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, July 31, 2007

WNBA: A Temple Moment As Sun Rule Sky

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn.- The Temple women's basketball program got 11 seconds of fame late in Tuesday night's WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Connecticut, looking more like the Sun team that has dominated the regular season in recent campaigns, had already wrapped up a 74-56 triumph over the second-year Chicago Sky in a match featuring two teams with playoff aspirations.

Sun coach Mike Thibault went deep into his bench to send rookie Kamesha Hairston, Connecticut's first-round pick, into the fray.

Already on the floor for Chicago was second-year pro Candice Dupree, the sixth overall pick a year ago who is quickly becoming one of the WNBA's high-profile players.

With little chance to catch Connecticut, Dupree was sent to bench soon after Hairston got to defend against her for a play.

But that moment marked the first time two former Temple products of Dawn Staley's program competed against each other.

"We didn't get here until late (Monday night), so we didn't get a chance to go out, but I talked to Kamesha a little before the game," Dupree said. "But it was good to see her get a couple of minutes near the end."

Hairston, who has been used sparingly, was hoping to catch up with former Temple teammate Dupree afterwards Tuesday night, but acknowledged, "I guess she's not in a very good mood right now."

Former University of Connecticut star Asjha Jones limited Dupree to four points on a 1-for-6 effort from the field. The former three-time Atlantic Ten tournament most valuable player entered the contest averaging 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

WNBA veteran Stacey Dales, a teammate of Dupree, praised her development.

"Candice always takes her time," Dales said. "That is something rare and unique in Candice's game. She's got the best hands I've ever played with. I used to say that about (Chamique) Holdsclaw (when the two were with the Washington Mystics), but it's Candice now. She can catch a ball on a dime. She's just smooth. And when she's in a flow, nobody can stop her."

Dupree, a two-time All-Star, was part of WNBA history last summer in another Temple moment when she got to play against Staley, her former coach, who was then finishing up her career with the Houston Comets as a three-time Olympic gold medalist and All-Star point guard .

Although not seeing the playing time of her last collegiate season when Hairston dominated Temple, at least life with the Sun is back on the wnning track she enjoyed with the Owls.

"That West Coast road trip has made the difference," Hairston said. "We were on the road for nine days and bonded. We got some kind of chemistry and we came together are now playing good."

The Sun win Tuesday night kept them in the hunt for second place, now occupied b the Indiana Fever whom Connecticut will host Saturday night.

It also added a little more distance from fourth place where a three-way fight exists among Washington, Chicago, and the New York Liberty for the final playoff spot.

New York lost at home to Los Angeles, 73-63, while Washington also lost, enabling the Sky to hold down its fourth place slot despite the loss to the Sun.

"Right now, it looks like it could be anybody's championship," Hairston said.

Although the Sun and Sky each scored a lowly 10 points in the fourth quarter, the action featured Connecticut dominating the offensive rebounding in the final period, 6-2.

"I guess our best offense was the prevent," Thibault said.

Chicago won here earlier in the season when the Sun seemed more headed for the draft lottery pick competition than the post-season.

"I'm just really impressedwith how the Sun is playing right now," Chicago's Overton said. "From the get go, they played a lot harder than we did. They got to all the loose balls and all the long rebounds. When teams do that to us, we've got problems."

Katie Douglas, a contender for MVP honors in the league, had a game-high 18 points for the Sun, while Jones scored 16 points with nine rebounds, Lindsay Whalen had 10 points, and Evanthia Maltsi, the native of Greece, scored 13 off the bench.

Jia Perkins had 17 points for the Sky, and Dales scored 10 points.

Despite the loss, Dales likes Chicago's postseason prospects.

"We feel like we're a playoff team, although we performed poorly tonight," the former Oklahoma star said. "We have to defend. We have to rebound. If we do those things and play together, team basketball, we can make the playoffs."

Staley Best of Philly

Meanwhile, Staley picked up another honor in her native city when it was announced by Philadelphia Magazine that the Temple coach was named the best (local) college coach for its Best of Philly edition.

Each year the magazine accepts nominatioans for various categories and then its staff makes the picks. Staley has quickly found success as a coach, leading Temple to five NCAA appearances in her seven seasons as coach of the Owls.

She's also gaining accolades in her new role as an international coach after playing for USA Basketball for over a decade. Late last month, Staley led a young USA team to the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

The former University of Virginia star is also an assistant on the Women's Senior National Team, inherently the future Olympic team, to Anne Donovan of the WNBA's Seattle Storm.

Early next month that squad will practice for three days at Temple prior to playing an exhibition game against the Australian National Team in Trenton, N.J., and also another here at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

-- Mel

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Induction Celebration Continues

Guru's link log: Greetings to all of you visiting this site. On Friday (July 27), the Philadelphia Inquirer took its turn to celebrate the Guru's induction last month into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville.

Jonathan will, at some point, post the pictures, audio of the speeches, etc. He's also going on two-weeks vacation. But this link to the Induction site at least provides a text of the speech the Guru made after introductions by Sports Editor Jim Jenks, Inquirer Executive Editor Bill Marimow, and owner-publisher Brian Tierney.

-- Mel (who will be on the scene in D.C. Saturday afternoon if he awakens in time).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

From the photography department

Greetings once again from your former Mystics correspondent-turned-blog builder. I went back to the other blog that we used in Knoxville and posted a few more photos from that trip, as part of the build-up to Friday evening's party at Inquirer global headquarters here in Philadelphia.

Check them out by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

WNBA: Mohegan Like Home to Detroit

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - The defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock exhibited several associations with aspects of the city they call home Tuesday night in a pulsating 92-88 victory over the Connecticut Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

In the parlance of the Motor City, words like "clutch" and "automatic" came to mind in a different sense as former Georgia star Deanna "Twitty" Nolan got a Detroit franchise high 36 points for the visitors,who stopped the revitalized Sun's win streak at six.

