April 15, 2014

Guru's Musings: Draft Day Deal Bringing Tina Charles Home to the Liberty Comes Full Circle for New York

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA --
Due to a conflict in scheduling the Guru had to forego being present at the WNBA draft Monday night to attend the first-ever triple combination Philadelphia Big 5 postseason men's and women's awards event as well as the annual Big 5 Hall of Fame selection at The Paleatra.

But he wasn't far from keeping track of the wild proceedings at the WNBA draft, which he will get to shortly.

A year ago the Big 5 combined the men's and women's events, which used to be separate, into a unified event done in a classy presentation in which the men's and women's winners in each individual category were called up together.

Ths time around the Hall of Fame ceremony, which used to be held midseason sometime in January, was added to the back end.

The reception part of the night, instead of the sit-down following appetizers, featured just nibbles, which was fine because they were tasty as always and it allowed more time for mingling prior to the formal events.

Two reasons for the Guru to be in the house, besides a third of being on hand as a past Big Five honoree, were the inductions of former Temple classmate Dick "Dickie Hoops" Weiss, the men's Guru sportswriter, which makes you think how wild journalism classes were back in the Guru's and Dickie Hoops' collegiate days on North Broad Street.

Many came to honor Weiss, including incoming United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) president Dana O'Neil, one of the writing talents at ESPN who was a colleague of Weiss back in the days both were employed at The Philadelphua Daily News.

Dick Jerardi, who also works at the Daily News, presented Weiss, who spoke of growing up in The Palestra.

Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan, another of the top collegiate basketball writers in the nation, was on hand with his wife, as was former Immaculata great Theresa Grentz, who's championship era was just announced as a team inductee to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Most of the specifics of Monday can be found in The Inquirer's Mike Jensen's report, which is also on Philly.com.

Additionally, Weiss and his wife Joan Williamson just co-authored a book with Grentz, Lessons Learned from Playing a Child's Game.

Thw Coyle sisters former Rutgers twin backcourt stars Patty and Mary, were alao in the house.

The post pizza after-party in Upper Darby in the city's immediate western suburb was almost like that show years ago on TV hosted by actor Jon Favreau, Dinner for Five, which featured a rotation of Hollywood celebrity friends.

On hand at the pizza parlor among others were Grentz, who is worthy of her own future individual Hall of Fame accolade; the Ryans, Villanova men's coach Jay Wright, Jensen, Joe Cassidy, the longtime men's coach at Rowan in Glassboro, South Jersey, whose collegiate days featured a two-year stint as the Saint Joseph's mascot The Hawk.

The other inductee involving the Guru wanting to be on hand was former La Salle great Crista Ricketts, who has played internationally and did play in the area's well-attended women's summer league.

When she was recruited, former La Salle coach John Miller predicted Ricketts would be the greatest women's player to wear a La Salle uniform.

The major local news of the day was the announcement that former Penn star Steve Bilsky, the retiring athletic director at his alma mater this June, would remain nearby as executive director of The Big Five, whose headquarters are in The Palestra on Penn's campus.

La Salle, incidentally, is the alma mater of WNBA Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, while Bilsky was once the AD at George Washington when he hired Joe McKeown, now at Northwestern.

As for the awards, unlike past times, the winners are now announced ahead of time so there were no surprises though returning to waiting until awards night would inject drama and suspense into the event.

On the women's side, it was like Oscar night -- Saint Joseph's senior Erin Shields won all the productions awards in the early part of the evening -- scoring, foul shooting, academics, while Penn'a dynamite finish enabled the Quakers to sweep best picture, actor and actress out of the Ivy champions with Mike McLaughlin winning coach of the year; Alyssa Baron taking best player; Syndey Stipanovich taking rookie of the year -- the fourth straight time a Quakers player won the award with a fifth a strong possibility next year coming out of Texas.

And but for a few minutes in the total City Series, Penn might have walked off with its first Big Five championship trophy which was acccepted by Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin after the Hawks went 4-0.

WNBA Draft: Full Circle for New York Liberty

Now that the Guru held you prisoner through all that, in playing catchup on twitter to picks as they approached, rather than reading everything live or watching the proceedings, it was quite humorous to see the famed Media Horde out of Connecticut quoting each other on breaking trades involving Tina Charles, while AP national women's writer Doug Feinberg went head on with his own reporting with the rest of the nation quoting him.

The deal, sending an unhappy Tina Charles -- not over the swap -- back home to New York for Kelsey Bone, first-round pick Alyssa Thomas out of Maryland, and a first-rounder next year, erases the long held unhappiness among the Liberty faithful that allowed Charles to land with the Sun in the first place.

