The Atlanta Dream will remain in Atlanta under new ownership, WNBA president Donna Orender announced today.
Kathy Betty, a prominent Atlanta businesswoman and sports advocate and the widow of former Earthlink CEO Garry Betty, has stepped forward to purchase the Atlanta Dream. Betty will become the new managing partner of the team, pending WNBA Board of Governors approval which is expected to be forthcoming, while the team will be owned by Dream Too, LLC, an investment group led by Betty.
It is so exciting! said Betty, who has been a season-ticket holder since the Dreams inaugural season in 2008 and was able to rattle off the teams accomplishments off the top of her head. What a great platform I have to build on. We have the Coach of the Year. We have the Rookie of the Year. We have two team members [Erika DeSouza and Sancho Lyttle] who made the All-Star Team. We led the league in rebounding.
In 2009, the Dream recorded the second-largest one-year turnaround in WNBA history, finishing with an 18-16 record after going 4-30 in its inaugural campaign in 2008. The Dream earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference and their first-ever WNBA Playoff berth. Forward Angel McCoughtry, the top pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft quickly emerged as a star and earned Rookie of the Year honors, while Marynell Meadors was named WNBA Coach of the Year this past season. But the team's fate was placed in limbo when original owner Ron Terwilliger announced he was looking to sell his interest.
We start with this team, and now we want to win some playoffs, said Betty, who also hopes to keep the team accessible to the community and prove that a WNBA franchise can turn a profit.
Over the next several months you will hear the names Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Jayne Appel often. But while it may come as news to some in Storrs, Knoxville and Palo Alto, there is actually a great deal of good womens basketball played in far-flung places like Brookings, Spokane and Cincinnati. The six major NCAA Division I conferences receive all the publicity but there are some excellent players who chose life away from the spotlight that attends the NCAA's biggest women's basketball programs. Some of those players were underestimated -- they weren't considered big enough or fast enough for the major colleges during the high school recruiting sweepstakes; some flew under the radar during their high school years; others went to major schools first but didnt find the atmosphere to their liking and a few simply chose to play away from the brightest lights.
Still, week-in and week-out these players have turned in outstanding performances that are deserving of much more credit than most of them are ever likely to receive. In an attempt to rectify that injustice at least a bit, Full Court Press is pleased to introduce our Mid-Major Preseason Player of the Year, Alysha Clark of Middle Tennessee State, and to present this year's preseason list of the Full Court's Top 25 Players from the Mid-Majors, broadly defined here to include all Division I schools outside of the six major conferences:
It isnt fashionable to shower much sympathy on Geno Auriemma and his Connecticut Huskies.
You can either love Auriemma or you can hate him, and which category you fall in often has a great deal to do with your proximity to Storrs, Connecticut. Auriemma is, charitably, supremely confident, and, not so charitably, incredibly arrogant. Of course, he's got the record to back up that confidence/arrogance, and that's a big part of the problem. After all, not only are the Huskies the biggest bullies on the NCAA block, but, of course, theyll go into this season once again ranked number one. The only reason it wont be unanimous is if some UConn-hater somehow convinces herself its OK to put Stanford in the top spot.
So why spare a kind thought for Tina Charles, Maya Moore and friends. Remember, they arent Geno and shouldnt have to pay the price for the fact that a lot of people dislike him.
Consider: Who really envies UConn coaches, players and fans this season, despite the overwhelming collection of talent on the roster and the tradition of success that will lift them over most of the bumps of the road? The reason? They cant win for winning.
Anyone in a gloomy mood about the future fan-appeal of women's and girls' basketball should venture down to South Central Los Angeles. There, on Monday and Wednesday nights in early fall, the parking lot and parking structure at Lynwood High School are packed. The reason why is right inside the gym near the front door: Three basketball courts, each with its own game going on simultaneously, for four hours an evening.
The high school season has yet to officially begin, but twice a week, fans fill up the gym for the "Run and Gun Fall Basketball League," leaning on walls and sitting on floors. Veteran attendees come prepared with their own fold-up chairs and water bottles, and they settle into those seats as they would for a good movie. Then they stay for a while.
