Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Finding the range

Lyndra Littles was probably never more thrilled to finish a game 2 for 8 from the field than she was on Sunday.

The second-round pick was 0 for 5 from the field in the Connecticut Sun's first two exhibition games and then missed her first three shots in Sunday's exhibition finale against Los Angeles. Finally with 7 minutes to play, she had her first pro basket with a driving layup. The former Virginia star finished with eight points and a game-high eight rebounds as she finished the preseason schedule averaging 5 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Littles said her shooting woes did not carry over to the practice court which is good news in her bid to make the Sun 11-player roster.

"Yes, there it is was my thought," Little said of finally finding the range. "Like Coach (Mike) Thibault said, most of my shots were short and he wanted me to get them over the rim. I hit them in practice, I think it is being young, rushing them instead of taking your time."

Littles is going to do her best not to stress out about her future with Connecticut. She is aware that between now and Friday, four players will be cut.

"I am going to sleep, have a good time regardless of whether I make this team or not, I will make a team in the future and I will go overseas and play," Little said.

Thibault admitted that the cuts will not be easy ones. He is leaning towards not making any moves until after Tuesday's practice and intrasquad scrimmage at St. Joseph College in West Hartford (which will run from 6-8 p.m. and is open to the public).

Thibault is planning to hold onto Amber Holt, expected to miss a month with a hand injury. The starting five of Lindsay Whalen, Asjha Jones, Erin Phillips, Kerri Gardin and Chante Black as well as key reserves Barbara Turner and Tamika Whitmore will make up a solid seven-player rotation. Add in Holt and that leaves three spots for the other seven players in camp. Danielle Page and Littles were both assertive offensively. If Thibault keeps both of them, that leaves Ketia Swanier, Kristi Cirone, Ashley Hayes, Lauren Ervin and Carrem Gay fighting for one spot. It's a tough call. Do you keep another post player (Ervin) until Sandrine Gruda reports to camp? Or do you pick another point guard (Cirone or Swanier)? I guess that's why Thibault makes the big bucks.

Last item of the day is that 12 players including two (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Betnijah Laney) who have attended either practice or a game at UConn last season have been named to the inaugural USA Basketball Under-16 national team.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We live in a HD world

I do not have any high definition programming coming through my television screen and from what I have been told, I do not know what I am missing. That is probably true but to those who do have HD capability, you may be happy to know that the entire slate of WNBA games being televised on either ABC or ESPN2 will be available in HD.

Here's the complete release:

ESPN2 and ABC to Present Entire WNBA Schedule in HD
Season Tips Off on ABC June 6 with the Defending Champion Detroit Shock at L.A. Sparks

For the first time ever, every regular and postseason WNBA game will be televised in high definition on ESPN2 HD and ABC HD. The networks will combine to televise 13 regular-season WNBA games, the WNBA All-Star game, and up to 15 postseason telecasts, starting with the defending champion Detroit Shock at the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday, June 6, at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

This will also mark the first year of the new eight-year rights extension between ESPN and the WNBA through the 2016 season. As a result of the new agreement, every ESPN2 game will be offered on ESPN's broadband sports network, and ESPN International networks in Atlantic (sub-Saharan Africa), Pac Rim (Australia/NZ), Latin North, Latin South, Latin Caribbean, Latin Brazil, Middle East, as well as on ESPN Australia HD and ESPN Brazil HD. Live coverage of up to 15 games will also be available on ESPN Mobile TV.

The ESPN2 schedule will tip off with a WNBA Tuesday opener on June 9 at 7 p.m., when Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever host the Seattle Storm, led by Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Overall, ESPN2 will televise 12 regular-season games and ABC will air two.

ESPN2 will extend its coverage into the postseason with coverage of the Eastern and Western Conference semifinals, conference finals and finals, beginning Wednesday, Sept. 16. The complete schedule will be announced at a later date.

Carolyn Peck and Nancy Lieberman will alternate as game analysts and will be joined by rotating play-by-play commentators Terry Gannon, Dave Pasch and Pam Ward with reporters Heather Cox and Rebecca Lobo. Fans can also follow Lobo, Lieberman and Peck on Twitter throughout the season: @RebeccaLobo (, @NancyLieberman ( and @CAROLYNPECK (

* WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday, July 25, at 3:30 p.m. on ABC, from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
* Five appearances by the Sparks, featuring All-Star center Lisa Leslie, who will retire after this season.
* 2008 WNBA Finals rematch between the Shock and San Antonio Silver Stars on Saturday, August 29, at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.
* No. 1 Draft pick Angel McCoughtry from Louisville will make her national television debut with the Atlanta Dream against the Minnesota Lynx and No. 4 Draft pick Renee Montgomery of Connecticut on Tuesday, June 30, at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
* Top Draft picks and former Maryland Terrapins teammates Marissa Coleman (No. 2) of the Washington Mystic and Kristi Toliver (No. 3) of the Chicago Sky will square off Thursday, July 23, at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
* Full-access coverage with live microphones on players/coaches/referees, exclusive locker room interviews, and above and below the rim cameras for select telecasts.
* Fans will also be able to follow the action on ESPN's MVP application, which will include video highlights, recaps, statistics and features.
* coverage will include weekly original content, such as blogs and columns from Mechelle Voepel and Power Rankings by Melanie Jackson. Additional content includes game previews, recaps, stats and standings.

2009 Schedule on ESPN2 & ABC
Sat., June 6 2:30 p.m. Detroit at Los Angeles ABC
Tues., June 9 7 p.m. Seattle at Indiana ESPN2
Tues., June 23 7:30 p.m. Phoenix at San Antonio ESPN2
Tues., June 30 7 p.m. Minnesota at Atlanta ESPN2
Thurs., July 9 9 p.m. Sacramento at Seattle ESPN2
Tues., July 14 7 p.m. Los Angeles at Connecticut ESPN2
Thurs., July 23 7 p.m. Chicago at Washington ESPN2
Sat., July 25 3:30 p.m. WNBA All-Star Game (Mohegan Sun Arena) ABC
Tues., July 28 7:30 p.m. Phoenix at Connecticut ESPN2
Tues., Aug. 4 7:30 p.m. New York at Detroit ESPN2
Tues., Aug. 11 9 p.m. New York at Los Angeles ESPN2
Tues., Aug. 25 10 p.m. Chicago at Los Angeles ESPN2
Sat., Aug. 29 3 p.m. Detroit at San Antonio ESPN2
Sun., Sept. 13 3 p.m. Los Angeles at Phoenix ESPN2

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ESPNU breakthrough

Few things have irritated UConn fans more in recent years more than the fact that they were unable to get ESPNU, which would show much of the Big East tournament and an occasional regular-season tournament. Word is that the UConn hierarchy refused to agree to play Texas in a one-day event in San Antonio later this year until it received guarantees that the game would not be televised on ESPNU.

