Women's Hoops Blog: November 2004

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Dahlia Lithwick's rundown of the Jackson argument exploring "the subtleties of sex and basketball." Sounds like 5-4 one way or the other.
A couple blurbs from the Jackson argument.

Justice Ginsburg: "If you're talking about the sixth-grade girls' soccer team, who would know enough or be brave enough (to sue) except for the teacher?"

Justice Scalia: "If I were a coach, one of the first things I would do is complain about not getting comparable facilities. This would make it very difficult to fire you."
The Times editorial board weighs in on Jackson v. Birmingham.

If you'd like some more in-depth legal analysis, see Joanna Grossman's article on Findlaw.
Harvard almost took down USC, but the Trojans closed the game with a 20-4 run to get the win.

"It was kind of strange," Crimson guard Jess Holsey said. "It just came out of nowhere, it seemed like. They were hitting shots and we weren’t answering them."
Arizona beat UTEP easily. Natalie Jones led the Cats with 17.
Byron Scott on Michael Cooper: "I'm happy that he's in the league. I know he wants to be a head coach in the NBA. He had a lot of success in the WNBA. It's just a matter of time before he gets a chance of being a head coach."
Shell Dailey is out of the running for the Stars head coaching job.

"We're thankful for the time she spent as assistant coach and her efforts in stepping in twice as an interim (coach)," Stars CEO Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil said. "But no one in the organization is satisfied with the results of the past few seasons, and we're looking to make some changes. We're doing our due diligence to find the best coach to lead this team."

Monday, November 29, 2004

If you thought the Taurasi coffee commercial was just a moderately amusing, low-budget TV spot, you'd be wrong. It was actually the result of something called "commercial ethnography."

It's not as stupid as it sounds. On second thought, yes it is.
LSU takes over at #1 in the AP poll. Everyone is trying to figure out which reporter gave a first place vote to Texas -- maybe someone who sent in the vote before seeing yesterday's results.
Today the Supreme Court debated whether growing your own marijuana and using it for medical purposes constitutes "interstate commerce" under Article I, Section 8, Clause 3. I think we can all guess what the answer to that will be.

Tomorrow the Court will debate whether Title IX allows a public school to fire a coach who complains that his girls team gets treated unfairly. Yesterday the Birmingham new profiled the coach behind the case. Says one of his players: "He's a very good coach. He believes in girls' rights, to be treated right." But coach doesn't talk to the team much about the case -- he wants them to focus on their game.
In Sportspage Magazine, Phil has this article about UConn's start and the UNC game.
After a difficult offseason, Rutgers has gotten off to a solid start -- 4-0, including a win over Kentucky on Saturday.

Geyer has more on the Knights' weekend trip to the Virgin Islands.
Timber hates fans. Blaze too.
Also in the Bahamas this weekend, Duke figured out how to slow down Wecker and stop K State.

Mo Currie got to the line more times than the entire Wildcat squad, and shed ended up with 25 points. "Mo did a fantastic job this weekend," said coach Goestenkors. "She set the tone for the rest of the team with her effort, intensity, determination and aggressiveness to the basket."

"I took some tough shots early on and didn't try to penetrate at all," said Wecker, who finished with 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting, five rebounds and five mostly avoidable turnovers. "Obviously, there are some things I need to work on."

As an aside, looks like the KC Star ponied up to send Mechelle Voepel to the Bahamas with the team. Nice work if you can get it!
It was a big nonconference weekend with a couple very big upsets.

UCLA finished strong last year and almost ended Minnesota's Final Four run before it started. If the Bruins hadn't had the bad luck of facing Whalen in Williams, they might have done some damage in the tournament.

Yesterday afternoon they did some damage, taking down Texas.

"We haven't forgotten about Minnesota," Nikki Blue said. "This season we want to show that, hey, UCLA is here."

Blue had 13, but the Bruins were led by sophomore Noelle Quinn, who had 27 and 11.

UCLA shot worse than Texas, got to the line fewer times, had fewer rebounds and fewer assists... but UCLA just got more chances by hustling, creating turnovers, and crashing the offensive boards.

"When you give up 19 offensive boards it's hard to beat anyone," coach Conradt said. "That's been a problem for us. We got away with it against Tennessee a number of times, but UCLA made us pay for it."
Saturday produced a huge upset as well -- TCU took down Georgia. It was the Frogs' first win over an opponent ranked in the top five.

"We didn't shoot very well," said Georgia coach Andy Landers. "We missed a lot of good shots."

TCU followed up that win with another over a ranked opponent. It beat Michigan State yesterday to take the title in the Rainbow Wahine Classic.

"It's rare you get the opportunity to do that, but we took advantage of the situation and used a great push in the last 7 minutes to win," said coach Jeff Mittie.

Sandora Irvin had 23 points, 17 boards, and 6 assists yesterday against the Spartans to add to her 28 points and 15 boards on Saturday.
And then there was a huge almost-upset in Knoxville, as Dawn Staley's Owls gave the Vols a scare.

Temple forward Ari Moore had a shot to tie the game, but missed it. "I was excited; I was nervous," she said. "I wanted to do it without charging into Jackson. I saw her right in front of me. I probably should have pump-faked. … I didn’t do what I had to do, what I’m used to doing. It’s very upsetting. I dreamed about that shot my whole life. There’s going to be another shot. There’s going to be another game. And I’m going to be OK."

"Our kids put their hearts on the line and almost came up with probably one of the biggest upsets in women's basketball," Staley said. "It's not often you can come to a historical place like Knoxville and get a win. I'm proud of our team... We're getting closer, and one of these days we're going to get one of these ranked teams."

The Vols' solid defense saved them in the end, but coach Summitt is still frustrated with the offensive production.

"If I had the answer, I would give it to them," she said. "But right now, I don't even have the answer. I don't know."

When asked if she'd ever coached a team that's had this much trouble scoring, Coach Summitt answered simply, "No."

Zolman led the Vols with 10.
Stanford faced its toughest test of the season but held on to beat Texas Tech.

Sophomore center and Duke transfer Brooke Smith is emerging as the Cardinal's go-to player in the post-Powell era. Yesterday she had 22 including 10 in the final 10 minutes.

"Everybody does their part and today it was my turn," Smith said. "They came out at the half and changed their defense up and they wouldn't let us go into the post as easily. I think we were a little tight (to start the second half), but as the game wore on, that wore away and we started hitting shots when we needed to."

With the losses by Tennessee, Texas, and Georgia, Stanford is likely to move up to #2 in the new rankings.
Minnesota's depth in the post came in handy again as the Gophers beat Creighton. McCarville had a solid all-around game with 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, but it was sophomore center Liz Podomonick who provided the big spark with 20 points off the bench.

Podomonick came in last year as a highly-touted recruit, but struggled for much of the season. This year didn't start much better, but yesterday's game may have finally given her the some of the confidence she needs.

"Things hadn’t really been going my way," Podominick said. "But I prepared myself differently this game. I made sure I was a lot more active, running before and not sitting on the couch or watching TV."

The Gophers had 21 assists on 26 baskets and five players in double figures. "That’s what makes us so dangerous," coach Pam Borton said. "We have so much talent, and we’re so balanced. Janel doesn’t have to score 30."
On Saturday, Iowa knocked off Oklahoma in the Bahamas. The Sooners' shooting was abyssmal -- 24% from the field, 4-for-25 from outside the arc.

"Everybody helped, everybody contributed," said Crystal Smith. "This year we improved so much, when they made a run on us, we made a run right back at them."

Friday, November 26, 2004

The 1-2 punch of Augustus and Fowles proved too much for Maryland. Seimone had 23; Sylvia had 18 and 15. The Terps led halfway through the second half, but Fowles led a big run that gave the Tigers the win.

"Over the last 10 minutes of the game we did not talk strategy. It was all about heart, defensive rebounds and pushing the basketball." said coach Chatman.
In the Bahamas tonight, Kendra Wecker had the best performance of the college season. 41 points. 14-for-19. 8-for-9 from outside the arc. 8 rebounds, 6 steals, and 4 assists. All in only 25 minutes.

Wecker broke K-State's scoring record in the process.

"Everything really fell for us tonight out there. We were just playing really well," she said. "I wasn't looking at the numbers, so when coach told me that I need three more points, I just went out there to play basketball and to have fun."
Led by Tiffany Jackson, Texas rebounded from the loss to Georgia and beat Tennessee by 15. Jackson had 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting, plus 9 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 4 assists.

