Saturday, May 29, 2010

Whatever happened to .......Virginia Tech's Lisa Witherspoon

    Lisa Witherspoon was the spark plug for Tech women’s basketball teams in the late 1990s. A natural point guard from Newton, N.C., she became one of the most popular players in school history, handing out assists in record-setting fashion. Last November, she was enshrined in the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

    As a senior, she and her senior classmates were dubbed the “Working Class” prior to the 1998-99 season due to their extraordinary chemistry and emphasis on teamwork. With Witherspoon dishing out a school-record 246 assists and adding a school-best 86 steals, Tech posted its best season ever, registering a 28-3 record and advancing to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
   Witherspoon's signature was her tenacity and toughness. As a junior she played in 30 games despite a stress fracture in her foot and finished the season with a school-record 200 assists.

   Witherspoon (now Dr. Lisa Hansen, PhD) is a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa where she resides with her husband, Mike and her 7-month-old little girl MiKenzie Jade. She is heavily involved in the research field of active gaming and speaks internationally on the subject.
  Witherspoon still follows Hokie teams and was back twice last season for football games and a women's basketball game. 

"I am a Hokie through and true," she says.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"The Bible coming to life"

That's how Liberty point guard Dymond Morgan described the Lady Flames' upcoming two-week educational/spiritual/basketball trip to Israel. The team will depart on Saturday.

The Lady Flames will spend their first two days touring different locations around Israel, including Tiberias, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. They will then move on to Jerusalem and the surrounding area, where the team will visit the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Western Wall, Jewish Quarter, Via Dolorosa and the Garden Tomb, among other attractions. The trip will then conclude in Eilat, where the Friendship Games basketball tournament will be held.

“This trip is a dream opportunity for any Christian athlete,” stated head coach Carey Green. “It will feature spiritual enlightenment, a historical tour, an education of a different culture and basketball competition. I expect that lives will be impacted through this great opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.”

Check the team's official site for updates on the trip from various team members over the next two weeks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Attendance tracker

From the NCAA attendance report released Thursday, we learned that Tennessee led the nation once again (yawn), with UConn checking in at No. 2. But what about the Virginia schools? Here's a breakdown:

1. Virginia - 3,853 per game average
- Hot Dog! A wiener promotion and glamorous Tennessee as an opponent lured a record 11,895 to the John Paul Jones Arena, goosing the overall average considerably. Hey, Cavaliers, any thoughts on making Hot Dog Day an annual event?

2. Old Dominion - 3,007
- Another Colonial Athletic Association-leading figure, but 590 per game lower than the previous year and by far the lowest since the Lady Monarchs moved into the Constant Center in 2002-03.

3. Virginia Tech - 2,381
- A sleeping giant. If Tech can pick things up on the court, Hokie Nation has shown the capacity to double this figure...perhaps even triple it. No kidding.

4. James Madison - 2,348
- The Dukes averaged 1,316 in coach Kenny Brooks' first full season eight years ago. JMU has set season attendance records three of the last four years.

5. Hampton - 1,624
- Tremendous figure for a MEAC school - nine of the league's other 10 schools average less than 900.

6. George Mason - 1,052
- Trending up, like just about everything else connected with this program (the Patriots averaged 920 in 2008-09).

7. Liberty - 961
- Doesn't seem like much at first glance, especially given the quality of the Lady Flames' program. But that figure is nearly 400 more than the next highest-drawing Big South school (Charleston Southern).

8. William and Mary - 876
- Strong turnout by this program's standards; the Tribe averaged just 300 per game in 2008-09.

9. Norfolk State - 561
- Given the Spartans' struggles the past three years, it's quite a feat to get this many folks to come watch 'em play. Who says NSU fans aren't diehard?

10. VCU - 548
- Ugh.

11. Richmond - 397
- Let's just say the state capital isn't exactly the women's basketball capital.

12. Longwood - 371
- In the Lancers' defense, their hoops are a tough sell. Without a conference affiliation, Longwood games tend to have an exhibition feel to them.

13: Radford - 359
- Bet Radford students would show up if they told 'em they were throwing a party in the Dedmon Center.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

JMU, Hampton in preseason WNIT

With most of their key players slated to return, conference tournament champions JMU and Hampton could both get the 2010-11 season off to a strong start in the Preseason WNIT, the 16-team tournament featuring a solid-but-unspectacular field.