Well, it should be comforting to Nutmeg Staters that significant progress has been made in making ESPNU available in the greater New Haven area.

Here are the details courtesy of a couple of press releases courtesy of ESPN's Tilea Coleman.


BRISTOL, CT AND PHILADELPHIA, PA (May 19, 2009) – Disney and ESPN Media Networks and Comcast Corporation today announced an agreement to add ESPNU to its Digital Classic level of service and to Comcast will launch ESPNU in a majority of its cable systems in time for the start of the college football season. This includes Comcast's southern systems which will enjoy coverage of ESPNU's new Saturday game-of-the-week Southeastern Conference (SEC) package. Comcast will also make available to its high-speed Internet customers for no additional charge through, which reaches 17 million unique users per month, also in time for this year’s college football season.

With this agreement, ESPNU will have more than 46 million subscribers and will be available to nearly 41 million homes, a majority of broadband homes in America.

“ESPNU and have been growing in popularity due to the dynamic live-event programming we’ve been adding to them, and we are thrilled Comcast will offer them to their huge fan base,” said David C. Preschlack, executive vice president, Disney and ESPN Media Networks. “This agreement is a tremendous step forward in serving fans – both on television and online -- while growing our collective multi-platform businesses.”

“Comcast continues to be the place for sports fans to turn to for all the college, professional and high school sports action they want – on television, online and on demand,” said Matt Bond, executive vice president, content acquisition for Comcast Cable. “ESPNU and will add to the thousands of live sports events that fans already watch on Comcast today.”

ESPNU provides college sports fans with more than 550 live events annually and televises some of the top Division I conferences in the nation, including: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, SEC, Sun Belt and WAC. The network also has a wide-ranging, long-term agreement with the NCAA that includes extensive coverage of 22 NCAA Championships, including sports from each of the three collegiate seasons. is ESPN's 24/7 broadband sports network which offers more than 3,500 live, global sports events annually. has grown to more than 41 million subscribers and is available nationwide. It has more than tripled its distribution in just two years. is available at no additional charge through to Comcast High-Speed Internet customers. In addition, is also available at no cost to approximately 18 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via computers connected to on-campus educational networks and on-base military networks (those with “.edu” and “.mil” domains).

With, customers will be able to catch sports action online all day and all night. offers extensive content with more than 130,000 videos from providers such as ABC News, CBS News, Fox Sports, Disney, E!, G4, The Weather Channel, CelebTV, and others. is one of the Web’s most visited and deeply engaging sites; 293 MM visits from more than 17.1 MM monthly unique visitors, consuming 4.3 billion page views (source: comScore, March 2009).


ESPNU’s Distribution More Than 46 Million Subscribers

Disney and ESPN Media Networks and DIRECTV, Inc., today announced an agreement to widen its distribution of ESPNU to DIRECTV's CHOICE™ programming package beginning July 1. ESPNU will now be available to more than 46 million college sports fans across the country. As part of the agreement, DIRECTV will also launch ESPNU HD by the end of the first quarter 2010. Additionally, ESPN Classic will be repackaged into the DIRECTV SPORTS PACK.

ESPNU provides college sports fans with more than 550 live events annually and televises some of the top Division I conferences in the nation, including: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, MAC, SEC, Sun Belt and WAC. The network also has a wide-ranging, long-term agreement with the NCAA that includes extensive coverage of 22 NCAA Championships, including sports from each of the three collegiate seasons.

“ESPNU is committed to college sports programming 365 days a year, and this move to DIRECTV’s CHOICE package allows better access for college sports fans -- nationwide -- to all of the quality content provided on the network," said David C. Preschlack, executive vice president, Disney and ESPN Media Networks.

“DIRECTV continues to offer the best sports programming to its customers,” said Derek Chang, executive vice president, Content Strategy and Development, DIRECTV, Inc. “By expanding the distribution of ESPNU, we take that commitment to another level for all college sports fans across the country.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Big shoes to fill

Talk about your tough acts to follow, Marisa Moseley is coming in to replace UConn lifer Jamelle Elliott who spent 17 years in Storrs as a player, a graduate assistant in the business office and assistant coach. More than one time in the last few years, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Elliott did the best coaching job on his staff.

Obviously Auriemma thought enough of the former Boston University forward to offer her a job since I am sure he did not lack in resumes to sift through.

I found it ironic that this weekend my return home from Colorado Springs took me through Minneapolis (although I was in the airport for only a couple of minutes before boarding my flight to Hartford). I also find it amusing that among the candidates I speculated would be nice fits as UConn assistants, I mentioned a Minnesota assistant who works with post players. Of course it was Minnesota Lynx assistant Jen Gillom and not Moseley. Staying on the "it's a small world" theme previously in this blog I mentioned Norfolk, Va. and Minneapolis as the most likely sites for UConn's first and second round games in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Here is how I came to that conclusion:

Since conference opponents aren't allowed to meet until the regionals, you can cross out Notre Dame, Louisville and Pittsburgh as potential sites. A subregional including UConn would either need to be hosted by a team which doesn't make the NCAA tournament or would be an eight or nine seed. That would seem to preclude Tennessee, Duke, California, Oklahoma, Florida State, Arizona State, Iowa State, Texas and Xavier since barring some severe underachieving they will be seeded too high to have UConn sent there. That leaves four candidates. I can't see UConn being shipped to either New Mexico or Seattle (where Washington would be the host). That leaves either the subregionals where Old Dominion or Minnesota are the hosts. Do you think the story line of Moseley going back to Minnesota as an assistant at UConn might get a little bit of play in Connecticut newspapers?

Of course that is a long ways away.

Moseley headed to UConn

Geno Auriemma said he was looking for somebody young, energetic and a good teacher to work with UConn's post players to join his staff. It appears he is getting all of the above as UConn is hiring former Boston University forward Marisa Moseley as the new assistant coach.

Moseley has spent the last two years as an assistant coach at Minnesota.

“Marisa is a rising star and one that I feel lucky to have as a big part of our program,” said Minnesota coach Pam Borton in Moseley's bio on the Minnesota official website. “She is a great teacher of the game, relates well with our players, and is a tireless worker. Her energy and emotion has been an wonderful addition to our vibrant staff.”

