Monday, April 29, 2013

Newest Lady Monarch was a cheerleader first

Once upon a time she was planning to be a cheerleader like her mom. Instead Keyana Brown is a basketball player like her dad, and she'll be taking her game to the next level at Old Dominion. The 5-11 forward from Williamsburg Christian Academy, who Boo Williams lauds as  "a true shooter," is part of the Lady Monarchs' 2014 signing class.

Brown has started every game since eighth grade at Williamsburg Christian. For the last four years, the Eagles have advanced to every state title game (winning in 2012), and although Brown is just finishing up her junior year, she's already surpassed 2,000 points (she's notched 2,001). Brown has also received first-team all-state honors each of the last four years and was the Virginia Independent Schools State Player of the Year in 2012. Check out some of her moves on this YouTube video.

As a ninth-grader, Brown even played in the state title game after breaking her right hand against Amelia Academy in the state semifinals. Unable to shoot or dribble that morning, she took some advice from a classmate on the boys team who played with a bad shoulder.

"He told me once your adrenalin starts going, you'll be all right," she says. "I finished with 12 points."

Brown considered Richmond, James Madison, Delaware, St. Bonaventure and Villanova, visiting a few of those schools, but picked ODU because it was the exact fit she was seeking.

"It's not very far from home; I love coach (Karen) Barefoot and the energy she gives off," said Brown, who plans to major in communication. "What really put them over the top was that family vibe that I got. I know that my dad felt that trust in the coaching staff, too. I got to meet the AD and other people who made me feel this is where I need to be. The campus is beautiful, and with the system and the coaches, I think that is the perfect place for me to be successful."

As for the cheerleader in her, Brown laughs recalling the memory.

"My mom was a cheerleader in high school, and every little girl looks up to their mom," she said.

At age 7, she was set for a cheerleading camp in her former home, Atlanta, when she told her dad never mind that camp, she wanted to join a basketball camp after watching one featuring the Georgia Tech players.

"We had already paid for the cheerleading camp. ..." he said.

Chris Brown coaches (today he is an assistant at Williamsburg Christian) and played at Norfolk State from 1984-88, and Keyana Brown credits him for much of her development.

"His teaching me means we have a relationship inside of another relationship that we share," she says.

As for those 1-on-1 games, that they play all the time?

"It's hard," Keyana says. "He knows my faults, and I'm still trying to figure out his."

Notes Chris, "She hasn't figured out that I don't have any."

Getting to know new George Mason coach Nyla Milleson

LadySwish welcomes Nyla Milleson to the fold. Milleson is the recently hired coach at George Mason coach who spent her six previous years as head coach of Missouri State.

Milleson led the Lady Bears to three WNIT appearances in her tenure. Two years after arriving at the Springfield, Mo., school in 2007, the Lady Bears put together three consecutive 20-win seasons. Prior to her time there, Milleson was the inaugural coach at Division II Drury, where she compiled a 185-36 mark over seven seasons.

She shared her thoughts with us about herself and the future of George Mason basketball.

Talk about the transition from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Professionally, basketball is basketball, and I've had success building programs and maintaining programs, so I don't think they'll be a whole lot of difference from the recruiting standpoint. I'll need to get accustomed to the area, but that's where I'm going to find the best staff possible and find the connections that can help us make the quickest transition possible. George Mason is a great place; it's got great academics. We've got to stick our nose in here and get busy.

Personally, on the other hand, there's going to be a couple of adjustments. I've learned the key words are "depends on traffic." You look at your GPS and if it tells you six minutes, you plan on 20 or 30. So, obviously, the traffic is a big adjustment for me. The sticker shock of real estate is much different than it is in the Midwest, too.

My family is not coming with me for a year. My oldest (Barrett) is getting ready to graduate from Missouri State, and he might move out here quicker than my husband and my other son (Caylor). My other son is going to be a senior in high school. He plays football, and it will be hard to be away from him and miss his senior year. But basketball has afforded us a lot of great opportunities, and this is another one. I'm really lucky and blessed that I was able to climb in this profession in a unique way. I went from a high school coach to Division II to Division I in the same community. I'm excited  about the new adventure.

How much did you know about George Mason prior to becoming coach?

That the men were in the 2006 Final Four! As far as the women's basketball program, I really didn't, but when the job came open, I did a lot of research, and I think there are a lot of exciting things that could happen here. I think moving into the A-10 is probably great timing for a new coach and a new staff to start fresh. You see the campus and the facilities and the dorms on the Internet, and they're even more special when you get here and see them up close. When it comes down to it, I'm really a people person, and the biggest thing I was sold on is there are such good people here. We're going to have to work at it, but I think you combine all those things, and we'll be able to get some real quality student-athletes here.