In fact, assuming they have a healthy Dawn Evans, on paper at least the Dukes will go in as one of the favorites. JMU finished at No. 44 in the final RPI, second only to DePaul (35) among this year's WNIT entrants. No other team ranked in the Top 50, and nine of the 16 teams ended up the 2009-10 season outside the Top 100 (Hampton was at 130).

Of course, RPI numbers are just a guide, and teams can change dramatically from season to season. But there's clearly no heavyweight in this year's tournament the way there's been in years past. Last year, for example, Ohio State was ranked No. 3 in the country when it won the preseason WNIT. The year before that, No. 4 North Carolina won it all. And in 2007, No. 3 Maryland beat No. 4 LSU for the crown.

The event begins on Nov. 12-13, and each team is guaranteed three games. All contests will be played at home sites. First-round pairings will be announced in June.

In other scheduling news, Virginia will visit Ohio State (gulp!) and Virgnia Tech will travel to Minnesota (hmmm) on Dec. 2 as part of the 2010 ACC/Big Ten Women's Basketball Challenge. (By the way, the leagues alternate which conference's name comes first in the event's title. Last year, it was the Big Ten/ACC Challenge).

The Cavaliers are 3-0 in this annual event but will need a major effort to make it four in a row. The Buckeyes return all five starters - including three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender - from a team that went 31-5 last season.

The Hokies have a less daunting assignment, as the Golden Gophers finished the 2009-10 campaign at 13-17 for their first losing season in nine years. Then again, Minnesota was 10-6 at Williams Arena where, despite the off-season, the Golden Gophers still finished among the nation's top 20 teams in average attendance (4,347).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Whatever happened to ......American coach Jeff Thatcher

LadySwish is tracking many of the former players and coaches from the programs across the state and asking them what they're doing now. We'll tell you what they told us. If there's someone you've wondered about, please let us know and we'll add them to the mix.

If you're a longtime follower of CAA basketball, you'll remember the name Jeff Thatcher. Thatcher coached American University from 1988-2000, guiding the Eagles to the conference title game in 1998. Thatcher received conference coach of the year honors that year, as American finished 23-7 and received its first postseason berth. The school let him go in 2000 after joining the Patriot League.

These days Thatcher works from his home in Germantown, Md., and runs a summer women's basketball league out of Marymount University in Arlington, Va. The Power Summer League draws around 100 college-age players from Division I to NAIA.

Thatcher confesses coaching is still in his blood, but after leaving American he vowed to be home more so that he could be a bigger part of his children's lives. His daughter Meaghan is 16 and son Colin is 15.  "I wouldn't trade any of my coaching memories for anything," he said. "But you know what? I wouldn't trade the last 10 years for anything, either."

And while nearly all of his memories are good ones, Thatcher admits he still get aggravated thinking about the NCAA Selection Committee's decision in 1998 to exclude American from the field of 64. AU had an RPI of 40 that season and defeated nationally ranked Virginia. Three of the Eagles' losses were to then-national powerhouse ODU.

"They say that time heals all wounds, but I can still get fired up today the same way I was 10 years ago over that. We worked very, very hard for 10 yers to make that happen," he said. "That's the only thing that sticks in my mind in a negative way.

But overall, Thatcher said, "I feel very blessed to have had some of the experiences I had."

Monday, May 24, 2010

The next episode - George Mason's Ondrea Shaw

Getting to know the incoming freshman on the women's college basketball teams in Virginia for the 2010-11 season - and what they're doing this summer to enhance their chances of making an impact right away.

Ondrea Shaw, George Mason
6-3 C, Moore Traditional High, Louisville
Averaged 13.2 points and 13.6 rebounds

Why we like Ondrea:

1. She's an aspiring dunker. A year ago, she'd progressed to where she could dunk a tennis ball. So tell us, Ondrea, are you throwing down the real thing yet? EDIT: Because of a shoulder injury, Ondrea says she's been advised to give the dunking pursuit a rest for now.

2. She has Virginia ties - Shaw spent her sophomore year at Oak Hill Academy before transferring back to Louisville early in her junior season.

3. She already knows what it's like to compete for her spot. Forty-three players were invited to try out for the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Classic on June 11. Only 12 made the cut - Ondrea was one of those 12.