Moseley also the 2006-07 season at Denver. She also had a year as a production assistant at ESPN.

Moseley's connection with UConn came when she worked at Auriemma's camp.

Moseley graduated from Boston University in 2004 finishing with 114 blocks, the third most in BU history. Moseley was a captain at BU as a junior and senior. As a junior she helped the Terriers into the NCAA tournament. Facing UConn in the first round, Moseley had six points and four rebounds in a 91-44 loss at Gampel Pavilion.

Moseley will replace Jamelle Elliott, who left after 12 seasons to become the head coach at Cincinnati.

Early arrivals

When Asjha Jones looked around and saw the dozen or so media members, all rather eager to have a chat with the former UConn star, I'm sure at least a part of the reticent Jones must have wished she was still back in Russia playing for Russia Superleague champion UMMC Ekaterinburg.

When I approached her table, Jones reluctantly raised her head. I couldn't resist having some fun at her expense and said "don't look so happy to see me." She chuckled and said "it's not you, I just hate to talk." The ironic part of it is she is quite good at it. My first season covering UConn was Jones' sophomore season and while other reporters gravitated towards quotable sorts like Shea Ralph, Svetlana Abrosimova, Tamika Williams, Swin Cash and even Sue Bird (who would talk forever even if she rarely ever said anything). I mentioned one day that I considered Jones to be the best quote on the team and as they have done many times, they looked at me like I was nuts. I said 'forget the persona, the occasional stare down if she didn't like the question and listen to her answers.' I always found her to be the most honest, to the point member of any UConn team I covered. When it comes to basketball, she was and is incredibly insightful. I'm not sure her quiet demeanor will ever allow her to pursue a coaching career (although Carla Berube has done quite well for herself) but she would be an outstanding teacher either on the basketball court or off of it.

OK, now to the point of the entry. I went to Connecticut Sun media day fully expecting to do a story on how nearly the entire team was in camp from the first day, something that can not be said in recent years. But after spending about 10 minutes speaking with Asjha about her UMMC Ekateriburg team's recent Russia Superleague title at the expense of former Huskies Bird and Diana Taurasi, the chance to get some rest before reporting to camp, the continued quest to lead the Sun to its first title made me change my mind and write a piece on Jones. It will appear in tomorrow's Register.

Here's a snippet of what she said about playing in the memorable UMMC Ekaterinburg/Spartak Moscow Region games.

"It's amazing, you have Lauren Jackson coming off the bench over there (for Spartak)," Jones said. "Her and Sylvia Fowles were sharing a spot. At those games the fans are excited. It is crazy inside, you can't hear anything, the coaches are nervous. As a player we have been there many times but to look at a team and see a Lauren Jackson on the bench is crazy. Our teams are all-star teams, we have the best players in the world from every country."

The Sun are at the WNBA training camp maximum of 15 but since the Sandrine Gruda and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota aren't expected to report to camp until late June and early July respectively, there will be no need to make any cuts until they need to get down to 11 players for the season opener. When Gruda and Jekabsone-Zogota report after competing in the European championships, the Sun will have to let two players go. The first exhibition game is Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena, also the site of the regular-season opener against Washington.

Since I have received a request to reveal what Tiffany Hayes said about next season's potential backcourt pairing with good friend Caroline Doty, here you go:

"It is going to be different because me and Caroline can do a lot of things. I can shoot, she can shoot. I can run the (point), she can run the (point). I can drive, she can drive so it is either/or with us. It's not like it was with Renee. It is definitely going to be different. Everybody else is talking about how me and Caroline individually can't replace Renee but together we can do a great deal. We are going to work at it."

Here is Maya Moore's take on the same subject including her shoot out to classmate Lorin Dixon.

"I know Lorin is more than capable of taking a lot of point-guard load but the things the Lorin doesn't necessarily bring, Caroline or Tiffany can bring. They will complement each other really well. The thing Lorin has is her ability to push the ball. We are always going to be a running team but I imagine we will step it up even more with Lorin at the point. It will be an interesting mix but we will make it work."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let's talk a little recruiting

As you can imagine, most of my attention in my time at the USA Basketball team trials in Colorado Springs last week was focused on current UConn players Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Tiffany Hayes as well as incoming freshman Kelly Faris. But I did some interviews with a look towards the future.

I had a nice sit down with UConn commit Samarie Walker (OK, she was sitting and I was standing since she had a grueling journey en route from her Dayton, Ohio home). Most of our conversation have been documented in previous blog entries.

The first interview I conducted was with Court Coach Russ Davis, who happens to be the AAU coach of UConn commit Lauren Engeln. I also had a nice chat with Stanford rising sophomore Nneka Ogwumike with much of the interview having to do with her younger sister Chiney who is most definitely on UConn's recruiting radar. Since Chiney was invited to last year's 18-and-under trials, I was certain Chiney (pronounced Che-Nay) would be in Colorado Springs. However, if she received an invite and declined, that was news to her big sis.

Nneka made it clear that the sisters are not a package deal. Nneka would love to see Chiney at Stanford but is not putting any pressure on her to choose the Cardinal.

"I know as much as you do, I am not trying to sway her one way or another," Nneka said. "I am just letting her do her thing, when she has questions about the recruiting process I let her know 'this is what they did for me.' Other than that, the decision is solely up to her. She asks me questions but I am never pressuring her or badgering her to do anything."

I asked Nneka to describe Chiney's game.

"I have centralized my game inside and tried to work on it," Nneka said. "She started working around the paint earlier than I did which has definitely improved her game in the sense that she is not limited to one thing. There are several different things you can do at different positions, how to be a post with ball handling skills and I think that is one of her biggest assets."

Now to my interview with Russ Davis, he has been involved with the California girls' basketball scene for more than a few years and sees similarities in Lauren Engeln's love for basketball to another California product who played a little ball at UConn.

"I have been around a long time so I remember Diana (Taurasi) when she was playing in the sixth grade on," Davis said. "She is not Diana, nobody is Diana but she loves the game and plays like her. One of my favorite Diana stories is Diana was a counselor one year at Nike All-American Camp in Indianapolis and she was up for an ESPY. They wanted her to go to Vegas for the ESPY awards and she didn't want to go because she wanted to stay back with the high school girls and play in the pick-up games with all the other counselors. She is just a rare breed. Lauren is the same way as far as that. I am not comparing them (as players), I am comparing their love of the game and how much time they put in, how they will try to find a pick-up game or play wherever they can."

