Bob Corwin has his spot at Hamilton High School in Phoenix. He has his portable chair back, with the cushions, set up on the coaches side of the floor, about 15 rows up in the bleachers. His trademark green windbreaker and flip-down shades are also in evidence, as if anyone could mistake him for anyone else.
We talked every day for at least 15 minutes, commenting on the Nike Tournament of Champions Joe Smith Division games we were watching as well as on college teams and the WNBA. Sooner or later, as it always does, the talk came around to injuries.
You never know where or when someone special will show up. Here is a case in point.
You've probably never heard of the freshman who is quite possibly the best player in the women's collegiate basketball Class of 2013. As the saying goes, you havent but you will. No. We're not talking about Baylor's highly regarded freshman dunking sensation Brittney Griner. We don't mean Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins or South Carolina's Kelsey Bone. You've no doubt heard plenty about all of them.
Odds are you don't even follow the college she's attending. And no, we don't mean Elena Delle Donne, who's lighting things up for the Fightin' Blue Hens of Delaware.
Here's the case for a new name, the name of a player who, based on the early returns, may very well prove to be the equal -- perhaps the better -- of any of the four players in the elite company just mentioned. Of course, more data is needed before final conclusions can be reached, but this new addition to our list of upper level college freshmen (class of 2013 WNBA draft, assuming all use their college eligibility up and that league still exists at that point) is definitely worth seeing in action if you get a chance.
Last week Connecticut finally showed what everyone suspected. By beating Stanford 80-68 the Huskies confirmed the No. 1 ranking they have enjoyed all season. Stanford played well and led by two at the half but UConn kept up the pressure and pulled away in the second half. These two teams may very well meet again in San Antonio at the Final Four, just as they have the last two seasons.
Connecticut and Stanford are two of the 15 teams that have been ranked every week by Full Court Press as well as the two major national polls. For all of the questions coming into the season, the Top 25 has been relatively stable. This is partially because many of the top teams have chosen to play very little competition non-conference, and as a result have been able to maintain their preseason ratings.
The Big 10 starts their conference schedule in earnest this week and the Big East and Pacific 10 both get going this weekend as well. While there are still a few marquee non-conference match-ups, it is primarily conference play after this week.
This weeks Top 25 may look very familiar because it is the same as last weeks Top 25. Stanford was the only team in the Top 25 to lose last week. Given their previous wins over No. 3 Tennessee and No. 7 Duke however, the Cardinal maintain the No. 2 spot.
If you care about the women's college game, and you were not stuck in traffic somewhere, you watched this game on TV. So, this report is going to be more blog-like and stream of consciousness than usual.
UConn will lose if:
1. Tina Charles gets into foul trouble. UConn has nobody else who can play in the post anywhere near the caliber of 6-4 Jane Appel, 6-4 Kayla Pedersen (who plays the 3) or 6-2 Nnemkadi Ogwumike. It will be tough enough for Charles to decide whom to guard, and to score through the double team. Kaili McLaren will have to play very well off the bench anyway. If she has to do so alone, the Cardinal front court will have a field day. Heather Buck is not ready for this game.
2. UConn shoots poorly from beyond the arc. The Huskies started out the season on fire from three, but the guards (plus Maya Moore) are a cumulative 4-17 in the last four games. That's worse than 25 percent. In the miserable Iona game, these shooters were clearly gun-shy from the arc. Every coach knows to pack it in against the Huskies, and dare them to shoot from the outside. Every major surprise loss in the last 11 years has come on a poor outside shooting night. Against many teams, UConn can punch it inside anyway, or they can drive the baseline. Way too much interior height on Stanford.
Stanford will lose if:
1. The guards turn it over. Against Tennessee last week, they turned it over just 12 times. But the UConn defense is much more disruptive and organized than the Vols. The pressure is on Jeanette Pohlen to have a solid game with the ball.
2. UConn shoots really well from outside.
3. Maya Moore finally takes over a game completely. Nobody can guard Moore except Moore. She is often content, however, to let the game come to her, rather than taking it aggressively to the other team. In the Final Four, Moore played her usual excellent game (24 points, eight boards). Renee Montgomery, however, took control early and controlled the game on both sides of the court. Moore has yet to do that for 40 minutes.
