Monday, April 19, 2010

Digest 01-2010

* Thinking about Training Camp
* The Meadors Hire: A Geno Conspiracy?
* Tony Wyman and the Gwinnett Post
* Dream Home Games Covered by Fox Sports
* Dream Players Overseas

I can't believe it. Tax Day has come and gone and we are now in mid-April. As I write this we're exactly a month away from the opening game of the 2010 Atlanta Dream season.

Training camp starts on April 25th, and it looks like everyone will be there - with a few exceptions. The first of these exceptions is in Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza. Each of those players is still in Spain, and undoubtedly will be dealing with the post-season playoffs. (Their teams are #2 and #1 in the Spanish League, respectively, and both teams went deep into Euroleague play.) The other exception is in Kelly Miller, who might still be finishing up with Spartak Moscow in Russia.

There are a couple of other players still theoretically attached to their European teams, but I don't know how strong that attachment is. Yelena Leuchanka is still on the Galatasaray roster in Turkey, and I don't know if the Dream, or Galatasaray expect her to remain in Turkey when there's a training camp going on. It took the Dream three years to finally get Leuchanka signed, a signing that was always real soon now. It looks like it has finally happened, but as I wrote before, I'll not believe it until I see Leuchanka wearing powder blue.

The other case is that of Demetress Adams, who is playing for Burgos in Spain. Burgos is a top team, but it's a top team in the FirstTop League at the end of the year, and Burgos is the #1 team in LFB2. How bad do they need Demetress Adams....

...and how bad do we need her? If Adams were really good, she'd be in the first league - the best players in LFB2 are usually college players who couldn't make a WNBA roster and are just looking to play basketball for some amount of money, somewhere. Adams should be dominating play in LFB2 if she were pro caliber - can you imagine what a Diana Taurasi would do against the warm bodies of LFB2 competition? - but she has struggled. The hiring of Adams has perplexed me, and the only conclusion I can come up with is that Adams is a warm body - until de Souza and Lyttle show up.

A final question is about Jennifer Lacy. The last I heard, Lacy was still (technically) an unsigned free agent. Can you appear in training camp if you're not signed to a contract?

Other training camp arrivees haven't clocked a single pro game over the past seven or so months. I don't believe that Coco Miller was signed anywhere in the off-season, and if she was, she was probably playing somewhere like Nicaragua where I never heard of it. Armintie Price and Shalee Lehning were busy brushing up on a potential future coaching career - Price at Ole Miss and Lehning at Kansas State.

Lehning had other distractions as well. First, she had to finish her degree. We can proudly say that Lehning graduated K-State in December. Second, she spent the first part of the off-season recovering from a horrible shoulder separation. It was one of the worst separations the doctor treating her had ever seen, and such injuries cast rational doubts about Lehning's power to recover. From my brief interactions with Lehning, she strikes me as a woman with a lot of willpower. If Lehning can recover, she will recover. The problem for both Lehning and Price will be in recovering and shaking off the rust at the same time.

Every other player on the roster (save for the newest acquisitions) spent some time overseas. Erica White was in Israel. The three draft picks spent time on a college roster somewhere. However, not all pro experiences are equal.

Take the case of Chamique Holdsclaw. The Claw started out with Good Angels Kosice in the fall, played a couple of games with them, and was unceremoniously dumped. My understanding is that the Good Angels felt that they had gotten a broken player, basically - that Holdsclaw's knee injuries were worse than what they were led to believe. The Claw returned to the United States for a few months, and then took off again to play for K. V. Imperial in Cyprus.

I hope I'm not insulting Cypriot basketball when I say that...well, it's not top caliber. K. V. Imperial is sorta top caliber - they did well in Eurocup, after all - but I don't think it's the kind of a team that leaves a Perfumerias or an Ekaterinburg or a Brno with night sweats and horrible dreams.

For the rest of the players, however, it has been a really good year overseas. Sancho Lyttle, Erika de Souza, Kelly Miller and Iziane Castro Marques all played for teams that went deep in Euroleague, one of the premier events in European basketball. Each of those players went into the postseason with their respective clubs in the various national basketball leagues. Most national leagues play a game a week; those players played two or more a week as they juggled the obligations of their national leagues with Euroleague. Playing the best top-ranked competition can only make you a better player; playing in the post-season teaches you what it takes to go deep.