Davis coaches Engeln on the Cal Swish Black team which also includes fellow promising high school juniors Cassie Harberts and Lyndsay Sherbert. He utilizes Englen at a number of positions on the court.

"The biggest thing with Lauren is if you watch her play, you can tell that she is a basketball player," Davis said. "She is a long and lanky and in the last three months she has done the personal training and really worked on her strength too. I am really happy with her latest because she is crashing the boards, going to the hole strong. She can play multiple positions, we play her at the 1 (point guard), 2 (shooting guard), 3 (small forward). She is a big guard, she can guard bigger people, she is long, athletic and she is a girl who just plays basketball all day long. She doesn't do anything particularly flashy, she is one of those types who will work with her high school team and practice two hours, will go with a personal trainer for an hour and then come to practice and shoot for two hours. She does that every day, she just wants to be the best she can be. She wants to play against the best so it became an easy decision for her where she wanted to go."

Davis was on vacation in Hawaii in August when UConn coach Geno Auriemma reached out to him inquiring about Englen's recruiting situation. When Davis told him she was still wide open, Auriemma used the next NCAA-mandated viewing period as a chance to jump on a plane, fly across the country to see Engeln play before flying home the next morning.

"That's when I knew he was really interested," Davis said. "It was just a matter of Lauren believing and wanting it. That is a big-time commitment and she wanted that. When she went on the visit, met the players, saw the coaches, it became pretty evident to me that was where she was going to go. Once they offered, it was just a matter of her crossing the t's, dotting the i's and making sure it was a done deal.

"She wants to play against the best and she wants to be the best, if that in Connecticut, if that is in San Diego, if that is in Alaska, that is what she wants to do. It doesn't really matter where it is at, that is what she wants. She went with her family out to the Final Four to watch them, watched them win a championship and that made them even more excited."

When July hits, Engeln and her Cal Swish Black teammates will be rather busy playing in the End of the Oregon Trail Tournament from July 5-9, the Swish Summer Shootout in California on July 10 before heading to Chicago for the Nike Summer Showcase. From July 21-25, they will be in Nashville, Tenn. for the Music City Madness event. The hectic schedule will end with participation in the Nike Nationals from July 28-31 in Augusta, Ga.

A few housekeeping items from the announcement of the 28 finalists for the World University Games and Under-19 teams.

Stanford leads the way the five representatives as Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen are among the 14 WUG finalists while Ogwumike and Sarah Boothe made the cut for the U-19 squad.

UConn is next with Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Tiffany Hayes being invited back for the World University Games' team training camp and incoming freshman is still in the mix for the U-19 squad. Cal and Ohio State with one player on each squad are the only other schools with multiple representatives.

The Pac-10 tops all conference with seven candidates followed by the Big East's six and five SEC players being named finalists.

There have been just five colleges to have three teammates on the same World University Games team (not including 2003 when a team of Big 12 All-Stars and in 2007 when North Carolina-Charlotte represented the U.S. at the World University Games). Stanford and UConn currently have three players in contention although two of the 14 players will need to be cut before the team leaves for the World University Games.

Here are the trios who accomplished the feat
Wayland Baptist 1973 (Janice Beach, Brenda Moeller, Cherri Rapp)
North Carolina State 1979 (Genia Beasley, Debbie Groover, Ginger Rouse)
Tennesee 1983 (Shelia Collins, Lea Henry, Mary Ostowski)
Southern California 1987 (Karon Howell, Monica Lamb, Rhonda Windham)
Auburn 1991 (Ruthie Bolton, Linda Godby, Carolyn Jones)

Three UConn players have played for the U.S. in the World University Games. Kerry Bascom was a member of the 1991 championship team, Kara Wolters played in the 1995 and 1997 events while Nykesha Sales was a teammate of Wolters on the 1997 championship team.

An interesting note is that Bascom still owns the U.S. mark with a 58.8 3-point percentage in the event, Wolters holds the U.S. record with 13 blocked shots in 1997 and her 70.7 field-goal percentage that year was the standard until Sylvia Fowles broke it in 2005. Sales' 32 points against Cuba in 1997 is the third highest scoring game for a U.S. player in the WUG (Ruthie Bolton had 40 against Romania in 1991 and Katrina McClain 38 against the People's Republic of Korea in 1985).

With that, let's call it a wrap in terms of coverage from my trip to Colorado. Now my focus turns to tomorrow's Connecticut Sun media day.

UConn trio make the cut

UConn teammates Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Tiffany Hayes were among the 14 players named finalists for the U.S. team which will compete in the World University Games. Two players will have to be cut before the team leaves on June 25 for Belgrade, Serbia.

Just my opinion, but at least one of the cuts figures to be a post player since Charles, Stanford's Jayne Appel, Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Jacinta Monroe of Florida State and Xavier's Ta'Shia Phillips all made the list of 14. Also making it were Stanford's Kayla Pedersen, Georgia's Ashley Houts, Alexis Gray-Lawson of California, Oklahoma's Whitney Hand and Danielle Robinson and Danielle McCray of Kansas.

The biggest omission to me was Dawn Evans of James Madison. I was extremely impressed by her play but seems to me like the committee did a heck of a job with the selections based on what I saw in the two days I was at the trials. I would imagine picking among the point guards must have been pretty difficult because they all seemed pretty comparable to me.

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris was among the 14 finalists for the Under-19 national team but neither her future UConn teammate Samarie Walker nor former Trinity Catholic star Da'Shena Stevens made the cut.

This is the second year in a row I thought Tierra Ruffin-Pratt should have made the cut and pretty stunned that Nebraska incoming freshman Lindsey Moore and DePaul's rising sophomore Keisha Hampton did not make the list of 14.

Of the 24 players I said I would have named to the teams, 15 of them made the cut.

As for the UConn contingent here is my take on why they got the nod.

Maya Moore: Not the hardest choice. Reminds me of the scene in Brian's Song when they are making cuts in the Chicago Bears training camp. They go down the list of rookies and either say yes for "let's keep them" or no for "thanks for stopping by." When they say the name Gale Sayers, the George Halas character scoffs and says "are you kidding me?" I'm sure it took less than a second for them to make that decision.
Tina Charles: In a camp full of gifted post players, Charles was a standout. She was utilized more in the high post than she is at UConn but still seemed at ease.
Tiffany Hayes: Wasn't overly impressive in the three sessions I saw but she brings so many intangibles to a team. She can shoot from the perimeter, is a standout defender, can drive to the basket (and was attempting to do so as much as possible), rebound, run an offense so it isn't a shock she made the squad.
Kelly Faris: Pretty much the same deal as Hayes, more than anything else she does on the court, she is a great teammate and makes any team she is on better.