Prior to Charles' arrival out of Connecticut in 2010, a three-team swap had been made involving New York that saw the Liberty first-round pick land in the hands of Minnesota.

At the time, though the value could have been better on the Liberty receiving end, the deal didn't seem that terrible in that most thought New York would be playoff bound that season but when the Liberty didn't make the postseason the pick, which had gone to the hands of Minnesota, went to Connecticut in the deal that sent Lindsay Whalen back home to the Twin Cities.

Monday's deal helps both teams especially since Charles had been unhappy over the previous offseason move a year ago in which Mike Thubault was let go and then picked up by the Washington Mystics, who ironically made the playoffs last season, and Connecticut did not due to a bunch of injuries.

Anne Donovan was hired to replace Thibault.

Last winter Donovan in a private call on another matter gave some indication that a former UConn type might be dealt somewhere and mused how the fan base would react.

Additionally, former Tennessee star and ESPN studio host Kara Lawson is now in Washington.

It was noted to her that the Sun fans, while also blue blooded UConn fans, have more of an emphasis on wanting their pro team to win a title and if a deal would fly with them, there would not be much unhappiness in losing Charles.

That appears to be the case beginning with the pick of Chiney Ogwumike out of Stanford at the top of the draft by the Sun and the deal bringing in value for Charles.

There were other offseason deals that brought in former Penn State star Alex Bentley out of Atlanta.

Donovan, in a public event down here last winter, in a speech, made an aside that the Sun locker room had not been a happy place last summer, though the remark in that audience was like a tree falling in the forest with no one from the Connecticut media crowd to hear it.

The only WNBA awareness in that group was former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne who went on to become rookie of the year with the Chicago Sky.

Donovan indicated the chemistry would be changed over the winter, which appearently has been the case.

Meanwhile, in Washington Thibault dealt Willingboro's Crystal Langhorne, the longtime Mystics star out of Maryland, to Seattle to bring in another Terrapin in Tianna Hawkins along with the draft rights to UConn's Bria Hartley, which enables her to reunite with rookie Stefanie Dolson, whom Tibault drafted head on.

Indeed, the Washington locker room could be the most entertaining for post game interviews, especially with the presence of former North Carolina star Ivory Latta, a factor last season in Washington's renaissance.

It also makes the coming preseason game May 13 at Delaware featuring Chicago and Washington that much more fun with Delle Donne home in the Bob Carpenter Center along with Sky teammate Swin Cash, the former UConn star, going opposite Dolson and Hartley.

Tickets are now on sale at the Delaware box office. Eleven -- count them 11 corporate partners are signed on for the event.

Considering that Washington, New York, and Connecticut are the Guru's prime stops on the WNBA summer tour, it will be an intriguing few months ahhead.

If Thibault can harness Hartley and Dolson the way Geno Auriemnma did at UConn, he might have a shot at landing on Auriemma's USA staff unless those picks are made before the season is well under way.

Two locals of interest went in the draft with Vanderbilt's Christina Foggie from South Jersey going to Minnesota, whose coach Reeve is also from the same general area.

And Narberth's Maggie Lucas, who became one of the all-time Penn State scoring sensations, was taken by the Phoenix Mercury, which once had Lady Lions all-timer Kelly Mezzante on the roster.

Return of Staley

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley returns home Thursday to present Baylor's Odyssey Sims the Dawn Staley Guard award at the Union League on Thursday.

If Staley has an extra smile and hop in her step, it could be over what will happen Wednesday before she gets back to town.

The Guru hears from sources outside Gamecock country that the highly coveted A'ja Wilson, who is down to choosing from Connecticut, Tennessee, South and North Carolina, will decide to stay home so Staley can be excused if she doesn't offer her annual Guru birthday greeting on Wednesday, when Wilson's announcement will be carred by ESPNU.

If Staley has already been given a similar indication she is not sharing it but one thing she and the Guru do share is accountants so time to wrap this up to head over and get something done known as taxes.

The Guru has been informed that he can go into overtime with his file.

More to come.

-- Mel

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April 11, 2014

Guru's Musings: Aftermath of Nashville

By Mel Greenberg

The Guru seems obligated to throw a few odds and ends around considering the numbers that have dropped by here while the Guru was helping the alma mater with the Immaculata Hall of Fame coverage and then drafted to handle the championship game between UConn and Notre Dame.

Considering the deadlines and the self-writing storylines, the bulk of what appeared in The Inquirer was written in the hour leading up to the game.

The fact that UConn turned the game into a rout made play by play inserts not all that much necessary.

Since the editing gods actually kept the essence of what was said about the UConn win, here is what might have appeared had Notre Dame won instead.

NASHVILLE -- The long wait is over for the Notre Dame women's basketball team and what a way to win.