"People like how competitive the play is - they know what to expect," league co-founder Art Jackson said. "Hands down, it's the best competition in the area."
This year's participant lineup is typically high-caliber. Teams include last year's state high school girls' champions Long Beach Poly and Brea Olinda, as well as Carson, Lynwood, Narbonne, Bishop Amat, Gahr and Long Beach Jordan. Teams take turns playing each other on a rotating schedule, at different times.
Games are fast and furious, as most schools use the League as a tune up for the upcoming season. On a recent night, Lynwood rallied to beat Poly 40-38, while the week before, JSerra of San Juan Capistrano surprised Narbonne with a six-point victory.
An exciting WNBA 2009 Final has been followed by a post-season with a large dose of intrigue. As of today, it appears that despite their three WNBA championships, the Shock will likely cease operations in Detroit and will probably will be sold as a franchise, transferring its players as contracted to a group based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Atlanta Dream's status remains uncertain at this time -- the team has been in a period of non-communication with their season ticket holders as well as the media concerning their future since the conclusion of their season (ironically at the hands of the Shock).
Should we expect anything different from a league where franchises usually downplay the seriousness of player injuries or deny them at all until game time? As is the case with many businesses, this is a league whose president puts a positive spin on just about all situations and often refuses to answer tough questions when asked, instead addressing an unrelated point that better suits her. And so it is with WNBA franchise health. Everythings fine until the sign goes on the door: Out of Business. Then smile and move on!
When the WNBA Finals kicked off late last month, it marked the first time when every player who had played college ball did so at a school in one of the six major conferences. Of the 22 players on the top two teams in the country, there was not a mid-major representative among them. No one hailed from Louisiana Tech where Teresa Weatherspoon, Vickie Johnson and Cheryl Ford (among others) once played -- though Johnson and Ford did manage to make it as far as their respective conference playoffs. There was no one from Old Dominion (Ticha Penicheiro), Florida Atlantic (Yolanda Griffith), Southwest Louisiana -- now Louisiana-Lafayette (Kim Perrot), Colorado State (Becky Hammon), Memphis (Tamika Whitmore) or even Harvard (Allison Feaster), as there had been in years past.
Instead, of those 22 players, two (Penny Taylor and Tully Bevilaqua) are from Australia and did not play college ball. The remaining 20 players came from just five conferences. Not surprisingly, the SEC and Big East led the list with five players each. Four different teams from the SEC were represented, including Auburn with two players (Lecoe Willingham and DeWanna Bonner), Tennessee (Tamika Catchings), LSU (Tameka Johnson), and Vanderbilt (Christina Wirth). The Big Easts representation consisted of just two schools but included a team's worth of players in its own right -- Connecticut brought us regular season and Finals MVP Diana Taurasi, as well as Jessica Moore and Ketia Swanier, while Rutgers contributed Cappie Pondexter and Tammy Sutton-Brown.
The Big 10 and Pac 10 chipped in with four players apiece. The Big 10 was represented by Tangela Smith (Iowa), Katie Douglas (Purdue), Jessica Davenport (Ohio State) and Kelly Mazzante (Penn State). The Pac 10 was ably represented by Indiana's Ebony Hoffman, as well as Eshaya Murphy, both from USC, along with Arizona State's Briann January and Stanford's Brooke Smith. The two final players hailed from the Big 12 -- Nicole Ohlde of Kansas State and Tamecka Dixon of Kansas.
There was not a mid-major representative among them. This is all part of a trend.
Malcolm Gladwell doesn't understand basketball at all, but the idea he popularized in The Tipping Point could well be good news for the WNBA.
For those who missed out on the simple concept that Gladwell managed to expand to several hundred pages and a best-selling book, a tipping point is that moment when there's profound shift in attitude or action. For example, a pile of sand might be in a nice pyramidal shape, but the addition of one more handful can make it collapse that's the tipping point. In sports terms, when Jim Tracy took over as manager of the Colorado Rockies, that was the tipping point that turned the Rockies from a losing team to a playoff participant.
