BY: ABACUS REVEALS
Was the WNBA’s schedule-maker trying to be funny, mean-spirited or just marketing-savvy?
The best women’s pro basketball circuit in the world ended its 33-day work stoppage a mere five days after the wrap-up of the competition for London 2012. Re-opening night offered the potential of a match-up of Team USA’s dream backcourt of Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury vs. the Seattle Storm featuring Sue Bird (though not yet All-World Australian star Lauren Jackson, who had been showing a lot of Kevin McHale-like post play in her stint with the national team).
Such quick turn-arounds are nothing new to a female pro hoopster, the most successful of whom (including any WNBA star worthy of note) can and do regularly play highly competitive ball eleven months a year. While the eagerness of successful newbies like the Los Angeles Sparks’ nonpareil Nnemkadi Ogwumike and versatile Tennessee ex Glory Johnson of the Tulsa Shock is to be expected in this new world of play-for-pay, the wisest among the pros who didn’t go to London used the month-long sabbatical for rest and recuperation. San Antonio’s Sophia Young chose not to play overseas at all following the 2011 WNBA season, and she’s a key cog on a genuine title contender, the hottest team in the league heading into the break.
The New York Liberty had limped through July, their post situation so dinged-up and bleak they nearly turned to Isiah Thomas for help. But restored health, particularly to veteran Plenette Pierson, jumped started the Gotham Girls to a decisive 79-66 victory over East-leading Connecticut in their first game back Thursday night in Newark. The Liberty’s ultra-athletic scoring machine Cappie Pondexter, perhaps still stinging from her exclusion from the Olympic experience, contributed 24 points, five assists and a very aggressive attitude. Gold-medal winner Tina Charles, her hustle and hook shot arrived safely in New Jersey for the Sun, though not her timing or rhythm.
Defending champion and West-heading Minnesota blended its three returning gold medalists quite smoothly while dispatching the Washington Mystics as if they were Olympic preliminary-round cannon fodder. Sadly, Ms. Pondexter’s Liberty have no more match-ups with Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and the rest of the Lynx. She’ll simply have to take out her frustration on the rest of the league and hope Maya Moore’s magic brings the Minnesota Wrecking Crew through to them in the Finals.
Here are two more players who, like Cappie, may be operating with a chip on their shoulders. Guard Erin Phillips of the Indiana Fever was passed over for the Australian national team. The return of her countrywomen (Jackson, Tulsa’s Elizabeth Cambage, Jenna O’Hea of LA) may have induced a heady nine-point, four-assist bench effort Thursday, albeit against the Mystics.
The other extra-feisty player to keep an eye on is Becky Hammon of Dan Hughes’s determined Silver Star outfit. A medalless, still ringless Hammon is likely to have a focus like no other time during a Hall of Fame career fueled by grit and wit. Minnesota’s gold reflects nicely in the Land of so many Lakes, but the stars at night are big and bright (especially in Baylor country) deep in the heart of Texas.
The Lynx, Silver Stars, Sun and LA Sparks (with their one-two punch of the otherworldly Candace Parker and Ogwumike) have been the cream of the 2012 WNBA crop. (That theme of “Fourplay” epitomizes elite women’s ball this year, as Stanford, Notre Dame, UConn and undefeated Baylor were the clearly superior teams in college ball.) Those four teams, in that order, are the most offensively efficient teams in the league, and all rank in the top six in defensive efficiency.
The first half’s most efficient defensive team, even without the inside presence of Brazilian Olympian Erika de Souza, was the Atlanta Dream. Big Erika might be another candidate for the “Chip on the Shoulder” Club after her squad’s dismal showing in London. And was Angel McCoughtry’s impressive performance with the Golden Girls an indication that she’s ready to challenge Ms. Parker for the title of most talented American female hoopster?
