Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, April 14, 2017

WNBA Draft 2017: Guru Says Glitz Bumped Away Tradition in New Look

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – In some respects, Thursday night’s WNBA draft as the first event of Season No. 21 was a bit comparable to aspects of the new PBS-TV documentary series The Great War about World War I.

In an early setting, once war is declared, it is very celebratory stateside as enlistees join the armed forces to go to France though later on once overseas the setting is different.

As the annual influx of new talent got plucked off the college pile at least in the first round all was celebratory yet one knows in a few weeks some of the names called or even more than some will either have it all end in a small daily transaction notice or will bounce around a few teams until opening day and by then the festivities at Samsung 837 will seem so long ago.

From what the Guru could gather, this was not a draft for traditionalists among the masses.

Unlike some of the settings of the past, most recently the Mohegan Sun Arena, the scene for those covering live sprawled over several floors.

But in presenting new looks to the broadcast, the scene of each pick sitting with coaches friends and families at reserved roundtables and then walking to the president, in this instant Lisa Borders, to have a picture taken with the new team jersey was not to be.

Actually, as part of the car-wash for draftees, to use ESPN speak, it was to be, but it was to be off to the side and not frontal screen to the delight of fans of the various teams.

For those of us who have covered all of these there was some suspense as to who would do the announcing in the second round – the job handled in the past by longtime deputy Rene Brown, who left the league after last season.

As it turned out, Borders went into overtime making announcements but a new problem arose for the masses because the TV talent, not of their doing necessarily, was busy rehashing the first round while picks were going on in the second round.

More of the media were actually the blogging world as compared to a time many of the national papers used to come to the metro area, when there were many national papers.

Some of the local papers were there – the New York Times has again become a regular – but not as many as the days of yesteryear.

The scene also become more TV and less fans since the general populace was not allowed to be part of this one considering the size of the place, which as mentioned sprawled over several floors but there were limitations to navigate on each floor.

And of course adding to appearance of a mass show of coverage was the in-house WNBA media machine, social and all other things and all the staffing that entails.

And no one has noticed close up but while Mississippi State was the team that bounced UConn from its long-running win streak, South Carolina has for the moment removed the Huskies from existence after replacing them as NCAA champs.

Dawn Staley has become a cottage industry though as she responded last week at the Union League in Philly for the presentation of her Dawn Staley guard award when asked if she had gotten worn out – you don’t feel worn out after you win a national title.

It was a nice touch to have Borders bring up Staley as the former WNBA great, the coach of the NCAA champions, the USA Women’s Olympic coach and then let her announce to the surprise of absolutely no one Washington’s Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Don’t know how costly it would be but remotes from several team watch parties might have solved the no-fans-in-the-house complaints and also show more of a universal enthusiasm for the 21st season.

Of course, as the Guru bad luck for instant research would have it, an oversight managed to have Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald, his one local in the mix, not listed among the draft prospects in the guide.

But she was not a surprise pick because the Guru knew several days ago Indiana had her on their lists the same way Washington had gotten very high on Saint Joseph’s Natasha Cloud several years ago.

Once the draft got under way, Staley again was master of the news with three of her players taken in the first round.

But how quickly it seems people forgot that a year ago UConn actually went 1-2-3 with Breanna Stewart, Moriah Washington, and Morgan Tuck being the first three picks.

Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes announcing a pick was also a nice touch as the league tied its past its future.

And there were names not announced here who will sign training camp contracts with possibly three or four making opening day rosters. Remember one of the most famous or the most famous walk-ons was Becky Hammon.

That said, perhaps more in the next 24 hours, since this is the top story on the draft coverage on our package, the Guru recommends below Lamar Carter’s breakdown team-by-team of the picks, the Guru’s own local feature on Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald taken and the fact that two of the three Owls all-time scorers are now Indiana teammates, and Mike Siroky’s SEC accent story.

For the moment, this is a wrap. -- Mel

WNBA Draft 2017: Team-By-Team Analysis of the Picks

By Lamar Carter (@iamlamarcarter)

NEW YORK, N.Y. --- After all the success that accompanied the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season in 2016, the league officially kicked off the next stage of its history with Thursday’s WNBA Draft at Samsung 837.

Samsung’s flagship location in New York City was a fitting place for the league to host this year’s event.

