Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Arizona Coach Niya Butts has a hobby

Boxing! Like wow, Coach.

USA Basketball gets rolling!

The National team is getting down to business, as of today. Angel McCoughtry (rumored to be the WNBA's Rookie of the Year) tweeted about it, for one. It sounds like players are excited.

Brea Olinda at the Run and Gun League

Brea Olinda are newcomers to the Lynwood league. I popped in tonight to check out the reigning state champs.

Coach Jeff Sink arrived slightly late, Diet Coke in hand. I finally got to meet him, and it was a pleasure.

Brea whooped on their opponents, for the most part, except for the fiesty Gahr. I need to talk to Sink about who his new players are.

On the sidelines it's a social event with players (past and present), coaches and other members of the LA-area basketball family yapping it up, including yours truly. It's great to see the kids growing up. I left almost 45 minutes after I'd planned to. But it was worth it.

One Brea Olinda team warms up under the basket before the first game. They've got some tall girls this year.

Brea Coach Jeff Sink got a little lost, so assistant coach Steve Steele (black shirt) coached both Brea games for a little bit.

The Ladycats' game against Gahr was very physical.

Gahr did a good job and didn't lose by much to the state champs.

Gahr has a superstar freshman, Jewelyn Janelle Sawyer, above. The girl was doing everything a tall player should - getting boards, putting up layups and shots, even stealing the ball. I'll be keeping my eye on her.

Sink addresses his team before their second game in a row.

Jeanier Olukemi watches the action during the other Brea team's second game. She was ballin' it up all night. I wonder how many college letters she's got?

Sink watches his Ladycats.

Uh oh, it's another Michael T White Tournament at Mater Dei High School

Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?


Other LA-area high school tourneys this weekend are the USJN Swish Tournament and the FBC Tournament at the HAX.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Tonight's game one thriller was the highest-scoring game in regular or playoff season in WNBA history. That box score is fascinating. On both teams, players really stepped up when a couple of their teammates were having an off-night. Wow.

If games 2-5 are like this one, we will be in for some butt-clenching.

The other day, Indiana Pacers GM Larry Bird bought out the balcony of Conseco Fieldhouse for the Fever's final conference game. Tonight Phoneix Suns GM Steve Kerr bought out the upper level of the US Airways Center. I love these guys!

This was a big news day even before the game.

Earlier today, Diana Taurasi was named WNBA MVP.

ESPN's Mechelle Voepel talked with Taurasi, who has been at her lowest with a drunk-driving arrest in June, to her highest now.

And the Indy Star has a beautific piece on Tamika Catchings.

The Sparks' Tina Thompson signed a three-year contract with the organization earlier this year, but now says she doesn't know if she will be back next year.

In fact, the LA Times report that the Sparks as a team has an uncertain future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Run and Gun Fall League at Lynwood High School, Lynwood, CA

One of the longest-running, and perhaps highest-quality fall leagues began tonight: the Run and Gun League in Lynwood. It runs Monday and Wednesday nights from late September through the first few days in November, and features a collection of high-caliber teams.

This year:

Bishop Amat
Carson (2 teams)
Garfield (2 teams)
J Serra
Long Beach Poly (3 teams)
Long Beach Jordan (2 teams)
Lynwood (2 teams)
Narbonne (2 teams)
Brea Olinda (2 teams)
Saint Monica

The team I coached with a few years ago participated in this league, and it's fun. There are four games on three courts - 6, 7, 8, and 9 p.m. - for a total of 12 games per night. As a spectator it's fun to be able to bounce between games.

Tonight I caught the Long Beach Poly-Long Beach Jordan matchup. Poly won, of course, but Jordan had some bright spots.

Oregon State Coach LaVonda Wagner was there, as was seemingly everyone else in the LA basketball family/community. It was nice to see some people again.

I'd like to give a shout out to Jose, who is the father of a player on one of the teams there tonight. He walked right up to me and asked me if I wrote the Hoopism blog. Said he thought he'd spotted me at the Watts Games a few months back. Good eye, Jose! Nice to meet you.

I'll be covering more of this tournament, but here's a start. The lighting at Lynwood High isn't the greatest, so neither are the pictures. But I'll work on it.

Bracket is downloadable at the bottom of this page.

Long Beach Poly (green) and Long Beach Jordan players battle for a rebound.

Thanks in part to their strong defense, Poly beat Jordan handily.

