Saturday, July 12, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Guru Musings: UConn Heading For World Dominance?

By Mel Greenberg

Guru Musings: UConn Heading For World Dominance?

By Mel Greenberg

   PHILADELPHIA _ It is one thing for the University of Connecticut to continue to push aside all challengers to date on the way to possibly back-to-back unbeaten NCAA titles.

   The Huskies are winning effortlessly even as Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma claimed soon after championship No. 6 in St. Louis in April he would never want this year's team to experience the continued pressure of maintaining a ;perfect record that the 2003 group did with Diana Taurasi as the top returning player from a squad that sent four players to the WNBA among the top six picks.

    When the 2003 Huskies were temporarily derailed by Villanova's famous Big East title upset ending the record win streak at 70, Wildcats coach Harry Perretta proclaimed "I saved Wooden," alluding the UCLA men's record of 88 straight.

    It's doubtful Perretta will help the Wizard of Westwood out again on January 23 when Connecticut visits Villanova at the Pavillion for the Saturday encounter at 2 p.m.

    With the collegiate world tucked deep away under Connecticut's shadow the UConn effect is now taking on the rest of the world.

     On Tuesday, the Huskies' legacies helped bring the summer WNBA back into the limelight with a blockbuster trade with Minnesota that brought a new meaning to home-and-home.

      Former University of Minnesota star Lindsay Whalen was sent from the Connecticut Sun to the Twin Cities along with the No. 2 pick in next April's draft to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for former UConn star Renee Montgomery, one of the top WNBA newcomers last summer, and the No. 1 pick, likely to be Huskies center Tina Charles.

     Sun coach Mike Thisbauldt almost sounded like a member of the NCAA tournament committee at the Sun press conference.

       The committee always says in terms of selecting the field, they don't look at conference identities and numbers of representatives from leagues -- they look at teams as individual entities.

       Thibault noted that in the case of the UConn, it's not the label, it's just the fact that Auriemma happens to have the best players and they would be regarded as such no matter what uniform they wear.

        Furthermore, besides the forthcoming reunion, Montgomery and Charles will be top candidates along with a strong dose of UConn alumnae to be named to the world championship squad being coached by Mr. Auriemma.

        And in terms of the legacy, the tentacles are everywhere. Here in town former assistant Tonya Cardoza is poised to guide Temple to another run to the NCAA tournament with a traveling family that includes three other persons with UConn DNA.

     And just to the south Delaware redshirt freshman Elena Delle Donne is off to a sensational start to her collegiate career. But her episode spanning 2007-2008 of accepting and then rejecting a scholarship from Auriemma to stay home for well-explained reasons still gives her the notoriety as the most famous ex-future UConn never to wear the blue and white.

     Incidentally, Delaware announced Tuesday that attendance in the first five games is up 1,500 to 2,500 in round numbers by the Guru meaning that depending on ticket prices, Delle Donne has already earned perhaps $50,000 in gate sales for the Blue Hens.

       Delaware will be home Thursday night against UNC Wilmington and then host Drexel Sunday afternoon in the first of two enouncters with reigning Colonial Athletic Association champions. The Blue Hens will visit West Philadelphia on Jan. 31, a Sunday afternoon, in Delle Donne's first appearance here since her days playing for Fencor AAU.

      Meanwhile, while the thrill exists in casino-land off the acquisitions, the angst over Whalen's departure is a tribute to what she accomplished in demonstrating perhaps the entire world is not all things UConn.

     She arrived as the No. 4 pick in the same draft that saw Taurasi taken by the Phoenix Mercury who eventually teamed with former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter to deliver two WNBA titles, including one in September.

   Yep, that's another UConn effect, thinking about it.

     While it took a bit over the Sun's inability to wedge their way into the top pick for Taurasi, Whalen quickly won over the hearts and minds of the fan base and media proving that maybe all things don't have to be UConn, though it certainly makes things easier in the marketing department.

    Besides being an All-Star and a great talent, Whalen was a fan favorite. Once she became acclimated as a Minnesota Gopher on a Connecticut Yankee's court, she took to the area. She was the first stop for the media in postgame locker room interviews. She wrote witty blogs for the New London Day. And she did all the heavy lifting necessary to help the WNBA extend its reach.

      Now the Lynx hope her homecoming will do likewise in a place whose hearts and minds she won a long time ago in helping Minnesota reach a Final Four.

       Meanwhile, a veteran WNBA coach in chatting with the Guru about the trade, observed how the first hint of potential action emerged as a suggestion in the Connecticut media.

       It is not known if it was the writer's actual idea or it was written off of inside discussions with the Sun.

       "If this is way things are now going to get done, I need you national guys to come up with a player for me," the coach said. "I don't know if I have anyone in our media capable of starting the deal."

                                 Stanley Returns to the Mystics

        Oddly, in the previous post 24 hours ago, the Guru had mentioned former Immaculata star Marianne Stanley in terms of her success in the AP rankings as a coach at Old Dominion.

        At the moment he thought to himself he needed to catch up with her remembering she was no longer with the Los Angeles Sparks as an assistant following the hire of former Minnesota interim coach Jennifer Gillom in the WNBA.

       Sure enough, no sooner thought than said.

         The Washington Mystics, whom Stanley once coached and guided to the playoffs, announced her hire to coach post players off of Julie Plank's staff.

           In 2006-07 she left the New York Liberty to join C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers and her work with posts helped the Scarlet Knights make their fabled late-season run to the NCAA title game.

            -- Mel 

Mel Greenberg Inquirer Sports Columnist
About this blog
Mel Greenberg covers college and pro women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he has worked for 38 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. He was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.



Click here for Mel's list of All-Decade players from Philadelphia-area schools.

Other contributors

Jonathan Tannenwald is a producer with Philly.com. In addition to covering the local college scene, he spent two years as the Washington Mystics beat writer for Women's Hoops Guru. He also writes his own blog, Soft Pretzel Logic, which covers men's college basketball, football, and other sports.

Kathleen Radebaugh is a recent graduate of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. She covered women's basketball for the school's newspaper, The Hawk, and served as sports editor her sophomore year. She was also a four-year member of the varsity crew team.

Erin Semagin Damio covers the University of Connecticut and the WNBA's Connecticut Sun for the blog, and contributes other features. The Storrs, Conn., native also attends Northeastern University, where she is a coxswain on the varsity crew team.

Acacia O'Connor is based in Washington, D.C., where she reports on the Mystics and the college basketball scene in the nation's capital. A graduate of Vassar college, she played on the varsity women's basketball team and was editor of the student newspaper.

Click on any of the contributors' names above to e-mail them.

Reach Mel at poll416@gmail.com.

Mel Greenberg Inquirer Sports Columnist
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