 The building’s three levels hosted the main draft coverage on the first floor (with Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo & LaChina Robinson doing an excellent job as always); the invited prospects, social spaces, and several media stations on the second floor; and individual player photo sessions on the third floor.

The event possessed a very celebratory vibe and for good reason: the league seen as a novelty in 1997 was bringing in another group of elite athletes and exceptional young women, ready to do their part to keep two decades’ of momentum going.

With that said, let’s take a look at the selections (teams listed in order of their first selection of the day):

1. Kelsey Plum (Guard / Washington)
5. Nia Coffey (F / Northwestern)
25. Schaquilla Nunn (F / Tennessee)

San Antonio did what everyone in the women’s basketball community expected they would do and took Plum, Washington’s all-world guard and the newly minted scoring queen of the NCAA (3,527 career points and 1,109 points as a senior).

Pairing Plum with second-year guard Moriah Jefferson and a healthy Kayla McBride could give the Stars an exciting triple threat in the backcourt. Coffey could contribute on both ends as well if the forward can replicate her All-Big Ten level production (2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds) in the pros.

2. Alaina Coates (C / South Carolina)
9. Tori Jankoska (G / Michigan State)
21. Chantel Osahor (F/C / Washington)
33. Makayla Epps (G / Kentucky)

After losing 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne to Washington in the offseason, the Sky began the process of retooling by taking frontcourt players with two of their four picks.

Coates rebounds extremely well, is strong around the basket, and brings a winner’s mindset to the Windy City after being a major part of South Carolina’s recent emergence. Her ability to get back on the court, along with how well Osahor’s offensive craftiness and rebounding prowess translate to the league, will determine how long it takes Chicago to succeed without Delle Donne.

3. Evelyn Akhator (F/C Kentucky)
4. Allisha Gray (G / South Carolina)
10. Kaela Davis (G / South Carolina)
23. Breanna Lewis (C / Kansas State)
26. Saniya Chong (G / Connecticut)

Gray and Davis rounded out the trio of national champion Gamecocks to go in the first round of the Draft and give the Wings a pair of players that can be effective in a variety of positions.

In Akhator, Dallas provided the first surprise of the Draft but after averaging a double double last season (15.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG) in the SEC, Akhator has a chance to make an impact on a team that can use all the impact players it can get.

6. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (G / Maryland)
18. Jennie Simms (G / Old Dominion)
27. Mehryn Kraker (F / Wisconsin-Green Bay)

Washington added a pair of athletic wing players from the DMV area and a member of one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Combined, the trio provide size, length and scoring ability to a Mike Thibault-led team that wants to excel on both ends of the floor. For Walker-Kimbrough and Simms in particular, playing close to their college homes should help with the transition into the pros.

7. Brittney Sykes (G / Syracuse)
19. Jordan Reynolds (G / Tennessee)
31. Oderah Chidom (F / Duke)

Despite dealing with multiple season-ending injuries during her career, Sykes produced enough as a redshirt season (nearly 20 points and eight rebounds per game) for the Dream to take her with a top-10 overall pick. At full strength, Sykes can score and defend at a high level - skills she will be able to enhance around franchise cornerstone Angel McCoughtry.

8. Brionna Jones (C / Maryland)
13. Shayla Cooper (F / Ohio State)
16. Leticia Romero (G / Florida State)
28. Jessica January (G / DePaul)

Jones gives the Sun a quality frontcourt player to fill the void of losing Chiney Ogwumike to offseason surgery. The Maryland product averaged a double double as a senior (19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds) and led the country in field goal percentage the past two years. A 1,000 point scorer and Olympic medalist (silver in Rio with Spain), Romero’s ability and experience should serve her well in her transition to the league.

11. Sydney Wiese (G / Oregon State)
35. Saicha Grant-Allen (C / Dayton)

The rich get richer in Los Angeles as the defending champions pick up Wiese, a tough guard with size (6-1) and range (Pac-12’s all-time leader in three pointers made). Wiese will benefit from learning from the likes of Candace Parker, Essence Carson and Alana Beard on a team that will be looking to build upon last year’s run to the title

12. Alexis Jones (G / Baylor)
24. Lisa Berkani (G / France)
36. Tahlia Tupaea (G / Australia)

Everything that was said about Wiese and the Sparks can be applied to Jones and the Lynx. The perennial title contenders pick up a top flight point guard (all-conference in the ACC at Duke and Big Ten at Baylor) who should be able to grow her game under coach Cheryl Reeve and veteran point Lindsay Whalen.