Poly's Ariyah Crook-Williams, previously mentioned in this space, walks up the court.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ronika Ransford will choose University of Georgia

Fresh from an email sent to me a short time ago by Frank Oliver Jr., coach of the H.D. Woodson High School Lady Warriors in D.C.:

Ronika Ransford will verbal to the University of Georgia after her official visit this weekend. She had officially visited Rutgers and Kentucky. She was scheduled to visit Cal and Louisville but made her decision Saturday night in Athens.

She said she "felt as if Coach (Andy) Landers could help me reach my full potential, and saw it as great opproutunity to become a better person on and off the court and mature as a young woman."

Her H.D. Woodson High School Coach Frank Oliver, Jr. said, "She is a great student of the game and has a high basketball I.Q. to go along with exceptional skills and atheltic ability. There is no doubt in my mind she will make a major impact at the next level."

Ransford is looking to lead Woodson to their fifth consectutive D.C.I.A.A. League title and Third Consectutive D.C. City Title this year, vs. The W.C.A.C. Champions. The Lady Warriors currently own a 58-game league winning streak in which Ransford's senior class, including Courtney Cayard and Shanice Parker, have never lost a league game.

I wrote a story on the team last fall and talked to several of the players on the phone after speaking with Oliver. They're a family-like bunch. Hope they have a good season this year.

Lisa Leslie says WNBA players "need to look like women"

In her post-game interview last night, now-retired center Lisa Leslie made the following comments about WNBA players:

Leslie: "Also another important message is how we represent ourselves as women. We need to look like women; it's important how we carry ourselves, how we dress on and off the court. A lot of these things have to be addressed and continue to be addressed because we are the product, and it's important.

People want to see a good product. They do. That's just the bottom line. And you need to be marketable and I think that more women need to understand that here in our league."

(Video is on this page).

In a business sense, Leslie is correct in that the WNBA is a product that has to be marketable. But her implications are way off base.

She doesn't explain what "looking like women" means in her mind, but it's indicative by her own dress: hair ribbons on the court and femmey clothing off of it. That's her style and it works for her, but that's not the style of all WNBA players.

Take Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles. Both wear boyish and/or men's clothing because that's their style, and they make it look damn good. Putting a bow in the hair of either woman would look ridiculous and contrived, as would seeing them in the short-shorts Leslie has been photographed in around her home. It's not them, and to pretend it is would be a lie.

Her own teammate Betty Lennox - who Leslie seems to get along with extremely well - also isn't a girly girl in any way. Does Leslie think Betty should get all dolled up like her?

I chided Leslie in this space earlier in the season when she was quoted in a Sparks game program giving herself props for maintaining her femininity over her long career. I'm going to repeat myself here: if being feminine is your style and your personality, go fot it. But if it's not, don't do it. Just be yourself.

Women have a hard time being ourselves, and other places in the world are much worse. I wish Leslie, with all her influence, had said instead: there's a place in the WNBA for every great player, whether she's a tomboy, a foofoo, or somewhere in between. You are perfectly wonderful just the way you are.

You missed a great opportunity to give girls some validation as people, Lisa Leslie.

It's Indiana vs. Phoenix in the WNBA finals

The Indiana Fever and their fans are feeling great about their Eastern Conference win last night. Big ups to not only the team for closing it out, but for my new favorite male basketball player, Larry Bird, for helping generate such a huge turnout at the game by purchasing so many tickets to give away. Freakin awesome.

Photos here, starting with an emotional Tamika Catchings pic. She is one of the main reasons I want the Fever to take the trophy. Such a great player and person.

In the West, it was the Mercury from beginning to end; they dominated the game. Sparks co-owner Kathy Goodman explains why she's not reflective just yet, and Mechelle Voepel shouts out Lisa Leslie.

Photos here of the Western Conference finals, including the one above. That picture scares me, because I've never seen Candace Parker the iron woman in tears before, despite following her career from high school. I always figured it was because she grew up playing with boys that she's always had the Tim Duncan no-expression game face - sometimes off the court, too. And in typical double-standard fashion, Parker has been criticized for that game face, with fans calling her "arrogant" and other names because she doesn't smile all the time like a woman is supposed to. But in tears? The picture makes me sad. Here's another one from the Associated Press that freaks me out even more:

They are not only tears of sadness but of frustration, knowing Parker and her high standards. The Sparks were never able to get on the same page this season, despite a galaxy full of potential. I wonder if Parker has ever had that experience before.

Leslie is sad because she's just fouled out of her last professional game. I wonder what she'll do career-wise after this.

Big big ups to Betty Lennox, who poured in another 19 points last night to cap off a great personal season that included overcoming an injury. She definitely silenced all her doubters this year.