"We didn't have answer for Tiffany Jackson," Coach Summitt said. "She's a great anchor for them inside. She's so active and certainly had her way."

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving.

Only one link today: Taurasi's coffee commercial, via pilight at the new Board Junkies site. Pretty funny.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Athletes for a Better World is giving out an award called the John Wooden Trophy to athletes who "best display character, teamwork, and citizenship."

Nominees for the inaugural award: Dawn Staley, Sue Bird, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Peyton Manning, and Will Shields.
Sylvia Fowles is a house. 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks off the bench last night in LSU's win over Temple.

"She's a ringer," said Owls coach Dawn Staley. "We've watched her from afar, hoping we could get a player like her. She's still young. She has a lot of basketball to learn. But she has so much upside. I fear for LSU's opponents, especially when she gets more experience."
Preparing for the big game at Texas, Tennessee had another easy win last night, and played better than it did against NC State. Shanna Zolman had 14 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

"I think Shanna is one of our most improved players," Coach Pat Summitt said. "In particular, I think she's playing better off the dribble."

"Zolman’s just seems to be a different player this year than what I saw last year, more confident," said GW coach Joe McKeown. "They seem to find her a lot better than they did last year."
Michael Cooper Watch -- the Nuggets have used a friendly home stretch to run off a few wins. Jeff Bzdelik has bought himself some more time, and Coop will be stuck in the assistant's chair for at least a little while longer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Four days into the scandal, Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate becomes the first American to write something smart, funny, and true about the NBA's Big Fight (or "riot," as ESPN has said).

When everyone in the world begins to agree about something, that's when you should start to wonder if it's wrong. Especially when they all express the same view with particular vehemence.

"First, Jim, let me begin by saying that it's NEVER ok for a player to go in the stands...."

If I hear one more person say something about that crying kid at the Pistons game, ("what's really sad is -- how do I explain this to my nine-year-old son?"), I'm going to start committing random acts of minor terrorism.

The truth is: we're all love having Ron Artest and John Green around so that when they act like their crazy damn selves, we can express our outrage. Thereby reasserting societal norms and signaling our membership in the in-group. In unison, the moral police choir, red state or blue state, at least we all agree on one thing, that we're better than that crazy son of a bitch.

I think we've all effectively accomplished that task. Let the healing end.
Zebras strike back! Refs have their own message board where, among other things, they talk about how stupid we all are. I guess it all comes back around.
Texas Tech opened up with a win over Rice. Cisti Greenwalt had 19 points, 15 boards, and 5 blocks.

The Raiders didn't look great, though, and they'll have to do better when they face Stanford on Sunday in Palo Alto.

"After tonight, we're going to have to work on a few things and know we can't come out slow, especially against a No. 6-ranked team," Greenwalt said. "You can't ever come back from a first half like that against a good team. I think this game helped us mature and let us know that we have to have that warrior look in our eyes every night and not slack off."
Alana Beard on Ron Artest: "I've never been verbally abused by fans to any extent, but I wouldn't react that way."
Coach Portland is taking a leave of absence for and undisclosed medical condition.

"This is one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my career as a head coach," she said. "While I want to be with the team at this time, I also realize that I must make my health a priority."

Unclear when she'll be back. "I look forward to returning when my condition permits."
Val answers a few questions. Not much new.

Monday, November 22, 2004

An old story comes back around -- It's always great to see a new freshman star emerge on the women's basketball scene, but some folks didn't get that warm fuzzy feeling about Tasha Humphrey yesterday. More than a few Tennessee and Duke fans remain bitter about Humphrey's decision to go to Georgia, which came after Andy Landers hired her mother as an assistant.

Every time Tasha does well, those bad feelings will come back to the surface. This story isn't likely to go away.
Voepel picked the Huskies but was glad to be wrong: "it is certainly a positive thing for women's hoops to have the dynasty get rattled a little."
Georgia took down Texas. Tasha Humphrey was huge, with 27 points and 8 boards.

"I knew they couldn't guard her," said coach Landers. "We just had to figure out how to get her the basketball."

"We knew this could happen," coach Jody Conradt said. "Our schedule is tough and when you play on someone else's home court that has a team like Georgia has, you can get whipped."
Coach Rene Portland is experiencing the perils of a tough non-conference schedule. Yesterday Villanova handed Penn State its third straight loss.

"I am kind of shocked," said Nova coach Harry Perretta. "I didn't think we would execute as well as we did because you just need games. You need to learn how to play. When the game was slow, we were OK. When the game was fast, we weren't OK. We're usually OK if it's slow. And we made some tough shots under duress today. Jenna Viani made one. Jackie made a couple. Kate made a couple of amazing shots."

Coach Portland put the blame squarely on her players' shoulders. "My attitude is 'get into the gym.' That's their responsibility. As coaches, we can only create the plays to get them good looks. It's their responsibility to put the ball in the basket and shooting is repetition."

About the Lions' failure to defend the Cats' three-point shooting: "It's not like we didn't tell our kids. That's the frustrating part of coaching. As a coach you take the brunt. It's not like we didn't tell them. We did tell them. I guess we didn't tell them enough."

Still, all is not lost for Rene. She does have a groupie writing her love notes on the web. Slightly illiterate ("failure would be eminent"?), but still very sexy.
UConn falls to UNC.

Ivory Latta still makes some stupid plays, and 5-for-13 isn't exactly a great afternoon, but she is utterly fearless, willing to pull up for an ill-advised three in the final minutes... and drain it.

"I knew I made it when it went off my hand," she said.

The Huskies, meanwhile, looked a little like scared puppies at the end. Ann Strother's POY candidacy had its Howard-Dean-in-Iowa moment as she turned the ball over nine times including the inexplicable cross-court pass directly to La'Tangela Atkinson.

Heel fans heckled UConn, saying "Diana can't bail you out this time." Geno responded: "C'mon, is that the best Carolina kids can come up with?. No wonder they couldn't get into Duke."

Still, coach Auriemma tried to put it in perspective. "Somewhere in us is that team that was up 10. And somewhere in us is the team that gave it away. And no one should be surprised with that."
So what are the bounds of acceptable conduct for a fan? This comes up in the women's game as well as the men's -- we Minnesotans have been talking about this some since Saturday's run-in with Lisa Mattingly.

On the Times' Op-ed page today, Robin Fecker outlines a hecklers' code: "no drinking, no swearing, no racial or sexual comments, and no comments about children."

I think that's about right. I am, to the perpetual embarrassment of my wife, a heckler. But there are limits -- as tempting as it is to resort to profanity, you need to remember your surroundings. At women's games in particular, there are lots of kids, so you need to aim for creativity and humor instead of profane rage.
The NBA has handed down its severe punishment. I think Artest's suspension is too harsh relative to the other players'.

But worse: the overall sanctions imposed on the two franchises are vastly unequal. The Pacers are decimated, while Detroit walks away virtually unscathed.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Juan says Stern is a coward.

Stern announced no measures -- indeed, could not even bring himself to directly condemn the actions of the fans -- addressed at the misbehavior of the guilty fans. No penalties were assessed on the Detroit Pistons organization for insufficient security; season-ticket holders who assaulted players did not have their tickets revoked, nor were any such measures recommended by the Commissioner in his statement. All David Stern offered was empty platitudes about how the league must "redefine the bounds of acceptable conduct" for fans and players alike.

I think that's about right.

What makes it worse is that, in true schoolyard fashion, the Pistons continue to place all the blame on the other side. Here's what Palace CEO Tom Wilson said yesterday: "I'm not even sure we need extra security, but we wanted the visual image for people at home..."

Yeah, I guess there's no need for extra security after hundreds of your fans instigate one of the worst incidents of violence in American sports history.

If you want to read more reaction as the day goes on, stay tuned to Off Wing. Also tune into PTI this afternoon.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Notre Dame got its second win over a top-ten opponent last night, beating Ohio State.

Once again, Batteast led the Irish, scoring 32 points and coming up with a huge block on Caity Matter in the final seconds.

"We didn't want to leave out of here with any moral victories," said Batteast, who took home the tournament MVP.
The first ten minutes of Minnesota's game last night were beautiful, and the Gophers ran out to a 30-6 lead over Virginia Tech. From there, the contest degenerated into a long, painful display of terrible shooting and relentless officiating.

The game ended with 50 fouls called and only 41 field goals made. Minnesota won, but there was no joy in victory last night.

"A lot of the fouls we committed seemed to be unnecessary," coach Pam Borton said. "We were getting fouls on people away from the basket. Some of it might have been people not moving their feet as well."