George Mason has struggled to win consistently. What needs to be done to be successful there?

It's going to take finding that couple of diamond-in-the-rough type of kids, possibly. I think we've got one here now in Taylor Brown (5-7 sophomore transfer from Georgetown). She's got a chance to be really, really special at Mason. Sandra Ngoie (6-1 forward), the transfer from Georgia Tech; she's got a chance to be really special. I think there are some pieces here. We're going to have to get out and sell George Mason. One of our biggest keys is if we can just get those kids to campus. We've got an abundance of talent here. We've got to try to reach out to those local kids and try to get them to stay right here at George Mason. There are some kids in our back yard we've got to try to find a way to keep home and then try to spread out. Our staff is going to have to try to do a good job cultivating those relationship starting right at home. I think it can be done, and I think the move to the A-10 is going to help bridge that gap a little bit.

What did you want the team to take away after its first meeting with you?

I pride myself on discipline and self discipline and accountability for what we want to get done on the court and accountability for each other. We hope to bring a level of passion and energy every day. I'm big on trying to do the right thing on and off the floor on a daily basis. I'm just a small part of these kids' lives. I try to make them good basketball players who win championships, but really at the end of the day, I want them to get a George Mason education and get jobs and be successful people.

Change is always hard, but they've been very receptive to me and my personality, and that's one of the big keys to getting off on the right foot.

What will the next few weeks be like for you?

It's been a whirlwind. Me and the one assistant (Christopher Lewis) I have were out last weekend. My first order of business was to make sure I took care of our current team, and I made contact with the three kids coming in, and they're all coming. My first priority was to our current team. I've met with every one of them individually. We've had individual workouts, and I've tried to build that relationship and build that trust. Secondly, I've tried to get the right staff hired, but I'm going to be patient and make sure we get the right fit, and hand in hand with that is recruiting. We've got some relationships -- although some of them are Midwest kids. We've got some new relationships already, and hopefully they will consider George Mason when we get a new staff hired.

Attendance has never been great at George Mason. Is increasing support a priority for you?

I've been blessed and spoiled at the same time, because I came from a very tradition rich area in Southwest Missouri. Playoff time we'd play in front of 2,000 people at the high school level. When I started the program at Drury, we were at the top five or six of Division II year in and year out. Missouri State was also a great place for attendance. I think we have to be realistic about what we can do here as far as attendance. It can certainly grow. I'm not dumb. I know winning takes care of a lot of things. Through our camps, our recruiting efforts, through our community service -- that's big to me -- reaching out to faculty and students, I think it can grow.

How much time had you spent in the D.C. area prior to taking the job?

I had only been to Washington, D.C. once. I came with Missouri State two years ago. We played Morgan (State) and Georgetown and Coppin State. We were here about a week. I got to do some things with our team; we went to Georgetown Cupcake. We saw some of the monuments. I have been but I haven't really been to D.C., so that is an area I'd like to spend some time personally. I haven't been to New York City, either, so I'm looking forward to visiting.

We can't resist. What was it like being captain of the rodeo team while you attended Kansas State?

I grew up in a small western Kansas town. My grandfather was just put into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. He really, truly was one of the cowboy types. That's what I grew up doing. I rodeoed at K-State. I haven't ridden a horse in years, and my boys are about as city as they come. It was one of those parts of my life where I met some incredible people and traveled across the country and got to ride my horses.

I can rope cattle. That was my best event. And don't laugh. It was called goat tying. It was a neat part of my life. I enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Touted JUCO All-American not JMU bound after all

An Aggie instead of a Duke

Texas A&M or James Madison?

Achiri Ade, the decorated junior college post player, signed with Texas A&M on Thursday.

The 6-1 Ade, whose hometown is Baltimore, initially signed with JMU, a great get for the Dukes at the time given she was rated a four-star prospect by as the No. 27 forward and No. 92 overall prospect of the 2011 class. But under CAA rules, she was a non-qualifier, sending the Seton Keough High graduate the junior college route.

Ade played the last two seasons at Midland College in Midland, Texas, where she led the Lady Chaps to the NJCAA Sweet 16 last season. An NJCAA All-American, Ade averaged 14.1 ppg and 12.4 rpg with 22 double-doubles. And what can we say? Despite the manageable drive from Harrisonburg to Baltimore, Ade opted to remain in the Lone Star state.