This picture is a happy one. Catchings and Tully Bevilaqua are two of the absolute nicest players in the WNBA.

Ironies: Indiana's Jessica Moore and Phoenix' Temeka Johnson were cut and traded, respectively, by the Sparks within the last year. Now they're playing for the WNBA title.

I know there's still a title series to be played, but my mind is already on college and high school season.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Remembering Polkey"

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of former Arizona center Shawntinice Polk, who collapsed after a workout and died later that night from a lung blood clot. The Wildcat basketball program, which had enjoyed a tradition of success, began to decline, culminating in the firing of Coach Joan Bonvicini in April, 2008.

Fans have long said it was the death of this young woman that caused the program to go downhill. This excerpt from today's piece in the Arizona Daily Wildcat seems to support that theory:

But Polk’s passing affected her team in such a distinct way. Arizona went 8-22 with a 3-15 Pacific 10 Conference record the season after Polkey died — a year that included Arizona’s first five-game losing streak since 1994-95. Arizona has won just 11 games in the past three seasons.

Team counselors worked with players for weeks upon weeks. Nearly a dozen players have left the program early since Polk’s death.

“There were some players who had some problems — very severe problems,” said Bonvicini, who was replaced by Niya Butts before the start of last season. “I don’t know if it was the direct result of Polkey passing away. It brought up within them family secrets that had been deep down — buried deep down in, who knows — in their conscience.”

“All kinds of issues came out because of this,” Bonvicini added. “I’m not here to blame anyone because I love Polkey. I loved coaching her and I miss her.”

I hope UA can rebuild. They were fun to watch back in the day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Many tops in class of 2010 have yet to commit

The early signing period will likely be very busy in the coming six weeks, as five of ESPN's top 10 haven't chosen a school yet.

It's scary to think Nneka Ogumwike of Stanford has a sister, much less that Chiney is ranked number one by ESPN.

WNBA giving out awards, + the Candace and Shelden story

The WNBA is slowly giving out its "best" awards, one by one.

Wednesday it was the all-league first and second teams.

Today, Tamika Catchings won the Defensive Player of the Year Award. It's impossible to argue with that selection, and incredible to consider this is Catchings' third time winning the award.

And for the numerous people who have wondered out loud in my earshot how Candace Parker and Shelden Williams met going to rival colleges, here's an explanation. The pair are good friends, which is obvious to anyone who's read their banterings on twitter. Sounds like they've got a good support system going.

Game threes

It's very exciting that both Indiana and Los Angeles won tonight, because it means both Conference finals go to a game three. It would be such a letdown if one team had swept on either side.

But what's up with game three being the night after game two? And when did this happen? I missed that memo, and was very surprised to see "Saturday" on ESPN2 tonight. The league has always given playoff teams at least a day between games. Not doing so this year is disrespectful.

On the upside, Larry Bird has bought a bunch of seats at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana for tomorrow's game. He said he is very proud of the team. That's a hell of a gesture considering the franchise is struggling. 9000 seats! What a guy.

The Sparks looked ridiculously solid tonight, starting out in a blaze and never trailing. I was thinking about what the Sparks will need next year to compete after the loss of retiring Lisa Leslie. That will be another column. But first, Sparks owners Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson need to hire an outstanding new coach to replace Michael Cooper. I'm praying hard for that one.

The Sparks are having another viewing party tomorrow night for the over-21 set, according to an email I just got:

Dear Sue-

Thanks to an incredible response from our MVPs at tonight's Viewing Party, we're doing it again tomorrow night! The Sparks clearly felt your support and responded with a resounding 87-76 win in Phoenix! The team is going to need your support again tomorrow night for the decisive Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

Join us again at Hollywood Billiards, 5750 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028 - conveniently located one block east off the 101. We will have a reserved Sparks area (look for the "LA Sparks" signs). Game tips off at 7PM. Ages 21 and over. Email to let us know you will be attending.

If you plan on attending the game in Phoenix, please call Ernie with the Mercury at (602) 379-7531. He can arrange discounted tickets for any Sparks MVP who is interested.

We look forward to seeing you all there! GO SPARKS!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

ROY Award still a mystery

Angel McCoughtry and DeWanna Bonner "lead voting" for the award, as the Adidas All-Rookie team is announced (when did they start having this team?). But it sounds like they're in a dead heat.