14. Lindsay Allen (G / Notre Dame)
34. Kai James (C / Florida State)

In Allen, the Liberty get a pass-first floor general that can effectively run a team. Allen’s numbers as a senior (9.6 PPG, 7.2 APG) speak to a player that can make others better while still providing consistent offense. Also, her experience playing in a system like Notre Dame’s on one the premier stages in women’s basketball should make playing in the toughest media market a big easier to handle.

15. Alexis Peterson (G / Syracuse)
30. Lanay Montgomery (C / West Virginia)

Peterson gives the Storm an option that, if she develops, could keep the seemingly ageless Sue Bird fresh and on the floor longer. The Syracuse guard and ACC Player of the Year checks all the boxes (ability to score, facilitate and defend) for an ideal lead guard and should make a great backcourt mate alongside Jewell Loyd.

17. Erica McCall (F / Stanford)
20. Feyonda Fitzgerald (F / Temple)
22. Ronni Williams (F / Florida)
32. Adrienne Motley (G / Miami (Fla.))

Some may argue that McCall should have heard her name called earlier but the Stanford post lands in a great spot: on a playoff team with veterans in the frontcourt (Erlana Larkins, Devereaux Peters, and the recently acquired Candice Dupree). Leading a Final Four team in multiple categories (points, rebounds, blocks) is a great sign for McCall. In Fitzgerald, Williams and Motley, the Fever have picks with track records of consistent point production.

29. Alexis Prince (G / Baylor)

Phoenix was the only team in the Draft with one selection and the Mercury added Prince, a 6-2 guard that can create her own shot toward the basket or hit from the outside. Her versatility will be needed for a Phoenix team that just made the playoffs last year.

WNBA Draft 2017: Temple's Fitzgerald Taken by Indiana in the Second Round

(Guru’s note: This report will be updated during Friday)

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK -  Temple's  second and third all-time women's basketball scorers behind Philadelphia Sports Hall of Famer Marilyn Stephens are about to become training camp teammates in the WNBA.

Senior Feyonda Fitzgerald became the fourth Owl in the history of the women's program to be picked  in the draft when she was made the eighth choice in the second round and 20th overall by the Indiana Fever Thursday here night.

That means she is now on the same team as Candice Dupree, the former Temple great she passed this season when Fitzgerald finished with 1,824 points ahead of Dupree (1,698), who was dealt to Indiana several months ago after becoming a multi-all-star in Phoenix with the Mercury.

The mega-deal also involved the Connecticut Sun along with Phoenix.

Dupree went to the then-expansion Chicago Sky in 2006 as the sixth overall pick of the first round before later moving on to Phoenix where she helped the Mercury become WNBA champions.

Fitzgerald, a native of Norfolk, Va., is a month removed from a disappointing finish to her collegiate career when Temple fell short by one point to eventual Elite Eight participant Oregon in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

However, she can now bask in the glow of becoming the second pick out of the program who was a recruit of Tonya Cardoza following Shey Peddie, who was a second round pick by Chicago in 2012.

Ironically, both picks were made by new Indiana coach Pokey Chatman, who was let go by the Sky after last season. She replaced Stephanie White who return to the colleges last winter taking the opening at Vanderbilt.

Fitzgerald was not one of the ten invitees here by the WNBA in terms of likely first-rounders so neither she nor coach Tonya Cardoza were on the scene at Samsung 837, the glitzy high-tech showcase in Manhattan's meat packing district by the High Line Park, when the picks were made.

The selection may look as a surprise to persons here using the handout draft guide since an oversight managed to have Fitzgerald omitted among the list of prospects.

However, there were indications in recent days that the Big 5 player of the year who gained several postseason accolades and all-American mention was a draft target of the Fever.

Dupree played for Dawn Staley, coach of the new NCAA champion South Carolina squad that had three players taken here in the first round.

Kamesha Hairston was the other Temple draft pick, taken by then-Connecticut coach Mike Thibault as the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 draft who also played for Staley, who also was recently named USA Women's Olympic coach for 2020.

Peddie never made an opening day roster. Several other Temple players who were not drafted have played with WNBA teams.

Chatman took one of the most honored collegians from the area in 2013, picking former Delaware superstar Elena Delle Donne second overall, and in 2015 made Rutgers’ Betnijah Laney of the state of Delaware a second round pick.