But this just in from Kenny Brooks via Twitter: room. Love the combination of and

It appears the stable is full at JMU, as Brooks notes the Dukes are in good shape with Nikki Newman returning along with Jazmon Gwathmey and Toia Giggetts.

We still think the Dukes boast the best youth in the CAA (remember, they have Precious Hall, too) and we'll be following Ade. We wish she were wearing purple in Harrisonburg rather than maroon in College Station, but we're liking the post game of the Dukes for the 2013-14 season.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

McGuire takes over at Radford

The idea of former Richmond assistant and Roanoke Valley native Mike McGuire "returning home" to become the head coach at Radford sounds like pretty close to a perfect fit to us. Then again, we've never played for or coached with or even hung out with the guy. Wonder what those people think.


- Coach McGuire and I started at Richmond the same year and I really couldn’t have asked for a better coach and mentor. He is a talented coach, but more importantly he is a great friend to have. A level-headed demeanor and a coaching style that always is thinking about the good of the player first, makes him a unique find. Players want to succeed for Coach McGuire when they play for him. They want to make him proud because he invests in their lives and creates a relationship that is more than just coach—player. He is a coach, a friend, a father figure and a mentor for young ladies during a pivotal time in their lives. My career at Richmond wouldn’t be filled with half the memories I have if he hadn’t been on staff. I thank him for all he did for me as a player and a person. He will be deeply missed by Richmond, but Radford should be thrilled to know they are receiving a very special person who just happens to be a darn good coach as well. - Richmond redshirt senior Rachael Bilney, who just a few weeks after her final college game is already the director of business development for the NBA Developmental League's Texas Legends (how cool is that!)

- Mike is an extremely hard worker with an eye for talent. Not the kind of talent that everyone sees, but the kind of under-the-radar talent that can turn a mid-major program around pretty quick. He's very organized in his thoughts of how he wants to build a program. He understands the X's and O's as well as anyone, but more importantly, he understands that the X's and O's are actually real people and he is great at motivating them and getting them to reach their potential. He is also very well-connected in the state of Virginia - and he is very well thought-of in the state. Coaches will have no problem sending players to play for him because he is honest and sincere in how he manages his team. - Kenny Edwards, Norfolk State assistant coach.

- Radford is getting a very respected, enthusiastic, organized, humble and winning coach in Mike McGuire. His thirst for knowledge in our game, as well as his low-key approach to teaching has been enjoyed by our players at Richmond the last five years. He is going to be missed at Richmond, but I certainly believe that Radford has made a perfect decision in bringing Mike home and they will reap the benefits right away. When Radford came open, the obvious choice to many including myself was Mike McGuire. - Michael Shafer, Richmond head coach

I am excited for Mike to land the head job at Radford, and truly believe he is going to build that program up. He remains as one of my favorite coaches I've played for because of his knowledge of the game and the belief he has in his players to be the best they can be.  I look forward to seeing his career as a head coach develop at Radford while leading his new team to new depths. - Abby Redick of WNIT champion Drexel. Redick was part of back-to-back Virginia Group AA state championship teams coached by McGuire at Roanoke's Hidden Valley High School.

Evidently, Highlanders director of athletics Robert Lineburg reached the same conclusion, but not before an extensive vetting process. Lineburg said he received 76 applications for the position and personally conducted 17 interviews before zeroing in on McGuire.

"I feel extremely confident we hired a great one," Lineburg said. "We want someone who can teach, be a mentor, who can guide our student-athletes not just for four years, but be there for 'them for 40 years. I think we've got a guy who's a great fit for Radford."

To be fair, no AD is going to stand up there and say, "Well, we're really not sure about this guy, but...." Still, everything we've heard about McGuire over the past few years suggests this was a man that was about to be snapped up by some Division I program pretty soon. That the job he lands happens to be in his home area is a joyous turn over events McGuire struggled to put into words.

"My family's from the Roanoke area, my fiance's from the area and a lot of people in this area prepared me for this opportunity," he said. "Now that it's become a reality, it's emotional just to think about it."

Of course, what Highlanders fans really want to know is, "When are we going to catch and pass Liberty?" Now, McGuire's too smart to stand up on Day One and guarantee anything. But he made it clear he certainly believes Big South supremacy is possible at Radford.

"A lot of people don't realize how good a place this is," McGuire said. "The resources are in place to be successful, and we've got to get that message out there. Once we get potential recruits on campus and they see the growth, I think they're going to be impressed."