The only member of the 2008 U-18 team in camp who didn't make the list was Rutgers rising sophomore Nikki Speed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Walker thrilled to be invited

When the letter from USA Basketball first arrived at Samarie Walker's house telling her she was being invited to try out for the Under-19 national team, she was a little surprised. When she saw the list of people who accepted the invitation, she was nearly speechless.

She kept looking for the names of other players in her class and looking and looking and was stunned to find out she was the only high school junior who would be in Colorado Springs for the trials. I asked Walker what her reaction would be if she makes the team.

"I think I might cry," Walker said. "When I was going, I told my dad 'I'm not going to make the team because there are 14 girls there who already play in college and why would they pick me?' He said you have to be confident and go out and play hard, there's a reason why they invited you and a reason you are going to UConn so be confident.

"At first I was really nervous because I knew all the girls were 2-3 years older than I am. 'Why were they inviting me? I am 16 and a junior, everybody else is 18/19 either going to college or already having completed their freshman year.' But after a while I realized this was a great honor. Since I am 16, they must have a lot of confidence in me that I can go out and make the team. Really I am trying to catch up with the other girls and told myself that even if I don't make the team, this is still a great experience."

The candidates for the Under-19 and World University Games teams will be cut down tomorrow. Usually they bring back 15-16 kids before picking the team of 12. The announcement is set for tomorrow morning.

The third of four stories I wrote at the trials will run tomorrow and the focus will be on how the veteran UConn players will be looking to fill the leadership void left by the graduation of Renee Montgomery. I have some pretty good stuff from Tiffany Hayes about how she thinks the backcourt partnership with Caroline Doty will work but space constraints kept me from including it in the paper so I may have to weave it into a blog entry. I found it interesting that when Maya Moore spoke about next year's UConn backcourt, she kept talking about Lorin Dixon. It is easy to overlook Dixon but in Maya's opinion, Lorin will have a bigger role than many people (myself included) are giving her credit for. The final story from the trials will run in Monday's paper. I don't want to give away the subject and spoil the surprise but at the risk of too much self promotion, I don't think you will regret reading Maya Moore's take on the subject matter.

There's so much stuff that won't ever make the paper so expect there to be more information on this blog from the interviews I conducted. I will likely include much of my interview with Russ Davis, the AAU coach of UConn commit Lauren Engeln as well as Nneka Ogwumike's take on her sister Chiney's game and recruiting status since a source indicated to me that Chiney has been receptive to UConn's recruiting pitch.

As much as I enjoy going to Colorado Springs (it is the third year in a row I made it out there), I am relieved to be home especially after I made my connection in Minneapolis with about five minutes to spare. Somehow my flight took off 3 1/2 hours late but I managed to touch down in Bradley only about 75 minutes late since I was able to nix the Minneapolis to Detroit portion of my return trip and go straight from Minneapolis to Hartford.

I have to say the communications staff at USA Basketball makes things pretty easy for me. Of course it helps that I was the only reporter there in the two days I was there but still Caroline Williams and Jenny Maag always come through for me and I do appreciate that. Getting to talk to nine people in two days (not including interviewing Maya Moore twice) would be a nightmare without the assistance of Caroline and Jenny. I even remembered to buy a souvenir this time, getting a hooded sweatshirt for about $20. Tough to beat that price. I regret that I didn't have the time to either revisit the Garden of the Gods or take a walk up Pike's Peak like I did in my first year there. But there simply just was not enough time. My last thought of the evening is to thank the readers who click on the stories. My story on the UConn players' reaction to Jamelle Elliott leaving after 12 years as an assistant coach to become the head coach at Cincinnati is the fourth most read story on the Register's website today and most popular sports story. When I pitch these trips in the future, that little piece of info could go a long way into me getting a chance to head back to Colorado Springs.

Wanted: Punctual flight attendants

High up on the list of things I do not wish first thing in the morning is the announcement that my flight is being delayed by two hours especially since I had 45 minutes to make my first connection. The only thing worse was the reasoning, a flight attendant failed to show up. Not sure is she (OK, I guess it could be a he) will make it when the flight actual takes off but I would not admit to be the human rain delay in question. The good news is despite the two hour delay, I only land about an hour later than previously scheduled and only need to change planes once. The original itinerary had me going to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Detroit and Detroit to Hartford. I bypassed the Detroit portion of the trip so I guess there is a silver lining.

The extra time gives me a chance to give my opinion of who I would pick to make the Under-19 and World University Games although I have no say in the process (thank God for small miracles in that case).

If recent history counts for anything, there will be about 15 players selected on Sunday before the teams are cut down to the maximum 12-player rosters. I will pick my 12.

Sarah Boothe, Stanford: Was sort of streaky as she didn't miss in Thursday's scrimmages and 3 on 3 drills but was off target on a few bunnies on Friday.
Layshia Clarendon, California incoming freshman: Not as highly-touted as the other point guards in camp but more solid and fast, fast, fast.
Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame incoming freshman: Perhaps we should save the formality and hand her the Big East Freshman of the Year award now.
Keisha Hampton, DePaul: Outside of some ballhandling gaffes, she was one of the most impressive players at the U-19 trials.
Shenice Johnson, Miami: Athletic combo guard can play three positions and was a disruptive force on defense, especially in Friday's scrimmages
Lindsey Moore, Nebraska incoming freshman: Last year Joslyn Tinkle, then not very highly-touted, blew me away at the trials as she rightfully earned a spot on the U-18 team. This year it was future Nebraska point guard who caught my eye.
Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford: The best player in the U-19 trials in my opinion
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, North Carolina incoming freshman: I love the way she plays, 100 percent every second she steps on the court.
Taber Spani, Tennessee incoming freshman: One of the few consistent 3-point options in camp.
Da'Shena Stevens, St. John's: This has nothing to do with her being the only Connecticut player at the trials, she was a force at every scrimmage I saw.
Destiny Williams, Illinois incoming freshman: Nobody was more aggressive going after rebounds among the U-19 candidates, also struck me as a team-first kid with tons of leadership skills.
Shawntice "Pepper" Wilson, Pittsburgh: I was more impressed with her at the trials than when I saw her during her freshman season at Pitt.