Why Patriots fans will like Ondrea:

"Ondrea Shaw is a tremendous fit for our program at this time. Her length and athleticism along with her tenacity on the defensive side of the ball will give us a huge presence in the paint and allow us to stretch our perimeter defense out even further. Offensively, she gives us a true back to the basket presence as well as having developed a pretty consistent mid range jumper. Her impact on our program will be felt the moment she steps on the floor." - George Mason coach Jeri Porter

What Ondrea is doing this summer to get ready for the 2010-11 season

I have a personal trainer, and I'm part of the Kentucky all-star team so we will have some games and practices to hopefully keep me in shape. I sometimes take runs around my neighborhood when I have the time. And I'm going to play as much pick-up and organized basketball as I can.

Wanna be next?

A big shout out to all of you incoming freshmen ballers who have responded to our question (woot, woot!); your feature will be up soon. Those that haven't gotten around to it yet (what up with that?), there's still time. And if we haven't been able to reach you, reach us. Drop us a note about what you're doing this summer to prepare for the upcoming season. And keep checking out Ladyswish!

Also check out:
Victoria Willems, William and Mary
Zakia Williams, VCU

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hampton recruit keeps it all in the family

It was a natural decision for the nation's leading scorer Chikilra Goodman to pick Hampton over a plethora of colleges that came calling.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The next episode - William and Mary's Victoria Willems

Getting to know the incoming freshman on the women's college basketball teams in Virginia for the 2010-11 season - and what they're doing this summer to enhance their chances of making an impact right away.

Victoria Willems, William and Mary
6-2 G/F, MacArthur High (San Antonio, Texas)
Helped MacArthur to a 24-9 record and co-championship of the 26-5A District

Why we like Victoria
1. Can't stop chuckling about Willems' high school team's nickname - Lady Brahmas. "Isn't that funny?" coach Jennifer Meador said. "We're cows."
2. Academically, Willems has a 101 average. Not exactly sure what that means, but we always thought 100 was perfect. So does that mean Willems is...a little better than perfect? OK, she doesn't need that kind of pressure. Let's just say this is one smart kid. kid, William and Mary...we're not exactly breaking news here.
3. Willems played in the post at MacArthur but is more naturally suited for the perimeter and should see a lot more time there in college. "She has a lot of room for growth," Meador said.

Why Tribe fans will like Victoria
“She's versatile. She can play under the basket and shoot the 3. She runs the floor well; her game improves every time I see her. She's a great kid." - William and Mary coach Debbie Taylor

What Victoria is doing this summer to get ready for the 2010-11 season:
"I am currently working with the (WNBA's San Antonio) Silver Stars strength and conditioning coach three times a week. I am also working out with other signed seniors from San Antonio, to stay in shape. I work out twice a week with a skills coach, and I plan to go to a strength and conditioning camp this summer that is every weekday in the morning for the months of June and July."

Wanna be next?
A big shout out to all of you incoming freshmen ballers who have responded to our question (woot, woot!); your feature will be up soon. Those that haven't gotten around to it yet (what up with that?), there's still time. And if we haven't been able to reach you, reach us. Drop us a note about what you're doing this summer to prepare for the upcoming season. And keep checking out Ladyswish!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The next episode - VCU's Zakia Williams

Getting to know the incoming freshman on the women's college basketball teams in Virginia for the 2010-11 season - and what they're doing this summer to enhance their chances of making an impact right away.

Zakia Williams, VCU
5-8 G, Northside High (Columbus, Ga.)
Averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals
Led Northside to a 21-7 record and the Georgia Class AAA state quarterfinals

Why we like Zakia:
1. Comes complete with a catchy nickname: Z-Will.
  "My high school teammates gave it to me and it kinda stuck. If nobody else will make it happen, Z-Will."
2. Has Virginia ties already.
   "I have family in Virginia as well as a cousin and an uncle who attends VCU."
3. She's a Georgia Metro (AAU) - just like former All-CAA Rams D'Andra Moss and Kita Waller and current star Courtney Hurt.
   I grew up through the metros knowing D-moss, and Courtney. They both have always been older role models and it's always good to go somewhere where you know somebody.

Why Rams fans will like Zakia:
“Zakia's passion and intensity for the game and how hard she plays is second to none. She is a lockdown type of defender and a real playmaker on the offensive end of the floor. - Rams coach Beth Cunningham

What Zakia's doing this summer to get ready for the 2010-11 season
I have been working to gain more speed doing agility and endurance workouts. Also I have been working to develop a better three-point shot as well as mid-range. I will be participating in summer school that (started May 14) at VCU and attending summer workouts.