The new coach has plenty of work to do, though. McGuire inherits a roster heavy on guards but with just three players 6-0 or taller. While he said while he won't bring in players just to fill out the roster, McGuire intends to explore whatever viable post options might still be available for the 2013-14 season.

"We definitely need to address the size issue," he said. 

In time, McGuire plans to to implement a playing style featuring tough man-to-man defense and a high-tempo offense. In the short term, though, he said he wants to adapt his approach to fit the current personnel.

"I want to put them in position to be successful first," he said.

What won't be adjusted, though, are what he called his five bullet points that will serve as the foundation for Radford basketball

- Program culture - "How we act, how we speak, how we prepare every day."

- Academics

- Recruiting - "We're going to hire an aggressive staff and attack the Commonwealth of Virginia."

- Style of play - "We want to play a style that grabs recruits attention, something they want to be a part of, and excites the fans."

Community - We want to reach out, have a major role in helping and hopefully inspiring people.
We want this to be the community's basketball team."

It certainly won't hurt that the Highlanders have one of the community's own leading the way.

Friday, April 19, 2013

JMU assistant NC State bound

Kenny Brooks is in the market for a new assistant.

New NC State coach Wes Moore has snagged Lindsay Edmonds from JMU. Edmonds had assisted Brooks for the last four years as recruiting coordinator and given the potential of all the youth including CAA Freshman of the Year Precious Hall, she did a great job.

The Dukes boasted seven All-CAA selections with Edmonds on staff, boasting CAA Player of the Year Dawn Evans. In the last four years, JMU has twice advanced to the NCAA Tournament and twice to the WNIT, reaching the championship game last year.

We're assuming this means JMU will need a new football assistant, too. Edmonds is married to Ulrick Edmonds, a current football assistant for the Dukes.

A Winston-Salem native, Lindsay Edmonds formerly assisted and played at Appalachian State.

In other JMU news, Nikki Newman was granted a fifth year of eligibility for the NCAA. Newman, the 2012 CAA Defensive Player of the Year, missed all but nine games last season due to a foot injury.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A look at George Mason's new coach, Nyla Milleson

George Mason has a new coach and she is Nyla Milleson. Milleson replaces Jeri Porter, whose contract was not renewed after five seasons.

Milleson was fired  from Missouri State University on March 19; the school has since hired former NC State coach Kellie Harper. The Bears finished last season 14-17, falling by 15 points in the play-in game of the Missouri Valley Tournament. The Bears did not return a starter from the 2011-12 team that advanced to the WNIT's third round.

Milleson had been Missouri State coach since 2007. It took just two seasons before she led the Bears to three consecutive 20-win seasons and back-to-back titles in the MVC. In 2009-10, Casey Garrison was named the Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year; Stiles, the NCAA's all-time leading scorer is a Missouri State graduate.

Speculation on Milleson's firing has centered on the decline of the women's basketball fan base. The Bears averaged 2,606 for home games last season. In Milleson's first season, Missouri averaged 5,158. While traditionally women's basketball is not considered a revenue maker, Missouri's new home, JQH Arena, cost a whopping $67 million to build in 2008, and the school continues to seek a revenue stream. Missouri State has already announced that season tickets for lower level seats will be reduced from $259 to $120 for the 2013-14 season.

The Patriots, who finished 9-21 last season, 10th in the CAA, will receive a boost from 5-9 sophomore Taylor Brown. Brown, a former All-Met Player of the Year, transferred from Georgetown, where she started 12 games. She sat out last season due to NCAA rules.

Previously, Milleson coached at Division II Drury, having started the women's basketball program there in 1999. In her fourth season, she led Drury to the NCAA national championship, where the Lady Panthers fell by three to California (Pa.).

As for attendance, the Patriots -- new members of the Atlantic 10 -- have nowhere to go but up, having averaged 633 last season.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reflecting on the Greenberg Award

I got my picture snapped with Tyler Summitt and Holly Warlick. I saw Brittney Griner up close. I chatted with some terrific UConn fans while inhaling a Western omelet at a diner with a line to the door. I wore a glittery dress. I got to meet James Madison assistant Jen Brown and Virginia assistant Ashley Earley. I spotted Delaware coach Tina Martin in a pastel (a lime green blouse).  I sampled the bananas foster at Brennan's.  I ate a beignet, OK, several beignets. I walked the French Quarter, tempted to bring home some of the most distinctive art inspirations I've ever seen up close. I returned with some simpler mementos: a voodoo doll for success, a hand-crafted ring and pendant, and a striking diamond-shaped award from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

The 2013 Mel Greenberg Media Award is on my mantel. It's a flattering, humbling and pretty amazing honor considering the unexpected twists during my career writing about women's basketball. Allow me to indulge for just a moment.