There are some obvious omissions that might surprise some people led by:
Kelsey Bone who did have stretches where she showed her offensive skill but seemed more affected by the altitude than any other player and just could not catch the ball at the scrimmages I saw.
Kelly Faris made more of an impact when I saw her at the U-18 trials last year. Was not nearly aggressive enough although is the type of low maintainence kid any team would love to have.
Samantha Prahalis actually played better (in my opinion) than she did last year I thought but she is still too turnover prone and to me Clarendon, Moore and Diggins were simply more effective during the trials.
The player who impressed me the most who is not on my list of 12 is guard Sydney Carter of Texas A&M.

Dawn Evans, James Madison: Nation's second-leading scorer showed she is far from a one-dimensional player.
Alexis Gray-Lawson, California: Just love the way this kid plays the game on both ends of the court.
Whitney Hand, Oklahoma: A stone-cold shooter and scorer.
Allison Hightower, LSU: Really played with intensity on defense
Jantel Lavender, Ohio State: A terrific finisher around the basket
Maya Moore, UConn: Simply the best player there.
Natasha Vital, California: Wasn't blown away by the player of the point guards among the World University Games competitors but she is very solid.
Jayne Appel, Stanford: Could be the No. 1 overall pick in next year's WNBA draft and looked every bit the part for most of the scrimmages.
Tina Charles, UConn: Would team with Lavender and Appel to give the U.S. an unstoppable post trio.
Tyra Grant, Penn State: A little too shot-happy at times but brings an athletic presence to the wing position.
Kayla Pedersen, Stanford: Looked more like the she did as a freshman than as a sophomore as she was hitting shots from everywhere and grabbing tough rebounds in traffic.

After that it gets pretty hard. I would lean to Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot and Doreena Campbell of UCLA over fellow guards Cetera DeGraffenreid (North Carolina), Ashley Houts (Georgia) and Alexis Rack of Mississippi State. Jacinta Monroe of Florida State was also impressive but not sure the team needs another post player. Alysha Clark, the nation's leading scorer as a junior at Middle Tennessee State, did not blow me away and in the time I was there, UConn's Tiffany Hayes was not overly noticeable although her versatility would serve the team well if she make it. I would have included Arizona's Ify Ibekwe but was uncertain about her status after she hurt her right ankle. I never got a definitive report but the fact that she was rolled to the team photo in a wheelchair did not seem like an encouraging sign.

If I was in charge, I would give serious consideration to putting either a Skylar Diggins or Lindsey Moore on the WUG team as well since they impressed me more than many of the point guards among the older competitors.

I will say that a starting five of Evans, Gray-Lawson, Moore, Pedersen and either Appel or Charles is downright frightening from an offensive standpoint.

As I said, it is just one person's take off seeing a few scrimmages. The committee will get the final say.

So much to say, so little time

Since I will be spending the good share of Saturday making my way home, consider this a jack of all trade entry to tide people over for a couple of days.

Finally caught up with UConn commit Samarie Walker and her seemingly never-ending trials and tribulations to make it from Dayton, Ohio to Colorado Springs. Walker, the only high school junior at the trials, was supposed to land in Colorado Springs around noon time on Thursday. Instead, she touched down close to noon on Friday. In her words, this is what happened.

"I am on my way to the airport with my parents and my brother and they were going to drop me off but there were two accidents. First there was a truck that ran off the road and then a three-car pileup so we had to take the detour and that took 20 extra minutes. I was too late to board the (7 a.m.) flight so they put me on standby for the 1 p.m. flight and that got canceled. They put me on the 7 (p.m.) flight but that got delayed to 7:45. Made it to Dallas/Ft. Worth at around 9:30 and the Colorado Springs flight had just left when I arrived so I had to get a hotel and stay there all night. My flight this morning got delayed about 30-40 minutes and I finally got here."

It was my first time watching Walker play and the first thing I was struck by is her hands. She catches everything and I do mean everything. You simply can not throw a pass that she can not corral. She credits that with days playing football with her dad.

Walker had a sweet 360 move before hitting a one-handed runner as time was running down in one of the Friday afternoon scrimmages.

She was reluctant to talk about the recent arrest of her high school coach Marc Greenberg who was arrested on May 4 for allegedly transmitting obscene images of minors via the internet.

"I'm not supposed to comment on that," Walker said. "All I will say is I am handling it well, I am getting better and so is the rest of my team."

My last of the nine people I interviewed in the last two days was Carol Callan, USA Basketball Assistant Executive Director, Women's Programs. I didn't get too much into the appointment of Geno Auriemma as the Senior Women's national team coach since I addressed most of those pertinent topics during the press conference in Storrs annuouncing Auriemma's appointment.

A few things I did address with her was the potential site of the FIBA Americas U16 Championship. It was supposed to be held in Mexico until the recent Swine Flu issues forced a change of plans. Callan said she thinks a site will be announcing by later this month when the 27 players are at the U.S. Olympic Training Center for the U-16 team trials. While it is possible that a U.S. site could be used for the FIBA American U16 event, it is more likely that a South American site will be utilized.

I asked Callan about the role the U-19 and World University Games teams play in developing Olympians and her take on the level of talent in Colorado Springs this week.

"This is what we live for," Callan said. "We do a lot of planning and when it actually happens, you have anxiousness but when you see the caliber of players here this week, it is amazing. The World University Games group, that is the premier event for college-aged kids and you have kids from the top 10 programs in the country and they are the ones that (play USA Basketball) every year here and we can't win gold medals without them. The post players are phenomenal, it's amazing how many big kids are here that can play (multiple positions) and are mobile, you have your perimeter players with Maya being here, it's a very strong team and trying to get to 12 is going to be a very difficult task.

"When I first started when Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain were the two veterans and we went all the way down as far as Rebecca Lobo and Nikki McCray. We had players at every age on that team. This last year we had five first-time Olympians on the team. Number one, from a chemistry standpoint they understand taking their turn and what I noticed in Beijing that as soon as the subs were made, we didn't get worse, we kind of took off and put the hammer down. Obviously get the young players come in, get the experience at this age and be ready to step into the Olympic team, they played so many years at a younger age it is an easier transition for them."

Callan said the hope is to have a national team training camp in the fall, somewhere between the end of the 2009 WNBA season and the start of college practice in mid-October. She also said they would like to have the national team play against the best college teams as they have done in the past.

It is too late for next season and Callan said it wouldn't be fair to have the core players go on a tour against college teams so soon after the FIBA World Championships so they are looking at 2011 as the likely target date.