Fitzgerald averaged 17.3 points per game and 7.3 assists this past season in leading the Owls to a second-place finish behind Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference and a first NCAA appearance since 2011.

She is the first Big 5 player drafted since Saint Joseph’s Natasha Cloud went in the second round of the 2015 draft to Washington and since has become a Mystics mainstay and will enjoy Delle Donne as a teammate after the Wilmington native was dealt in a major offseason trade to Washington.

Indiana didn’t have a first round pick but added Stanford star Erica McCall as the 17th overall selection ahead of Fitzgerald since the Fever had three picks in the second round.

Fitzgerald set season (232) and career (635) records for assists.

“It was another opportunity to see a good point guard,” longtime Fever general manager Kelly Krauskopf said of the move to Fitzgerald. “You can never have enough of those and we were excited to get her. She’s a scoring point guard, but she averaged seven assists a game.

“She creates for herself and she creates for others. There was clearly an admiration for her skillset so far as scoring and handling the ball. She has a high IQ and we’re excited about bringing her to camp.”

“We’re ecstatic,” Chatman said of her overall haul. “When you’re sitting in the second round so many things can go so many different ways.

“Fitzgerald, she’s putting them up and she’s averaging seven assists a game. Plays for a fine coach who coached at Connecticut so you know the pedigree is there and just to stay in line with the type of players who have made Indiana successful.”

One is former Arizona State star Briann January, who has also dealt with injuries.

McCall was a surprise to not have gone in the first ten.

“They fit the image of an Indiana Fever basketball player in terms of their motor and energy,” Chatman  said of the four choices who also include former Florida player Ronni Williams and former Miami star Adrienne Motley. “It also shores up some of the core players and also competing to make us better.”

Added Krauskopf, “We were looking for some of the spots to fill. We were looking for some backup help in our training camp in our post area. And some backup help in guard area. All these players are talented players. All of them bring something to the table.

 “Camp is going to be competitive but it’s the WNBA. There’s only going to be 12 roster spots. There’s only 12 teams. There’s a lot of talent out there but we’re really happy with the mix of players that we got.”

 Training camps open a week from Sunday on April 23 and the 21st WNBA season begins May 13.

The Fever will host Washington in a preseason game on May 2, visit the Dallas Wings in another preseason game on May 6 and open the regular season on May 14 at the Seattle Storm.

Should Fitzgerald make the roster, the Fever visit Washington on June 11 at 3 p.m., and don’t visit the seaboard again until July 30 at Connecticut. They don’t visit New York until August 8, and then back at Washington on August 12.


WNBA Draft 2017: SEC Via SC Dominates the First Round

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference, the greatest college  basketball  conference for women, did just fine in the WNBA draft.

The players all know this is not where money will be made – that’s reserved for real seasons in Europe, Asia and Russia – but this is where reputations are enhanced.

After the obligatory pick of the consensus player of the year for the top pick, the SEC had the next three players chosen.

As the only All-American in the conference remains in college, none of them were All-American.

The guards were not first team all-conference by rival coaches. But all can surely play at the next level.

Alaina Coates of South Carolina was No. 2.

She missed the endgame of her team’s championship season, the conference tournament onward, with a severely sprained ankle.

Coates went to a rebuilt Chicago team which traded away Elena Della Donne for former UConn All-American center Stefani Dolson. They have a new coach, Amber Stocks, who had been an assistant with the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks. This was her first draft pick.

Evelyn Akhator of Kentucky was No. 3, the first UK pick since 2015.

She had a splendid two-year career after junior college and was All-SEC. New teammates, and former foes,  Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis  are also headed to Dallas.

Gray was a one-year wonder at national champions South Carolina, after sitting a year out as a transfer from North Carolina.

Her declaration to go pro as soon as she became eligible was undeclared as late as her announcement to join Coates at the draft site 10 days ago, not even known to her school’s sports information department.

At No. 10, the Wings reconnected Gray with SC’s other hired gun, Kaela Davis, also a one-year impact player after transferring in from Georgia Tech and also undeclared to the end.

Both of these guards were eligible for another year of college, but also eligible for the draft as four seasons had passed since high school. Neither earned a degree. But SC can claim three first-round picks nonetheless, another accolade for the national champions and a first in conference.
It reshuffles next season’s SEC season, of course, vaulting Mississippi State to the top of that heap.