Thank you, Lisa Mattingly, for ruining my Saturday night.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The NBA blame game starts. A sample:

Chris Mannix: it's Artest's fault.
Mike Lupica: it's not Artest's fault.
Tim Legler: it's the fans' fault.
Ray Ratto: it's testosterone's fault.
Board Junkies: it's ESPN's fault.
Mike Kahn: it's everyone's fault.
Timber: it's everyone's fault.
Eric McErlain: it's everyone's fault but Rasheed's.
Marc Stein: who cares? It's good for the game.

Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Ben Wallace -- you completely overreacted to a hard but clean foul. And then you wouldn't calm down. I know you're a good guy, but you screwed up here. 5 games.

Ron Artest -- you showed admirable restraint in backing down from Wallace. But you lost your head when you got hit with a beverage -- I know it sucks, but that doesn't give you the right to go into the stands. And don't give me any crap about self-defense. The principle of self-defense is limited by the concept of proportionality. You don't get to defend yourself from the possibility of minor injury by inflicting serious bodily harm. Plus, there's a difference between self-defense and retaliation. Then, in the third incident, you threw punches at fans on the court. I don't know if those guys were about to hit you, but you threw the first punch. 25 games.

Stephen Jackson -- you are the secret villain. After the initial incident, when everyone else was trying to cool down, you kept stoking the fire. Then you followed Artest into the stands and started indiscriminately throwing punches at anyone you could reach. You've always been a damn nutcase, which has caused you to get shipped around despite your talent, 4 teams in 5 years. 30 games.

Jermaine O'Neal -- you sucker-punched a guy and sent him off on a stretcher. Even if that guy did go after Artest, by the time you hit him, he was on his knees surrounded, posing no threat to you or anyone else. 25 games and a criminal assault charge.

Detroit police -- you are incompetent fools. Haven't you ever trained for this? When the hallway to the lockerroom is lined with fans waiting to throw chairs and everything else at players, you did nothing. What the hell is that pepper spray doing in your pocket?

Detroit fans -- you are drunken jackasses. Don't give me any "a few bad apples" nonsense. This involved hundreds of you. Anyone who threw anything at a player should be banned from the arena. And anyone who hit anyone -- especially the fat thug who sucker-punched Fred Jones -- should face charges.

Detroit Pistons -- so far, you have responded as cowardly shills, barely criticizing your fans and placing all the blame on the Pacers. You deserve to have a few home games with no fans at all, and many more without beer revenue.
Chattanooga shot 9% in the first half against the Vols. Coach Summitt was happy with her teams defense, but the Mocs and their 10,000 fans didn't have such a good time.

"That was about as much fun as a root canal," Chattanooga Coach Wes Moore said.
Wyoming got dizzy watching Kendra Wecker run all over them. She had a huge game, with 21 points, 10 boards, and 5 assists.

"When you look at her defensively, you can see her bringing a real sense of urgency and attention to her work," K-State coach Deb Patterson said. "Obviously as a scorer, she's so versatile, and at the same time she's willing to share the ball. In 27 minutes, she contributed in an All-American way to every aspect of the game."
Utah went on a 17-0 midgame run to take the lead over heavily-favored Stanford, but the Cardinal rallied and got the win in Salt Lake.

Freshman Candice Wigging led Stanford with 24 points. "I'm pretty new at this college game so I'm not really sure what kind of pressure we were under," Wiggins said. "I'm kind of bright eyed and bushy tailed right now."
Ivory Latta warmed up for Sunday's UConn showdown by going six-for-six last night. UNC double up Elon.
Welcome back, McCarville! Ted and I were at the Gopher women's home opener last night at Williams Arena to witness the unfurling of the Final Four banner from last year and Janel's return from an early season injury. We kept waiting for McCarville to get a break-away steal for a dunk, but it never happened (I did, however, dream it last night!). Nonetheless, the game was great.

As Ted mentioned the Gophs do still have a few things to work out. Coach Borton said, "We're still trying to find our chemistry on offense. We're moving people around a little now that Janel is back. We're learning how to play with each other."

Minnesota had 19 turnovers. Also, the guards have a tough time under pressure and difficulty entering the ball to the post (they are not getting the right angle for a good entry pass). McCarville only took 5 shots from the floor and had more assists (8) than points (5). Janel is an incredible passer, but she is going to need to take on the double team and score as the season goes on.

That said, McCarville and the Gophers gave the 6,400 fans in attendance last night an exciting glimpse of what could be another very fun season ahead.
Duke was in trouble against Penn State, but the Devils rallied behind Wynter Whitley. Whitley came off the bench and took the game over in the second half.

Whitley, who missed last year, was just happy to be playing again. "I feel good being back, just being with my teammates and my friends first of all," she said. "We're getting better each and every day, and it's fun to see us get better. It's a fun process, and hopefully we're going to keep building on it."

Mistie Williams had a game-high 20 points.
UConn routed Buffalo.

"We really needed something good to happen," coach Geno Auriemma said. "They really needed a confidence booster today, and I think they got one. I think today was a real shot in the arm for them. I hope it gives them a lot of momentum going into Sunday."

Ann Strother announced her dark horse candidacy for POY with 20 points and 6 boards in 18 minutes.
Tari Phillips is looking for a new home. It seems that Blaze doesn't want her back. In fact, Tari wanted to play at the end of last season, but the team wouldn't let her.

"It was a mystery to me why I wasn't (playing)," she said. "My teammates asked me about it on occasion. 'We need you, girl.' I said, 'Hey, I'm ready.'"
Janel McCarville is back, and goddamn, it's fun to watch that girl play. She's a little rusty connecting with her mates, and occasionally too tricky, but it's simply amazing what she does out there.

The opponent starts with some tight, physical defense, so McCarville sets a hard half-court pick and sends one of them to the floor. A couple minutes later, one of their guards drives the lane, McCarville rejects the shot and palms the ball in one motion; then, just for a moment, stands over her and stares her down.

Those are the kinds of plays that make fans love the game.

Minnesota looked solid. You can already see the payoff of success, as our new recruiting prowess has given us our deepest team ever. There are some chinks -- we are vulnerable to the press, and our guards can't feed the post.

Above all, it's nice to have the college season going again.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Tonight might go down as one of the worst in the history of the game of basketball. This is a good time to remember what's great about the W, even if it does have more turnovers.
Bored at work? Looking for something to do?

You could try adding to the WNBA entry at Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a free, not-for-profit online encyclopedia. Anyone can contribute to the entries. The WNBA entry could use more info, so feel free to head over there and pitch in.
Pilight has some thoughts about the NBA-WNBA comparison. His theory: the NBA has more depth, the NBA has better coaches, the women play better defense, and the NBA refs call more shooting fouls, which results in easier shooting.

All of those factors probably contribute. The only one I'm not sure about is the defense. I don't think looking at Team USA is a fair comparison -- that was a thrown-together team that had a cast of unusually bad defensive players (save Duncan, of course). Pilight says that "anyone that regularly watches NBA games should be able to tell" that they don't know how to play defense.

Well, I watch at least five NBA games per week during the season (yes, it's far too much time in front of the TV), and I don't see that. The truly great players in the NBA are great defenders -- Shaq, Garnett, Duncan. So was Jordan. The great teams in the NBA are great defensive teams.

Detroit is a defense-first team, and that strategy got it a championship. For the last few years, Dallas was an offense-first team. They had tons of scoring and lots of pretty plays, but they could never get deep into the playoffs, so they finally gave up and decided to get some defenders like Dampier. Now they might be a real threat.

Obviously, there is plenty of bad defense in the NBA. Defenders leave their feet too much; they don't have their hands up enough; they don't position themselves properly; they don't block out; they deny with the wrong hand, etc. But that's true in the W as well.

I can't think of any good way to measure this, so we're left only with subjective impressions. Are the W's turnovers the result of good defense or bad offense? We'll never be able to answer that definitively, but whatever the cause, I'd like to see fewer of them.
Whoa -- stop the presses. In my WNBA-NBA comparison numbers below, I originally used turnover numbers for the NBA from ESPN.com and CNNSI.com. Those turnover numbers are just the sums of the individual players' numbers, which means they exclude turnovers attributed to the team (shot clock violations).

Thus, my originaly data understated NBA turnovers by about 5%. The NBA assist-turnover ratio is 1.42, not 1.50. All of the numbers below have been updated now.

The disparity between the WNBA and the NBA is substantial, but not as large as I said yesterday. The turnover-per-minute difference is 17%, not 23%.
Geno on his team: "Realistically, I want to say it's going to be really hard for us to reach the level that we've reached the past 10 years. But I don't want to ever say that's not possible, because anything's possible. I just don't know what is realistic."

