Thursday, September 24, 2015

ODU's Mery Andrade now Coach Andrade

Remember that movie "There's Something About Mary"? Well, we spell Mery differently in this blog, and we've always known there's something about Mery Andrade that would make her a great asset to any coaching staff.

Nobody outworked the Old Dominion defensive menace, whose expressions of absolute disbelief when called for a block still tickle us inside some 18 years after the Lady Monarchs advanced to the national title game. Andrade, along with her buds Ticha Penicheiro and Clarisse Machanguana, were part of that Portuguese connection that the ODU fan base adored during a magical time in the program's storied history.

Andrade, the soul of the 1997 team that finished 34-2, was co-CAA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in 1998-99.

Alas, Mery is finally done terrorizing the opposition's best offensive player, deciding to join the
coaching ranks. Earlier this month, former ODU assistant Cindy Fisher (who coached alongside Wendy Larry in '97) added Andrade to her staff at the University of San Diego. Fisher has been head coach there for a decade.

Andrade retired in May after a long club career in Italy and previously, Portugal. She played in the WNBA, primarily for the former Cleveland team, for five seasons.

"It really is over," she said, genuine wistfulness in her voice. "I keep telling myself it is over. All this practice already with the girls; I want to be playing with them, but can't do."

Andrade said she still feels healthy, "Last year I played 40 minutes, but you know, I'll be 40 this year. I had to stop, and this opportunity came, and I'm really excited about it. All the energy I had when I played, I want to put into coaching. This is a dream come true. I said yes, and didn't think twice."

Shortly after Andrade had knee surgery five years ago, she received a call from ODU coach Karen Barefoot about an assistant position, but it wasn't the right time. "I didn't want my memories of basketball to be from an injury," she said.

Now, with her playing days behind her, she joins a San Diego team that has produced four straight 20-win seasons and is looking to return to the national tournament for the first time since 2008.

Andrade said when she visualizes herself as a coach, she's wants to be open to player needs. "There's no, 'It's my way or the highway,' because in my career I learned so much from every coach I had. They weren't all good things, but I even learned from the bad things. I want to see what fits the players because I don't think a coach should have ideas she doesn't consider changing."

Don't think Andrade doesn't bring in some expectations. She won't back down, she said, from what got her this far in the game. "Intensity, heart -- those are values, not just ways of coaching," she said. "I want to keep the values I grew up with and the work ethic."

While Andrade's college days seem like ions ago in some respects, she hasn't forgotten what she describes as a "short but intense" time. "I bring it with me in everything I do."

The Final Four year, she says, taught her, "When you find yourself in an environment you love, time flies by. That year was like that. The experience in college, I don't know when one year finished and the next started. It was just a ride. It was pure adrenalin in growing and the experience we went through was the best."

She has reminisced with Fisher and fellow San Diego resident Aubrey Eblin and Clar and Ticha, of course. Ticha was her agent this year, and she talks weekly with Clar. She was last at ODU when she was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2010.

Don't look for Mery too close to the East any time soon; the Toreros get no closer to our parts than a trip to Montana State. But she'd welcome a game in the Constant Center.

"That would be my past and my present coming together," she said.

Lady Monarch fans have expressed their congrats to Coach Andrade.

"They've followed my career when I played and now here," she said. "They're like family."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why it's hard for us to embrace the WNBA

The WNBA playoffs are upon; did you know? Unless you are a diehard, probably not. Great players, good basketball, you won't get an argument there. But relevant to move today's sports dial? Even the NBA commish had to admit when asked Thursday,

"It's not where we hoped it would be."

The normally reticent Maya Moore weighed in recently on a disappointing WNBA season in terms of butts in the seats, exposure and an overall lack of momentum.

We are the WBB diehards and even for us, here's what we find distasteful about the WNBA in 2015.

*New York Liberty president Isiah Thomas. How insulting is it to female fans and players that this man is president of a WNBA team? How tone deaf is Adam Silver to say on Thursday that Thomas "made a mistake at Madison Square Garden." A mistake is traveling with the ball. Thomas settled an $11.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit and was said, with several women corroborating, to have created a hostile workplace for women at the Garden. Now he's president of a WNBA team? "Life is complicated," Silver said when asked about it. Not really. It's pretty simple that this man shouldn't be president of a WNBA team.

*Griner/Johnson saga. We don't pretend to have the inside scoop on Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, but domestic violence and Griner's lack of interest in providing financial support for Johnson's twins -- which we have to assume Griner had some prior knowledge of -- are hard to stomach.  Imagine a male athlete ditching his pregnant wife and the financial responsbilities that come along with children. He'd be crucified in the media. He'd have to answer for it in a press conference. Bottom line: It's hard to cheer for Griner right now.

*The WNBA has a loyal gay and lesbian following,  yet the league continues to market to this fan base in a lukewarm manner and a pride day a year ago was little more than lip service. Maybe they're trying to be PC, but if I'm part of that fan base, I don't feel appreciated. Frankly, I would feel dismissed.

*Tell me why again why anyone in Tulsa should care that the Shock made the playoffs? The Shock finally have a player to be excited about (and yes, bummer that Skylar missed most of this season with a knee injury), and the team is moving to Dallas where they'll be lost in a sports market consumed by football.

*Sylvia Fowles demanding to be traded to one team. Is that what you would expect from one of the faces of the league? Again, picture a franchise player in the men's game demanding to be traded to one team and not having to answer for it. Can't picture it? That's because it wouldn't happen.

*No Taurasi. We don't blame you, Diana, or Candace (who missed the early part of the season to rest). But the fact that international play remains a priority -- and given salaries, that's understandable -- it's hard to invest in a league that doesn't invest in its players.

Media remain remiss to criticize or even to analyze women's athletics with depth. We should be past the point that we're happy women are playing and hold female athletes to the same standards as their male counterparts. That means Griner and Fowles might have to answer some difficult questions.

No don't get us wrong. We like the idea of the WNBA. We respect the overwhelming majority of the player in the WNBA. We were thrilled that Elena Delle Donne, a kid we saw play in high school, got the much-deserved MVP vote. But this is a league with some problems worth addressing that often seems tone deaf to reality. Isn't it time for a realistic conversation about a league that is loaded with talent but struggles for relevancy, that has playoffs just when the NFL and college football have started, that will lose most of its marquee talent in a year to the Olympics?

The WNBA isn't where we want it to be, either, and we admire Silver for his candor, but we hope he moves the ball forward. He has a stake in this league succeeding, but let's not stand around and wonder why it's not. Many of the aforementioned issues need to be addressed in a thoughtful manner.

The league's infomercials say "WNBA cares." Our question is cares about whom?