The game was nationally-televised on ESPN2 in front of a vocally home crowd of 8,192.

It was the most individual points ever allowed by Connecticut during the regular season, breaking the mark of local heroine Diana Taurasi, who had 35 with the Phoenix Mercury on June 16, 2006.

And, if one turns to the music associations, Nolan's performance wasn't the only record of sorts spun on the same floor that has hosted performances by such Motown stars as Janet Jackson.

Connecticut's point guard Lindsay Whalen also set a career high with 33 points, while Katie Douglas contributed 27 points for the Sun. Whalen was 13-for-18 from the field with her shots made setting a franchise record.

It was a close game most of the night as has become befitting of one of the most intense rivalries in the league. But in the third quarter, the Sun went into eclipse, fading from a 50-43 advantage with 7 minutes, 56 seconds left in the period to a 69-61 deficit at at the close of the quarter.

Nolan had 15 points in the period, tying Taurasi for the most points by a visiting player in any quarter against the Sun.

Considering that Detroit was without all-star center Cheryl Ford, and the Shock has had a comfort level winning games here, one expected to Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer to be in full gloat in the post-game interview.

However, it was more of a modified stance, especially when approached about center Katie Feenstra's one-on-one defense of Connecticut's Margo Dydek.

The former Liberty college star had 19 points and shutout Dydek.

Ironically, in 2005, Feenstra was picked eighth overall by the Sun in the WNBA draft and then quickly dealt with Connecticut's 2006 first-round pick to San Antonio for Dydek.

Detroit acquired Feenstra this past offseason in a deal with San Antonio that sent Ruth Riley to the Silver Stars.

Asked whether he had any inclination that Feenstra would outscore Dydek, 19-0, Laimbeer chuckled and responded, "No. But I thought she could outscore Margo.

"Feenstra's been playing real well, lately," Laimbeer said. "Everything's coming together for her on all the stuff she's been working on. She's one of the hardest workers we have. We noticed it two games ago. We didn't really notice it last game. But today was a culmination of that."

Despite it's deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, Connecticut fought back to a tie four times in the period, before the Shock drove from a 79-79 deadlock to a six-point lead near the two-minute mark.

Laimbeer giggled a little more one asked about his team's 9-out-of-10 run against the Sun.

"Do you think they can beat you," Laimbeer was asked by a local columnist.

"Yes. Anybody can beat anybody," Laimbeer said.

"We thought that's as pretty good as they can play," he continued with an observation that differed with Connecticut coach Mike Thibault's assessment of the action. "They played well. They shot well. Lindsay Whalen's been picking it up and shot tremendous, today."

Then laughter grew a bit louder as he noted, "But we have Deanna Nolan, too. Some of those shots (16-for-23) were really sweet, just like the best player should be. Nobody got stop it. She could do what she wanted to do on a basketball court. And we missed (finding) her a bunch of times, too.

"We have lots of weapons, there's no question about it," Laimbeer said. "We just have to get Cheryl back and put it all together and we'll be even better than we are right now."

Then he addressed why Detroit has such a comfort level in this place.

"It's a nice crowd, a nice atmosphere," Laimbeer said. "We are not the most loved team in the league for a multitude of reasons -- for myself, for (assistant coach) Rick (Mahorn), or our attitude as how we carry ourselves as players, our physical style of play, our championship.

"Put everything together and people want to see us lose. And this place seems to be a little bit more of an atmosphere to thrive in. Because it's fun to come here and play."

Meanwhile, Connecticut can shake off the loss and continue its goal of solidifying a playoff when the Sun host the New York Liberty on Thursday and then travel to New York on Sunday.

Connecticut is currently holding third place ahead of New York in the race for four playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

-- Mel

Friday, July 20, 2007

WNBA: Sun Storms Seattle

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault admitted to being happy Friday night after his team ran the Seattle Storm off the floor in the second half on the way to a 76-58 victory.

"We're out-rebounding people,'' Thibault said. "I thought we got them (Seattle) off our defense. We got running and we got layups at the other end. We got steals. We got long rebounds and fast breaks. I just thought we did a lot of different things tonight.

"I thought that was impressive at both ends of the court and it takes a lot for my team to impress me at both ends of the court and it takes a lot for my team to impress me because we don't give them much slack. But we were good at both ends."

The win got Connecticut back to .500 at 11-11, while Seattle fell to the same record after the inter-conference matchup at the Mohegan Sun Arena in front of a near-sellout crowd of 9,003.

Lindsey Whalen, looking very much like the star point guard of seveal seasons ago, had 19 points for the Sun, which also got 18 from Katie Douglas, 17 from Asjha Jones, and 10 from Margo Dydek.

Nykesha Sales only had two points, off a 1-for-9 shooting effort, but made some fine defensive players before leaving the action in the third quarter after colliding with Seattle's Janelle Burse.

The injury was undetermined immediately after the game.

Lauren Jackson scored 19 points for Seattle, but was 7-for-17 from the field with Connecticut making her work for almost every shot. Tziane Castro Marque scored 10 points.

Sue Bird returned from knee surgery and had seven points off a 3-for-14 effort.

That's the basic nuts and bolts of this one, so we turn our attention to other behind-the-scenes facts on why this isn't always completely glamorous.

Does anyone know the first name of someone named "Delay" who seems to be either advertising or campaigning for office on Connecticut highways.

After trying to get an early start from Philadelphia to beat the Friday "Cape Cod" traffic in these parts on I-95, we managed to get across the George Washington Bridge through upper New York City in record time.

Then suddenly all we began to see were signs announcing "Delay at Exits 14-17," "Delay for 14 miles between 38-45," and at a few other places that added over an hour to the trip.

