Thursday, July 24, 2014

Liberty edge Sparks 66-64

My game story.

More pictures:


Sparks bench, with Candace Parker on the left and new coaching staff on the right.


Sparks confer during a pause in the game.


Liberty meet at a time out.


Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer doesn't like a call.


Gary Kloppenburg coaches from the sidelines.


Gary Kloppenburg coaches from the sidelines.


Liberty on the fast break.


Alana Beard tries to get around Alex Montgomery.


Tina Charles grabs one of her 15 rebounds.


Nneka Ogwumike looks to pass.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Becky Hammon to retire after this season

Becky Hammon told the Stars last night and the rest of the world today: she's retiring after this season. She leaves a legacy.

The 37-year-old Hammon is a six-time All-Star who ranks seventh in WNBA history in total points (5,756), second in three-point field goals made (817), fourth in assists (1,663), sixth in games played (440) and first in free-throw percentage (89.6 percent, minimum 300 attempts).

"Throughout the years" photo gallery.

Today's results so far:

The Mystics surged past the Sun, 89-75.

In a bit, the Liberty take on the Sparks, to begin the Penny Toler era in Los Angeles.

More WNBA news.....

Stars:


The Stars have signed Astou Ndour, as Heather Butler's seven-day contract expired.

Mystics:

The Mystics are trying to overcome turnover and age issues the second half of the season.

Mercury:

Coach Sandy Brondello's preparation has set the standard for the red hot Mercury.

Sun:

Chillin4Charity part two.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Maya clinic

It took two overtimes, but the Lynx prevailed over the Dream, 112-108. Sounds like an All-Star game, right? It was for Maya Moore, who had a career-high 48 points. That's right: 48.

The Sky finally won one, edging the Fever, 60-57. Sylvia Fowles lead the way with 21 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

The Stars squeaked by the Shock, 95-93.

The Mercury are in the midst of beating the Storm at the moment.

More WNBA news....

Dream:


Q&A with new COO Maureen Brown.

All-Star game MVP Shoni Schimmel's performance Saturday was highlighted on ESPN SportsCenter.

Liberty:

Swin Cash has embraced New York.

Storm:

It's time to get tough.

Sky:

Sylvia Fowles threw out the first pitch at the White Sox game last night.

College news:

Olivia Ogwumike - little sister of Nneka and Chiney - has signed with Pepperdine. She will be a freshman this fall.

The contract of Wichita State coach Jody Adams has been extended through 2019.

Shay Robinson is Maryland's new assistant coach.

UC Santa Barbara has added Matt Schiff as an assistant coach.

Duke's Rebecca Greenwell says excitement is building for the fall.

WNBA, NCAA missing an opportunity

Like the rest of the sports world last week, I watched rapper Drake serenade Skylar Diggins with words on the ESPY Awards show. The significance of the moment was real: one of the biggest entertainers in the business was giving props to one of the faces of the WNBA.

But the incident also highlighted a profound disconnect by both the WNBA and NCAA: not leveraging attention from musical megastars to facilitate the growth of the game.

The ESPYs weren't the first time women's hoops has received love from hip hop artists. Lil Wayne showed up at several Minnesota Lynx games a few years ago wearing a Seimone Augustus jersey, as a tribute to the fellow Louisiana native. Wayne also gave frequent twit-outs to Diggins, at one point calling her his wife. Rapper Common attended a Notre Dame at UCLA game in November, 2012 and waited afterwards to talk to Diggins. He has also attended Los Angeles Sparks games. Ludacris has been spotted at Atlanta Dream games.

In maybe the biggest nod of all, Jay Z signed Diggins to his Roc Nation sports agency last year, after she graduated from college.

All the love is great, but women's basketball needs to make it work for them. Both college and WNBA teams always need more butts in seats, and if there is one group that has more power, influence and money than male sports stars, it's entertainers. It's amazing what you get when you just ask. I suggest the WNBA and NCAA do just that.

Why not start with Jay and have him make appearances at Shock games, to support his protege? I have a feeling the entire city of Tulsa would show up if he had a courtside seat. If he came to Madison Square Garden - in his hometown - regularly to support the Liberty, the team would find itself with a bigger fan base. (This would also indirectly help Jay's client).

If Nicki Minaj can rap about Lisa Leslie, as she did in a song a couple years ago, I'm sure Lil Wayne could be persuaded to drop in a line about Augustus, or another player he appreciates. Jay could also easily finesse in a Skylar Diggins reference as he hits the tour circuit with wife Beyonce.