Out in Palo Alto, coach TV is sounding more optimistic. "I’m really happy with how hard everyone is working and the cohesiveness of the team on the floor. I think this is one of the most competitive teams we’ve ever had."
Minnesota has its home opener tonight. McCarville wants to dunk.

"I don't know whether I can hang on the rim. I can't do much with my left hand yet. But I definitely want to achieve one in my college career. I do it in practice, and in warmups before every game. It's got to be perfect timing, so the odds I can do one in a game are slim and none."
Voepel on Seimone Augustus. Augustus says again that she's not leaving this year, and she doesn't know where that rumor started.

"There is nothing to that," she said. "It's just that people heard I'm graduating early, that I'm on track to graduate in three years."

Mechelle also writes up Wecker and McCarville. Says Laurie Koehn: "Janel is a total stud. And so is Kendra."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Puppy Whalen has moved.
More follow-up -- Kevin Pelton notes that 18.0% of WNBA possessions end in turnovers, compared to 13.6% of NBA possessions. He agrees that turnovers are the WNBA's "dirty secret." Kevin offers one theory about the cause:

I wonder if maybe part of the issue is that when women's basketball was in its developmental stages (well, earlier in them), turnovers were very common and that's where coaches learned their ideas, making them more likely to employ turnover-forcing strategies than male coaches.... it's a cycle -- worse ballhandling means more presses, which means more turnovers, which means teams are encouraged by the press, so they teach it more.

Kevin notes again, however, that you can never judge quality of play just by looking at offensive statistics. Quoting the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, he says:

"Batting stats and pitching stats do not indicate the quality of play, merely which part of the struggle is dominant at the moment." That has its applications in basketball. The only truly objective statistical marker is free-throw percentage.

True enough. There is an ongoing debate in NBA circles about the significant decline in scoring. Lots of old folks say kids these days are selfish, don't know how to shoot, don't know how to pass, it was better in our day, yadda yadda yadda.

Maybe there's something to that. (Check this out.) But it has something to do with defense also. When you see NBA games from the early 80s on ESPN Classic, it looks like those skinny dudes out there are hardly playing defense at all.

The same is true for the WNBA and turnovers. It might not be that the W is bad at offense -- it might be that it's just good at defense. From a fan's perspective, however, scoring is fun and turnovers aren't. Right now we have too many turnovers and not enough scoring. We should try to figure out why and do something about it.
Val Ackerman to take over as pres of USA Basketball?
Follow-up to my NBA/WNBA comparison -- here are some more numbers.

Assists per field goal:
NBA -- .608
WNBA -- .629

Two-point field goal percentage:
NBA -- 46.0
WNBA -- 43.8

Three-point field goal percentage:
NBA -- 34.7
WNBA -- 35.0

Free throw percentage:
NBA -- 75.2
WNBA -- 74.1

Field goal attempts per minute:
NBA -- 3.33
WNBA -- 2.91

The shorter shot clock in the NBA means about 14% more shot attempts per minute. That partly explains why there are more field goals and assists per minute.

In terms of field goal percentage, Phil notes that we can remove the dunk distortion by looking just at three-point percentage. There, the W does slightly better, although it's not an apples-to-apples comparison since the W's arc is a couple feet closer.

Free throw percentage is the purest comparison, since the distance is the same and defense doesn't matter. There, the W does slightly worse.

(All shooting percentages might be affected by the ball size, though there's some disagreement about whether the small ball is easier or harder to shoot.)

Putting this all together, it seems that men and women are about equal when it comes to shooting the basketball (with the guys perhaps slightly better). The men's 24-second clock produces more scoring, and the ability to dunk raises field goal percentage materially.

In terms of passing... a field goal in the W is slightly more likely to be assisted. But we are still left with the substantial turnover discrepancy -- the W has 17% more per minute.

I don't think the shot clock can explain that. A longer clock might mean more turnovers per possession, but it also means fewer possessions per game -- it shouldn't affect turnovers per game or minute. In fact, the shorter clock might produce more by causing more shot clock violations, which count as turnovers. The shorter backcourt count (eight seconds versus ten) might also.

Any ideas?
Duke goes down in South Bend. Turnovers and poor shooting killed them.

Batteast was benched for awhile with foul trouble, but coach McGraw decided to send her back in. "If we're going down, we're not going down with Jackie on the bench," she said. Once back, Batteast took over.

Duke fans wonder if the result would have been different with Harding on the floor.
Ohio State thrashed Arizona.

"I don't know if there are any bright spots," said Cats coach Joan Bonvicini. "We didn't play well. (We didn't) execute offensively. We didn't rebound. We needed more players to step up and we didn't do that. Our freshmen played like freshmen tonight. We needed our returnees to step up. It was disappointing."
It's often said, by the likes of Coach Wooden, that the women's game is more fundamentally sound than the men's. "We can't dunk," say the defenders, "but we're better passers and better team players. We play the game right."

I've never really bought that argument. To me, the women's game often looks sloppier -- worse passing, stupider offense. My view may be skewed since I live in Minnesota (the Wolves are often sublime; the Lynx turn it over like there's no tomorrow). So I ran some numbers, Kevin Pelton-style.

Here's a comparison of the 2003-04 NBA season with the 2004 WNBA season.

Assists per minute:
NBA -- .888
WNBA -- .768

Turnovers per minute:
NBA -- .624
WNBA -- .730

Assist to turnover ratio:
NBA -- 1.42
WNBA -- 1.05

Field goals per minute:
NBA -- 1.46
WNBA -- 1.22

Field goal percentage:
NBA -- 43.9
WNBA -- 42.0

Those numbers don't look good. Now, there are many possible explanations for the disparity. One is the dunk itself, which increases field goal percentage (and, indirectly, assists).

It's also possible that the women play better defense. There's no way to measure that, but as a subjective matter, I don't see it. The NBA has a great emphasis on defense these days, and the best teams (Detroit, San Antonio) are defense-oriented.

I would guess that the discrepancy is largely caused by the length of the season. Teams get better as the year goes on. I bet that if you looked at only the first 34 of the NBA's 82 games, the statistics would be closer, but I have no idea how much.

Is there a lesson here?

We talk a lot about the success of the league, and we mostly talk about marketing, media coverage, and so on. But at some fundamental level, the popularity of the game is related to its quality. It's just not that much fun to watch a team that has more turnovers than assists -- the WNBA had four of them last year, the NBA had none.

To some extent, this problem will correct itself over time. The women's game is progressing (and the men's game may be degenerating). But, instead of just waiting for the Candace Parkers of the world to arrive, the league should also think of ways to improve the quality of play.

It should consider lengthening training camp or preseason, or finding other ways to allow teammates to have more court time together. It should also be open to rule changes that will open up the offense -- as Mark Cuban has noted, the NBA has increased scoring this year by cutting down on perimeter contact. The NBA is even experimenting with getting rid of the three-point line to encourage better fundamental offense. The WNBA should be open to that sort of experimentation.

When we're not happy about the league's success, we can complain about media bias, gender bias, and so on. Those complaints have some validity. At some point, however, we need to be willing to examine the product that the W is putting on the floor. It's not as good as it should be.

Related Posts:
1. More numbers
2. Kevin Pelton's take

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Blog devoted to the Lady Vols, complete with pictures of players, Summitt posters, and other celebs.
Two top-25 matchups today in the preseason NIT.

#21 Arizona takes on #9 Ohio State. "If we play like we played (against Rice), we're going to struggle," says Shawntinice Polk. "We need to pick it up and keep the intensity that we come out with the whole game. They shoot really good threes. They're a pretty solid team."

#6 Duke heads to South Bend to meet #10 Notre Dame.
Penn State coach Rene Portland expected to return to practice today.
Geno, asked if UConn is the premier program in the country, ahead of Tennessee: "Well, not if you go by recruiting. I see where they have just signed something like the first 15 players off the high school All-America team. So, when it comes to winning, yeah, we're there. But when it comes to recruiting, they are."
The Minneapolis City Pages takes a look at roller derby in an article titled "Would the WNBA Be More Popular If It Had Players Named Dixie Wrect?"

I don't know... but I think it's worth a try. How bout "She Hate Me"?
Michelle Greco decided to stay home this year and play for a club team rather than heading overseas.