St. Mary's of Stockton, California came within a single bucket of forfeiting its No. 1 national ranking in girls' high school basketball this evening as Brea Olinda, also of California, forced them to overtime before succumbing, 66-67, in a tooth-and-nail battle for supremacy on the court.
St. Mary's will now move on to face Orange County, California's Mater Dei High School which won its own tough semifinal battle today, coming up with a 56-50 victory over Long Beach Poly in a game that was closer than its final score would suggest.
As we move toward the Christmas break, there have been 41 teams that have made it into the Top 25 rankings of the Associated Press, USA Today/ESPN or Full Court Press. The one team that was added to that number since last week's article on this topic is Oklahoma State which moved into this weeks Top 25 at No. 22. This week we will focus on the 13 teams that have been ranked by everyone but not every week. Next week the focus will be on the 15 teams that have been rated by everyone every week.
But first, here is this weeks Full Court Top 25.
Eighty-four teams took the floor at the Nike Tournament of Champions Friday, and all of them had a lot in common: Talent, competitive spirit, a passion for the sport, and hopes of emerging on top as the national high school girls basketball champions. But one team had something else going for them. Sisters. And a lot of them.
Now one set of sisters might not be that big a deal. We've grown accustomed to sister combos and even twins on the court. Oklahoma had the Paris twins, the WNBA has the Millers.
But the St. Anthony's Catholic High School team includes four sets of sisters on its roster: Junior forward Jourdan Cooper and little sister, freshman post standout Kendall Cooper; senior guard Talor Hixon and freshman guard Chandler Hixon; junior forward Natalie Williams and freshman guard Stephanie Williams; and the Panaguitan trio of senior point guard Breanna and sophomore twins Beatrice and Brittany.
"It's different," Jourdan Cooper said. "I've never been on a team that had that many sisters, but it kind of keys team chemistry."
James Anderson, in his third year at the Long Beach school after leading Narbonne High School to years of greatness, said this is his first experience with such a sister-filled team. And he sees definite benefits.
Every year, its the same. Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix is full of tall girls stepping into vans, and athletic-looking types wearing polo shirts with college logos picking up rental cars.
Its the Nike Tournament of Champions, and as sure as Christmas carols get overplayed, the best high school teams in the country come to Chandler, Arizona, to decide things on the court.
This year, there are the usual highly ranked suspects scheduled to play in the Joe Smith Division, plus a few newcomers who are out to establish a reputation. The rookies, though, usually find it much harder than they expect to rack up wins theyre used to the usual high school or summer tournaments where the first game is almost always a gimme, and if things do go wrong, and the losers bracket beckons, it will be smooth sailing to a few more wins.
But not in this tournament. There are four games in five days (starting Friday, ending Tuesday, with Sunday off), and all four in the Joe Smith Division will be flat-out wars. There are no easy games, no breathers, no blowouts that are guaranteed to get even the last player in the rotation on the floor for eight minutes. There are college-level players everywhere, and college coaches (the ones with the polos and rental cars) everywhere as well.
UCLA season ticket holders arriving for the Bruins' exhibition home opener November 9 saw the two freshmen they'd heard about in Markel Walker and Mariah Williams. But there was another new player on the bench with the team.
"Who's that?" many fans asked each other.
They didn't truly find out until 10 days later when, as the Bruins were in the process of crushing Hawaii, Coach Nikki Caldwell sent in Jackie Shepard late the game. Fans may not have known quite who she was yet, but they cheered wildly when she successfully put up a floater.
Shepard had made her debut. As such, she's the first walk-on to the team that anyone can remember, spokesman Steve Rourke said.
The Los Angeles Sparks have named Jennifer Gillom as their new head coach, succeeding Michael Cooper who left to take the reins at the University of Southern California, the team announced Monday. Meanwhile, Minnesota has hired former Detroit Shock general manager and assistant coach Cheryl Reeve to fill Gillom's former job at the coaching helm of the Lynx, that team announced last week.