It could have been worse, but we used the locally-recognized escape route up I-91 from New Haven off the Merritt Parkway to just below Hartford and down Route 2. This takes the same amount of time that an unjammed I-95 stretch would take and it also makes a good detour for those not necessarily heading for Uncasinoville, here.

The stats on missing-in-action showed mixed results. Sue Bird was back from Seattle, as mentioned. Erin Phillips, the Australian point guard sensation for Connecticut in her rookie season, was in the house for the first time this season. She's sidelined with a knee injury playing in her native country in the WNBA offseason.

The missing element, however, that drew most of the media talk, especially for those who weren't around to learn the news on Tuesday night, was the elimination of the lavish dessert pastries for the rest of the year.

Cookies will continue to be served, as they were in the early days of the modern era of this sport. Tea and capppucino will continue to be offered, although the latter has been unavailable this week due to a busted coffee machine.

Meanwhile, for those who take the Amtrak train to nearby New London, there might be some relief in the distant future for those who endure the short, but pricey cab ride over here.

A new gambling parlor, called the Casino of the Wind, is under construction on the property alongside the Thames River, and a Mohegan official mentioned that river craft transportation may be established between here and the train station that also connects with the ferries on Long Island Sound.

-- Mel

Trenton in WNBA's Future?

(Guru's Notes: - Per the Guru's recent Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: If you haven't been to the special site, here's your link. The official WBHOF-taken still shots have arrived, many of which are different perspectives of existing work done live in Knoxville, but if you've been to the site, don't visit until Jonathan posts them and you get the word here.

Secondly, for those of you coming to the Inquirer-hosted reception event on Friday, July 27th at the paper (4:30-7:30 p.m., front of the building off Broad St.), there will be another event elsewhere afterwards to keep the night going - party animals as such some Guru friends are. We'll have word in a few days.

Also, there have been some technical flaws in the email-invitation process, so those still interested in attending, email me quickly to pass the numbers count on to the Inquirer party administrator for the head count.

And now that the Guru sufficiently teased you by taking advantage of the new Inquirer/Philly.com request to keep headline counts short (attn. blogging team: count of about 27), we return you to coverage here. The request was made, incidentally, so philly.com can list more of its overall bloggers by holding headlines to one line.

Actually, this paragraph is being edited into this 24 hours later to correct the induction link and also to note to the blogging team per the previous paragraph, your leader just counted some characters as much as 40 in some of the other Inquirer blogger headlines.

A short print story in Philly.com off Friday's sports section covers specifics of the USA Basketball senior national team's game against Australia in Trenton.).

By Mel Greenberg

TRENTON, N.J. - USA Basketball president Val Ackerman was here at the Sovereign Bank Arena on Thursday afternoon to join Mercer County officials in announcing an exhibition game on Sept. 16, a Sunday at 1 p.m., between the USA senior national women's team and the Australian national team.

This is basically the Ali-Frazier heavyweight matchup of the international women's game (The U.S. is currently ranked No. 1 just ahead of the Australians). The Americans beat the Australians in the Olympic gold medal title contest in Athens, Greece, in 2004. A year ago, Australia took the FIBA world championship, thus joining host Beijing for next year's games in China.

All the details of Olympic qualification are at the USA Basketball site. This game is being played, in part, to help the U.S. prepare for the FIBA Americas championship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in late September. The winner gains an automatic berth.

The USA squad will also train at Temple's Liacouras Center September 13-15 in Philadelphia after prior preparations for a few days in New York City.

That will give Temple coach Dawn Staley, a former three-time Olympic gold medalists, time to actually handle some of her collegiate back-to-school details while also serving as an assistant to Olympic coach Anne Donovan of the WNBA's Seattle Storm.

Obviously, the USA squad is loaded with such WNBA stars as Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, and Tennessee junior Candace Parker. Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter of the Phoenix Mercury is also vying for a spot on the roster for September's competition. Her alma mater is a little over a half-hour in travel time to the north of the arena.

Australia is highlighted by Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm and Penny Taylor of Phoenix.

The USA squad will play one more time shortly after the Trenton game, and while we can't reveal the site or date, we can say that another assistant on the squad is Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault.

The Sovereign Bank was also the site of the 2006 NCAA women's basketball tournament first and second-round games and will also host a women's regional in 2009 and another set of first-second round games in 2010.

OK, so now that the Guru repeated the specifics, above, we can offer some morsels from a little chit-chat with Ackerman, who was the head of the WNBA for its first eight seasons.

The question, basically, was that with no real known interest in Philadelphia, per se, for a WNBA squad at this time, might an arena located 30 miles away serve as a potential home to a regional-style franchise in the future?

"Well, Trenton, itself, is such a small market,'' said Ackerman, who was born in nearby Pennington, N.J. ``And there's the owner-interest requirements that would have to be satisfied.

"However, if you end up getting a sellout for this game, that would attract some attention," she added. "So, in that case, I would say, it wouldn't be out of the question."

Ackerman also noted the event, itself, is at a good time because schools will be back in session, vacations will be over, and the normal Sunday competition in the NFL will be non-existent because the Eagles play Monday night that weekend.

"It's different audiences, as far as the football factor is concerned, but it's still helpful in terms of extra media coverage and other particulars,'' Ackerman said.

Having just returned from overseas with the USA Basketball Under-21 women's squad which won the gold medal, Ackerman said she was not familiar yet with the specifics of the recently-announced ESPN eight-year extention of its TV deal with the WNBA.

However, one league GM, while not giving details, told us that it was a good deal and that all the teams would benefit from it.

One hurdle still lies in front of smooth sailing ahead once the playoffs conclude: Negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement with the players association.