I've received all sorts of calls, emails and congratulatory messages since word got out that I was the Greenberg winner. It's been a great couple of weeks, even though it's odd to be the one written about for a change. Truth is, the Greenberg is to me what the Pulitzer would be to others. I love being an ambassador to this sport that I have become so deeply passionate about since the first time I covered a game in 1996. While I enjoy games per se, I've come to realize that I find the greatest joy in the people surrounding the sport and the relationships I've built and continue to invest in over the years.

In truth, I thought I would never write another women's basketball story when I learned via email one night during Old Dominion's Senior Night game that I would no longer be covering the Lady Monarchs as my job. The blow had the pain of an open wound for a long, long time. By that summer of 2009, the idea of a blog was born. I'd love to tell you it was my idea. It never was. The other half of LadySwish -- often the most overlooked half -- is Paul White, my best friend.
With Tyler Summitt and Holly Warlick

"What if we had a blog?" he asked one night, and I unenthusiastically said it wouldn't work. How would we ever got people to read it? But we gave it a try -- I am proud to say I thought up the name -- and here we are four years later. We'd like a wider audience because we think we have good things to say and a perspective often overlooked in what little media do cover the sport. Paul and I don't agree on everything, but largely we share a few fundamentals, including our disdain for the word "mid-major," a sincere interest in growing the game by exploring creative means to do so and a genuine appreciation for the sport's teams and stories, especially the ones in our state.

Our following grows every day, brick by brick. Our reach is international. We'd love to go more places in person and write more posts, but this isn't a money-making endeavor. We try to do as much as we can, telling the stories behind the stories of Virginia's teams and on occasion, we go broader. We hear from folks every day -- coaches, players, fans -- who savor much of what we write. We do our best for them.

The Greenberg Award is given to an ambassador to the game, and what a privilege that I am on that list of worthy recipients that includes one of my dearest friends, Vic Dorr of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

That said, the whirlwind of two days in New Orleans was just that. The award was presented during an actual awards show -- not Oscars, but truly the WBCA tries to give it a televised event feel -- that saw Griner walk away with plenty of hardware, including the Wade Trophy. Muffet won, too, and C. Viv was on hand to be recognized for her 900th win.

As I left the stage holding the award, how touching and sentimentally fitting it was for the first hug to come from Ticha Penicheiro. Those were the days, indeed.

I didn't get to speak on stage, but if I had, I would have said this. Thanks, Vic. Thanks, Paul. Thanks Mel and WBCA. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Wendy. Thanks Khadijah Whittington for sharing the story of your dad that day. Thanks, Sarah Jones. Thanks to all the coaches, players and friends who have taken the time to answer one question or several that I've asked. Without all of you, there is no Greenberg for me.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Final thoughts on the Norfolk Regional

Watching the Final Four tonight? Us, too. But before the final round of games begins, we wanted to share our takeaways from the Norfolk Regional.

-- Grow the game. That's what the NCAA wants us to believe is among its top priorities. Like most rhetoric, it sounds great, but what better opportunity to grow the game than to give its fans -- and ideally its future fans -- chances to interact with the women who play it up close. With four Sweet 16 teams in town last week, how sad is it that they are kept at a distance from the fans befitting a Hollywood superstar. No open practice. No autographs, please. No clinics with kids. No opportunity to grow the game.

-- Did you see Lady Monarch Jackie Cook at ODU last weekend? Cook was there, working as part of her sports management class. But the rest of the team? What a great opportunity it would be for each of the host schools to have a seating section for that school's players. Turns out the players must be working due to NCAA rules. Again, we lament the lack of women following women's athletics, and it often surprises us how little female basketball players know about the sport they're playing. No wonder. These are college kids who frankly aren't going to shell out money for tickets to Sweet 16 or Elite Eight games. We wish it weren't so. We wish the NCAA would make it easier to showcase the game for its players.

-- Love that Notre Dame fight song, and we can't find fault in the bands from Duke, Kansas or Nebraska. But Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie joked with us about booking the Hampton band for the weekend because of the appreciation she gained when the Pirates played in Durham for the first-round game. We loved the energy the HU band produced last year when the Constant Center hosted a first-round game between Hampton and Stanford. Man, they rocked. As long as we're talking about bands, we admittedly missed the Stanford tree this year, too. With the Cardinal rocked by Georgia, the tree doesn't even get to go to the Final Four.