"It really is hard to pack your bags and leave all your family and friends to go by yourself to another country for four or five months," Greco said. "It can be very lonely."
Mohegan is doing well financially, in part because the WNBA "lured new customers into the casino and onto its players club database."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mike Terry says that with the loss of the class of '04, parity is what the women's game needs to keep its profile high. Of course, with many picking UConn, Tennessee, Texas, and LSU to head to the Final Four, it's hard to see if we really have any yet. But coaches Summitt and Fortner both say its coming.
Sandora Irvin hopes she'll get some consideration for the Wade and Naismith over the likes of Augustus and McCarville.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it," she said. "I've always dreamed of being one of the top players in the country and being talked about in that breath."
Taurasi says Geno is the best coach in all of sports.

"There's no one that compares in any sport or any game right now, male or female. He just has this edge and competitiveness that transfers to his players. You get that confidence once you step on the court. No matter what, he's still going to be my coach."
Jere Longman on Seimone Augustus in today's Times.

"She plays so effortlessly," Virgina coach Deb Ryan said of Augustus. "She can score a lot of points and she could be one of the best defensive players ever if she puts her mind to it. She can accomplish anything she wants to. I think she's got to establish herself. She's been touted as one of the top players. Now she's got to prove it night in and night out."

Seimone looked very good on Sunday. Her shot selection keeps improving, and she's gotten better at squaring herself to shoot after her slashing moves. One of her best attributes is that she shoots a high percentage.

Sylvia Folwes, incidentally, also looked good. She had some moments where she made rookie mistakes, but also some moments where you could see glimpses of how she'll dominate the game in the future.
In the season's first upset, Washington knocked off #14 Minnesota.

The Huskies used a variety of players to outhustle the short-handed Gophers squad. "This is a new era," said Breanne Watson. "Giuliana was awesome. But it's awesome that there's not one person you can go to. That's one of our threats. You don't know where we're going to go."

Without McCarville, the Gophers squad got rattled and kept throwing the ball away. "They pressured us a lot," Jamie Broback said. "Obviously there's a lot we can get better at."

This was a game that had me worried. The problem is that a game like this -- even though it's November, even though it's an away game, even though it's without Janel -- counts as much as any other in the RPI. It can really hurt you when seeding time comes in March.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Jackie Stiles: "It has really been rough. I've had 12 surgeries after I didn't miss a game in college; I guess eventually, everything came crashing down."

Stiles plans "one final push" for a comeback, but she's not sure whether it will ever happen.
Duke hasn't looked great in either of its WNIT games, but there have been some bright spots. Freshman point guard Wanisha Smith has done a good job filling in for Harding -- against USF yesterday, she led the Devils with 20.

"I feel good," coach Goestenkors said. "[These games] were a great learning experience for us, and we’re definitely going to get better."
Jamie Brobeck to Janel McCarville: We don't need you. Brobeck had 28 points and 7 boards as the Gophers topped UNLV.
Michael Cooper Watch --

Nuggets lost last night, falling to 2-5.

But Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe continues to insist that he's not planning to replace coach Bzdelik with coach Coop. Over the weekend, he denied that he had forced Bzdelik to take Coop on as an assistant.

"There's talk that I brought in Michael Cooper, and that's not true," said Vandeweghe. "Jeff picked all of his assistants. I suggested some of the guys and Michael was one of them. Jeff had a long list also, but he picked his assistants."

When asked if that was an accurate description of events, Bzdelik responded: "Sure."

Friday, November 12, 2004

Two links sent along by Mary Jo, as much for their writing as their content.

First, coach Sherri Coale's Week One diary entry: "Basketball is not a game of entitlement. No one gives you anything in the end."

And second, a poetry prof in Des Moines remembers the six-on-six days, and ponders the difference between the men's game and the women's.
Debbie Black is trying to decide whether to play next year. Despite her limited minutes, she enjoys mentoring Whalen. "(Lindsay) is still young and I have so much to offer her... I've talked to Lindsay and she would love for me to stick around another year. That's the biggest compliment you could get."
Coach Curl, asked whether Houston will ever adjust to life without Chandi Jones: "No."
LSU opened its season with an easy win. Maine coach Sharon Versyp was impressed; she thinks the Tigers should be #1.

"LSU is the biggest dominating force, I think, in the nation... I think they have 12 or 13 players who it doesn't matter who they put in, and they get an outside shot, an inside force, whatever. And they're healthy. Tennessee (currently ranked No. 1) is not."
Texas may have its best senior class ever. "We have come so close in the past," Annissa Hastings said. "We just want to leave without any regrets. I feel like we have worked extremely hard this season to make sure that we don't leave with any."

But the Horns won't be hurting too badly when they leave. All-Star Girls Report ranked their just-signed 05-06 rookie class as the best in the nation.
Ketia Swanier's parents are both retired veterans. Said Ketia on Vets' Day: "People should respect our veterans. It is horrible some of the positions they are put in."

As a result of the family's military background, Geno was especially happy to get Swanier to Storrs. "When I left I said to (Chris Dailey) 'I hope we get this kid if nothing else to have her parents part of our program.' I wish every set of parents that we could ever recruit would be like that. The commitment they made to their country, 20 years each. The loyalty they have. How there is no bitterness whatsoever in them. The sacrifices they made to leave Ketia and go overseas. To put themselves in the line of fire and still have a positive outlook on life. You don't find that every day."

As Geno told Lena Roberts yesterday, he's also happy to have Rashidat Sadiq. "Coming from Nigeria, the struggle she went through to get here, her family struggle back home and just her commitment to herself and her education and the pride she takes in who she is and the way she carries herself. I just wanted her to be a part of my team because I think that is reflective of who we are."

Although they'd never heard of UConn, Rashidat's parents were thrilled to hear she was heading there.

"My mother started dancing and singing praises to God," said Sadiq. "My family is not rich. We cannot afford cable or satellite dish. These are part of the reasons why my family don't know much about Connecticut. But now that I come here, I think they will get everything with Connecticut on it."
Coach Laimbeer's daughter Keri has signed to play at Syracuse.
Coach Donovan on being the first woman to coach a team to the WNBA title: "As much as I underplayed it, I do recognize why it was important. The women in the program are still fighting for credibility... It’s nice to remind people that there are good women coaches in the game."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Minnesota Coach, Pam Borton, sat down with Star Tribune writer Michael Rand to share her thoughts on the upcoming season, McCarville's injury, replacing Whalen, and her new recruiting class.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

My sports blogger friend Eric McErlain had the good fortune to spend some time on the phone yesterday with Brandi Chastain. Today Eric tells us what Brandi's up to, how she adjusting to life in the grocery market line, what she thinks about the future of the WUSA, and what she sees on youth soccer fields today.

Nothing about the bra, because it's not about the bra.
Michael Cooper watch: Marc Stein declares that "Jeff Bzdelik will be the first coach fired in the new season."
Maurice Patton to Geno: "'We've got Diana (Taurasi), and you don't?' Well, now, you don't either."
Cal Bears, still living and playing in the wake of tragedy.

"The memories of Alisa's death are never going to go away, but the players have done a really good job of remembering her by just doing what they need to do on the court, and the new kids have really helped in that," coach Horstmeyer said.
Happy 30th Birthday, Ted!!!
You are the most amazing, supportive, and fun partner that a person could wish for. I am so glad to be celebrating another brithday with you.

And just so you all know, Ted will be celebrating his big day like any really dedicated women's hoop fan -- cheering for my rec league team at the YWCA. You're the best, babe!
MICHAEL COOPER WATCH: The former Sparks coach is currently an assistant with the Denver Nuggets, but he may be on the verge of taking the reins, possibly by the end of the month.

In the offseason, Denver brought in Kenyon Martin in the hopes that he would vault them from the middle to the top. (Why they thought it was a good idea to bring an overpaid, undersized power forward to the Western Conference is beyond me, but that's another story.) But the Nuggets have gotten off to a poor start, leading to early speculation that they'll fire current coach Jeff Bzdelik and replace him with Coach Coop.

Tonight they lost another bad one -- they got blown out by Seattle at home, fell to 1-4, and moved us closer to a Coop coup.

I'll be cheering for them to keep losing, because after getting screwed by Kobe Inc., it would be nice to see Coop come out ahead in Denver. (Probably some sort of joke there... but maybe I'll leave that one alone.)

If he does take over soon, it won't be a great situation, and he'll have to learn how to manage some players who are real prima donnas. (I'll leave that one alone too.) But I'm sure he'd be thrilled to be back where he belongs: in the head coach's seat.
Coach Fortner, loving life: "It's great to be back South. I love it. I'm a small-town girl. A lot of my friends are in the SEC. Carol [Ross], Mickie [DeMoss] and I talk basketball, share ideas and vacation together. It may be a unique situation, but it's a good one."
AP preseason All-Americans: Augustus, McCarville, Wecker, Ely, and Battest.