The next two rounds are almost all about publicity as opposed to an actual WNBA career. Most of these players will get to a camp or two but most WNBA teams are drafting one-year rights to a player as emergency backups.

Foreign nationals who have not played in US college also begin to be selected as hunches.

In the second round, Tennessee’s Jordan Reynolds, a 5-11 guard, went to Atlanta. Hot shooting Ronni Willams of Florida went to Indiana. At  6-foot, she is a projected guard having played forward this season at depleted Florida.

In the final round, seldom-used 6-3 center Schaquilla Nunn of Tennessee went to San Antonio.

Makayla Epps, an All-SEC 5-10 guard from Kentucky, went to Chicago.

The Players

Coates is a burly center, one of the most feared “bigs” in the college game. When she and A’ja Wilson were together, the inside game was dominated by the Gamecocks.

Despite missing the tournament, Coates said she is blessed to have had four seasons at SC.

“Perfect your craft,” she said, “and show that you can be a really good teammate on and off the floor. How you play is a key factor, but at end of the day, they don’t want to deal with a top-of-the-line player that has a terrible attitude.

“So definitely make sure your style of play is consistent, and that you know how to act on and off the floor, especially for seniors.”

She drank in the entire draft experience.

“It’s really exciting, because I haven’t been to New York before,” she said.

“When the draft is over, my family and I are going to make a trip out of it. I really want to see the Statue of Liberty. For me, when I think of New York, it’s the Statue of Liberty.

“I can’t even lie – coach Staley spoiled us. So I’m probably going to miss that. But also the student section, and all of Gamecock nation, because they’ve just been super supportive.

“You kind of bring some of the old fan base with you wherever you go, but you do get attached to some people and get used to seeing the same people at every game. I think I’m going to miss that the most.”

Akhator, from Nigeria, is a 6-3 post player more suited to forward. She is an outstanding rebounder, dueling with Coates for best in the SEC.

After her apprenticeship at Chipola Community College, Marianna, Fla., she had her pick of the  major colleges after they won the national JC title.

At Kentucky, she stayed with her commitment even as six teammates fled after her junior year and was voted All SEC by the coaches.

She averaged a double-double (15.9 points, 10.8 rebounds), the  best in the SEC in rebounds and 11th nationally. She was fifth in national field goal percentage.

She was first encouraged to play at age 14. Her mom died in 2013, but her youth pastor and high school coach convinced her to play in honor of her mom and the path of life winds on.

 Gray was a home state girl who ended college back in South Carolina (though she attended high school in Georgia, where injuries eliminated her senior season).

At 6-foot even, she is a true guard and will not have the chance to slash and burn as much as she did in college. She thrived in the four-guard offense once Coates went out.

She hit 59 percent from the field in the NCAA eliminations, 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in the six games. Was all-regional and all-Final Four.

She has admired WNBA players for years.

“My favorite player is Diana Taurasi,” she said. “I’ve been watching her since her Connecticut days, and I’ve always just admired her work ethic and the way she can shoot the 3. I’m just honored to make it to this level. I view people like her as legends of the game.”

Her advice to players in college: “Listen to everything your coaches say. You may not see it now, but once you make that decision to leap to the next level, you’ll look back and see that you should definitely listen to your coaches. They know the game, and they teach you a lot.”

Davis, the No.10 pick, is a 6-2 guard who can slash and dash with the bigs.

She is from basketball-mad Indiana. At Georgia Tech, she was all-ACC as a sophomore and had already scored a program record with more than 1,000 points in 52 games.

Her dad, Antonio, played 13 NBA seasons and is an ESPN analyst. She dominated several games down the stretch for the Gamecocks. She and Gray are the first two transfers to win the NCAA title in their first years of eligibility at new schools and leave after one season.

Each were drafted well ahead of the self-proclaimed best guard in the NCAAs, a player from Notre Dame.

 “This year’s team was really special,” Davis said. “We got hit with a lot of different things, a lot of adversity and we found a way to pull it out and win the national championship. So just being part of that amazing group is something I’ll forever cherish.

“It’s a great time to be in women’s college basketball, and I think it’s definitely something I’ll miss.”

Of the WNBA players she admires, she said, “Candace Parker is my god sister, so to have her around is obviously all the influence you need. To grow up and just watch her, just seeing how she came from high school to being as successful as she is in the league, it’s definitely inspirational. She’s a great role model to have.”