-- Quote of the tournament: "Now?" - Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie when approached by ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards for one of the network's new in-game interviews.

-- Speaking of Edwards, the woman worked her tail off during games, running back and forth between the benches and furiously scribbling notes. Look, we've rolled out eyes at some of these sideline interviews, too. But after watching Edwards, there's obviously a lot more to these gigs than meets the TV viewer's eye.

- The Elite Eight performance of Duke's extremely gifted freshman point guard Alexis Jones (9 points and 7 turnovers before fouling out in 26 minutes) reminded us of the 1-for-15 shooting nightmare by then-UConn freshman Diana Taurasi - also against Notre Dame - in the 2001 Final Four. Not saying Jones will develop into a Taurasi. But the great ones rebound strongly from early disappointments. If Jones blossoms into the type of elite point guard her talent suggests, we can imagine her referencing her struggles in the Elite Eight as one of the performances that helped fuel her to greater heights.

-- We didn't get any dunks, but on about six occasions Notre Dame tossed "mini-alley oop" lobs to springy freshman Jewell Loyd. The 5-10 Loyd's ability to elevate and finish these plays in mid-air injected some "wow" factor to the proceedings.

-- As a shot blocker/rim protector, Duke's Elizabeth Williams has few peers. Offensively, though, the Blue Devils star struggled to finish around the basket, making just 8 of her 24 field goal attempts in the two games - this on the heels of a 6-of-15 shooting performance in Duke's second-round victory over Oklahoma State. In fairness to Williams, she was unable to train last offseason because of a stress facture in her leg, and we're not sure at what point - if at all - she was 100 percent healthy all season. Whatever the case, the continued offensive development of Williams will go a long way in determining whether Duke can take that next step and become a Final Four team.

-- By the way, if you ever get invited to a party at the Williams' house, accept without hesitation. Not only does that family set out a mean spread, but their graciousness and good nature make you feel right at home.

-- After four days of seeing Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins behind the scenes, we're happy to report that the young lady walks the walk when it comes to the stuff she says about reaching out to fans and being an ambassador for the game. Again, the NCAA could do a much better job in presenting its stars to the public at these events. But even though access was limited, Diggins never missed a chance to interact with the few fans enterprising enough to catch her as she was being shuttled to and fro.

Our favorite image of the tournament - the joyously contented expression on ODU associate director of athletics Debbie White's face as she watched the Fighting Irish dancing postgame at midcourt as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" reverberated throughout the Constant Center. The Fighting Irish would later say that while this clinched their third straight Final Four trip, the feeling never gets old. Judging from the look on White's face, neither does watching it.

LadySwish coverage of the Norfolk Regional (on the blog and via
Point guards on parade in Norfolk
Norfolk welcomes home Elizabeth Williams
Norfolk Regional: The things they said today
The Skylar Diggins effect
The arrogance of ESPN's in-game coach's interview
ODU comfortable playing NCAA hosts
Diggins leads Irish past Blue Devils

Friday, April 5, 2013

Drexel: One more win and Dragons are WNIT champions

The WNIT -- to play or not to play, that is the question.

Do you think Drexel, achingly close to an NCAA Tournament berth after a neck-and-neck CAA championship game with Delaware, could even say the letters W-N-I-T after that disappointment? But credit coach Denise Dillon, credit her Dragons who pulled it together enough to not just play in the WNIT but to put themselves in a position to win it.

Drexel (27-10) hosts Utah (23-13) in Saturday's WNIT championship game at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

Dillon doesn't have to do much to impress us; she already has in continuing to churn out quality teams year after year despite graduating players you wonder how she will ever replace. This Drexel team has wins over Auburn and Florida in addition to those over Iona, Harvard and Bowling Green. One more and Drexel makes history.

But what if they didn't play? ODU passed on the WNIT after the Dragons became the first team to defeat the Lady Monarchs in the CAA Tournament. Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said her team was too banged up to play this year. Rutgers also said rather not. North Carolina has also dismissed the WNIT after failing to make the tournament field last year.

We knock none of these teams. We simply raise the question: Is it always best to play? Jackie Cook said the Lady Monarchs -- who fell to Davidson at home in the WNIT's first round -- overwhelmingly wanted to play. James Madison also voted yay last year, and look what happened. The Dukes, in similar fashion to Drexel, fashioned a feel-good story of getting all the way to the championship game where they fell to an emotionally charged Oklahoma State team.

Brooks has been asked frequently about whether a first-round NCAA loss is better than a WNIT run.