Phoenix Mercury fans: Most Classless

I'd like to present the 2009 MCF (Most Classless Fans) Award to the busload of Phoenix Mercury fans who came in for the game last night. With a few seconds of the game to go, several brandished and hoisted "Beat LA" signs and began chanting the same thing, very loudly.

"Beat LA! Beat LA!" they screamed, waving their signs. Fans in Pauley Pavilion booed them, but they kept on chanting. After the final buzzer sounded, they high-fived. I've not seen anything that brash and disrespectful before. Storm fans used to take road trips and yell and scream in the opponent's arena, but never taunted the crowd afterwards when the Storm won.

Sore winners are so distasteful.

Phoenix was already my least favorite WNBA team. Now I see they have the fans to match.

The straw-haired woman in the orange shirt was particulary happy about her chant and her sign.

The funny thing about this picture is that Sparks co-owner Kathy Goodman, far left, was sitting in front of them and didn't seem to care at all.

Mercury 103, Sparks 94

The Mercury came out blazing and hitting threes immediately. The Sparks never made the adjustment, as Phoenix players continued to be left open throughout the game to seemingly take shots at will. Their game percentage for trey-shots was 46.7 percent.

Another aspect of the Mercury's game that LA failed to stop was the fast-break offense. It seemed the Sparks would work so hard for every basket, only to see Phoenix just slip it in on the other end.

The rivalry between these two teams heats up more and more everytime they play. Sparks fans boo the players all over the place - especially Diana Taurasi. I sense that their dislike of DT now outweighs their dislike of Lauren Jackson; it's that bad. And this is in a year when, following her drunk driving arrest in June, that Taurasi has been uncharacteristically quiet. If this were a regular year where she is jawing non-stop in every game, I think Sparks fans would be booing her every step.

Candace Parker and Taurasi matched each other point for point. CP had the double-double, with 10 rebounds.

Sparks Coach Michael Cooper says the team will win the next two in Phoenix. Sounds like the Sparks themselves aren't so sure.

Even if LA loses tomorrow night, or Sunday, I give them props for putting it together and making the Western Conference finals. I wasn't sure they were going to get there for a while.

"Lisa Leslie Court" had to take a hiatus at Pauley Pavilion, where it's John Wooden Court. Former Bruin Noelle Quinn did the pre-game fan welcome duties.

Sparks co-owners Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman congratulate Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker on being named second all-WNBA team earlier in the day.

Cappie Pondexter has shaved the right side of her head, but the left side and top still have hair. Thus, it's not quite a frohawk - all the rage among teens and college students these days. So what is it? What do you call that hairstyle, which I've never seen before?

The almost-frohawked one throws up a shot in the first quarter, which missed.

It's probably the fiercest rivalry in the WNBA, these two teams. Very physical last night, including this scramble for the ball in the second quarter.

Shelden Williams, with Lailaa, and Sarah Parker, take in the game.

The entire UCLA basketball team was there last night, and wow did they have fun. They performed at timeouts (Darxia Morris won a dance-off), they threw T-shirts to the crowd, and were laughing a lot. Can't wait to see them play in a month and a half.

Unidentified woman, Lauren Lockwood and Sarah Parker at halftime. The UCLA concession stand had horrendously slow service.

Delisha Milton-Jones tries to get the ball inside in the third quarter.

Magic Johnson was in the house.

Mad scramble for the ball in the fourth quarter.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

USA Basketball national training camp roster is ridiculous


Does anyone else in the world have a chance to come within 20 points of this team? Probably not.

Monday, September 21, 2009

#$@%^& !!!!! Another weekday game

Besides disliking Phoenix more than San Antonio, another reason I wanted the Stars to win the other Western Conference semifinal tonight is because the Sparks would have had two games here instead of one, and both would have been this weekend. But since the Mercury prevailed, we'll have one game in LA - on Wednesday night. I'll have to not go home after work that afternoon, and work out and pass the time before driving out to Westwood. The Sparks will probably start the game at some ungodly school night hour like 8 p.m., and I'll feel like a rag Thursday after getting no sleep.

But go Sparks!

In the meantime, Mechelle Voepel wrote a nice piece on Candace Parker after yesterday's win.

USC finally gets one

Long Beach Poly's Thaddesia Southall has decided to fight on, and without even talking to Coach Michael Cooper. Not sure if that's such a great idea, but hope it turns out well for her anyway.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sparks win Western Conference semifinals

The Sparks dominated from beginning to end, and despite some valiant runs by the Storm, LA kept them in check.

Thanks for all the years, Shannon Johnson.

