Saturday, December 29, 2007

Off-Season Reading

I am finding it just as hard to write this off-season as I did the last, despite the exciting things like the change in coaching. I will have more to write about once the coaching/GM decisions are announced.

Sue Bird was in town last week. I found it odd that she would come to Seattle during any time she had off from playing in Russia, but she was courtside at the Sonics/Celtics game on Thursday. She is unsigned and they have no coach, so perhaps she was in town to meet the candidates? She won't sign until the CBA is finalized, but if she is looking at coaches she is not likely considering signing elsewhere. Let's hope the new coach/GM picks a solid defensive, point guard who can shoot an open three so that Sue can get some breaks this season.

In the off-season I have spent some time reading some older offerings on Women's Basketball that I found on the shelves of Epilogue Books in Ballard this fall. I turned in some old paperbacks and picked these up on the resulting credits.

Full Court Press by Lauren Kessler
This book was published in 1997 and covers the 1993-1994 seasons of the women's team at the University of Oregon. The basketball story is not all that strong, though some of the young women have interesting moments. The heart of the book is really the legal battle between second year coach Jody Runge and the adminstration of the U of O. She came in as the lowest paid women's coach in the Pac-10 and was determined to change the culture of the program, not only into a winning culture, but one that acknowledged and respected the atheletes who delivered those winning efforts. This is not a Cinderella tale of NCAA victory, the team does well, but not final four well. There are stories on the court, early season injuries, last minute Aussie signings, players seeking confidence. There are more stories about the late programs, no band support, sub-par locker rooms, limited marketing, and the complete lack of benefactor endowments. I did a little research after reading the book. Runge achieved almost all of what she was trying to achieve throughout the book. She coached there for eight years, setting a 87-19 home winning record and earned 100 career Pac-10 victories. She had her program ranked in the AP poll for 12 straight weeks. None of the players on the team went into the W (that I am aware of) but the two Aussies, Sally Crowe (became Phillps) played in the WNBL for Dandenong and Adelaide and is now playing for the Venom in Big V in Australia. Renae Fegent played for three years with the Capitals. The book is definitely worth a read.

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais
There is less politics, more basketball and a little slice of Western Massachusetts life in this 1995 book about the Amherst Hurricanes girl's basketball team from Amherst High School in Amherst Massachusetts. I grew up just south of Boston, but my Mom was a western Mass. girl and I know most of the towns they discuss in the story. The book digresses into the small town, New England life and wanders around a bit more than I normally like, but it is still a good read. It was originally an article in the New York Times magazine and later expanded into a full novel. It covers a single season for this team, digging into the emotional and intellectual lives of the players and how their remarkable season effected their whole community. The star of their team was Jamila Wideman who went on to Stanford, and played for the Sparks, the Sol and the Portland Fire in the WNBA. Her chief rival was Beth Kuzmeski who played in the WNBL with Betty Lennox, Rita Williams and Rebecca Lobo. This work is much more personal and has a more emotional style than the other book, I was really caught up in the whole story. It is another worthy read.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A New Coach

For the time being the Storm have at least one more season in Seattle and they are without a GM, a coach, and enough players to stage a practice, let alone a game. Karen Bryant has a lot of work in front of her.

A lot of coaching names are being thrown around on the net. I have seen everything from a plug for Dennis Rodman (no thank you), to plugs for Michelle Timms, Carrie Graf (one of those was mine), Mike Thibault (I think the Sun might have an issue with that), Shelly Patterson, Nancy Lieberman (didn't that experiment already fail?), Rick Mahorn, Sandy Brondello, Van Chancellor (my son would develop too many cavities), and even Paul Westhead (he is busy with the high paying NBA gig right now.) There have also been a number of college and WNBA assistants mentioned, but I have no idea who most of them are.

My gut tells me that it will be a tough sell no matter who they try to nab. The uncertain future of the franchise, its star players and where/if the team will play beyond 2008 all make the job a high risk venture. The best college coaches have solid jobs with decent salaries and are not likely to take a risky leap to the WNBA. A strong WNBA assistant looking to make their own as a head coach is a possibility, they know they have a chance to go back to being an assistant or nailing a college job down the road if they do well. I wonder if an Aussie based WNBL coach might consider it if they don't have off-season GM type duties at home. The seasons are complimentary in schedule, and it would be a chance to coach Lauren Jackson against some of the best players in the world.

As I said yesterday, I still think the Storm need a strong perimeter oriented coach with a defensive focus. They would need to bring in a solid assistant for the "bigs," but I think Anne Donovan has left the Storm with one of the most talented and best prepared front courts in the league. LJ, JB, Wendy and Ashley can sustain their performances and continue to learn, but Sue, Betty, Katie, Izi and any young draft picks or holdovers from last year need some focused guidance.

I really believe the Storm need separate GM and coaching positions right now. The two need to be on the same page, but the responsibilities need to be split. Anne seemed to trade well, but I was not thrilled with her draft picks over the past few years.

The Storm are in DESPERATE need of a defensive oriented, back-up, point guard. Tanisha Wright is simply not the answer. There are too many talented guards in the college ranks to settle for a player playing out of position. It would be nice to have a consistent, perimeter scorer off the bench, but I am not sure who is ready to step into that role.

This could be a really exciting time for Storm basketball. A change like this can reinvigorate the players (if they come back) and force teams to scout the Storm all over again. On the other hand it can also be mortal wound to a franchise with as much off court drama as the Storm face this season. I don't envy Karen Bryant, but I am certainly keeping my fingers crossed for her.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Storm Dance Troupe Shines, Donovan Pines

The Storm Dance Troupe was featured during the Sonics/Warriors game last night, and were the only Seattle element of the evening on fire other than the JumboTron. As reported in the news, a lighting instrument in the JumboTron caught fire early in the first quarter. Perhaps the flame was due to the heat generated by Golden States' hot shooting. Regardless, the only other fire shown by anyone from Seattle was the talent and passion the Storm Dance Troupe showed in the first half. They got the fans riled up and received the loudest cheers of the evening with a performance that should have embarrassed the rather lackluster and boring Sonics dancers. The kids looked great.

In more important news, Anne Donovan finally bailed on the team. I can't say that I am surprised, but I am disappointed. I really wanted to see Anne get a GM to help with talent evaluation and the draft and I wanted to see her pick up an assistant with a REAL focus on perimeter defense, lost when Jenny Boucek fled after the championship.

Having followed the turmoil in the papers this past summer and reading about AD's emotional moments while being heavily critisized early on, and then seeing her ripped for Team USA by a number of national writers, I suspected she might call it quits in Seattle which has its own set of issues regarding location and ownership. Anne brought us the new and improved LJ, JB and Izi, and led the team to the first professional championship since the 1970's. Her stony glare and her imposing height will be missed on the sidelines. Having first learned about women's basketball via Old Dominion University where both my brother and sister were educated, I felt a bizarre and misplaced set of kinship with Coach Donovan. Frankly, I just liked her.

She had a rotten track record in the WNBA draft. She seemed unable to inspire her youthful role players to the heights needed to win in the league. Her substitution patterns at times defied understanding. I got the sense that Anne was a superb planner but a poor adapter. She seemed to set up perfect game plans but was never able to adjust to changes made by other coaches in the flow of the game.

I wish her the best of luck with Team USA and whatever she chooses to pursue next. It was a wild and emotional ride and I feel like I have lost a close relative that I never actually met.

Thanks, Anne.