The WNBA has been around for 13 years now, and the general opinion of the league remained fairly constant for the first 12. Those inside the women's basketball community were generally supportive (though there were some college fans who were unaccountably hostile to the whole idea) and some became rabid fans.
Outside of that small circle of friends, however, it was a different story. Though the 1996 Olympic team played the game at a very high level, the first editions of the ABL and WNBA were less than stellar basketball. Ironically, the initial success of the marketing arm of the WNBA managed to arouse the curiosity of many sports fans, but that curiosity was rewarded with some mighty bad basketball. Sadly, that first impression remained stuck in a lot of people's minds for a long time and only lately has the tide begun to turn.
The Atlanta Dream's Angel McCoughtry led Team USA to a 78-63 victory over the champions of the Russian professional women's basketball league to take first place in the Ekaterinburg International Invitational Tournament Sunday evening. The event featured three of Europe's top women's professional teams against a U.S. squad made up in part of members of the Women's National Team that won the Beijing Olympics in 2008, as well as other professional and collegiate players who have been invited to try out for a position on the squad that will be named to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Women's World Championships in 2010.
To be fair, UMMC Ekaterinburg, the top team in Russia and the third-place finisher in FIBA's Euroleague last season, was a little short-handed.
In front of a boisterous home crowd of 17, 313 at U.S. Airways Center, the Phoenix Mercury took their second WNBA crown in three years, defeating an intrepid Indiana Fever side. For the second time in the club's history, the Mercury came back from a 1-2 deficit in the best-of-five series WNBA Championship series to win it all.
Throughout the regular season, Phoenix and Indiana had battled each other for bragging rights to the league's best overall record. They split their regular-season head-to-heads, and throughout this Finals series, they have battled one another like punch-drunk fighters, neither one prepared to give an inch, with Game Three decided by a single point and all but one of the others extremely close. Coming into the decisive Game Five tied at two games apiece, it seemed appropriate that this game, too, would come down to the wire, as Indiana tied the score at 80 apiece with 4:29 left on the clock.
In the end, however, it would be Phoenix who prevailed, as Tangela Smith, who had been scoreless all evening, stepped into the gap with back-to-back three-pointers to spur her team to the win, and with it the title.
But it was the talented trio of Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor who would carry the freight for the Mercury most of the night and fall into one another's arms in celebration and relief at the final buzzer. Taurasi, who had struggled with her shot over the past three games of the series, picked a fine time to rediscover her stroke. The WNBA's high scorer and regular-season MVP scored a game-high 26 points, including four long-balls, three of them coming at a critical juncture in the second quarter, when the Mercury had been trailing the Fever, and providing the momentum for her team to retake the lead. Though the Fever would tie the score twice thereafter, they were never able to retake the lead.
For her efforts, the Mercurys Taurasi was named MVP of the Finals series, making her just the third player in WNBA history to sweep both the regular-season and Finals MVP awards. (Cynthia Cooper accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998, and Lisa Leslie swept the two awards in 2001).
Without taking one iota away from Taurasi, who had six boards, four assists and three blocks to go with her 26 points, an equally strong case could be made for her running mate Cappie Pondexter, whose night included 24 points, four rebounds and two assists and had performed significantly better than Taurasi over the five-game series. Taurasi seemed to acknowledge as much. After being presented with the MVP trophy by league president Donna Orender, Taurasi pointed to her teammates, then handed the crystal piece over to them. As they raised the MVP hardware as a group, Taurasi reached for the Championship trophy and held it aloft. If there was ever a year that the MVP award was to be given to a player on the losing side, this might have been it.
"I proceeded to give the [MVP] trophy to the team, because that's who deserved it," said Taurasi. "It's not one player that makes the MVP, never has been and never will be. And the big trophy is what we were after. So I'll take that one in the memory of our team."