I really wish the Sparks and Storm were playing one another in round two. I don't care at all who wins tomorrow night in Western Conference semifinal two, because I strongly dislike both Phoenix and San Antonio.

Whomever wins, the Sparks will play at least one game at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion instead of the Staples Center, due to scheduling conflicts. Some are already bitching about Pauley, but it's not bad at all. It beats the hell out of Anaheim, where the Sparks were shuffled for playoff action in 2006.

Here's what my email from the Sparks says:

If the Sparks play the No. 1 seed Phoenix Mercury, the Sparks will host Game 1 on Wednesday, September 23 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Please visit to confirm the tip-off time.

If the Sparks play the No. 4 seed San Antonio Silver Stars, the Sparks will host Game 2 on Friday, September 25 at STAPLES Center and if necessary, Game 3 on Saturday, September 26 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

Go San Antonio! *gag*

Showdown in Seatown

Today is the day when it's decided: will the Seattle Storm exit the playoffs in the first round for the fifth year in a row, or will Lisa Leslie end her long career in a city that loathes her?

Given the Storm's injuries and the Sparks' meltdowns, the game could go either way. I'm not even going to guess.

The Seattle Times has no game preview story this morning, but the LA Times does.

Storm fans hate LA for good reason: the beginning years of the franchise were during the Sparks' thuggin days, when Leslie, Delisha Milton, Latasha Byears and Mwaki Mabika would sooner slap, hit or elbow a player than post her up or guard her. And it was when Tamecka Dixon would run up and down the Key Arena court taunting fans. I still have an old VHS tape of a 2002 game at Staples Center where Leslie clotheslined Storm guard Michelle Marciniak, and the refs called the foul on MM.

But one thing I picked up while still living in Seattle was confirmed once I moved here: LA fans and the Sparks players don't hate the Storm back. In fact, they don't seem to understand the depth of the Seattle hatred, or why it's even there. To Sparks players and fans, they were just playing basketball in those glory days of domination and two championships.

Thus, it's not a true rivalry in the classic sense, because if it were, the loathing on both sides would be equal. And in order for that to happen Seattle would have to make itself more hate-able, because the only Storm player Sparks fans seem to despise is center Lauren Jackson. It's kinda hard for them to hate on nice-girl Sue Bird, or any of the other players, because they don't say much.

Game time is at 2 p.m., so I best get my workout done.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

*Creak* time to get the rust out

I checked out a couple games at the HAX today to try to get used to the new faces on the various teams, which include those who have "moved up." It's a whole new year.

Honestly, I didn't see any truly outstanding play or player today - just the usual aggression from everyone on the floor. Most of the kids have been practicing together two weeks maximum, so they're not used to each other yet. And it's way, way, way early in the season to evaluate anyone seriously since they just came off their August break.

I just went for fun, and it was nice to see all the "basketball people" again, aka coaches, parents, and every-other-helper-you-could-imagine. It's one big happy family, yo.

The East Bay Xplosion Black 2 team warms up for their game against......

.....the Swift Black team. Swift won, 43-34.

The Cal Sparks' new Black team, in the light blue jerseys, played the Cal Sparks 2011U team, aka Cal Sparks Gold, in the second round.

Gold won, 51-26, but the score wasn't indicative of how hard both teams played. Black's defense looks promising.

Kinnebrew vs. Kinnebrew: Karen coaches the Black team and Elbert coaches the Gold team. Elbert is director of the Cal Sparks, and the husband and wife team have been helping kids for years.

Thoughts for high school seniors

Great piece by Mark Lewis advising players and their parents to ask questions during the recruiting process. He encourages prospects to consider the stability of the coaching staff and team, the coach's character, the team graduation rate and the value of the scholarship. He is right on the money.

For those who have already signed with a school, an upcoming lawsuit in North Carolina may determine whether or not letters of intent are legally binding. The implications of this ruling could be far-reaching, so stay tuned.

More on the Storm win, and a suggestion or two

The LA Times and Seattle Times each sum up last night's action in the city up north. Candace Parker looks like she's about to drop the F-bomb in the Seattle Times photo. Can't say I blame her.

The first dozen pictures here are great action shots. They also inspire me to make a point.

Storm fans are known as the loudest, rowdiest fans in the WNBA. As a former Stormie, I can vouch for fan loyalty to the team, which is second to none. But part of the reason for their ability to indimidate opponents as a crowd is in the Key Arena venue.