"It's good for the game, I think it is great for the universities to kind of match up, it is a great training opportunity for us," Callan said. "Part of our challenge is finding players to be available at that time. With some of our players like a break from the end of the WNBA season and going overseas."

Don't expect Auriemma's U.S. Senior National team assistant coaches to be named any time soon. USA Basketball is fine with having court coaches help Auriemma if there is a training camp in the fall.

Speaking of coaches, I did some poking around about Minnesota assistant coach Marisa Moseley since rumors have been circulating about her being hired to replace Jamelle Elliott on the UConn staff. The UConn players, I am confident, were not aware of any imminent hiring and unfortunately there were no University of Minnesota players at the trials. Sources indicate that this is one of those "where there is smoke, there is fire" deals and I am inclined to agree. Moseley fits the profile of what Auriemma is looking for, a young, energetic minority candidate with experience coaching post players. Moseley is a former Boston University star who has worked at Auriemma's camps at UConn in the past. It's kind of ironic that this came out today since my story in Saturday's paper off the trials is the reaction of Tina Charles and Maya Moore of Jamelle Elliott's decision to accept the head coaching job at Cincinnati.

Somebody asked me how UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris looked to me at the trials. The answer is - a lot better on Friday than on Thursday. A year ago, Faris' rebounding prowess opened a few eyes (mine included) at the U-18 trials. She hasn't been as active at these trials although she did almost cause serious injury to North Carolina incoming freshman Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and South Carolina signee Kelsey Bone. Late in one of Friday's scrimmages, they attemped to trap Faris when Faris slithered by forcing a nasty collision between Ruffin-Pratt and Bone.

Since it's about 7 1/2 hours before I board my first flight tomorrow, I will leave with one last item. I laughed as court coach Russ Davis referred to Moore as "the Microwave" as she hit back to back 3-pointers about 10 seconds apart during one of the scrimmages Friday night. I wonder if sharpshooting former Detroit Pistons reserve Vinnie Johnson, the original basketball player dubbed "The Microwave" would have nodded his approval.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Catching their breath

All three UConn players trying out for the World University Games mentioned the altitude as a major issue to contend with. It certainly looked as if Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes and Tina Charles were looking for their shooting legs.

Moore missed all four of her shots including an air-balled 3-pointer. Charles also had an air ball of a foul-line jumper although she was the only one of the Huskies to score in the three scrimmages.

The big news from the first scrimmage, won by the White squad 12-5, was the injury suffered by Arizona's Ify Ibekwe. Ibekwe ran the court and collided with Stanford's Kayla Pedersen. Pedersen hit the fast break layup and both she and Ibekwe fell to the ground. Pedersen jumped up quickly but did not. She was in visible pain and trainers looked at her right ankle. There was no report on her condition yet but she did not play in the other scrimmages.

Pedersen was impressive in the scrimmages with five points and six rebounds. Penn State's Tyra Grant also had five points. James Madison's Dawn Evans, who had a strong effort, and Ohio State's Jantel Lavender added four points each with Lavender hauling down five rebounds. Florida State's Jacinta Monroe added five rebounds. Moore led the way with two steals to go with her three rebounds.

Moore mentioned that she did see Samarie Walker on site so that is good news that she finally made it to the facility after two long days of traveling issues.

U-19 session one in the books

The World University Games team just took the floor for the first of two sessions. The U-19 opening session today ended with three spirited scrimmages.

The Blue team (including UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris and former Trinity Catholic star Da'Shena Stevens) won the first scrimmage 14-11 as Tennessee incoming freshman Taber Spani, a former UConn recruiting target, missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer. Ohio State rising sophomore Samantha Prahalis led the Blue squad back from an 11-4 deficit with six points on a scrimmage-ending 10-0 run. The Blue team won the second scrimmage 8-4 behind four points from former UConn recruiting target Kelsey Bone. The White won the last scrimmage 11-4 as incoming Nebraska freshman Lindsay Moore had four points.

Here are my unofficial (with emphasis on unofficial) stats.

Layshia Clarendon (a speedy point guard headed to California), Moore, Prahalis and Stanford rising sophomore Sarah Boothe had six points each while Spani had five points (including the only 3-pointer in the three scrimmages). UCLA rising sophomore Atonye Nyingifa, Texas A&M sophomore to be Sydney Carter and DePaul sophomore to be Keshia Hampton had three rebounds each while Moore, Bone, Prahalis and Pittsburgh rising sophomore Pepper Wilson had two rebounds each. Hampton also had two blocks while LSU rising sophomore LaSondra Barrett had a steal and block. The only players I had with no stats (points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks) were Ohio State signee Tayler Hill and Penn State incoming freshman Nikki Greene.

Class personified

In the last two years there's probably not a question I am asked more or a request made with more regularity from people I meet than "tell me about Maya Moore?" My response should be "how much time do you have?"

For all of Moore's skills on the basketball court and there certainly are a significant number of those, it is the almost regal-like way Moore carries herself off the court that has always struck me.

Samarie Walker, Moore's future UConn teammate, was asked to list the "most impressive person I've ever met" in a questionaire used to put together the trial media guide. Walker's answer was "(Maya) Moore who is the nicest person ever."

Those who know Moore should not be surprised that she was chosen among the UConn players to write her thoughts on the recent trip to the White House to meet the President.

This is what she wrote:
"Wow what an experience! I am still in shock that my teammates and I were able to be in the same atmosphere as some of the greatest leaders in history. As we were taking a tour of the rooms of the White House, like the famous Red Room, I felt a deeper appreciation for the founders of this nation. We truly do live in an amazing country and actually walking where some of our great leaders have walked gave me chills! Meeting President Obama was as enjoyable as advertised, and he left an inspiring impression on us all. The way he took the time to shake hands, take pictures, and talk to everyone showed his humility and genuine personality. The way he sacrificed some extra time out of his day to shoot a few shots with us made me remember what life is all about. It is about investing in people and having faith that the love you impart on them will somehow make the world better than it was. Thank you to President Obama and everyone who made this event possible!"

Last night I asked Moore about writing that note.

"I felt honored that they picked me to write that," Moore said. "I really thought about it and tried to represent the best I could, I am proud of it and hopefully it represented the team well."

So the people who want to know what Maya Moore is like, I think you have you answer.

Labels: ,

The journey continues

The latest update on Samarie Walker's odyssey is that she is expected to touch down in Colorado Springs a little after 10 (noon Eastern time) meaning she will miss the morning session which has just started but will be here for the second session today.