She also said the draft visit to New York City was familiar to her.

“My dad played here for a year, so we’ve been here back and forth. I also have some family that lives here, so I’ve been here a few times. I still want to see the Empire State Building.”

Overall, she has an appreciation  of top-level athletes.

“Somebody I’ve always enjoyed following is Michael Phelps,” she said. “His kid is adorable. He lives this amazing life.

“It feels like he’s somewhere different every day, but he’s also someone that enjoys giving back.

“I also follow Elena Delle Donne, and I have a Great Dane as well, so it’s awesome to see how our dogs compare and stuff like that. Her dog is way calmer than mine, which I envy.”

Friday, April 07, 2017

Dawn Staley Award Presented to Kelsey Plum to Conclude Festive Homecoming for Coach of the NCAA Champs

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA – In some ways the annual Dawn Staley Award presentation at the Union League Thursday night that goes to the top guard in the nation was suddenly a breakout of multiple reunions and delegation because of the individual who bears the name of the award.

First was the recipient, Washington senior Kelsey Plum, the consensus national player of the year who has been on a whirlwind since her collegiate career closed picking up consensus national player of the year honors in Dallas at the Women’s Final Four from the Associated Press, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (Wade Trophy), and the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), as well as the Nancy Lieberman point guard award that is administered by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

From here she is headed to Los Angeles, where she will likely receive the Wooden Award and then will undoubtedly also earn the Naismith Award given out in Atlanta.

Next Thursday comes the WNBA Draft in New York, where only team needs and deals might cause her to not be the overall number one pick but if not she should still be taken rather quickly.

Plum finished as the all-time Division I scorer with 3,393 points as well as the leading scorer this past season with a 31.7 points per game average.

Kelsey’s mom Katie and Eastern Michigan coach Fred Castro, who had been an assistant at Washington prior to this past season, were among her people. Mike Neighbors, who left the Washington job last week to take over at his homecoming at Arkansas, was supposed to be on hand but his flight was cancelled due to the weather that struck the area earlier in the day.

Then there was Staley, herself, who had a heady day that began in the morning with a homecoming at Dobbins Tech in North Philadelphia attended by many local basketball notables as well as Mayor Kenny in the wake of her guiding South Carolina to its and her first NCAA title Sunday night over Southeastern Conference rival Mississippi State and Staley also recently being named the USA Women’s Olympic coach for 2020.

There was a Temple/South Carolina meld with Staley’s former Virginia teammate, now Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, and Owls associate head coach Way Veney and star senior Feyonda Fitzgerald while Ari Moore and South Carolina director of basketball operations Cynthia Jordan, who played for Staley at Temple, were also in the house.

La Salle women’s coach Jeff Williams was on hand with assistants Dalila Eshe and Christal Caldwell. Donald Hunt of the Philadelphia Tribune who covered Staley in her high school days was also among the media contingent.

Longtime University City coach Lurline Jones was another notable.

Michael G. Horsey, CPA, and founder of the Phoenix Club, which is behind the Staley Award, which launched in 2013, opened the ceremony, followed by principal sponsors Clarence LeJeune of LeJeune & Associates, and Derek Recross of Redcross & Associates.

Big Ten network broadcaster Vera Jones, who received the Excellence in Broadcasting Award, emceed the event.

Staley introduced Plum, saying, “We talked a long time about who was going to get this award. We were pretty biased this year, not because you took it. That’s what you do, you leave no questions as to who’s the best guard in the country.

“You made it easy for us by your play and it was incredible to watch. My team is not one that watches a whole lot of women’s basketball but most of our conversations with my team were around you and what you were doing.

“For me it was special, because they don’t talk a whole lot about basketball. They talked about you and the special season you were having. You scored a lot of points and you made it look really easy.

“I will tell you that basketball is a gift that keeps on giving as long as you give to it. As long as you sacrifice, as long as you work hard, as long as you’re persistent and persevere, it’s going to keep giving. You just have to embrace it. Be a steward of the game. Be a servant of the game. Be a historian of the game.

 “Because a lot of times we play the game, we don’t know the history of it. We don’t know what it is built. You don’t seem like that type. I’m so looking forward to seeing your career played out in the WNBA. I think your future is bright. If it is anything like you did over your four year career at the University of Washington, women’s basketball and its future is in a great place.