"As I look back on it, the run we had is going to pay more dividends than one game would have," JMU coach Kenny Brooks said in a CAA interview at the start of the season. We got to play against Davidson, Wake Forest, Virginia, Syracuse and then go to Oklahoma State. It did so much for the kids individually and the kids as a team, but it did a lot for our community. We had people who had never been to a women's game come to a women's game. We've sold over 700 regular-season tickets for (2012-13). I've had so many people come up to me and talk about the run."

 Nikki Newman loved the experience, particularly the way Harrisonburg embraced the team throughout the run. But even Newman admits that on the heels of a painful loss in the CAA Tournament, the WNIT doesn't sound all that good initially. But win a couple of games, and suddenly there's a momentum, a magic to a season that seemed otherwise lost.

 That's why ultimately we're glad Drexel decided to put in its chips and vie to become the first Philadelphia team to win a postseason title. Only six teams are still playing at this time of year. Drexel is among them.

VCU-bound Calhoun to play on ESPN2

VCU fans can watch one of the jewels of the Rams' incoming recruiting class, Camille Calhoun, go for a national championship when ESPN2 airs the National High School Invitational title game Saturday at 11 a.m. from Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda, Md.

Calhoun's team, Archbishop Spalding (Md.) will face Dr. Phillips (Fla.) in the final in a rematch of a 2011 NHSI semifinal game in which the Florida school prevailed.

Spalding (30-2) advanced in the four-team event by knocking off Dillard (Fla.) 60-51 in Friday's semifinals. The 5-11 Calhoun contributed 9 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. Dr. Phillips (30-3) followed with a 65-58 win over Life Center (N.J.).

Dr. Phillips is led by University of Georgia-bound point guard Sydnei McCaskill, who had 19 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists in the semifinals, and George Washington signee Hannah Schaible, who chipped in 16 points and 11 boards.

Calhoun is one of three Division I-bound performers for Spalding, along with forward Jade Schaife (UNC Greensboro) and forward Sierra Clark (St. Francis-Pa.).

The Washington Post has an excellent preview of Spalding's pursuit of the national title.

Calhoun is one of six recruits headed to VCU this fall. Others are Monnazjea Finney-Smith, a 6-1 guard from Portsmouth's Wilson High; Ashlee Mitchell, a 5-7 guard from Bristol, Tenn.; Keira Robinson, a 5-8 guard from Columbia, S.C.; Briana DuBose, a 5-10 guard from Bishop McNamara (Md.); and Isis Thorpe, a 5-8 guard from Reading, Pa.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Congrats to ex-VCU coach Beth Cunningham, Final Four bound!

LadySwish congratulates former VCU coach Beth Cunningham, now associate basketball coach to Muffet McGraw. Cunningham and her alma mater are Final Four bound after whipping Duke 85-76. An even bigger congrats is in order for Beth and husband Dan, as they are expecting twins in about four weeks! Beth is pictured here with her beautiful daughter Margaret, who is 20 months.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

ODU comfortable playing NCAA hosts

Charlotte Smith
As a sport, women's basketball often deserves about a D-minus when it comes to embracing its history. We've written at length about how the exploits of AIAW players are often ignored. But even NCAA history gets left in the closet. Two years after Duke's Christian Laettner made that last-second turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Region final, - North Carolina's Charlotte Smith hit an even bigger shot, a 3-pointer at the buzzer that vaulted the Tar Heels over Louisiana Tech 60-59 in the 1994 national title game.

We read stories and see highlights of Laettner's shot all the time. Can't remember the last time we saw video of Smith's game-winner (could the fact that it was CBS, not ESPN, that originally aired the game have anything to do with it?). We wouldn't be surprised if the majority of today's players have never seen Smith's shot.

Fortunately for fans in the Hampton Roads area, few programs embrace women's basketball history like Old Dominion. A couple of years ago, Nancy Lieberman was a finalist for the Lady Monarchs head coaching job. A couple of weeks ago, Ticha Penicheiro fired up the current players before their WNIT debut against Davidson. And even though the Lady Monarchs are no longer the national powerhouse of years past, the school that hosted the first two NCAA Final Fours has continued its tradition of welcoming some of the nation's best teams to Hampton Roads.

This year's Norfolk Regional, which concludes tonight when top-seeded Notre Dame takes on No. 2 Duke at 7 p.m. at the Constant Center, marks the seventh time in the last 11 years ODU has been an NCAA Tournament host site.

"The university, the community has always really bought into women's basketball," said senior associate athletic director Debbie White. "We've always gotten really healthy support."