-- Mel

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The House Wins for a Change

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Unlike the casino operation next door to where the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun does its local business, the house team has not been a big winner this season against visitors from elsewhere in the league.

The three-time regular-season Eastern Conference champs had been a paltry 2-6 in the Mohegan Sun Arena prior to last weekend’s All-Star break.

That mark was not one to inspire confidence in a schedule offering an 8-of-9 home court advantage at the start of the WNBA’s second half featuring the stretch run to four playoff berths in both conferences.

The fans base continues to invest, however, and Tuesday night the Sun rewarded the crowd of 8,253 with a gritty 84-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx.

The victory brought Connecticut back to just below .500 at 10-11 and improved its prospects of perhaps landing a spot in the playoffs, especially if the Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky cannot keep pace.

If the star of Tuesday’s triumph continues as she did Tuesday night, jot down veteran Katie Douglas as a bonafide candidate in what is developing to an open race for league MVP honors.

The former Purdue sensation had 22 points, but it was her performance in the fourth quarter with the outcome in the balance that was particularly impressive.

Douglas had nine points in the period off a 4-of-6 effort from the field, and had a key steal leading to a basket from teammate Lindsay Whalen that helped the Sun finish successfully.

``At the end we started to be more active, got a lot of deflections, I think that was really crucial for us to get that win,’’ Douglas said. ``And Lindsay, you know, we have a pretty good (court) relationship where we don’t have to look (to each other) too much. We’ve been playing together pretty much for a few years.

``It’s nice to play with someone where you don’t have to make too much eye contact.’’

As for the steal of second-year pro Seimone Augustus that helped keep Connecticut ahead, Douglas observed, ``I was just trying to do what the coaches tell me to do, play long defense, and trying to deny her the ball and … fortunate to snag it and get an easy layup to get things going.’’

Whalen fnished with 20 points.

Asjha Jones struggled offensively with 4-of-18 attempts from the field, but, defensively, the former University of Connecticut star had a pair of steals and a pair of blocked shots. Nykesha Sales, another former UConn stalwart, was 2-for-8 from the field, but, like Jones, did make some key plays down the stretch.

``Everybody stepped up near the end, whether it was a deflection, a rebound, or a shot,’’ Douglas said.

Augustus, last season’s rookie of the year, had a game-high 24 points for a young Minnesota squad whose performance belied its WNBA-worst 5-17 record.

The Lynx were also playing their second game without Lindsey Harding, the former Duke star who had a season-ending knee injury a week ago in Washington. The number one overall choice in April’s draft by the Phoenix Mercury, she was traded to Minnesota at the conclusion of the day’s selections.

Svetlana Abrosimova, yet another former Connecticut standout collegian, had 17 points, and Tiffany Stansbury, a rookie out of North Carolina State, had 10 points. Her father Terrence played for John Chaney at Temple.

Connecticut’s win was its fourth straight, a season-high coming off a successful road trip out West. In fact, the Sun’s 7-5 record elsewhere is a reason that coach Mike Thibault’s group is able to keep the local discussion more about the playoffs than speculation over lottery prospects in what will be a lucractive draft next April.

Nevertheless, Thibault’s post-game assessment was not loaded with positives, although gratification with the triumph was definitely prevalent.

``I’m sure it was an entertaining game for most people but me,’’ Thibault said. ``The best thing was we got stops when we needed to late in the game, but we didn’t shoot the ball real well as a group … the bench gave us a great lift in the first half, they gave us energy in the second half, even though they didn’t make shots to at least maintain the lead we had.

``It was an ugly win. We’ve had some ugly losses so I’ll take an ugly win.’’
Connecticut drove from a 45-39 halftime lead to an 80-70 advantage with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the game.

Douglas scored nine straight points to helped build the double-digit lead from a 66-66 tie that had existed with with 5:48 left to play.

But Minnesota was not done, and Connecticut became a little helpful in the other direction when Whalen’s turnover helped reduce the differential to 80-75.

It got to 80-76 when Jones committed a technical foul and Augustus converted the shot.

A Sales jumper pushed it to 82-76 with 20.3 seconds left, but Abrosimova kept the crowd anxious with a trey that cut the margin to 82-79 with 5.4 seconds.

Whalen, however, wrapped it up on the next possession with a pair of foul shots for the final score.

-- Mel

Sunday, July 15, 2007

WNBA: Competitive By Nature

(Guru's Note: The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame class for 2008 was announced Sunday at halftime of the WNBA All-Star game in Washington and the info is at the WBHOF site. Those looking for continued coverage of our own induction with the class of 2007 and events continuing through the inquirer party on July 27th can go to the philly.com special link.
Otherwise, stay here for enhanced coverage below and previous to enhance our print story for The Inquirer.

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON_ When it comes to All-Stars games, there is a distinct difference between the ones run by the WNBA, and similar events of both gender in other sports.

The women, it seems, are addicted to competition. While these affairs are treated as a lark elsewhere, it may take a few extra minutes, but winning becomes a reason d’etre.

“It appears that way,” said first-year Sacramento Monarchs coach Jenny Bucek, whose Western Conference team lost to the Eastern Conference, 103-99, Sunday in the Verizon Center. ``You, I think most other sports, you know, they’re not playing defense.

``They’re allowing each other to do things, and our women are just too innately competitive, I think. They can’t turn that off. I love that about them. I think I love that about the WNBA, they compete every second of every game,’’ Boucek continued.

``So when we come here and we ask them to not do that as much, I don’t know if they’re quite able to do that. They still want to compete. And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about our league.’’

It’s not just the WNBA in women’s basketball.

The defining moment of the first All-Star game of the former American Basketball League was the famous upper cut under the basket former Texas star Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil delivered to former Long Beach State star Cindy Brown.