Says Balyor coach Mulkey-Robertson of Augustus: "In my opinion, she is the best player in the country. I go back to the Cheryl Miller days, the Cynthia Cooper days. She is that kind of player."

Ann Strother didn't receive a single vote, but I'd be surprised if she didn't get some recognition when it counts -- in the year-end voting.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Mickie DeMoss brought instant recruiting credibility to Kentucky. And she's also doing what is probably the next most important thing to turning a program around: she's pounding the pavement, getting out in the community, building the fan base.

"We've done a great job of getting the word out," DeMoss said. "Billboards, mail-outs ... I'm out in the community quite a bit. The fans have bought into the excitement."

Season ticket sales are up as a result.
Anna DeForge wants to be a sideline reporter once her hoops days are done. "I really like football," said DeForge. "I see Michelle Tafoya, Lisa Guerrero do that and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I can do that.’ I can actually be more descriptive and more informative."

But she's a Packers fan. Booo!
At WNBA.com, Matt Wurst takes a look at the twelve players who have played all eight years in the W.
Voepel reports on K-State, ready to take the floor for its first exhibition game tonight.
Nat Newell and the IndyStar reports on Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips, two high school stars both headed to Purdue, both looking forward to the WNBA.

"(The WNBA) makes me want to get better," Harris said. "A college degree is important and I'd like to have a degree before I go pro, (but when) I heard about (the WNBA) a couple years ago I was like, 'OK. I want to go to the pros.'"
Renee Brown gets promoted, which means, I think, that she's not in the running for commish. Sarnoff at about 90% probability.

Monday, November 08, 2004

In a historic moment for sports blogging, the NBA has fined Mark Cuban for comments made on his blog. Cuban had said that the NBA shouldn't have had opening night on Election Day. His criticism was both correct and fairly mild. The NBA, however, once again reacted angrily and took a few grand away from the Mavs' owner.

Sometimes the WNBA seems to have a mindset that every public message must be positive, that criticism is heresy. It's not hard to see where that came from.
Nancy Lieberman's first novel gets a pretty good review in the Sunday Times.

Hmmm... I thought cloning was illegal.
In other sports news today, englishwoman Paula Radcliffe won the New York City marathon yesterday. I don't know how many of you saw the Olympic marathon this summer when Radcliffe was forced to drop out at the 22nd mile marker. Radcliffe was in the medal hunt at the time, but stomach problems forced her stop and sit down on the curb -- it was painful to watch and to see the disappointment on her face. Yesterday was a much better day.
Coach McGraw gets a contract extension, as announced by the longest press release ever.
ESPN.com names the top 5 college point guards.

And Charlie Creme makes an early projection for the field of 64. Go Big Green!
UCLA was almost ranked in the preseason poll, but yesterday they lost their exhibition opener.

"We were forcing and we were trying a couple of times to make it fun to watch," coach Olivier said. "We talked about it during halftime to make sure to pass and play some boring basketball to take care of the ball and be more productive, and they did a good job in the second half."
In response to this post about Hurns and Stringer, I've gotten a couple thoughtful emails defending CVS. Eg:

I feel that there is a reason CVS refuses to explicitly say that Hurns was a "mistake."... I think that she truly does still love Hurns, and thus she doesn't want to call her a "mistake," because that makes it sound like Hurns meant nothing to her. It's a messy situation, and I just think CVS doesn't want to make Hurns feel any worse than she probably already does.

That is absolutely a fair point, and I hope that's a spot-on explanation of CVS's main motivation.

But it's possible to admit a mistake without calling Hurns a mistake. She doesn't have to say: if I'd done my research, I'd have known not to give Hurns a chance. Instead: if I'd done my research, I might have understood more about Hurns, and maybe I could have gotten her some help before this happened.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

And in other depressing, salacious women's basketball news (sent along by Helen -- thanks a lot!), new details emerged about the Rick Lopez case on Friday. In a pretext phone call taped by investigators, Lopez apparently admitted to having sex with three of his AAU players.

Lopez: "[one of the three] wasn't really a relationship. I was more her caretaker."
Caller: "A caretaker who had sex with her."
Lopez: "yeah, but..."

Yeah but what?

That conversation took place after he had been fired and a warrant had been issued for his arrest. In addition to being a sick bastard (allegedly), Lopez is also apparently retarded.
This morning brings the most in-depth examination of the Shalicia Hurns situation to date, from Brad Parks at the Star-Ledger. The article is titled "A troubled journey, a system failure."

Coach Stringer explains her decision to give Hurns a second (or rather, third) chance at Rutgers.

There are some who only want to work with the already-haves of the world. I want to work with the have-nots who want to fulfill themselves... I've been a person whose been given a second chance. I think all of life is about second chances. Do we all fulfill those chances and the promises of the people who have given those second chances? Not always. If we all understand that coaches are more than X and O people and coaches are supposed to change people's lives, then you understand what I was trying to do here.

That is a noble sentiment. But the article questions whether Stringer really looked into Hurns's background before offering her a spot at Rutgers. She did not, for example, make any attempt to contact Stephanie Smith, who coached Hurns at Wabash and kicked her off the team after a violent episode at practice.

Stringer wouldn't say what sort of research she did. "I'll just say we did our research and we made our decision. And we'll be at peace with this. And I'll leave it at that."

I have the utmost respect for Coach Stringer. There are college coaches in this world who will do anything, bend any rule, put up with any sort of behavior, in order to get talent on their team -- I've never thought of Vivian as being that sort of person.

I am a little troubled, however, by her response to this. She seems fairly defensive, unwilling to admit that this situation wasn't handled quite like it should have been.

Why not just say: "You know, it's important to me to give troubled kids a second chance, and that's what I was trying to do with Shalicia, but in retrospect, I should have at least talked to her former coach before bringing her into my program." I don't understand why she refuses to take responsibility for at least that much error.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Voepel, in her new ESPN.com mailbag, says UConn is #1.
In a sort of mini-homecoming night in Storrs, UConn topped EA Sports, which included Maria Conlon and Morgan Valley.

"Playing without Diana for the first time for a lot of these guys was a traumatic experience," Geno said. "I think our guys learned how far they have to go. ... I thought it was pretty bad, but I don't think anything happened that I didn't expect. It's going to be a little bit of a struggle."
The AP's Chuck Schoffner looks for new stars in the college ranks now that the class of '04 has moved on.
Ah, the poll we've all been waiting for: WNBA stars rate their peers' fashion sense.

Best quote is from Whalen: "Us rookies are gonna have to pick it up a little bit, but maybe in a few years when we make a little more money."
The problem with toe-in-the-water political engagement is that one word is never enough. In response to the latest news, I feel compelled to say a little more. Apologies again.

On Wednesday, the conventional wisdom, based on "moral values" exit polling, was that opposition to gay rights was decisive. Three days later, the conventional wisdom is that it had little or no effect.

I don't know which is right. The analysis supporting the new CW seems as crude and imprecise as the analysis supporting the old. I certainly hope the new CW is correct; it would make me feel better about the presidential election. Beyond that, though, it makes little difference.

Put simply, we will never know if Issue 1 drove 135,000 extra Bush voters to the polls in Ohio, but it remains depressing that a measure banning not just marriage but civil unions could pass by such a huge margin. That and numerous other losses around the country are cause for sadness.

Sadness, but not surrender. Opposition to gay rights remains strong around the country. Some, like Bill Clinton, will say that we should abandon the cause to win votes. I think our response should always be John Kerry's: never.

Finally, the news cycle swing is itself worth pondering. The old CW may have represented an unhealthy tendency on the part of some lefties (myself included, perhaps) to just throw up their hands and say "they're all bigots." That is both false and unproductive.

There may also be a mirror-image pathology on the other side, reflected in the new CW, where cosmopolitan Republicans go out of their way to deny that their victories are in any way built on bigotry. I have in mind folks like Giuliani, Eugene Volokh, David Brooks, and Glenn Reynolds -- Republicans who live in cities, work in newsrooms or universities, and have some contact with gay people. I hope they will recognize that bigotry still exists and that it must be fought. I hope that someday a Hubert Humphrey figure from within the Republican Party will risk votes by standing up and challenging the GOP to support the freedom and equality of gay citizens. I don't know whether it will ever happen.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Nancy Lieberman names her top 25. Unlike the coaches, she puts UConn ahead of Texas and LSU: "Diana Taurasi is gone, but Geno Auriemma remains."