Wanna be next?
A big shout out to all of you incoming freshmen ballers who have responded to our question (woot, woot!); your feature will be up soon. Those that haven't gotten around to it yet (what up with that?), there's still time. And if we haven't been able to reach you, reach us. Drop us a note about what you're doing this summer to prepare for the upcoming season. And keep checking out Ladyswish!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whatever happened to...Julie Sommer of William and Mary

For years, you know their every move. Then one day they move on to the next chapter in their lives. New faces take their place. Their statistics are in the archives. A new era begins. Often we wonder, "Whatever happened to....?"

LadySwish is tracking many of the former players and coaches from the programs across the state and asking them what they're doing now. We'll tell you what they told us. If there's someone you've wondered about, please let us know and we'll add her to the mix.

Today we focus on former William and Mary star Julie Sommer (now Julie Sommer Leach)

Claim to fame: A prolific scorer for the Tribe, Sommer finished her career with 1,216 points and ranks seventh on the program’s career scoring list. Sommer led W&M in scoring all four years (1994-99), averaging double figures every season. She is the school record holder for career three-point shooting percentage (.380) and ranks second in career free throw shooting percentage (.785).

What she's doing now (in her words):
"After graduation, I moved to the D.C. area and worked in marketing and sales for a couple of years. I worked for TAP Pharmaceuticals for the majority of that time. In 2003, my husband and I moved to Denver for his career in the NFL. (Mike Leach graduated from William and Mary in 2000 and has played for the Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos, and is currently playing for the Arizona Cardinals. He is entering his 11th season in the NFL.) While in Denver, I went to graduate school and earned an MBA from Regis University. Soon after graduating from Regis, I had our first child. We now have two children: Ryan, 4, and Madeline, 2. In between having Ryan and Madeline, I did a one year part-time internship at the University of Denver's Athletic Department. I am currently a stay-at-home mom, but I am active in the Arizona Cardinals wives charities as well. I plan on going back to work once Mike's football career is over and both children are in school full time."

Hampton bolsters 2010-11 roster

There may not be much Hampton can do about getting a No. 15 seed, which was the NCAA Tournament committee's reward for the Lady Pirates in March after the team won the not-too-highly-respected MEAC.

But there's no law that says Hampton must settle for 15 seed-level talent. Far from content to rest on last season's laurels, coach David Six has secured an eclectic four-player recruiting class that features scoring ability, size (man, does it feature size) and, best of all, upside.

"The nucleus (of last season's team) is back, but we'd be foolish to sit back and think they could just duplicate last year's success because everyone else is getting better, too," Six said. "But with this class I think we addressed some of our weaknesses. We're definitely a more talented team."

The newcomers:

Chikilra Goodman, 5-9 G, Bodine High (Philadelphia)

The Lady Pirates had trouble scoring at times last season. Goodman is a scoring machine, as she averaged nearly 37 points a game to lead the nation (according to Six said he was tipped off to Goodman by an HU alumnus, then checked her out for himself on a Youtube video (the music's bangin', too).

Upon contacting Goodman, he discovered even more good news - the young lady's mother, Tondalaya, played at Hampton from 1978-82 and still reigns as the program's all-time leading rebounder. A recent visit to the HU campus apparently clinched it for Goodman - "I went down there and fell in love with the school," she told the Philadelphia Tribune.

Sherena Abercrumbia, 6-3 C, Lon Morris College (Texas)

When Six indicated he wanted some more beef in the paint, he wasn't kidding - Abercrumbia currently weighs in at about 250 pounds. In Sherena's defense, it's tough to shed excess weight when you've had to battle two ACL tears - on in each knee - in less than three years. The most recent injury occurred last February during her sophomore season at the junior college. Still, Six maintained she should be ready to play the 2010-11 season.

"She's huge, but she's pretty light on her feet," he said. "Plus she's got a very, very high basketball IQ. But obviously, she needs to get in shape."

And while you can't teach size, you can teach someone to push themselves away from the dinner table. Six said he's already got Abercrumbia on a nutrition plan and vows she'll soon be in the best shape of her life.

Can't wait to see how this project turns out.