White is almost as much of a fixture at these events as the basketball itself. For 19 years she served as the moderator for the Final Four press conferences and has continued running the postgame Q&As whenever the tournament is in town. We've heard her ask "Questions for the student-athletes?" so many times we think she may have coined the phrase. By the way, we're pleased to report that at this tournament, White has replaced "student-athletes" with "players." It's always nice when administrators use the terms the rest of us use.

But we digress. According to White, the key in rallying local support is an early start on what she termed "guerrilla marketing." ODU started beating the drums about this event to its season ticketholders, including football, last August.

"If you wait until the teams are announced, you're in trouble," White said.

Duke, featuring Hampton Roads homegirl Elizabeth Williams, is certainly an attractive team for this market. Notre Dame, led by the charismatic Skylar Diggins, is a nice get for any market. Still, White conceded that the fact that ODU isn't a player in this event made ticket sales more challenging. A noon tipoff on Easter Sunday didn't help, either.

The Sweet 16 attendance figures at the four regional sites over the weekend:

Oklahoma City (Baylor, Louisville, Tennessee, Oklahoma) - 9,162
Bridgeport (UConn, Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland) - 8,594 (sellout)
Spokane (LSU, Georgia, California, Stanford) - 6,146
Norfolk (Duke, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Kansas) - 5,687

To be fair, there frankly wasn't much juice for casual fans in the Notre Dame-Kansas/Duke-Nebraska matchups. Tuesday's Notre Dame-Duke final looks much better on the marquee, especially if the Blue Devils can avoid their all-too-frequent scoring droughts against the explosive Fighting Irish (for what it's worth, the Vegas wiseguys have Notre Dame as a 7 1/2-point favorite). The last time ODU hosted a regional final, in 2004, 7,860 turned out to see Lindsey Whalen-led, seventh-seeded Minnesota topple top-seeded Duke 82-75 for a Final Four spot.

No matter how many people show up Tuesday night, the folks at ODU will be ready for them. The pristine Constant Center continues to look as though it opened 11 days ago, not 11 years ago. And maybe it's because they've done so many off these things, but we continue to be struck by how cool, calm and collected the ODU and Constant Center staff members are as they're going about their business. We're sure there's a million things that go into putting one of these on, and perhaps these folks are churning on the inside. But what they project is a pleasant confidence not just that everything's under control, but they they really enjoy hosting some of the nation's best women's basketball.

According to White, it's not an act.

"Could we host another Final Four? No, (the Constant Center's) not big enough," she said. "But I'll tell you what. If we did, we'd do a great job."

There's something about Skylar -- Diggins, of course

Yeah, you've read about Skylar Diggins before, but this time we combined for a story that for Full Court. Check it out here. And whether you're rooting for Skylar or Virginia's Beach's own Elizabeth Williams, don't mix Notre Dame vs. Duke in the Norfolk Regional final on Tuesday night at the Constant Center. Tip at 7 p.m.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The arrogance of the ESPN "in-game" coach's interview

Let us say this about the "in-game" ESPN coach's interview.

It's unnecessary. It's also annoying.

You're a coach and you're in the NCAA Tournament. Timeout. Tap, tap, tap. "Coach. Interview time." Your first thought?

"Now?" was Joanne P. McCallie. The Duke coach endured her first in-game interview on Sunday, as her Blue Devils weathered Nebraska at the Constant Center.

Like all coaches, McCallie had gotten the head's up from ESPN. "They told me about it; I was fully aware, and of course, we want to do anything we can to promote women's basketball," she said. "But when it came during the game. .... Now? Now? It was just funny."

McCallie credited ESPN for its part in covering women's basketball, noting, "As coaches, we agree to many, many things. I was amazed, and I don't know why I was so amazed. You're in this mode; you're coaching in game mode and then they said, 'Interview,' and I was like 'Now?!' "

The in-game interview is a new tactic by ESPN for college women's basketball; , it's a common one during WNBA telecasts. And while McCallie was certainly good-natured about it, we're not as high on the idea.

Indeed, we credit ESPN for providing the  complete NCAA Tournament -- though we're still stumped as to why UConn's second-round game needed to be on both ESPN2 and ESPNU for a half last week when three other games deserved air time on at least one of their networks. But ESPN also has an arrogance to its coverage; does anyone believe a coach wants to deliver analysis in game? Is this another attempt by ESPN to say we're ESPN and you're not?

When you're interrupting actual competition to talk to coaches, we wonder what will be next. Will Holly Rowe be asked to take her mic to the UConn bench and sit alongside Stephanie Dolson and Bria Hartley in game?