She also has my Gophers as the fifth-best team in the Big Ten. Oh, you'll pay, Lieberman... you'll pay.
Kelli Anderson nominates Taurasi for SI's Sportsperson of the Year: "n 2004, she played three different roles on three different teams at three different levels, moving seamlessly among them all, a consummate team player who knew exactly how to fit in, make her club better and win. For that she is my Sportswoman of the Year."
The USA Today ran a story today on Roderick Jackson and his Title IX case. The case will be heard by the Supreme Court on November 30.

Jackson's case got a boost when the Bush administration (somewhat surprisingly) filed an amicus brief supporting his arguments.

Jackson will be represented by Walter Dellinger in front of the Court. Dellinger is one of the best lawyers in the country -- he's currently representing Martha Stewart, and if Kerry had won, he might well have been our next Supreme Court justice. At oral argument on the 30th, Dellinger, a former Solicitor General, will split time with the current SG. It could be the biggest mismatch at orals since Lawrence v. Texas, when Paul Smith mopped up the marble floor with a hapless Texas prosecutor.

All of which means: the city of Birmingham should be worried. Very, very worried.
A little more background on Tot's discrimination claim: "[Byears] claims that shortly after joining the Sparks, Kristal Shipp -- the team's communications director -- told her to avoid speaking to gay and lesbian magazines and to use "discretion" about what nightclubs she frequented."

The gay press, meanwhile, has picked up the story, as have a bunch more papers around the country today.

Timber argues that it's ridiculous to compare Latasha Byears to Kobe Bryant.

Not having seen the complaint, and not knowing anything about the truth of the factual allegations, it's impossible for me to say whether her case has any merit. But I will say one thing: this could get ugly.

Byears will try to unearth as much evidence of homophobia in the Sparks organization (and the league?) as she can. She may also try to dig up some stuff on how the Kobe matter was handled internally.

The Sparks may respond by attacking Byears -- exposing her whole history of behavior and substance abuse problems -- to show that they fired her not because she was a lesbian, but because she was an ill-tempered pain in the ass.

And we may find out sordid details about what happened on the night of June 5, 2003, at the crazy, throw-down, sleepover party at Byears's apartment. Sex and drugs, maybe some rock'n'roll? Photos from the camera phones? We'll see.

We'll see how much of this gets played out in the media. And we'll see whether the parties really go through with the whole thing, or whether the Lakers decide to give her a couple hundred grand to bury the publicity.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Val's retirement led a lot of people to look back at the history of the league. Part of the early history was defined in large part by competition with the ABL. To be honest, I don't know much about that chapter in women's basketball history, and looking around the web, there wasn't a whole lot of information.

I emailed Gary Cavalli, who was the co-founder of the ABL and also served as the league's CEO, and asked if he'd be willing to do an interview about league history. He graciously agreed; questions and answers are below. Thanks a million do Gary for the time, and for his frank and fascinating responses. (Thanks also to Barry and Helen Wheelock for helping me think through some questions.)

There are those who think that the WNBA killed the ABL. There are others who think that the ABL didn't have a chance either way -- Mechelle Voepel, e.g., said last week that the ABL had an "unrealistic idealism" and that "the WNBA was the only legitimate shot that women's pro hoops had." Do you think the ABL would have survived if not for the competition from the WNBA?

I think we would have survived and thrived without the WNBA. I've always believed there was room for one good women's pro league in this country. We launched our league when the WNBA was still a question mark. When they decided to go forward, after we had one solid year under our belt, we knew it would be much harder. It turned out there weren't enough sponsors, fans, and TV partners to support two leagues. (Some would argue that without the WNBA's deep pockets, there aren't enough even to support one league).

My belief is that without the WNBA competition for TV, sponsors, fans and players (which drove salaries up), we would have made it. I'm not sure who Mechelle Voepel is, but I'd agree with part of her assessment. We were certainly idealistic, but that's why so many players still refer to their time in the ABL as "the good old days." There's nothing wrong with trying to do things right--pay players well, give them a voice in the league, etc. It is possible to do things right and succeed, but not when you're battling such a well-organized, well-funded, and powerful competitor.

The ABL's contracts with its players included non-compete clauses that prevented them from playing in the WNBA. Absent those clauses, is it possible that both leagues could have survived?

That's an interesting question, and we debated it internally. We belived at the time that the large number of quality players exclusively competing in our league was a key factor in distinguishing us from the WNBA. In retrospect, it's possible that had we allowed our players to compete in both leagues and paid them less, we might have managed to survive as a sort of "minor" league for the WNBA. However, that would have been a big change from our original mission, and at the time, we didn't want to go that route.

The ABL sometimes marketed itself by contrasting itself to the NBA and the WNBA. In her press conference announcing her resignation, Val Ackerman said that she was "disappointed by the public[]negativity put out by the ABL about the WNBA." Do you have any response to that?

I'm sorry to hear she said that. I have a great deal of respect for Val, but I think she's dead wrong here. If anything, the negativity came from the other direction. When we were getting started and launching the league, and throughout our first season, we constantly had to deal with negative comments, accusations, and false rumors circulated both publicly and privately by everyone connected with the WNBA.

According to the WNBA folks, we were never going to throw the ball up, never play a game, never get any players, never get a tv contract, never get a sponsor, never be able to make payroll, never survive our first season, etc. We heard that from their officials, announcers, and coaches. We had this reported to us by players we recruited, tv networks, sponsors we solicited...over and over again. This continued throughout our second and third seasons--in WNBA comments to the media and in recruiting pitches to graduating seniors. It was almost comical how, in WNBA publications and TV coverage, they pretended that the ABL didn't exist. For many years, their published histories and timelines on the evolution of women's basketball omitted any reference to the ABL. When player bios were shown on the TV screen or described by their analysts, no references to the ABL were made. In recent years, thankfully, we've somehow re-appeared.

As for our own publicity and marketing materials, we had no choice but to contrast ourselves to the WNBA. Remember, we didn't have the benefit of the NBA's money, leverage, marketing machine, TV exposure, etc. We were fighting to stay alive against the proverbial 900 lb. Gorilla. So, yes, in contrasting ourselves to the WNBA, we did point out the key differences--that we paid the players more, that we played in basketball season, that our players didn't have to go overseas to make a living. Those were the facts. If that's being negative about the WNBA, I guess I plead guilty.

How much did it hurt the league to lose Nikki McCray and Dawn Staley? How intensely did you and the league try to keep them?

It hurt a lot. Interestingly, I think losing Dawn was more of a blow to us. Nikki was our MVP the first year, and right up until the last minute, Tracy Williams (our personnel director) and I were doing everything in our power to keep her in the fold and thought she was going to stay with us. Ultimately, she was won over by the glamour of the NBA's marketing machine. She was really taken by the opportunity to become one of their marquee players and benefit from all the promotion.

Yet after Nikki bolted, we went on to have a tremendous recruiting year, and in head to head competition with the WNBA, essentially got all of the top players coming out of college that year--Kate Starbird, Kara Wolters, etc. We got something like 12 of the top 14 players. That really lessened the impact of Nikki's deparature.

Losing Dawn was tougher to swallow. We were going into our third year and we were struggling to stay afloat. We had moved a team to her home town, Philadelphia. We had given her input in coaching and GM decisions. Both Tracy Williams and I spent a lot of time with her. But when it came down to it, her agents essentially cut us off. We didn't even get an audience with them. It was a huge blow to the league.

Putting aside any issues about competition with the WNBA... what was the biggest obstacle the ABL faced? Are there decisions you made that you would make differently if you had the chance to do it again?

Initially, the biggest obstacle was the general perception that it couldn't be done. The numerous failures of other pro leagues, the skepticism of the media and the basketball establishment, and the fact that we were on the West Coast, outside of the traditional pro sports mainstream, made everything much more difficult. We had to work very hard to gain credibility with the players, coaches, and media. We had to deliver everything we promised, and then some. It was a constant struggle to prove ourselves. Then, just when we were starting to turn the corner after our first year, along came the WNBA. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a bidding war for players, unable to lock in sponsors and TV networks, playing a game on an uneven playing field.

We never had enough money. We were able to raise about 30 million dollars from investors and league sponsors, but it came in gradually over time. We were always on the edge financially, and never had the war chest we needed to effectively promote the league. Our tiny advertising and promotion budget was a small fraction of the WNBA's.