Breanna Harris, 5-11 F, Mansfield Summit High (Texas)

Harris averaged about 10 points and 8 rebounds for the balanced, powerful Jaguars. "She plays with a lot of energy, and she's as strong as an ox," Six said.

Mansfield Summit's finest hour came in 2009, when the Jags went 34-4 and upended Brittney Griner's Nimitz High (37-2) in the Texas 5A state title game. That Mansfield team was led by tournament MVP Starr Crawford, who went on to average 9.8 points and a team-best 8.8 rebounds as a freshman at TCU last season.

Christy Willis, 5-9 G, Lon Morris College (Texas)

A teammate of Abercrumbia's at Lon Morris, Willis ran the point and provided occasional lights-out scoring including one 33-point outburst.

"She's quick and sees the floor well," Six said. "Kind of puts you in the mind of a Jason Kidd."

Jason Kidd? Well, it sounds like at least she can shoot better than Kidd. Then again, a lot of players shoot better than Kidd.

Six said he may add one more player, a post-type, to round out his 2010-11 roster.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Whatever happened to....ODU's Jazzmin Walters

For years, you know their every move. Then one day they move on to the next chapter in their lives. New faces take their place. Their statistics are in the archives. A new era begins. Often we wonder, "Whatever happened to....?"

  LadySwish is tracking many of the former players and coaches from the programs across the state and asking them what they're doing now. We'll tell you what they told us. If there's someone you've wondered about, please let us know and we'll add her to the mix.

We start with Jazzmin Walters of Old Dominion.

Claim to fame: Pint-sized point guard ran the Lady Monarchs with crowd-pleasing style from 2005-09 and splashed one of the biggest shots in recent program history - a 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds in overtime to lift ODU past Virginia in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Where is Walters now?  
Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind.. Walters joined the Army after graduating from Old Dominion in 2009, starting the adventure in Ft. Jackson, S.C.
What she's doing (in her words):
"Basic training was the the hardest but most unforgettable experience of my life. I went in the winter time, so it was below freezing most of the days. Ten-mile marches, 2-mile runs every day can get tired.; 4 am wake ups and they have you training from the time you wake up until lights out at 9 p.m. It was a loooong 10 weeks, but a once in a lifetime experience. 
"So far I love the Army. I think its the best decision I've made in my life. I'm currently at my first duty station, which is Fort Ben Harrison. I love it out here, although I do miss family. I plan on staying in the Army for 20 years and then retiring. The all-Army basketball season starts in July, and I will be a part of it. We travel and play different military branches. Recently I played in the Coca Cola Classic Tournament in Washington, D.C.., and we won the championship game. We beat a team from the Air Force who were stationed out in Ohio.
Overall, the Army has been treating me good. I love to travel and I can't stay in one spot too long. That's why I decided to join. I have no regrets or complaints about far."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stanford fans deserve more about Hones

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford has dismissed point guard JJ Hones from the program for a violation of team rules. 

The statement was short and to the point, issued at around 5 p.m. on Monday.

Coach Tara VanDerveer, reached Monday night, said she would have no further comment on the matter and details of the infraction were not released. VanDerveer did confirm that Hones is the first player to be dismissed from the Stanford program in the 24-year history of her tenure with the program.
That's it?

A day later, more details have emerged. According to, she was arrested recently for driving a golf cart (?) under the influence, reckless driving, evading a police officer and resisting arrest on the Stanford campus.  Team rules? Sounds like those are the least of her worries.

But Hones also represented the Cardinal with distinction and class on the basketball court for four years. Helped them win a bunch of games. And pretty much gave her knees to Stanford basketball.

And now?

Dismissed from the team. No further comment.

If this is coming off as hard on Stanford, well, that's not our intent. A lot of schools handle departures this coldly, clinically. And VanDerveer has run pretty close to a model program for years. First player kicked out in 24 years? Wow.

Given that, surely it had to be emotional for Vanderveer to cut ties with a player who was an integral part of the operation for several years. So why not tell us that? And why not remind us about what Hones gave to the program before things had to come to an end? 

See, fans invest a lot of emotion and passion not just in the teams, but in the players who play for them. It's a family, right? That's what we're continually being sold. 
In this "sue-you" society, privacy is always a concern. But most women's basketball fans aren't after the sordid details of a player's troubles. They want to hear what the coach has to say. After wins. After losses. When a player succeeds. And yes, even when a player is dismissed.