On Sunday, for example, All-Star most valuable player Cheryl Ford of the WNBA-defending champion Detroit Shock entered the contest off a bruised knee and a cautionary plan between herself and Detroit’s Bill Laimbeer, who handled the East, was to maybe not play so much of things went badly.

``You know we talked beforehand that I probably was going to play her about 10 or 12 minutes unless she got off to a hot start,’’ Laimbeer said. ``If she got off to a hot start and had a chance to be one of the stars of the game, we’d play her more, and she did.’’

She even made her first three-point shot in the pros.

The Eastern Conference came back from an 11-point deficit in the first half to tie the score at the break. The winners went on to build a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Western Conference made a tenacious rally in the closing minutes before falling short.

``It’s just a characteristic of us,’’ said Katie Douglas of the Connecticut Sun. ``We’re paid to do this, but also we love what we do and we’re extremely competitive.

``I think the fans had a lot to do with raising the competitiveness. They were ooohing and aahing and really getting into it. Their energy was phenomenal and I think both teams just fed off of that.’’

It’s the second straight win for the East, which last year was powered by a slew of Connecticut players. Prior to that, the Western Conference owned the first six encounters.

But the East was clearly out to win this one as the West was out to regain lost prestige.

``We knew we wanted to win the game,’’ Ford said. ``In the beginning, we just came to have fun. But Bill (at halftime) was like, okay, we’ve had our fun and it’s time to play seriously. And we knew we were missing a lot of rebounds, so that’s what we had to tighten up on.’’

The experience was much different for Laimbeer then when he coached a select team in the summer of 2004 against the Olympic team loaded with the best of the WNBA before it went on to capture the gold medal in Athens.

``I had the also-rans versus the Olympians,’’ Laimbeer recalled. ``We got our butt kicked. ``So this was more fun today.’’

He also spoke about the West’s defensive pressure in the second half to try to win out at the finish.

``They finally turned up their intensity level,’’ Laimbeer said. ``I thought for the first time they kind of just thought they were the better team, and were just going out there for shooting the ball, not really competing to win the basketball game.

``We didn’t have that luxury,’’ he continued. ``So I think when they turned their intensity up, they did show they can play better basketball.

``We threw the ball away, some stupid turnovers, which was okay. It happens when you lose your focus sometimes. But when it came down to it, we made the right plays.’’

The Dupree Factor

Former Temple star Candice Dupree has now appeared in both East wins after joining a year ago as a rookie and as a last-minute substitute due to some injuries to previously selected players.

``It’s not just me,’’ said Dupree, whose former Temple coach Dawn Staley was among the sellout crowd before heading to coach the U.S. entry in the Pan American games. ``I got some good passes from Alana (Beard) on the offensive end. We won the game and that’s all that matters.’’

The star of the second-year Chicago Sky spoke of the competitive nature of the competition.

``We’re always competing,’’ Dupree said. ``The coaches always say have fun, this, that, and another thing, but ultimately they want to win and I think the players want to win, too. So we get out there and it’s fun at first. But once it gets down to the wire, both sides are trying to win.’’

Skills Contests

The predominately fan base of the Washington Mystics got a local thrill in the skills competition when former Kansas State star Laurie Koehn set a record with 25 points in the final round of the Three-Point Shootout. Penny Taylor of the Phoenix Mercury had 19 points. Koehn tied Craig Hodges’ three-point record at the 1986 NBA All-Star game. Dawn Staley had 19 points, the previous record, in the first round of the shootout contest she ultimately won a year ago in New York.

``Honestly, it’s like I’ve done a few of these shooting contests before and I’ve never wanted it more for the people watching than today.’’

Becky Hammon, the former New York Liberty star now with the San Antonio Silver Stars, edged Minnesota Lynx second-year pro Seimone Augustus in the dribble, dish & swish competition with a time of 27.1 seconds vs. 27.4.

TV Deal

The WNBA and ESPN Sunday announced an extended contract through the 2016 season. The big news, and possibly really big news if it’s more than a token gesture, but the network will be paying a rights fee for the first time.

In the past, the league paid to produce the games.

``We are paying a rights fee, we are producing the games, and we’re selling the inventory, because we believe in the future of the league,’’ said John Skipper, vice president for content, ESPN.

Games will appear on ESPN, PESPN2, and ABC-TV.

Almost A Repeat

A year ago, Katie Douglas of the Connecticut Sun easily captured the MVP honors and threatened for a brief moment to repeat the honor on Sunday.

``Not really,’’ Douglas said of attempts to steal the honor at the finish. ``Just trying to put an end to the West run and knock down some key shots.

``You could definitely tell we (the East) just got together, and hadn’t had much practice. But there’s phenomenal talent in the room and anytime you have those kind of players, 90 percent of the time things are going to look good.’’

And With That, the Guru and the Seattle Times' Jayda Evans are off to dinner to engage in East-West conversation.

-- Mel

Hammon Almost Rescues West

(Guru's Note: Kathleen Radebaugh is a student at St. Joseph's who writes for the Hawk campus newspaper and joined us this weekend for WNBA All-Star coverage.)

By Kathleen Radebaugh

WASHINGTON — For Becky Hammon, this All-Star weekend is not a break, or a breather, or even a chance to side step one's competitive nature.

No, it’s still a basketball game and for this San Antonio Silver Stars guard, who was traded from the New York Liberty on draft day in April, the word passive is not in her vocabulary.

Unable to defeat the Eastern Conference in a 103-99 loss, Hammon showed her competitive nature and until the final buzzer in the fourth.

With two minutes left in regulation, Hammon hit two three-pointers Sunday bringing the game within one possession, 101-98.

“I am very competitive,” said Hammon. “We were trying to crawl back in there and make it interesting, but we came up a couple shots short.”