A concern for anyone following how well players do overseas is fatigue. NBA players get a few months off where they don't have to play any basketball if they don't want to. Not so for the women: women's pro basketball pays poorly and it's a necessity to go overseas if you want to make a living. One would expect these players to be exhausted come the WNBA.

I believe that Marynell Meadors, on the other hand, might come to an opposite conclusion than the fans would come to. The Dream players are ready. Many played for clubs still in contention, so they're not dealing with an enforced four to eight week layoff caused by their European clubs not making the post-season. Their basketball reflexes are still fresh.

I know that Meadors has definitely been keeping up with the successes and failures of her various players. I also expect very little to surprise her. However, you never know what's going to happen until the 2010 WNBA season starts - let's hope that the 2010 Atlanta Dream training camp is a positive experience for the fans, for the players, and for everyone.

(* * *)

One of the most joyful/frustrating things about following women's basketball is the tendency of its fandom to attribute the worst possible motives to every single action that anyone could possibly undertake. Given the struggles of the game, I can understand why - betting on the worst, cheapest, most petty motive is usually the winning bet. (*) However, when taken to extremes the paranoia and hostility exhibited can be very very frustrating.

Take the case of Dream coach Marynell Meadors. Meadors was given the honor of being named to the coaching staff of the USA Women's Basketball Team, whose head coach is currently Geno Auriemma. Women's BB fans immediately began attempting to fit the hire into their existing world-view. The take: this hire had nothing to do with talent, and was merely the end result of the need for Auriemma to be in absolute control of his surroundings - since Meadors was such a bad coach (so the story goes) she would be a mere cipher on the coaching staff compared to the manaical brilliance that was Geno.

However, there are many other good reasons for Auriemma to have hired Meadors, none of which have to do with control fantasies. Let's look at some plausable theories:

As honorarium: As I've written before, Meadors is the oldest coach in the WNBA. She's contributed to the sport for decades. Last year, she was named the WNBA's Coach of the Year - I don't think she deserved the vote, but one could argue that she deserved to win on the basis of the team's turnaround from bottom-basement dweller from the previous year to playoff team in 2009.

If Auriemma really doesn't "need" a new coach - so the conspiracy goes - then why not Meadors? Of course, Meadors could be coaching into the 2020s but she might also decide at some point to hang up the clipboard. Maybe USA Basketball decided to add to Meadors's resume as a reward.

Management: You have to remember that Angel McCoughtry is currently on both the Atlanta Dream and the USA Women's Basketball Team. If there's anyone who knows Angel McCoughtry besides the women who have played against her, it's Marynell Meadors. Having Meadors on the team might give Auriemma some extra insight into McCoughtry's noggin. (Or he could just call Jeff Walz.)

Actual coaching: If you don't know Meadors's background, there are two things you should know. First, she has served as an assistant coach before. Meadors's career hasn't gone in a straight line of "first assistant coach, then coach." In her pro career, she's gone back and forth between head coach and assistant coach. Meadors knows what the role of assistant is. A person who had been head coach for the last twenty years might have find sliding into the assistant role more difficult.

Evaluation and building: The Atlanta Dream is not the first team that Meadors has built from the ground up. The other team was the Charlotte Sting, so Meadors knows what its like to build a cohesive team out of...well...nothing.

Furthermore, Meadors seems to have a good eye for evaluating talent. Some might claim that Meadors's acquisitions were either no-brainers (McCoughtry) or from luck (Lyttle, Holdsclaw) but I think that the proof for such claims lies on the one making the claim - choices such as Erika de Souza panned out when no one thought they were, and Shalee Lehning did a fairly decent job of running the point guard spot for a rookie.

In short, I suspect the complaints are more an attempt to insult both Meadors and Auriemma than they are attempts to explain the hire. One thing I know about Auriemma - he loves winning and he is the kind of man who would "run through Hell in a gasoline suit" to win a ball game. (**) If he signed Meadors to his coaching staff, there is only one logical conclusion: he thought she would help guarantee his team a FIBA medal. But of course, even American gold won't sway those that have made up their minds otherwise.