No matter what Hones did to violate team rules -- a phrase that's bandied about all too often in sports -- she deserves more than a one-paragraph statement that is strangely absent from the Stanford website. Hones apparently made huge mistakes. Still, she's also a young woman who has endured surgery after surgery and rehab after rehab in the name of Cardinal basketball.

While this is the latest example of a vanishing player, it's hardly the worst. Some universities don't even acknowledge when a player leaves. The name is simply deleted from the roster.

Stanford acknowledged Hones' departure, but that's about all it did.

Dismissed from the team. No further comment.

Is that all we get?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke takes UNCW job

It's official - Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is the new women's basketball coach at UNC Wilmington. Cooper-Dyke's playing credentials are impeccable, of course, and as a coach she transformed tiny Prairie View A&M into an NCAA tournament team in just her second season. And she can recruit her tail off. But her Prairie View stint was not without controversy:

In January 2008 the NCAA penalized Prairie View for NCAA rules violations committed by Cooper, reducing the number of scholarships for the team. The school was placed on four years' probation for "major violations" in 2005–2006 that ranged from Cooper-Dyke giving players small amounts of cash to various forms of unauthorized practices.[5] Cooper also gave players free tickets to Comets game, which is another NCAA infraction.

Obviously, UNC Wilmington has thoroughly checked into this and feels comfortable about bringing Cooper-Dyke aboard. We're looking forward to hearing the school's reasoning at Monday afternoon's press conference.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cynthia Cooper to UNC Wilmington?

A Houston TV station is reporting that Prairie View coach and WNBA legend Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is the leading candidate for the vacant UNC Wilmington head coaching job.

Wann's double duty at Richmond

So I'm reading this release about its 2010-11 roster and I'm struck by the phrase "Richmond will add seven newcomers to next year's squad."

Seven? Let's see... there's the four players Richmond signed in the early period, and the two more the Spiders announced Thursday...that's six. Who's the seventh?

"Rebecca Wann," Richmond sports information diva Rachel Park replied. "A full scholarship soccer player that will walk-on to the basketball team."

Oh. Well, I hope this Rebecca is in great shape, because going from soccer to basketball is one heck of a....

Wait a minute. You mean "Becca" Wann? Hmmm, this might work after all.

You see, Becca Wann is a baller, a 5-11 dynamo, the Central Region Player of the Year and one-third of the three-headed monster - Jazmin Pitts and Andrea Bertrand were the others - that led Cosby High to the Group AAA state quarterfinals. Pitts has signed with Virginia; Bertrand with Division II Concord.

Wann finished her career with over 1,600 points, more than 700 rebounds and in excess of 700 assists. But she's also a two-time all-state performer in soccer. Now it's one thing to excel at both in high school. But the Division I college level? This ought to be really interesting.

“People think I can’t do both, but I know I can," Wann told the Richmond-Times Dispatch. "I’ve had meetings with the (Richmond) coaches. I hope they’re both excited, because I am.”

So are we. And we also curious about one more thing - does anyone really call her Rebecca?

Farewell, Kristen Phillips

The Richmond Spiders made it official Friday - the injury-plagued college basketball career of Kristen Phillips is over.

Phillips, a 6-5 center from Greensboro, was a Top-20 recruit and signed with UConn - spurning offers from Tennessee, Texas, Maryland, Georgia and UCLA - as part of the nation's No. 1 recruiting class of 2006. But her career never got untracked in Storrs. A stress fracture in her right foot suffered when Phillips was in high school limited her participation in summer workouts prior to her freshman year and throughout her first semester. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma openly questioned Phillips' commitment. And after appearing in just two games - four minutes total - Phillips left the team after that first semester.

Upon transferring to Richmond, injuries continued to bedevil Phillips, who appeared in just six games in 2008-09 and sat out the entire 2009-10 season after having foot surgery. Last November, when Richmond visited Storrs for the WBCA Classic tournament, Spiders coach Michael Shafer acknowledged to the New Haven Register's Jim Fuller that Phillips' playing days were all but over.

"Obviously you have a 6-5 kid, you hope for best and with our (lack of) size but that's the reality of it," Shafer said. "Honestly just getting her surgery so she can walk and move on with her life was something that was important. She is doing pretty well. I think she understands that getting her degree and moving on, we have find of talked to her and moved her past basketball and see what we can do to further her career after graduation."