This is the first time Hammon has played for the West after having been an East starter. The only other player to achieve that notoriety was Dawn Staley, the Temple coach who started on the West last summer representing the Houston Comets before she retired. Previously she had represented the former Charlotte Sting on the East.

In Sunday's game, after Hammon’s three, Eastern Conference player Anna DeForge made an 18’ jump shot and Hammon was fouled by Deanna Nolan, a guard from Indiana Fever. Hammon made one-of-one free throw attempts, and the Western Conference was not able to overcome the East.

The difference in the second half for the Eastern Conference team was their ability to make more rebounds. Bill Laimbeer, coach of the WNBA champion Detroit Shock who handled the Eastern Conference, believes that was the difference in snatching the win away from the West.

“First half, they [West] got way too many rebounds,” said Laimbeer. “Even the crowd was oohing and aahing at how many rebounds the West was getting.”

Hammon agrees.

“Rebounding is a huge part of the basketball game,” said Hammon. “We came out hitting a lot of shots, but stopped going inside, and we needed more inside presence in the second half. I know I would have liked to win this game.”

Hammon’s determination was obvious in the beginning and the reason she played 23 minutes and even before she started the game. Hammon won the pre-game shooting contest, “Dribble, Dish, and Swish,” in a time of 27.1 seconds, beating defending champion Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Lynx.

In the game, Hammon forced a turnover against Nolan and ended the first quarter with four assists. Like the first quarter, Hammon began with a steal against Alana Beard, a guard for the Washington Mystics. Hammon suffered though some of her own personal turnovers but had a great inside drive to the basket to extend the West’s lead by ten, 46-36. In the third, Hammon had back-to-back jumpers, closing the gap by three, 65-62.

“She [Becky] is the ultimate competitor,” said Coach Jenny Boucek of the Sacramento Monarchs who handled the Western Conference. “We have a lot of them. I could go down the list on this team. I’ve coached several of them in the regular season, and I know we had some of the greatest competitors in the world out there on the floor tonight.”

Hammon cannot wait to face some of those greatest competitors in regular season play against Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 17. She will face All-Star teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Prior to her All-Star appearance, Hammon was the leading scorer ten times this season for the Silver Stars.

Hammon is looking for her eleventh.

She'll get that chance Tuesday night when the first-place Silver Stars visit the Los Angeles Sparks.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

WNBA: Rutgers Reunuion

(Guru’s Note: Kathleen Radebaugh, a student at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia who writes for The Hawk, the school newspaper, is on the scene with us this weekend at the WNBA All-Star game and handling the main blog coverage while we attend to, ahem, print matters which we rely on for our main salary. Our story at Philly.com focuses on former Temple star Candice Dupree.)

By Kathleen Radebaugh

WASHINGTON _ Two former Scarlet Knights squaring off against each other in front of a sold out crowd.

That is pretty good basketball.

Tammy Sutton-Brown ’01 and Cappie Pondexter ’06, former players for Rutgers University, will play Sunday’s WNBA All-Star game here at the Verizon Center, which is the home of the Washington Mystics. Brown is in her sixth season for Indiana Fever and Pondexter enters her sophomore season for the Phoenix Mercury.

Both still have not found time for sight seeing around the nation’s capital.

“My sister is sight-seeing now,” said Sutton-Brown. “Not me. The only thing I have done is gone out to dinner with the girls, and I wouldn’t even be able to tell you the restaurant’s name.”

Sutton-Brown was on the first team in 2000 to ever reach the NCAA Women’s Final Four at Rutger;s University. Now, Sutton-Brown starts as center for the Indiana Fever and entered the season ranked eighth in career blocked shot leaders for the WNBA. On June 6, she scored season high 17 points in a win against the Houston Comets. During the summer, Sutton-Brown was able to play with Pondexter for Fenerbahce in Turkey.

Scarlet Knights like to stick together.

“Nobody can rebound like Tammy can, said Pondexter. “She is a great basketball player and playing with her overseas was great.”

Like Sutton-Brown, Pondexter excelled playing for Rutgers. Pondexter ranks first in three-point percentage and is second in scoring, free throws made, field goals made, and field goals attempted. Now Pondexter, 2006 WNBA All-Rookie Team selection, is second on her team in scoring at 16.9 points per game and is part of the highest scoring duo (with Diana Taurasi) in the WNBA for the second-straight year.

For both Sutton-Brown and Pondexter, this is their second All-Star appearance. Veteran Sutton-Brown first appeared on the roster when she played for the former Charlotte Sting, now in her seventh season will represent Indiana.

Impressive, Pondexter is just in her second season in the WNBA and finds herself playing Sunday with Phoenix teammates Penny Taylor and Taurasi, the former Connecticut star, for the West Conference. This is the first time Mercury has three players on the All-Star team.

More than anything, both are excited about competing in a sold out crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

“I am really more excited for the league that this is a sold out crowd,” said Pondexter. “It shows just how much people are starting to take notice and pay attention to the WNBA.”

No matter where these players travel, they take what they first learned with them at Rutgers University under Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer. Pondexter has a tattoo on left leg saying “Scarlet Knight” along with her number. No tattoo for Sutton-Brown, but she still laughs at how far she and her teammate have come since playing in Piscataway, N.J.

“Through all the traveling and being in the middle of the season now, being apart of the All-Star game gives us a chance to enjoy the game more and just play some really good basketball,” said Sutton-Brown. “You are playing with the best of the best.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On the recruiting trail

By Acacia O'Connor

When I went to Liverpool High School's summer league to catch up with hot high school recruit Tyler Ash, I had never met Tyler nor seen her play. But it took me less than a second to pick her out. After all, it's not often that you see a 6-foot-2 point guard playing in a summer league in Section III.