In the most anticipated matchup in collegiate women's basketball history featuring two unbeatens in the NCAA title game for the first time, the Irish defeated longtime national rival and defending champion Connecticut xx-xx Tuesday night in the Bridgestone Arena to finish perfect at 38-0.

It's the second NCAA crown for Notre Dame and first since 2001 when the Ruth Riley-led Irish edged Purdue after upsetting Connecticut in the national semifinals.

But this one could be called an upset, also, considering that the Huskies (39-1) were No. 1 all season and a heavy favorite to win in the Bridgestone Arena before a sellout crowd of 17,519.

The game featured two Philly coaches in Connecticut's Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown, and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, a Big Five Hall of Famer who played at Saint Joseph's in the mid-1970s.

Furthermore, Notre Dame lost one of its key starters in Natalie Achonwa to a knee injury near the end of the regional final against Baylor in South Bend, Ind., l;ast week.

But that didn't stop McGraw's group from routing Maryland here Sunday night in the semifinals before Connecticut stopped Stanford to set up the battle of unbeatens.

Notre Dame's triumph kept Auriemma tied with Tennessee coach emeritus Pat Summitt at eight and deprived the Huskies of becoming just the second team alongside Baylor (20-12) to go 40-0 in an NCAA season competition.

Auriemma's teams have gone unbeaten four times previously before the finals here.

The Irish win also deprived UConn of pulling a second double in the wake of the Huskies' men beating Kentucky for that NCAA crown on Monday night.

Connecticut's men and women won titles in 2004 and they are the only school to win trophies for both genders in the same season.

Thanks to the football-driven conference shakeup last summer, this game took on an extra magnitude because Notre Dame left the old Big East configuration to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference while Connecticut became part of the American Athletic Conference.

Thus the Huskies and Irish sidestepped each other during the regular season, though they will launch a two-year nonconference series beginning in South Bend, Ind., next season.

That Connecticut added a fifth unbeaten run to the program's record book, was considered quite possible.

But Notre Dame was not expected to do as well with the graduation of all-American point guard Skylar Diggins and the move to one of the stronger women's rivalries where Duke, North Carolina, and, for this past season, Maryland call home.

However, coach Muffet McGraw got the Irish off to a quick start in November and they bolted to their fifth straight Women's Final Four.

Early in the season Notre Dame moved into the second spot in the weekly polls and that's the way things stayed the rest of the way as the collision course of unbeatens took hold.

Two of the Notre Dame recent Final Fours apearances involved taking down UConn in the national semifinals but last season after beating the Huskies three straight in the old Big East, Auriemma got revenge in New Orleans and then the Huskies beat Louisville, also part of the Big East, to tie Summitt with title No. 8.


Getting the Last Word

So in a few years in 2017 the days of the weeks of the Women's Final Four will shift from Sunday and Tuesday to Friday and Sunday for the purposes on helping attendance and making travel easier for fans who won't be forced to miss Monday and Tuesday work days.

There's no quibble here but the Guru should point this out.

The same as 2004 the last time UConn pulled a gender double to become the only school to have its men's and women's team win the same season, it was the women who got the attention and had the lasting conversation because it was up to them to finish the job after the men won on a Monday night.

The same situation occurred here and with all the extra toppings on hand with the double unbeaten records of the UConn women and Notre Dame, the Philly dustup during Monday's press sessions with Irish coach Muffet McGraw and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, the curiosity factor heightened.

As ESPN executive Carol Stiff said to the Guru on Monday afternoon, "This is no longer a game -- it's an event," and the ratings supported that notion when released after the championship.

But if the calendar had already been in reverse, the women would have had their spotlight on Sunday night and into half of Monday but because the men were playing 24 hours later to close out the season for both genders, the focus would have been more on them in the ensuing days then the UConn women.

Before the next topic, if we're all one big happy basketball family trying to react of the Ackerman White Paper to make things better, unless the Guru missed a comment while running around all over the place, how come no one in a high NCAA place through a bone of approval to UTEP for the crowds the Miners drew for the Women's NIT won by Rutgers.???

Backroom Chatter

Though the Big East women's tournament was successful at DePaul in suburban Chicago and won by the Blue Demons, it may not return to the Midwest next time around.

The problem was even though five of the schools are gegraphically East -- St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova and Georgetown -- in terms of regional awareness in its old haunts from the days UConn snd the Hartford XL Arena where the the tournament was an annual event, the distance but the Big East into a mental eclipse in terms of paying large attention to the games from afar.

So, according to some insiders, while on one hand, the Big East could remain in DePaul country, the idea of moving back to the seaboard, or switching the dates to the second weekend, or both, or something creative that might make it easier for the regional media in the East to go back and forth could be on the burner at the annual spring meetings.