The Key seats 17,072 and Staples Center in Los Angeles, 19,079. Not a big difference until you consider the layout of each venue. Key Arena has a smaller circumference and goes deeper down into a hole dug in the ground. The seats are closer together, too. The effect is that fan seating density is high, making for deafening noise levels at the Key, which reportedly reached epidemic proportions last night.

Staples Center has large aisles and big seats that are spread out over a larger area. It is probably over a quarter mile to walk around the concourse of the arena. So while there have been good-sized crowds at Sparks games this summer, it doesn't look that way because fans are spread out all over the place. As a result, fan cheers are harder to hear, and chants are more difficult to sustain.

Look at the crowd in the background in the pictures from last night's game at Key Arena. Stacked to the very last row. Check out a photo from any game at Staples this summer and you'll see large patches of open seats. Yet, the crowd sizes of both teams this year have been similar.

Last September, the Sparks had to play game 1 of round 2 at the Galen Center on the USC campus. The inside of the arena is very similar to Staples Center; in fact, when I got my pictures back from that game, I forgot at first that they were at Galen.

Galen Center is only two years old and is beautiful. It's just down the street from Staples, centrally-located in Los Angeles. The venue seats 10,258, and last year, there was a full house for that playoff game against San Antonio. It was great to feel crowd cohesion and to make some noise and not assume you would just hear your own echo back. I think the Sparks organization should have their home games there, at least for a while. Being literally closer to their fans would help this struggling franchise, among other things.

Of course there will be protests from Sparks fans who have been going to Staples for 13 years. The venue is spacious and luxurious, with lots of food amenities that don't exist at Galen Center. But having a more intimate venue is worth giving all of that up, and the Sparks should do it. It would save them money, too, as Staples Center isn't cheap.

I remember the first two years of the Storm's existence. They were bad, and fans like myself who attended every game were scarce. But part of the reason the Storm began to succeed was due to the fan support. And a lot of that support came during the game, when fans were literally right over the floor cheering them on (and yelling at the refs). It makes a huge difference to the players to be able to hear the cheers from fans.

It will take similar circumstances to slap the lackadaisical attitude out of some of these LA fans (coming from Seattle, believe me, it's frustrating to witness sometimes....they have no spirit here).

If there are any two changes I would wish for the Sparks next year, it would be to take the games to Galen Center, and to start them at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m. for us working folks who have too much adenosine in the brain in the evening.

My and some of the folks in my section have decided to renew our tickets for one more year to see what life is like without Coach Michael Cooper. With a new venue, their chances of success will increase even more.

Club ball season: on like donkey kong once again

Club ball teams across the country have entered a new season with new rosters, after conducting tryouts within the last few weeks. These reinvented squads are beginning to have tournaments, and one of the first in LA is this weekend at the Hangar Athletic Xchange in Hawthorne - the Cal Sparks Fall Tip-Off.

High School Division I bracket

High School Division II bracket

MMM! MMM! Gonna go check this out later.

Friday, September 18, 2009

WNBA is poppin'

Fans can email messages to Shannon Johnson, who announced this morning she is retiring at the end of the season, here. Very nice of the Storm to do that.

Looks like Angel McCoughtry might be Rookie of the Year since it was annouced today that DeWanna Bonner has won the Sixth Woman Award.

The Sparks snatched defeat from the jaws of victory tonight in Western Conference semifinal game 2. An unbelievable sequence of events:

Cash's layup with 53.5 seconds left in the contest deadlocked the game at 70-70. Parker missed a jumper during the Sparks' next possession, but Leslie was there to tip the ball in with 27.9 ticks left on the clock.

A scuffle for the ball during Seattle's next possession resulted in a jump ball with 17.5 seconds left. Wright was whistled for a violation during the jump ball, giving LA the ball.

Thompson made a pair of foul shots to put the Sparks ahead 74-70 with 14.3 ticks to go. Bird answered for Seattle with a three-pointer from the top of the key with 10.7 seconds left.

After a timeout, Noelle Quinn threw a bad inbounds pass that was tipped by Little. Ashley Robinson collected the ball and hit a streaking Little with a perfect pass, and Little completed the play with a layup, giving Seattle a one-point lead with five seconds to go.

Leslie's fade away shot at the other end was off the mark as time expired.

I expected the Storm to win, though. They are too much of a fighter team to go down in two.

What I am surprised about (notice I didn't say shocked) is that the Shock took their Eastern Conference semifinal series 2-0 tonight against Atlanta. I thought the Dream had at least three games in them. As opposed to the Sparks' situation, this was one of those instances where veteran experience took over and prevailed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sparks 70, Storm 63

I don't enjoy when these two teams play one another - especially in the playoffs. When I have my old home team and my new home team vying in "win or die" time, it's not fun.