Certainly, there were things I'd do differently if we had the chance to do it over. There were some bad hiring decisions. I think we paid the players too much. There were some opportunities that we turned down early in the game, because of fairness and equity issues, that in retrospect we probably should have accepted.

As the ABL was winding down, there was talk of an antitrust action against the WNBA. Why did you decide not to proceed with that?

In the league's bankruptcy reorganization plan, there was a provision for a potential antitrust suit against the NBA. Some pretty knowledgeable, high-powered lawyers in New York thought we had a very good case. But given the NBA's deep pockets and cadre of lawyers, it probably would have required several years and millions of dollars to pursue.

At that point, having given four extremely stressful years to the ABL and gone through the painful process of closing down the league, I was ready to move on with my life. So I resigned from the ABL estate's governing board and told them I didn't want to be actively involved in a lawsuit; my only involvement would be as a witness. I believe they did hire a firm to conduct an investigation and explore the merits of an anti-trust suit. I was told they found many indications of questionable or actionable behavior, but no smoking gun. Without enough money or manpower to conduct a prospective lawsuit, and without a clear indication they would win, the governing board decided to drop it.

The ABL played in the traditional season and used the 29.5 ball. Were these decisions and others part of a conscious strategy to market women's pro basketball as "real basketball"? Why was it important to do that?

In the beginning, we had a core group of founding players, including Teresa Edwards, Jennifer Azzi, Dawn Staley and others from the '96 Olympic Team. They gave us input as to the size of the ball, the three-point line, the type of coaches we should pursue, length of the season, etc. We felt it was important to have the players' input and involvement in launching the league, making the right decisions. In doing so, we gained credibility and support from players throughout the country. That was really the basis for our success we enjoyed and the strong bond we had with our players.

The ABL tried to be a "players' league" in part by paying its players more and giving its players an equity interest in the league. You've said that, in retrospect, you may have paid too much, but do you still think it could work to give pro players some financial ownership in their league?

Absolutely. I see no reason why players can't own part of a league whose existence and financial success is dependent upon their talent and commitment.

You told Bob Ley on "Outside the Lines" that the ABL lost some sponsorship deals due to some perception that women's pro hoops was a lesbian game. Would you say that was a major hurdle? Did the league have any strategy or policy for dealing with the issue of orientation?

I don't think I put it in those terms. There were a few potential sponsors and investors who made some revealing comments to me in the course of evaluating their prospective involvement with the ABL. I'm not sure how big of a factor it was, but it was very clear to me that the race and sexual orientation of our players was a determining factor in at least a couple of instances. I'd have to say that it was pretty eye-opening to me, in traveling around this country as a representative of a women's basketball league, to see how much prejudice still exists.

Our policy was basically to welcome all players and coaches without any regard to their orientation. The same was true for our fans. We needed all the support we could get. We realized that the gay community was part of the fan base for women's basketball, and we promoted our league to that audience. I think several of our teams advertised in the gay media.

Teresa Edwards was in some ways the face of the ABL, both during its existence and for several years afterward, when she refused to play in the WNBA. How would you characterize Teresa's role in the ABL? Are you still in touch with her?

There are few people in this world I respect more than Teresa Edwards. She was, in many ways, the heart and soul of the league. She and Jennifer Azzi, in my mind, were the two who really stood out. They went way above and beyond the call. I stayed in touch with Teresa for a few years after the league folded, but I haven't seen or spoken to her in awhile. She'll always have a special place in my heart. My daughter, Alyssa, actually did a report on Teresa to her fourth-grade class a few years ago.

Is there any still-existing ABL community among former players, coaches, or execs?

There's an incredibly strong bond between all of those who were involved. It was an amazing experience. For many of our players, coaches and GMs, it was the highlight of their career. We tried to do something very special. Ultimately, we didn't succeed, but we did push the bar a little higher, advanced the cause of women's sports in this country, and had a very positive impact on a lot of people's lives.

I'm still see the other two co-founders, Steve Hams and Anne Cribbs. Anne and I are on some sports marketing boards together, and Steve and I coach against each other in school and YMCA girls' basketball. I'm in touch regularly with several other former ABL administrators--Rich Nichols, our general counsel, Tracy Williams, our player personnel director, Carla Peyton, our licensing guru, Dean Jutilla, our PR director, and a few of our general managers--Linda Weston and Karen Bryant.

One of the neatest things that happened to me recently was a call I got call from Karen Bryant. She was our GM for the Seattle Reign and is now the GM of the WNBA champion Seattle Storm. It was the day before the deciding Game 3 of the WNBA championship series between Seattle and Connecticut. She said that she and Chris Sienko (the GM of the Connecticut Sun, who was our GM for the New England Blizzard) were together talking about the ABL. She said they were thinking back on how much the league had meant to them, how the ABL had given them their start and was the beginning of the evolution of women's basketball in the USA. She said that she just wanted to call and say they were thinking about me.

I was really touched. I'd been following the WNBA playoffs and was very happy that two of our GMs and one of our coaches (Anne Donovan) were in the playoffs. It was great that Karen and Anne took home the trophy.

I should say parenthetically that I still follow our players in the WNBA. I read the box scores every day to see how they're doing. It was great to see Sheri Sam, Taj McWilliams, Debbie Black, etc. in the finals. And it's great to see Katie Smith, Yolanda Griffith, Adrienne Goodson, Shannon Johnson, Dawn Staley, Crystal Robinson, and so many other ex-ABL players doing so well.

In early 2003, the WNBA seemed to be in dire straights, due in part to the labor dispute. Now, the league seems on firmer ground. Do you think the WNBA will survive long term? If not, do you think another league would replace it? Do you have any suggestions for what the WNBA could do better?

I think the players gave in on most of the key issues because they had no leverage. The WNBA is all they have in this country, and, understandably, they don't want to lose it.

As to the long term survival of the league, a lot of it depends on how long David Stern will subsidize it. I don't share Val's optimism about profitability. I think one of the downsides to playing in the summer is that there is a threshold of how many fans will go indoors to watch a sport that's not in season. They started at about 9,000 fans per game, got up as high as 10,000, and now have slipped back in the last few years to about 8,500. And let's be honest, we all know those numbers are inflated. I went to a game in Sacramento a few years ago, and actually counted the crowd. There were less than 2,500 people there, and the next day the announced crowd was over 5,000.

Having said that, I'm rooting for them to make it. Some have suggested that those of us who started the ABL want the WNBA to fail. That's not true. We wanted there to be a women's pro league in this country, and we hoped it would be our league. Since that didn't happen, I'm really pulling for the WNBA.

We need a league in this country--our players deserve to have a league in this country--and the WNBA is the best chance we've got. If they don't make it, I think it will be very difficult for another league to do it. What investor, sponsor or TV network will be willing to take a chance on another pro league if one backed by the NBA doesn't survive?

As for suggestions, I think they're doing a very good job. I think they expanded a little too fast, the quality suffered, some of the markets couldn't support a team, and I think they learned from that. Because of the threshold in fans I mentioned above, I think they have to find other sources of revenue--more sponsors, more merchandising, etc.--and they seem to be doing that very well. They've made it for eight years now. I congratulate them, and I wish them well.

There has been off-and-on talk about a WNBA franchise in the Bay Area. Do you think that's a good idea? Would it work best in San Jose, San Francisco, or the East Bay? Would you have any interest in helping make that happen?

I think there's a strong fan base in the Bay Area because of the success of the Stanford team and the ABL's experience with the San Jose Lasers. I think the peninsula would be the best bet, but there are advantages to partnering with the NBA team in the East Bay, utlizing the facility, taking advantage of the team's resources, etc. I have no interest in being involved. I've been down that road, and I was fortunate enough to come out of it with my family, my health, my integrity and my sense of humor intact. I'd just be a fan.

You now serve as Executive Director in the Emerald Bowl. Are you still involved in the development of women's sports, or do you hope to be again in the future?

At this point, my only active involvment is as a youth sports coach. I coach my 11-year old daughter's basketball teams at her school and at the local YMCA. I do participate in panels, speak at local universities, and try to serve as an ambassador for women's sports. I give talks occasionally at the Stanford Business School, Stanford Law School and University of San Francisco on sports management, women's sports, and related issues, and may do more teaching in the future.

I'm very happy running the Emerald Bowl and doing some other advertising and PR projects. Ironically, Mel Greenberg called me just last week and and said that a number of people had suggeted that I'd be a great candidate to replace Val Ackerman. I told Mel that Osama Bin Laden has a better chance of being president of the United States than I have of being president of the WNBA.