Gillom, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year, starred at the University of Mississippi under Van Chancellor who later became the first coach of the Houston Comets. A Kodak All-American, Gillom is the second all-time scoring leader at Ole Miss, her 2,186 career points second only to her sister Peggie.
After graduation, Gillom played professionally overseas, primarily in Italy, with stints in Greece, Spain and Turkey. Gillom then went on to a seven-year career as a player in the WNBA. Her best years came early in that career, with Gillom reaching her career-high in 1998, when she finished with an average of 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Though most of her career was spent with the Phoenix Mercury, she played her final season, 2003, with the Sparks. Unfortunately, that year was one of decline, as Gillom retired with a career average that had dropped to 13.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
"I am extremely excited to return to the city of Los Angeles and begin this new journey as head coach of the Sparks," said Gillom. "This is a storied franchise with a championship caliber team. I look forward to being part of the future success and am eager to continue building the Sparks legacy."
Gillom won five gold medals, including a gold from the 1988 Olympics, and one silver as a player for USA Basketball, and was named the 1985 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year. In addition to her '88 Olympic gold, she owns golds from the 1986 and 2002 World Championships, and took golds at the 1987 Pan American Games and the 1986 Goodwill Games; her silver came from the 1986 World University Games.
Gillom was tapped this summer to serve as an assistant to storied coach Geno Auriemma, who is heading the 2010 Women's World Championship and 2012 London Olympics teams.
Gillom began her coaching career in 2004 with the girls' basketball team at Xavier College Preparatory, an all-girls Catholic high school in Phoenix, Arizona, where she compiled a 130-25 record in five seasons. Under her leadership, her high school Gators have annually advanced to the state tournament for the past four years, and Gillom has received regional coach-of-the-year honors in each of those years.
But her coaching experience in the pros is limited to say the least. Gillom served as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Lynx in 2008. She was elevated to the position of interim head coach for the Lynx last year after Don Zierden abruptly resigned to join Flip Saunders' staff with the NBA's Washington Wizards three days before the start of the season.
The Lynx got off to a strong start under Gillom's tutelage, and were 4-1 when marquee player Seimone Augustus went down to a season-ending ACL tear on June 17 just six games into the season. The Lynx held on for the next two weeks, pulling out three more wins against two additional losses in the month of June, but without Augustus, Minnesota soon unraveled, going on a six-game losing streak and finishing a disappointing 14-20.
Perhaps as a result of that shaky head coaching debut, Minnesota bypassed Gillom in favor of former Detroit assistant coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve. The Lynx formally announced Reeve's appointment as head coach last week, though the move has been rumored for weeks now.
Two more disparate resumes would be difficult to imagine. Reeve has 21 years of coaching experience, including five years as an assistant coach at George Washington, and five years as head coach at Indiana State from 1995-2000, where she led the team to its first postseason appearance in 20 years at the culmination of the 1998-99 season. Reeve has spent nine years in the WNBA as an assistant to various teams, launching her her coaching career in the pros in 2001 as an assistant to Anne Donovan with the Charlotte Sting. In Reeve's first year with the team, the Sting improved to 18-14 from the previous year's record of 8-24, and advanced to the WNBA Finals appearance. The following year, the Sting repeated their 18-14 record, and made another post-season appearance.
After Donovan left the Sting at the end of 2002 to become head coach of the Seattle Storm, Reeve moved to the Cleveland Rockers, apprenticing under Dan Hughes. The Rockers also advanced to the playoffs that year, but the ownership pulled the plug on the franchise at the end of the season. Reeve returned to the Sting staff, again as an assistant, for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
From 2006-2009, Reeve served as assistant coach of the Detroit Shock under Bill Laimbeer, whom she helped guide the Shock to their 2006 and 2008 WNBA championships. Last year, after Laimbeer's departure, Reeve served as an assistant on the sidelines to Rick Mahorn, while at the same time assuming Laimbeer's duties as the Shock's general manager. Laimbeer, who is now an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves, is said to have given Reeve a glowing recommendation for the Lynx head coaching job.
Reeve played at LaSalle in the 1980s, and a graduate position at LaSalle was her first coaching position. But Reeve never played professional ball.