With all the Olympic and Title IX hype, a steady stream of gifted young players (Griner, Diggins and Delle Donne due to arrive in the next draft), and an overall growth in the game, these would seem to be the glory days for the WNBA. Ogwumike (a 22-point, 20-rebound gem against Tamika Catchings and Indiana), Johnson (a 30-point explosion against the Lynx) and the Mercury’s Samantha Prahalis (filling in ably for injured veterans Taurasi and Australia’s Penny Taylor) are adjusting nicely to the size and speed of the pro game. Grizzled veterans like Pierson (Abacus feels old—his daughter played against Plenette in high school), former Houston Comet mainstay Tina Thompson of Seattle, DeLisha “D Nasty” Milton-Jones of the Sparks and Minnesota’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin channel their inner-Robert Horry and chase a championship.
Three-time MVP Jackson is expected back with the Storm this week, the 6’8” youngster Cambage will join the Shock for its final 10 games according to ESPN, and nobody seems to know what’s up with Taurasi.
Phoenix wouldn’t be tanking its season for a better draft positioning, would they?
BY: ABACUS REVEALS
Despite adopting the traditional rectangular three-second lane, international basketball still offers a good bit of nuance—and perhaps some food for thought—to an American fan. Though long viewed as a more physical brand of ball, international rules call for a player’s disqualification after a mere five fouls—and a technical foul counts towards that DQ. That can spell trouble for a team lacking in depth and/or good sense.
The Olympic tournament, particularly in the preliminary rounds, produced more whistles for ball-handling miscues than a season’s worth of NBA ball. What it lacked were very many “late” whistles…those “wait to see that the shot doesn’t fall” calls that are a little disjointed from the flow of play. (These seemed more and more common as a grinding NBA season wore on.) The Olympic whistles, by and large, had been timely. Hey, if there’s a pivot foot in the rule book, shouldn’t there be a pivot foot in the play?
The perplexing element in the work of these international officials involved lines. Multiple feet seemed to find the sideline stripe. Can a player who catches a pass from the backcourt while straddling center court then “pivot” into the backcourt, or does this create “over and back”? And just when is it that a player is considered “back” in-bounds, and thus allowed to touch the ball?
A pleasant aspect of the play in these Olympics has been the absence of mandatory time-outs. Additionally, only the head coach may request a TO, and one will be granted only at a “dead ball.” Consequently, they really do play—pretty continuously—four 10-minute quarters internationally. (Contrast that with the 10 four-minute runs in college basketball, these days…and that happens BY RULE. Think that doesn’t influence how someone plays or coaches the game? Just askin’!)
One ballyhooed international “tweak” to the game that seemed to have little if any effect in the grand scheme of things is its more liberal interpretations for goal-tending. Andre Iguodala’s non-dunk that caromed off his chest and back up through the goal was just about the only excitement on that front.
In this day and age of multiple, naturalized, and even ancestral citizenships, Olympic rosters frequently offer some head-scratching peculiarities. Serge Ibaka, playing part-time for…Spain? Most of Nigeria’s players are American-born. Australia’s young 6’8” phenom Liz Cambage, ironically, was born in London. And it’s still rather disconcerting to a Baby Boomer seeing a South Dakota girl like Becky Hammon playing for Russia.
Finally—and with no disrespect towards the tremendous achievement of the American players and coaches, both women and men—if you have any “old-school” in your soul, you had to be rooting for France’s women’s team. Smooth-shooting and confidently-named wing Emilie Gomis (pronounced “Go Me!”), patriotically-braided effective post Isabelle Yacoubou (her name sounds like the refrain from a Dr. John N’Awlins tune), feisty little point guard Celine Dumerc and a few of those so-called “glue players.” They gave us the game of the tournament by outlasting an Australia squad that had been together for months (no WNBA yet for these girls!) and that not lost an Olympic game since 1996 to anyone other than the team who arrived in London on a run in excess of 30 games.
The 74-70 thriller had more near falls than the Main Event of a Vince McMahon Pay-Per-View, along with an amazing overtime-forcing, between-two-defenders, off-the-wrong-leg, 50-foot banked prayer by veteran Aussie wing Belinda Snell.
From that final Monday in July, Day 3 of the Games, the silver medal was the Frenchwomen’s to lose. They made sure that did not happen, and their coach was correct. No one was beating the USA; it was quite fitting that the incomparably talented Candace Parker put the Auriemma Crew ahead for good in Saturday’s Gold-Medal Game.
A sincere and hearty Bravo, Le Bleu!