few weeks of the season with a knee injury. Cloud has been solid in two preseason games averaging six points and 2.5 assists. 

 Cloud’s backcourt mate, Tayler Hill, a fourth-year guard from Ohio State, had 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting against the Lynx in a return to her hometown this past Sunday. 

Third-year guard Bria Hartley is ready to return to ankle-breaking form after a frustrating second season in which injuries limited her to 25 games and 12.3 minutes per contest.

 The strength of the Mystics will be their All-Star towers of power in Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman, who averaged 11.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and, 1.4 blocks per game, while ranking behind only Brittney Griner in field goal percentage (56%). 

Latoya Sanders was solid last season and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is poised to continue getting better for the Mystics, who will also benefit from the return of Tiana Hawkins. 

 First-round pick and Philly native Kahleah Copper out of Rutgers has displayed plenty of promise so far. She scored 17 points in 16 minutes off the bench in the Mystics 85-68 win over the Lynx.

 Not on the roster for now is veteran Kara Lawson, who is turning her attention to increased opportunities in television and Thibault said over the winter it is likely Lawson will officially announce her retirement sometime this summer. 

Washington has an opportunity for a fast start as it plays its first three games at home. Dallas (Wednesday) and Los Angeles (Friday) visit the Verizon Center. 

 Fearless Predictions

 As usual, it’s time to make a few predictions for the upcoming season.

 Here’s my playoff teams in order of finish: Phoenix,  Chicago, Minnesota, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Indiana and Dallas.

 MVP: Candace Parker, Sparks

 


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.