“It is truly my honor to have you as the fifth recipient. I wish you nothing but success. Please take women’s basketball to a place it’s never been. The WNBA is an incredible place to live out your dream, keep holding it in high regard so the next people coming down the pipeline have a place to live out there dreams. Thank you for what you did this year. I hope there’s another Kelsey Plum coming along, I hope she is on my team. Thank you so much.”

Plum then came to the podium to accept.

She began by noting she was in the City of Brotherly Love “and I sure feel a lot of love tonight, so thank you.

“Coach, I call you coach because I hope one day you will be my coach,” Plum quipped, “thank you. You’ve been a pioneer in this game. I know its history. And to have my name on your award is a dream come true.”
She thanked her mother for instilling values and being there and Castro, who was her “guard coach” at Washington. “He was so sick of me because U would call and text him every day. ‘Coach. What time are we watching film. What time are we working out.’

“I feel the love and support (in the room) and hopefully I can come back as an alumni because this has been really special to me.”

The inaugural winner was Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins in 2013, followed by Baylor’s Odyssey Sims in 2014, South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell in 2015, and Connecticut’s Moriah Jefferson last season.


Monday, April 03, 2017

2017 Women's Final Four Photo Retrospective

Hi all. Best way to do this here's a link to all the great pictures from our Willbill from this werk and other seasons. http://williamewartphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/2017-NCAA-Womens-Division-I-Final-Four-National-Championship-Mississippi-State-vs-South-Carolina/G0000bR_IWZZ2.iE/C0000OUeGMIE0Dh8

Sunday, April 02, 2017

NCAAW Final Four: Mississippi State Still Needs to Beat SEC Foe to Become Cinderella

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 A season that started for Connecticut dodging a bullet at Florida State concluded by taking one to the heart against Mississippi State.

 This is why sports are powerful and a reminder of why the games are played.

 The most unexpected team ended the game’s most improbable winning streak in a breathtakingly stunning way.

 When the women’s basketball season started, the list of teams that many expected to beat UConn in March was short: South Carolina, Notre Dame, Baylor, and Maryland. If somebody gave you a fifth guess, chances are Mississippi State would not have been mentioned.

 Yet, there were the Bulldogs literally dog-piling and celebrating the most memorable victory in their program history.

Mississippi State diminutive junior guard Morgan William delivered a buzzer-beating shot for the ages while authoring a perfect ending to a wonderful night of women’s basketball.

 William’s shot will be replayed for eternity.

 Her game-winning pull-up basket as time expired over the outstretched arm of Gabby Williams simultaneously lifted the Bulldogs to an exhilarating, 66-64, overtime victory in one of the greatest upsets in women’s basketball history and terminated UConn’s NCAA-record 111-game winning streak.

 Moments like that make March magical.

 UConn rolled into Dallas as an overwhelming favorite to win its fifth consecutive national title.

Despite its 33 victories, confidence and talented players, many believed Mississippi State would be just another speed bump along UConn’s smooth road to victory.

 The Bulldogs had other ideas in stunning the women’s basketball universe.

 Mississippi State proved that anything is possible with hard-work, hustle, tenacity, belief and focus.

 The Bulldogs advanced to Sunday’s national championship game against Southeastern Conference (SEC) foe South Carolina, a 62-53 winner over Stanford in the first semifinal.

 The Bulldogs have an opportunity to become the first women’s program to beat three No. 1 seeds in the same tournament. South Carolina handed Mississippi State two of its four losses this season.

Whoever wins Sunday will become the 15th women’s basketball program in history to win a NCAA championship. Furthermore, South Carolina or Mississippi State will become the second SEC team to win a NCAA title.

 In what was on paper a David-vs-Goliath matchup was anything but as Mississippi State didn’t crack under the weight of UConn’s aura and accomplishments. A sling shot wasn’t needed to extinguish the UConn giant.

 After all, David never possessed the ankle-breaking skills or clutch shot-making ability like William anyway.

 To be fair, Mississippi State didn’t win a trip to the Final Four in a raffle.

 The Bulldogs had 33 victories and were coming off of an overtime win against Baylor as well as an impressive win over Kelsey Plum and Washington.

 Mississippi State didn’t save women’s basketball with its victory.

 The game had been at a high level for a number of years, but that view had been clouded because of UConn’s brilliance and dominance, which included a 98-38 beatdown of the Bulldogs in last season’s Sweet 16 in Bridgeport.