The Sparks played very cohesively in the first half, like the team fans thought they were going to get at the beginning of the year. The Storm seemed out of sorts and off-balance, which is to be expected since they're missing Lauren Jackson for the second post-season in a row, and Katie Geralds.

The Storm battled back in the third quarter, which is always the Sparks' worst. Big ups to Swin Cash, who put the team on her back, and Suzy Batkovic-Brown, who couldn't seem to miss. The fact that LA only beat them by seven when Seattle is missing so much horsepower is not a good sign for the Sparks.

Daryl Humphrey, June Courteau and Tony Dawkins take the term "crappy refs" to a whole other level, making phantom calls and calling a foul on the wrong player, on both ends of the court. I haven't seen officiating that bad in a long, long while.

Next game is 7 p.m. tomorrow in Seattle.

The Sparks actually box out when Swin Cash throws up a shot, in the first quarter. Referee Daryl Humphrey, #8, is one of the worst in the league.

Sue Bird, ever the PG, tells Cash what to do next.

Mwadi Mabika (black jacket and black hat) sneaked in, but fans spotted her anyway.

Candace Parker walks away from the "beginning of halftime" interview. They got her after the game, too.

Bird guards the hell out of Betty Lennox in the third quarter.

Lennox takes a turn at PG...... does Parker a little later.

Tina Thompson threw up this ridiculous side, off-balance shot in the fourth, with 4:52 to go. As she fell out of bounds it swished in to put the Sparks ahead 64-54, and the crowd went wild. The above shot is just as she released the ball.

Victory = confetti.

After the game, Parker and baby Lailaa chat with some tall dudes.

More photos here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hard work pays off

Jianni Jackson got that D1 scholarship after all. See? This is why you should never, ever give up.

My daily humor

I get emails from both the Seattle Storm and LA Sparks. Today this came from the Storm:

I love this because it's a break from the norm. Usually publicists on both ends play up the rivalry between Lauren Jackson and Lisa Leslie. But probably since Jackson is injured and Leslie is about to retire, they chose Sue Bird and Candace Parker for this picture. But it isn't quite the same.

Both Bird and Parker are two of the nicest players in the WNBA. To have them pointing and screaming at each other is extremely laughable, to say the least. My guess is the pictures came from 1. right after Bird hit a tough shot at a crucial moment in a game and 2. as Parker is helping direct traffic on the court.

In any case, game time is 7 p.m. Wednesday at Staples Center, and then both squads head to Seatown for Friday's game 2.

Who's in charge at your child's school?

An LA high school basketball player has been a prominent part of her team for the last three years. Now she's going to another high school for her senior season.

Friday she went to her old school to get a copy of a waiver from a test she took last year, to help qualify her for something else. Of course, the counseling office had no copy of the waiver. Told her they'd thrown last year's stuff out. What was more, the counselor she'd talked to last year was out sick indefinitely. So the young baller went to find the Athletic Director to see if she could help her.

The AD told her, "since you're checked out (of the school), I can't help you anymore."

Unbelievable isn't a strong enough word to describe this situation or this AD, but I'm not going to start cussing in this space. So let's try reprehensible, appalling, assinine, selfish, hateful, immature, spiteful, bitchy, trifling, mean-spirited and hateful towards children.

I wish this incident was an exception, but bad coaches and school staff are everywhere. And they get away with their crap, for the most part, in low-income areas. Try to pull that mess in Palos Verdes or Orange County and someone would get fired. In poor areas, parents don't bother to take a stand because they don't think it'll make a difference or that they could change anything - the self-confidence is that low.

A coach at another school in a low-income area was recently let go, and it should have happened a long time ago. But parents of the past didn't protest or try to talk to school officials.

To all the parents out there: your voice does make a difference. Remember the old saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease"? It's true to the tenth power at schools. Check up and make sure coaches and athletic directors are doing right by your child, and if not, take it to the school administration. If that doesn't work, keep taking it up the ladder. Bad treatment of your children should not be tolerated.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The year of the non-MVP

The editor for the website for which I write asked all the writers for their votes on the "best of"s in the WNBA this year. I didn't know who to choose for MVP, and I still don't.

In past years it's been pretty obvious who the final 2-3 candidates were due to their strong performances all season long. Even last year, when some didn't agree that Candace Parker should have won, most agreed that she was at least on the short list of candidates.