For all her seriousness about basketball, no one seemed to be having more fun than Tyler on the court, despite the fact that Liverpool and opponent Cicero-North Syracuse were in large part trading baskets. But maybe it was just the usual summer league laxity...

Liverpool's Head Coach Mike Olley assured me otherwise. "Tyler's a lot of fun. No, she really enjoys playing," he said after the game.

During the game, Tyler let her teammates do the heavy lifting for the most part. She would drive all the way to the basket only to opt to dump it off to an unexpecting teammate on the other block. Only twice did I see her step back behind the arc and let a shot sail -- high, arching, and literally nothing but net. Effortless.

"She loves being out there," said Olley. "She'll leave a two hour practice here and go to the YMCA and play pickup for three hours."

All that practice has paid off for Tyler, who is being heavily recruited by at least 20 Division I programs, according to Olley's estimate. In her junior season she averaged a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds per game, was voted league MVP and won a sectional championship.

All this, and she's only been playing since middle school.

In fact, few had heard very much about Tyler at all before last season -- even in Central New York.

(This compared with the excitement and exposure of the last Section III phenom, Carlee Casidee of Westhill who had 234 career 3 pointers and the leading scorer's record in the section. Casidee now plays at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.)

Only recently has Tyler's game been getting the attention of college scouts. Olley said that playing with Shenise Johnson from Rush-Henrietta, currently ranked eighth nationally among class of 2008 recruits, has helped improve Tyler's exposure.

Even though its not contact season, Olley speaks often with coaches and Tyler apparently gets a lot of text messages checking up on her. (Oh how far recruiting has come...) Among those are Baylor, Rutgers, UMass, Indiana, BC, Temple and, of course, Syracuse.

Though she was wearing a SU practice jersey and a bright orange headband to match, Tyler seemed disinterested in talking about the hubbub surrounding the upcoming year.

"It's overwhelming," she said quietly. "But its fun."

When I asked her what she thought she wanted to do -- college, post-college, whatever -- she just smiled. The answer was obvious.

"Play," she said.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

WNBA: Mercury Burns Sun in Desert Night

Guru's Note: First the obligatory Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Link: Click Here.
Regular coverage: Keep Reading.

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA -- The magic of the internet's ability to provide live information, though not necessarily audio in this particular setting, gave us a treat late Friday night the way old-time radio broadcasts of baseball used to delight listeners of yesteryear.

We were about to leave the office for points culinary when we decided to give a glance on the computer as to what the result was out West where the struggling Connecticut Sun were playing the Phoenix Mercury.

Our screen came up just as regulation had ended with a 93-93 tie. We also noticed the the WNBA defending champion Detroit Shock once again showed an ability to surprise in the loss column as the New York Liberty slipped past Bill Laimbeer's bunch, 93-92, in overtime in Motown.

That put the idle Indiana Fever one game ahead in the Eastern Conference, which is becoming a two-team race for the conference crown.

All that made the action in Phoenix more compelling, because Connecticut really needed the win, and the Mercury were looking to stay right in the thick of the four-team scramble for Western Conference supremacy.

And so it was we waited anxiously for each automatic refresh of the screen to get updated on the neck-and-neck action. The first overtime quickly led to a second and we were already thinking of that key win Phoenix got at the time against Houston late last season when the Mercury fought to the final day before being eliminated from the playoffs.

Everytime Connecticut would seem about to get control, Diana Taurasi, Tangela Smith, or Cappie Pondexter would counter.

We apologize for not going into a little depth, here, but we are writing live into the blog format and if we reel back at the WNBA site, we will blow up everything you have just read.

Speaking of blowing up, we just heard someone yell in another part of the sports department that the local major league baseball team just managed to toss another one away, but we won't comment further less we incur the wrath of a certain rabid fan whose name also graces the list of contributors on the Guru's blog team.

Anyhow, back-and-forth the action went until former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter hit a 14-foot shot with 2.1 seconds left to give Phoenix the win.

Pondexter, apparently healthy again, finished with 25, but that total was topped by teammate Penny Taylor's 30 points. It's the fourth straight game she has scored 25 or more points, a feat achieved by only three other players in the WNBA's 11-year history.

Smith and Taurasi each had 18 points.

Connecticut, which got 22 points each from former UConn stars Asjha Jones and Nykesha Sales, shot a franchise-record for three pointers with 16.

However, the Sun again stayed unusually charitable in turnovers, giving up 25 to the Mercury.

The win kept Phoenix within a game of Sacramento after the Monarchs beat Minnesota, 84-80. The Seattle Storm stayed a half-game behind Phoenix with a 71-55 win over the forlorn Houston Comets.

San Antonio, which was idle, is also a game behind Sacramento, though tied in the loss column with six.

Connecticut, meanwhile is three whole games behind third-place New York and trails the second-year Chicago Sky for the last playoff spot by 2 1/2 games.

Jump Shots: San Antonio coach Dan Hughes, who has been sidelined recovering from Achilles, surgery, expects to get an update on his status early in the week after results of medical tests are revealed. ... The finalists for the women's Pan American team are training in Washington this week in what is Dawn Staley's debut as a USA Basketball head coach in her own right. The Philly native who retired from the WNBA after last season and also coaches Temple in her native city is also an assistant to Olympic coach Anne Donovan of the Seattle Storm. ... The Guru won't confirm or deny a potential appearance at the Rebkell dinner at WNBA All-Star game festivities in Washington next weekend. However, more information might be coming on other boards from Guru team member Erin, who will now be on the scene due to a converge of events in the last 24 hours to make her appearance on press row a reality.

-- Mel

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

WNBA: Shooting Stars Mar Mystics' Holiday Eve

Guru's Note: A print story from Immaculata is appearing in the Inquirer's Wednesday holiday edition and thus also in Philly.com. Continuing anything noteworthy off the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame involving the Guru's recent induction is at the special blog leading up to the Inquirer-hosted event on July 27th.