(*) - This is true for other professional sports as well. However, as women's pro basketball is on shakier ground, the creaks in the floorboards make more noise.
(**) - Quoted initally by Pete Rose, describing his own love of baseball.

(* * *)

The Gwinnett Daily Post writes an article about Toby Wyman, the new Chief Operating Officer of the Atlanta Dream. I'm glad to see that the Gwinnett paper is writing about the Dream; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's treatment of the Dream is either neglect (in the print edition) or abuse (in the blog sections).

Whether the Gwinett paper will cover more Dream stories remains to be seen. The author is Christine Troyke, I think you should send a comment if you were glad to read the article. It looks like some Georgia paper might end up leading the pack on Dream coverage; the sad story is that the leader in Dream coverage might not be Georgia's supposed flagship paper.

Other than that, the treatment of Wyman's career is interesting. They ask him what the #1 goal of the Dream is, and it is not "to win games". It is this:

"I think what we want to do is, No. 1, it’s like anything else, we want to be a viable, successful franchise that is relevant in this marketplace. Which means putting people in the seats every night."

I like the phrase "to be relevant". The Number One goal of any franchise is survival, and in order to survive you have to be relevant enough to get the turnstiles turning. You have to be on the map in the local scene, and this is very difficult in the college-football crazy South. Over the off-season, I've watched Kathy Betty try to sell the team seemingly to one person at a time - appearing pretty much anywhere she can get the word out. You have to admire the effort, but at times I feel a little embarrassed. In my mind's eye, I see Betty appearing in front of sparse crowds anywhere she can hang her shingle, trying to convince potential fans and trying to drum up interest. Can you build a fan base that way? Yes...but is that method the best use of your time and money?

Wyman speaks about what I call the pro paradigm. It's the belief that the WNBA must promote itself like any dull NBA game. Troyke asks Wyman if a better model for the WNBA wouldn't be something like Triple-A baseball:

"But, yes, absolutely, from an accessibility standpoint, from and entertainment standpoint, one of our goals is we need to broaden ourselves out a bit. Certainly we’re a women’s product, but at the end of the day we just want to be perceived as good, sports, family entertainment.

That means we’re also committed to winning on the court. We want to win championships. But certainly we want people to feel like it’s a great entertainment product and, just like anything else, enjoy themselves and keep coming back."

Troyke then addresses the canard advocated by some that summer basketball is a bad idea because people would rather be outdoors. She writes, "People think of summer being meant for outdoors, but frankly, it’s too dang hot here most of the time — I’d like to be in an air-conditioned arena, you know?" I have to concur there - that argument might play out in Chicago or Seattle, but it's too damn hot in the South during the summer.

An illuminating question Troyke asks is whether or not the Dream should just tank in 2010 to pick up Maya Moore.

CT: "So you’re not going to try to lose all your games so you can draft Maya (Moore) in a year?"

TW: "No (smiling). Being from Boston, Red Auerbach drafted Larry Bird a year early. They closed that loophole and that was my first question to our GM, has the WNBA closed that same loophole?"

I suspect that Wyman might know what he's doing on the business end. Whether he'll have input on the pro acquisition end remains to be seen - it appears that Marynell Meadors will continue to wear the dual hats of GM and coach. However, the more I look at Wyman the more I like what I see.

(* * *)

Some great news today, where the Atlanta Dream announced that Fox Sports and SportSouth will cover 16 of the 17 home games of the Atlanta Dream this year.

The link to read is right here. But has Art Eckman moved on? God knows we loved Art Eckman and his interesting observations, particularly those involving Katie Feenstra-Mattera. The two announcers will be Bob Rathbun and LaChina Robinson. We all know Robinson from the previous two years covering the Dream and covering Georgia Tech women's basketball, but Rathbun comes from the Atlanta Hawks. He has his own Wikipedia entry, as he was the play-by-play announcer for the Braves from 1997-2006. He's also a member of Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

It will be interesting to hear Rathbun's take on the game, as generally the NBA announcers don't watch WNBA games. His bio on the Hawks page is here

(* * *)

I'm going to report briefly on what players are doing overseas. You can read the boxscores yourself. The format is borrowed from P. D. Swanson, the creator of Swanny's Stats.