Ironically, Phillips was the second player to commit to UConn as part of the 2006-07 class. The first was a California kid named Jackie Gemelos who like Phillips has seen a high school injury sabotage her college career. How good was Gemelos? Check out this 2006 high school All-America team. The first teamers were Epiphanny Prince, Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne. The Player of the Year? Gemelos.

A few months before signing, however, Gemelos decommited from UConn and opted instead for USC. Then late in her senior high school season, Gemelos suffered a torn ACL. Four years and four surgeries later, Gemelos appeared in her first collegiate game last February.

The sagas of Gemelos and Phillips are two more painful reminders that while being a college basketball star is definitely a dream worth pursuing, keep in mind that unfortunately, dreams don't always come true.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

WNBA: You have to make us care

There's a truism in journalism that the reader doesn't care about your problems. That's one reason why we find it distasteful whenever somebody complains about food in the press box. But Clay Kallam makes some excellent points in his Slam Online post about the WNBA. His gist is that the WNBA makes it hard to care given how secretive and nebulous the league can be about giving out certain information, including transactions. In the end, it's not just the reporters who lose. It's the game, which is still wrestling to fight its way out of a niche into a more mainstream sport.

Wanted to relay some personal experiences here without whining. In our dealings with the WNBA, the league rarely makes it easy. Should it be easy? We think so. Let's say a player is coming into town who you want to write about. Ideally you'd get to chat with that player for more than a few minutes at shootaround or prior the game, as the nature of the beast is when players are in game mode, there's little room for chit chat. But anybody who's done this for a living will tell you that it's not uncommon to be told you get 15 minutes and have 10 of those taken away. The teams we've dealt with aren't terribly interested in making their players stick to any sort of media commitment. Frankly, doing anything outside of ordinary game coverage is seen as a bother, which is inexplicable considering the lack of coverage this league receives.

Unfortunately this attitude pervades much of the sport at a college level, too. There's constant rhetoric about growing the game, but to do so women's basketball has to get out of its comfort level. Too often now media are met with suspicion, when in fact the majority of folks who write about this sport are unabashed cheerleaders for it. That doesn't mean they hide the bad news. But overwhelmingly, they'd rather focus on what's good.

We linked a few months ago to the fascinating piece Gene Wojciechowski wrote for ESPN that went inside Florida State and detailed what the Seminoles did during the 36 hours of preparation leading up to their matchup with UConn in the regional final.  Kudos for coach Sue Semrau who essentially gave Wojciechowski free rein to write what he observed from the players and coaches. The confidence she showed in allowing that sort of access speaks volumes about her attitude about the sport. We rarely get this insight into players and programs. Too often there is fear that the media will go for the jugular, so players and coaches remain in check, talking about focus and playing one game at a time.

What's rarely understood is that there's a difference between reporting negatively and critically. Women's basketball is in dire need of some critical analysis, but too often that is met with disdain by defensive folks feeling you are picking on their sport. It's OK to say somebody had a rotten night. It's OK to wonder why everybody else is seemingly incapable of reaching the heights of the Huskies. We can celebrate what this sport gives us and still question what it doesn't without being accused of being unfair.

Criticism and debate and a certain rawness are all part of sports. While we hear a lot that women's basketball wants to be part of the national sports dialogue, we also see that too often that's wanted on their terms. That happens with the WNBA and that happens with the college game, too. And here's the secret. Ask us not to care for too long and while many of us still will, others won't. When that happens it's not just the media who lose out. It's the game, which says it desperately wants to grow but doesn't always want to take the steps to do so.

George Mason adds two more

George Mason has officially welcomed guards Cierra Strickland - "a prototypical CAA guard" says Patriots coach Jeri Porter, and Christine Weithman "a steal in the late signing period" - into the Patriots fold as part of its 2010-11 signing class. Weithman averaged 23 points per game and was a second-team All-Met pick by the Washington Post. But colleges were likely in a wait-and-see mode during the early signing period with Weithman, who missed most of her junior season after tearing an ACL during the summer of 2008.

An added bonus for the Patriots with these two recruits - both are local products. Strickland, a Bishop McNamara standout, and Weithman, from Blake High in Silver Spring, both played their high school ball within a 45-minute drive from the Patriot Center (traffic permitting, of course).