If Jay Z, Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj started talking about how cool and fun women's basketball is, I bet that would translate into an attendance bump for the sport. We've already seen, countless times, how well music and sport go together. During last week's ESPYs, for example, one of the best skits featured Drake and Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin.

The WNBA and NCAA need to get off their rears and start reaching out to entertainers. It would be a match made in heaven.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Back to business tomorrow

ESPN's power rankings:

1. Phoenix
2. Minnesota
3. Atlanta
4. Indiana
5. Washington
6. Los Angeles
7. San Antonio
8. New York
9. Connecticut
10. Tulsa
11. Seattle
12. Chicago

Tamika Catchings and Maya Moore were Eastern and Western Conference players of the week.

Games resume tomorrow, with a four-contest line up.

More WNBA news......

Lynx:


Rebekkah Brunson makes her on-court season debut tomorrow.

Today's practice report.

The Lynx are ready to roll after the All-Star game.

Storm:

.....have signed Waltiea Rolle to a seven-day contract.

The story of outgoing COO Karen Bryant, part one.

All-Star interview with Lauren Richie:

The WNBA President answered questions from the media prior to Saturday's game.

Women's Basketball Hall of Fame:

Gail Goestenkors was elected to the WBHOF 2015 class the same day she opted to resign from the LA Sparks as assistant coach, as head coach Carol Ross was let go.

College news:

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick wants the Lady Vols to have a stronger finishing touch.

Good God, UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is a senior already? I remember her as a sophomore in high school.

Ebony Wells joins LaSalle from Florida State.

Sparks first practice under Toler has intensity on tap

I talked to new Sparks coach Penny Toler, and players Nneka Ogwumike, Jantel Lavender and Lindsey Harding today. Intensity and collaboration are on tap.

Dream coach Michael Cooper has early-stage cancer

Dream coach Michael Cooper has early-stage tongue cancer, and will have surgery this week. He will miss two weeks for recovery, during which time assistant coach Karleen Thompson will act as head coach:

''I'm fortunate that my condition was diagnosed early, and this episode illustrates the importance of screening and early detection,'' Cooper said. ''I know the team will be in good hands with coach Thompson at the helm during my absence, and I look forward to returning to the court soon.''

Prayers up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sparks' firing of Carol Ross not unexpected

The official announcement came just after 5 p.m. today: the Los Angeles Sparks relieved coach Carol Ross of duties. General Manager Penny Toler will be the coach for the rest of the season.

ESPN cites a source that says assistant Gary Kloppenberg will remain, while Gail Goestenkors chose to leave. Taking her place will be former Sparks assistant coach Steve Smith.

Am I surprised? Not in the least. I could see this day coming for a while now.

To begin with, the Sparks have fallen short of expectations for the last two seasons. In 2012 - Ross' first year - she received the Coach of the Year award. Days later, the Sparks lost by one point to Minnesota in the Western Conference finals. Last season the Sparks lost in the first round to Phoenix by one point.

This year Toler assembled an all-star cast, and the future looked bright after the team's first two preseason games. They had energy, worked together, executed plays and dominated on defense. Then suddenly, they began losing. And losing, and losing. Right now they are 10-12 for fourth in the West, after spending most of the first half of the season at fifth or sixth place.

The Sparks look listless and discombobulated on the court. They don't play together, and they don't play defense. It's especially baffling considering the talent level of team members.

I knew the end was near last month, when Candace Parker was taken out of a game against the Lynx, and a verbal altercation between her and Goestenkors ensued. I posted pictures, along with a call for change.

Things had looked better recently, with the Sparks winning three out of four games on the road. But last Thursday's four-point loss to the Mystics proved to be the death knell for Ross.

To be clear, Ross is a great coach. I don't, however, think her style was the right fit for the Sparks. And fit is everything in the pros.

Toler as coach is an interesting situation. She retired in 1999 and began working in the Sparks front office the following year. She hasn't coached. Her appointment now will give her a chance to coach one of the many dynamic teams she has assembled over the years. She's got to earn their respect, get them back on track and motivate them.

It sounds like a lot of pressure.

Another thing the Sparks must do if they want to survive is get their fans back. There are no more fan giveaways and there are precious few autograph sessions, and thus less connection with fans and season ticket holders. I've noticed the disconnect - and the empty seats at Staples Center. Attendance is really down, and it's not just due to the team's performance. If fans felt like the Sparks cared that they are there, more would show up.