 Following that mismatch, UConn was placed on the defensive for the ferocity of its victory.

 The Huskies were forced to defend its reputation, program culture of excellence and competing at the highest level. There were some idiots saying there was no competition, the Huskies were too good for the sport, and it was boring to watch.

 The Huskies excellence was good for the sport as it forced everybody to raise their game to another level.

 Again, sports provides the greatest reminder that anything is possible on any given day.

 If this was a best-of-seven, then the Huskies probably win the series, but in the one-game at a time world of the NCAA Tournament, all it takes is one bad night. And this is not like the baseball or softball regionals where it’s a double-elimination format.

 Like many, I am stunned UConn lost to Mississippi State. Funny thing is Mississippi State didn’t need any divine intervention or miracle plays to beat UConn. The Bulldogs played the way they have always played during their enchanted season.

 The only comparison to a night like this was the epic UNLV-Duke men’s basketball battles.

 In the 1990 national title game, UNLV beat Duke, 103-73, at the time the largest margin of victory in title game history.

One year later the same two squads met in the Final Four with UNLV looking to finish a perfect season.

The Runnin’ Rebels were denied as Duke won 79-77, a win that catapulted the Blue Devils to consecutive national titles.

Watching the game play out Friday night, it’s not surprising the Bulldogs won.
 This was not a fluke.

 Mississippi State deserved to win as it outplayed UConn for most of the evening.

The Bulldogs were better on offense, excellent on defense and stronger on boards. Mississippi State magnificently controlled the tempo and never allowed the Huskies to get out in transition.

The Bulldogs attacked from the start, confronted UConn’s challenge during the second half and eventually slayed the Huskies while never backing down.

 Mississippi State refused to lose. When the Huskies seemingly took command late and forged a three-point lead with under two minutes remaining, the Bulldogs responded like champions.

Aside from strategy and shot making, Mississippi State won this game before it arrived to the arena.
The Bulldogs were mentally prepared and believed that they were going to win.

 Last season, Mississippi State was defeated in the pre-game layup line. It was 32-4 after the first quarter and 61-13 at halftime.

 Mississippi State led the entire first half and even constructed a 16-point second quarter lead on the Huskies.

UConn never found a groove because of Mississippi State’s suffocating defense.
 Even when UConn was losing to Notre Dame a few years ago, it was never this uncomfortable on offense.

 Mississippi State junior guard Victoria Vivians delivered the first message.

 Her pull-up 3-pointer in the opening minutes was a statement to the rest of the women’s basketball world. More importantly, once Vivians shot swished through the net, it signaled to UConn that this was a different Mississippi State team than the one that endured a humiliating 60-point loss to the Huskies last year in the regional semifinals.

 Vivians was special again before fouling out a minute into overtime. Her smooth game is fun to watch as she combines textbook fundamentals with mesmerizing flair.

 She halted a 12-0 UConn second quarter charge with five quick points. Late in the game, Vivians sank a 3-pointer in front of her bench to give the Bulldogs a 60-59 lead. That came after Mississippi State fell behind, 59-56.

UConn didn’t go down easily, not that anybody expected it. The proud Huskies found a way to put themselves in position to win the game. Mississippi State had a lot to do with UConn not playing its best game. The Bulldogs made life miserable for the Huskies.

 What UConn achieved was hard.

The Huskies made winning look ridiculously easy and the strong competition seem inferior.

Reaching 10 consecutive Final Fours and winning four straight national titles requires some luck along the way as well as amazingly great health. We may never see a 111-game winning streak again in history so that needs to be celebrated.

 UConn’s last two losses were two-point overtime setbacks. Think about that for a second.

 The Huskies handled the loss with class, poise, grace, and tremendous sportsmanship.

The players were available to the media afterwards, spoke candidly, and gave props to Mississippi State. The players took its cue from head coach Geno Auriemma, who smiled when William’s shot went through the net. Auriemma was tremendous in postgame interviews.

 One question was answered as we learned who can beat UConn in March.

 The next big question is will Mississippi State have anything remaining to complete its improbable journey to the summit.

 No matter what happens Sunday, Mississippi State showed that anything is possible no matter the opponent. The Bulldogs provided the signature moment of the tournament.

So while you salute and admire the Bulldogs, make sure you do the same for the Huskies.

The power of sports.