We received a picture shot last week at Immaculata of ourselves, former coach Cathy Rush, and Mary McCormick, who used to work in the PR department back in the day. That is now posted over there with some commentary as a companion to the print story in the paper.

Back to the party. A snafu involving the email launch on Monday of official invites caused those invites to go nowhere. However, the party administrator (not me) is off until Thursday and is unaware. We will try to go into some damage control in the next several days.

And now back to the regular Guru report.

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ There are now two things in this town incapable of containment in close quarters. One involves a former official of the adminstration currently occupying the White House about a mile from the Verizon Center and we'll let the news section continue to deal with that.

The other is the offense of the San Antonio Silver Stars in the WNBA.

A cellar dweller of the league this time last season, San Antonio shot a torrid 56.4 percent Tuesday night as the Silver Stars beat the Washington Mystics 84-79.

Second-year pro Sophia Young out of Baylor scored 24 points and was 9 of 12 from the field. Erin Buescher added 19 points off 6 of 9 shooting. Ruth Riley came off an injury to shoot 5-for-5 for 10 points, a total equaled by Vickie Johnson. Helen Darling dealt eight assists starting in place of the injured Becky Hammon.

The win moved San Antonio to 10-6, two short of the Silver Stars' best win total since moving from Utah. Washington fell to 5-12 while letting the San Antonio postwomen ring up scores consistently in the Verizon Center.

The incredible thing about San Antonio is that in looking at Tuesday's starting lineup, the Silver Stars' longevity as a unity is not actually all that long. In fact, it reeks of the way expansion teams are assembled.

Buescher arrived in the offseason as a free agent after being with Sacramento. Riley arrived through a trade with Detroit. Johnson was a free agent out of the New York Liberty last season, while the injured Hammon arrived through a trade in April on draft day. Darling was picked up in the dispersal draft of the former Charlotte Sting roster.

"Part of it is that they all are quality people,'' said assistant coach Brian Agler, who continues to run San Antonio wile coach Dan Hughes recovers from Achilles surgery. "They all rely on each other and they all have responsibilities to each other.

"I know that's a corny thing to say because whenever you win, it's because you have good chemistry, but with all the new faces within this year and a year ago, that is definitely the reason. And they play well together.''

DeLisha Milton-Jones of the Mystics, who has been in similar situations when USA Basketball teams are assembled for international competition, complimented San Antonio's performance.

"The majority of their players are veterans and they've been in this league before," Milton-Jones said. "You have a group of players who are unselfish and team-goal oriented and that calls for a winning team.

"They've won more games this season than probably anyone expected them to win, already. Out there on the floor, they have a great cohesiveness. You see the ball moving well and fast and people are not just looking for scoring opportunities, themselves, but trying to get their teammate open," Milton-Jones said.

"And that makes a team like them hard to guard," she added. "You never know who's going to shoot the ball at what point, so your one-on-one defense has to be up to par. Tonight, however, we showed differently. Our one-on-one defense was not up to par and they drove the ball down the lane for layups or drove it down there to kick it out for open (threes), it was just like they had a field day against us. The thing that plagues us is decision-making, which leads to a turnover or a bad shot, or not the best shot."

Young has thrived despite having virtually all new teammates surrounding her.

"We just have a bunch of great players on our team and we started to learn how to play with each other and develop great chemistry on the court," Young said.

All-Star Lineups

The WNBA announced the starting lineups, voted by the fans, for the All-Star game, which will be played here on July 15th.

Sue Bird, the former UConn star point guard with the Seattle Storm, was the top overall votegetter, collecting 12,838 ballots, to make the West, along with the Phoenix Mercury and former UConn star forward Diana Taurasi (124,918), Seattle forward Lauren Jackson (102, 800), San Antonio guard Becky Hammon (98,694), and Sacramento Monarchs center Yolanda Grffith (87,895).

Bird, however, will miss the game due to arthroscopic surgery later this week, according to the Seattle Storm web site.

The East top votegetter was forard Tamika Catchings, the former Tennessee star, who received 124,144. She'll be joined by three members of defending champion Detroit: forward Cheryl Ford (117,736), center Kara Braxton (121,436, guard Deanna Nolan (95,058), and Indiana guard Anna DeForge (84,498).

DeForge and Braxton are first-time starters and Hammon joins the retired Dawn Staley, the Temple coach as players to start for both squads in their careers. Staley started for the West last year representing the Houston Comets after previous representing the former Charlotte Sting.

Candice Dupree was the fifth best forward on the East to receive votes and the second-year pro out of Temple is likely to be one of the subs picked by the league's head coaches, whose six choices in each conference will be announced Monday after the secret ballots are tallied.

Short Retirement

Former Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss, who resigned after the season, will become an assistant to new Texas coach Gail Goestenkors on July 15th.

"There were many opportunities presented to me, not all of which were in sports,” DeMoss said as part of a statement on the Texas announcement. “Frankly, the situation at Texas is the only job in basketball that would take me out of retirement. I am very comfortable with this decision to move forward and to work for Gail and The University.”


We didn't make the annual Collegiate Sports Informationa Directors Association convention, which was held this past week in San Diego.

But at the conclusion, our good friend Larry Dougherty, the Temple SID who made the trip with Drexel's Mike Tuberosa to the induction events in Knoxville, has been named a third vice president of the organization.

Also, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt won the Dick Engberg Award at the organization's annual academic hall of fame ceremonies.

According to the Tennessee announcement, "Established in 1997, the Dick Enberg Award is given annually to a person whose actions and commitment have furthered the meaning and reach of the Academic All-America Teams Program and/or the student-athlete while promoting the values of education and academics. "

And on that note, it's time to head to the Fourth.

-- Mel