Who do we have this year? Diana Taurasi, who has performed well and currently leads the league in points per game at 20.4, but whose season was marred by a drunk driving arrest in June. There is retiring Lisa Leslie - a sentimenal favorite for some - who has played extremely well. But it's only been for half the season after she came back from a knee injury.

Becky Hammon is second in points per game and fourth in assists, but she hasn't done much to "wow" fans this year as she has in the past. Lauren Jackson is always a killer, but her rebounding production has been down this year. She's also been out for over a week after being diagnosed with a low back stress fracture.

Cappie Pondexter is another consideration, as is Sophia Young. But no strong or obvious candidate emerges from this list of top WNBA players.

A similar situation exists with Rookie of the Year. DeWanna Bonner started out the season on fire, and looked to be the obvious choice for the award. But her production has slowed as the season has gone on, while Angel McCoughtry's has picked up. As a result, ROY could go to either player.

Perhaps it's the Year of Inconsistency, but this year's MVP will lack the punch of previous winners. Hopefully 2009 is just an off-year and this won't become a trend.

Sparks 90, Lynx 61, on "Lisa Leslie night"

At the end of a season full of glitches, last night came off without a hitch.

The Sparks soared into the WNBA playoffs with a solid third-seed after thrashing the Minnesota Lynx. And they did so amidst an evening of honoring Lisa Leslie, which included a pre-game tribute that brought out family, friends and celebrities.

After the National Anthem, longtime Sparks play-by-play guy Larry Burnett guided the ceremony. Leslie's former coach at Morningside High School gave her a hug, as did the USC basketball team and all of her current Sparks teammates. Leslie's family spoke, and then surprise guest Earvin "Magic" Johnson strode out. Among the many nice things he said, the best was when he recounted being asked in the airport earlier why he wasn't at the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony honoring his friends.

"I told them, 'I'm in LA honoring someone who will be in the Hall of Fame,'" he said.

There were also several video tributes throughout the rest of the evening, including one from Lynx Coach Jennifer Gillom.

The Sparks got off to a quick start in the first quarter, and built a nice lead going into the second. But Minnesota went on a 15-2 run, and the Sparks were stuck on 30 points forever until the evening's honoree hit a bucket. From there, the Sparks seemed to take control again, growing the lead into the second half and bringing the victory home.

The Sparks will take on second-seed Seattle at Staples Center Wednesday, Sept. 16.

After the game, season ticket holders headed across the street to the party at ESPN Zone. It was a huge turnout; I'm not the best at crowd estimation, but there had to be 400-500 people there.

Co-owner Kathy Goodman, Coach Michael Cooper and GM Penny Toler each thanked the crowd for coming, and then Burnett took over and interviewed players as they walked in.

Vanessa Hayden's two-year-old daughter was with her, as was Tina Thompson's five-year-old son. Good lord but the children of basketball players are tall for their ages. Each child looked older then they are. Ditto for Leslie's fast-growing toddler.

Cool giveaway of the night: the first grip of fans that came in got a T-shirt that read "pass the ball to the girl" on the front, with Leslie's number 9 on the back. Ya gotta love that slogan.

My two favorite players, Betty Lennox and Candace Parker, pause for the National Anthem.

USC basketball team members walk on-court for the Lisa Leslie ceremony.

Lisa Leslie holds up one of the gold-dipped shoes she was presented.

Leslie's longtime friend, the legendary Dawn Staley, was on hand for the ceremony.

Leslie hugs all of her teammates, including Noelle Quinn.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Leslie hug after his words about her.

Leslie and the crowd pause to watch a video tribute to her.

The second quarter saw Minnesota go on a 15-2 run until under four minutes to play, when Leslie finally put up 2.

I really like CP's hair this way.

The Lynx on offense in the fourth quarter. I dislike when teams mix it up and put themselves in front of the opponent's basket on offense for the second half.

Shannon Bobbitt vs. Rene Montgomery, but check out Leslie streaking up the right side. Not bad for 37, I have to admit.

The house, completely packed, stood and applauded when Leslie came out of the game for the last time.

Sparks co-owner Kathy Goodman takes the mic for opening remarks at the after-party as co-owner Carla Christofferson and new baby, Coach Michael Cooper and GM Penny Toler look on.

Vanessa Hayden speaks while Bobbitt, Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Quinn and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton wait their turn.

Larry Burnett interviews Bobbitt, who received a very warm welcome from the crowd when introduced.

Leslie dipped into the party for about a minute (literally), then left with apologies: "I'm sorry, you guys - I'm exhausted."