The Sparks are having a press conference tomorrow, which I will be reporting on. They have back-to-back home games this Wednesday and Thursday, against the Liberty and the Mercury.

It's safe to say that for now, all eyes will be on the Los Angeles Sparks.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

East edges West in All-Star game, 125-124 (OT)

As you no doubt witnessed, the East hung on to beat the West in today's All-Star game, 125-124. As the story I co-wrote isn't up yet on fullcourt.com, here is the AP piece.

Highlights.

Records fell:

For the first time in All-Star history, the game went to overtime.

Shoni Schimmel broke the scoring record, set just last year by Candace Parker, with 29 points.

It was the highest combined team scoring in All-Star game history. Records were also set for team shooting, team assists and team rebounds. In all, 11 records were broken in the game.

And though Schimmel the rookie was the MVP, it was veteran Tamika Catchings who made the driving layup - and then the defensive stop four seconds later - to seal the win for the East. Catchings was at her ninth All-Star game, tying the mark set by Tina Thompson.

"If I had to tie someone, it's great that it's Tina Thompson, because she's amazing," Catchings told me after the game.

With over 14,000 screaming fans in attendance, it was the second largest All-Star crowd in history.

Skylar Diggins had a stellar game, with 27 points. Maya Moore added 24 points for the West, Brittney Griner 17, including a dunk, and Candice Dupree had 12.

For the East it was Tina Charles with 19, Katie Douglas with 15, and Catchings and Angel McCoughtry with 14 and 13, respectively.

What an thrilling, fun game. It definitely exceeded my expectations. There was a lot of excitement in the arena, from the fans to the players to even the media.

WNBA blog.

The mood this year was more competitive than last, with players really hustling for the ball. Players took turns putting in gluts of points at a time.

The crowd was fantastic from tipoff, "ooo"ing and "aaah"ing at every turn.

There were several funny game moments. McCoughtry, when she made a couple shots, would run down the side of the court and hand slap fans.

Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike would make it a point to stand next to each other when someone was shooting a free throw. In one instance, Nneka extended her arm absent-mindedly to smooth Chiney's hair. The ball went up into the air and then the sisters were suddenly pushing and shoving each other. I posted a picture of the moment on my twitter: twitter.com/hoopism. Chiney said post-game that this was the first time she and her sister had got to play together and have fun. She also said Nneka was the first to start talking trash after it was announced they were both All-Stars.

Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike discuss playing in their first game together.

There was a lot of joyful screaming after the game. The buzzer sounded and media members flooded the court, along with others. It was pure pandemonium, and as I like to do in such occasions, I stood there and watched. Some of the things I saw:

Lisa Leslie sporting a Schimmel #23 headband. She also went over to give the young buck a hug.

ESPN's Holly Rowe walked past me yelling at a co-worker to "stop her!", meaning the 6-foot-8 big kid Brittney Griner, who was running off the court. Rowe just wanted an interview.

Then walking in front of me the other way suddenly was Candace Parker with her extremely tall daughter in hand. She walked over to East coach, and former Sparks coach Michael Cooper, and they had a hug.

I went to both locker rooms. It was funny because though Diana Taurasi only scored four points in the game, most all of the media was crowded around her. So I just walked up to Skylar Diggins and started asking questions. She was truly appreciative to be there, and seemed humbled by it all. She really worked hard in the off-season to improve all aspects of her game, from outside shooting to ballhandling right and left to conditioning. I respect that.

I don't know if fans truly grasp just what a silly person Maya Moore is. I appreciate her for that.

Tamika Catchings talked to me about her changing perspective as a veteran, and about how she'd like to impart her legacy as being one of hard work and having the fire to play hard. I think that's in the bag.

Chiney and Schimmel shared a press conference for the East, and were very complimentary of one another. Chiney stressed that most of the players have played together for a long time, and said she and Schimmel go way back, to a big smile from Schimmel.

As I stood in the back, Schimmel's family started flooding in, surrounding me. The WNBA had let them come in for the conference. Seventeen members in all, of four generations, with most wearing Schimmel 23 headbands. I will have a story on this later.

I hope next year's All-Star game is somewhere in the middle of the country, so I can go again. What a blast.

2015 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame to induct six

Next year's inductees into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame will include Lisa Leslie, Janeth Arcain, Gail Goestenkors, Janet Harris, Brad Smith and the late Kurt Budke.