Euroleague: Ekaterinburg 84, Krakow 50. The third place game took place on April 11th, with Ekaterinburg facing down Krakow.

EKA: Parker 21, Wauters 14, Bibrzycka 9 (Stepanova 8, Nolan 4, Abrosimova 3, Pondexter 2)
KRA: Burse 11, Fernandez 10
Iziane Castro Marques: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 6-for-17 shooting, 2-for-4 3-points shooting, 37 minutes played

Spartak Moscow 87, Ros Casares 80. Spartak Moscow wins their fourth straight Euroleague championship.

SPA: Taurasi 29, McCarville 20, Korstin 16 (Bird 5, Fowles 4, Jekabsone 0, Miller 0)
ROS: Milton-Jones 19, Valdemoro 14 (Snell 12, Montanana 10, Vesela 5)
Kelly Miller: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 5 minutes played
Erika de Souza: 16 points, 7 rebounds, 7-for-16 shooting, 30 minutes played

Russia: Spartak Moscow 102, Dynamo Kursk 87. Spartak Moscow wins the first game of their post-season semifinals match, and then....

SPA: Taurasi 20, Korstin 20, Osipova 14 (Fowles 13, Jekabsone 11, Bird 10, McCarville 4, Miller 4)
KUR: Snow 28, Lapteva 15, Bimbaite 10, Robbins 10
Kelly Miller: 4 points, 2 assists, 2-for-2 shooting, 9 minutes

Spartak Moscow 92, Dynamo Kursk 69. Spartak Moscow sweeps the best-of-three series and moves on to the finals against the winner of Ekaterinburg-Orenburg.

SPA: Taurasi 21, Osipova 16, Fowles 10 (Jekabsone 11)
KUR: Snow 11, Lapteva 10 (Psareva 14)
Kelly Miller: 3 points, 1-for-5 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 14 minutes played

Turkey: Galatasaray 68, Ceyhan 49. The final regular-season game of the year. Galatasaray goes 18-4 on the year and finishes in third place. (Fenerbahce finished 22-0; Kocaeli finished 0-22). Galatasaray plays #6 Tarsus in the quartefinals; the next games are on Thursday, April 22 and Sunday April 25th - doesn't look like Leuchanka will be back in Atlanta soon.

GAL: Catchings 20, Douglas 14, Sencebe 13
CEY: Campbell 19, Ervin 12, Yalcin 5 (C.Smith 3)
Yelena Leuchanka: 4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2-for-6 shooting, 20 minutes played

Spain: Perfumerias 68, Rivas Ecopolis 65. Perfumerias wins the best-of-three series in Game 2 and moves on to the Semifinals against the Ros Casares-Mann Filter winner.

RIV: Cruz 16, Ujhelyi 16, Langhorne 15 (Tornikidou 4, Joens 3)
PER: Domínguez 19, Sánchez 10 (Willingham 6)
Sancho Lyttle: 12 points, 9 rebounds, 6-for-9 shooting, 27 minutes played

Ros Casares 80, Zaragoza 64. Ros Casares wins the first game of their best-of-three series at home against Zaragoza. If they win on Monday, they'll play Perfumerias in the finals.

ROS: Milton-Jones 27, Montañana 19, Valdemoro 14 (Aguilar 0, Snell 0)
ZAR: Feaster 16, Sten 11, Palomares 9
Erika de Souza: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5-for-11 shooting, 23 minutes played

Spain, Second Division: Valbusenda 83, Burgos 70. Valbusenda upsets the #1 team in the LFB2. There are only three more games left in the LFB2 regular season.

BUR: Nascimento 18, Pablos Villarroel 15, Lozana Adan 11
VAL: Louden 18, Lassiter 15, Szoke 12
Demetress Adams: 0 points, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 shooting, 10 minutes played

1 comment:

kansasdreamfan said...

This Kansas girl can't wait to return to ATL for some great basketball!!! From what I hear, Shalee has recovered very well from her injury and is getting ready for training camp. Here's to a great summer!