Geno's USA Helpers

USA Basketball Women's honcho Carol Callan said there's no rush to name who will serve on the coaching staff under UConn's Geno Auriemma for this fall's World Championship.

The quetion was posed on when the news might come because considering who helped out at the last training session and the names speculated, it could be a strong Philadelphia accent.

Auriemma grew up in nearby Norristown after coming from Italy not long after arriving on the planet.

Some WNBA ingredients are usually required and most everyone believes after guiding the Minnsota Lynx to two titles and three straight finals, Cheryl Reeve, who grew up across the river in South Jersey, and played at La Salle is a strong candidate.

Even though South Carolina coach Dawn Staley will be heading the Under-18 squad this summer, she could still land on the staff, especially given her long affair as a player and coach with USA basketball and is one candidate likely groomed for the post-Auriemma era, whenever that will be.

Other possibilities are Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti, the former UConn star who has already guided younger USA teams to gold medals as the Olynpic stars of the future; DePaul's Doug Bruno, who was an assistant to Auriemma in the triumph at the London Games in 2012; WNBA Washington's Mike Thibault, among others.

Some say what about Bill Laimbeer, coach of the New York Liberty.

When asked last summer, he smiled and replied, the players might like it but I don't know about everyone else.

Liking Mike

Chatting with Miami coach Katie Meier, a Duke grad, at the packed Blue Star Media party at one of Nashville's salooneries, the Hurricanes coach heaped praises on the Penn Quakers, which upset her squad in Coral Gables on New Year's Day to kick start a drive to the Ivy title.

"Not surprised that it happened," Meier said. "I loved the way they played. They should have beaten us. They were the better team. Mike McLaughlin's done a great job with them."

McLaughlin's name was on a lot of lips in Nashville as a prime candidate for BCS jobs or high mid-major positions in the future, though he is quite content to be with the Quakers in the Big Five.

Still, the Guru has seen it before. If someone has the bucks to pay the buyouts, and remember McLaughlin arrived with a history of Division II success at Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia, they won't hesitate to raid the coaching cupboard with offers that can't be refused.

So if the Guru were Grace Calhoun, the new AD at Penn who hired former WNBA and Olympic star Sheryl Swoopes at Loyola of Chicago with zero experience, one of the first things he would do is chat McLaughlin up and make him an untouchable so Penn's return to Ivy prominence as well as its newly-found acclaim byond the Ancient Eight becomes secure in the years ahead.

Princeton's Courtney Banghart has already previously landed in the group of next generation star coaches with the way she transformed the Tigers, but the mistakes schools with openings made in their approach in recent seasons is they made offers she could refuse.

In fact, while Princeton is in transition -- the Tigers are also in the AD market with the impending retirement of Gary Walters -- some schools might feel the time is right to grab Banghart.

Speaking of that vacancy, the Guru has in a few places heard the name of Oregon State men's basketball coach Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Obama as a person of interest to the headhunters at Princeton.

One school that has moved quickly over the years to keep its women's coach in check is Hartford where everytime Jen Rizzotti's name would be mentioned for jobs, athletic director Pat Meiser, who also was involved in the hire of Auriemma at UConn when she was on the AD staff, would suddenly announce a new deal.

Meiser, incidentally, once coached Penn State.

Grentz the Author

Theresa Grentz, the first superstar center of the modern collegiate era when she played on the Immaculata championship squads that will going into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on August 8, has just penned a book Lessons Learned Playing a Child's Game, as told to Dick Weiss and Joan Williamson.

Weiss, is the famous "Dickie Hoops" Weiss, the acclaimed sportswriter of men's basketball while the Guru remembers Williamson when she was working for Sports Illustrated when he first began covering women's hoops in the mid-1970s.

Here is a link to Grentz's website and info about buying the book.

http://grentzelitecoaching.com/lessons-learned-from-playing-a-childs-game. You're going to have to cut and paste this in the url window on your browsers.

USBWA Women's Awards

As soon as he sees what makes or doesn't make the USBWA's newsletter on rounding up the women's awards from Sunday, he'll post the transcriptions of the acceptances that were made.

Especially poignant were the remarks from retired ESPN executive Rosa Gatti and CoSIDA's Barb Kowal, in charge of external relations, about the creation of the Mary Jo Haverbeck award beginning next season.

With Breanna Stewart about to play in the semifinals, athletic diretors Warde Manuel and Deb Corum accepted the player of the year for her.

Muffet McGraw's husband Matt was handed the coach of the year award. Kirsten Moore, coach of the Westmont 2013 NAIA national champions, received the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award.

OK. Now you had a reason to hang around for new material.

More to come.

-- Mel











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