Maybe it's something to do with her name because the only other Under-19 participant yet to arrive is UCLA commit Markel Walker, who is expected later on today.

Epiphanny Prince of Rutgers and Jessica Breland of North Carolina, who both accepted invites to try out for the World University Games team, will not be trying out after all. There is a possibility that they can be granted a waiver and get named to the team even though they were not there. Just my opinion, but considering all the talent here (and it is quite impressive) I don't think the committee would need to consider people who didn't make it here.

One ramification of all of this is I can cross one of my story ideas off my list. I was planning to do a feature on the close friendship between Prince and UConn's Tina Charles. That story will have to wait until the winter I guess.

UConn, as you can imagine, is well represented with Charles, Moore and Hayes trying out for the World University Games team, incoming freshman Kelly Faris and Samarie Walker, one of four high school junior to have committed to UConn, looking to make the U-19 squad. Also, Matt Gade, a student manager with the women's basketball team the last four years, is a member of the support staff for the trials.

The only other piece of news to report (even if it is not UConn related) was that Penn State coach Coquese Washington is pregnant. Washington is a part of the committee which selects the teams and during the introductions Thursday night, it was mentioned that Washington is "with child." Not sure if that is news or not but it was the first I heard of it.

The story on Kelly Faris anxiously looking ahead to her freshman season at UConn is the first of four straight days of stories coming out of the trials.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

First day of trials in the books

Fortunately, I had more success making it to Colorado Springs than UConn recruit Samarie Walker did.

The only high school junior to accept an invitation to the Under-19 national team trials, Walker had all sorts of issues traveling. Assuming there were no further issues with connecting flights, Walker should be on site for both practice sessions tomorrow.

The scrimmages at the end of the U-19 and World University Games practices were relatively uneventful. That is normally the case as the players are still dealing with jet lag. Stanford rising sophomore Sarah Boothe had eight points in the U-19 scrimmage and clearly was the most aggressive offensive player. The player who caught my eye the most was DePaul's Keisha Hampton, who I had with five rebounds.

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris was pretty quiet while ex-Trinity Catholic star and reigning Big East Freshman of the Year Da'Shena Stevens had her moments. Faris lost an assist when her perfectly-delivered pass on a 2-on-1 was mishandled by Arkansas' Ceira Ricketts. Faris also displayed her spunk as she hustled back to force a turnover after she just threw the ball away. Stevens had a pair of rebounds and a sweet assist.

Faris, one of seven members of the 2008 Under-18 team to come back to try out for the U-19 team, had nothing but positive memories of her USA Basketball experiences last year.

"It is hard to pick out one thing," Faris said. "The whole experience, you hear people talk about it and although it is not the highest level like the Olympics, it is still a great experience that not many get to have. It is fun to play with the best players and get to know them off the court, going overseas and the whole environment is different.

"Having the experience helps but because I made the team last year doesn't mean I'm going to make the team this year. I know I still have to go out there and do everything I can. If I don't make it, I don't want it to be because I didn't hustle."

Faris will graduate from Heritage Christian a week from tomorrow and is hoping to be at UConn in time to enroll in the second summer session. She has already requested and been granted the No. 34 which she has worn for as long as she can remember.

Faris will be the focus of my report from day one of the trials which will run in Friday's edition of the Register especially her looking ahead to her freshman season at UConn.

Regretfully, I wasn't able to get as much as I would have liked to about Stevens in the story because of space constraints.

She did say she is not trying to get caught up in being the only Connecticut native at the trials and one of the few Connecticut kids invited to try out for a national team.

"I just want to play my game, not overdo anything and get to know all these players and put the work in so even if I don't make I can bring something back (to St. John's)," Stevens said. "When you play this game, you want to be at the top of the game and I think opportunity is great. Looking back and seeing how much I have grown as a player and see all the things I have worked on to get to this level, you get to see how far you have come."

I was still writing when the scrimmage for the World University Games began. I caught the tail end of the one where Maya Moore was on the White team and Tiffany Hayes was on the Blue squad. Tina Charles' group came up next and she had four points and two rebounds while playing alongside Stanford's Jayne Appel.

Sun training camp to open Monday

Unlike in past years, the nucleus of the Connecticut Sun will be good to go when training camp starts on Monday.

The only players not on hand will be Sandrine Gruda and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, who will be playing for France and Latvia respectively at the EuroBasket Women Championships which begin on June 7.

Here's the list of players who will be in camp

Amber Holt, Kerri Gardin, Kristi Cirone, Carrem Gay, Ashley Hayes, Chante Black, Lauren Ervin, Asjha Jones, Lyndra Littles, Danielle Page, Erin Phillps, Lindsay Whalen, Ketia Swanier, Barbara Turner and Tamika Whitmore.

The Sun have enough salary cap space to begin the season with an 11-player roster but will have to make cuts when Gruda and Jekabsone-Zogota report to the Sun, something that is supposed to happen in late June.

Under-16 invitees

USA Basketball just released the 27 players headed to Colorado Springs later this month for the Under-16 national team trials.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who made an unofficial visit to UConn in January, is one of the talented high school freshmen and sophomores who have accepted the invitation to try out for the national team.

Mosqueda-Lewis is a highly-touted 6-foot sophomore who plays for Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif. When her team was in New England to play in the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass., she took in part of a UConn practice.

Another invitee Betnijah Laney out of Smyrna High in Clayton, Del., was at the XL Center when UConn played Seton Hall in the final home game of UConn's 2008-09 season. Laney, who broke former UConn signee Elena Delle Donne's Delaware single-game scoring record, has attended more than her share of Rutgers games since her mother Yolanda Laney played for Rutgers' coach C. Vivian Stringer at Cheney State in the early 1980s. Yolanda Laney is still extremely close to Stringer. My understanding is that she made the trip to Tennessee to offer her support and congratulation for Stringer's induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. Something tells me she will also be on hand in September when Stringer is inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Among the others on the list, UConn has seen Kayla Brewer out of Ribault High in Jacksonville, Fla. play. As for the Huskies' interest in the other 24 players headed to Colorado Springs, it's a little early to speak too much in terms of UConn recruiting targets. However, since UConn already has four commitments from the current group of juniors, expect the coaching staff to zone in on gifted sophomores by the end of the summer if not sooner.

There are no Connecticut players on the list. As a matter of fact, there are no New Englanders either.

Here is the complete list:

Jordan Adams G 6-0 150 02/20/94 2012 Mater Dei H.S. Irvine, CA
Kayla Brewer F 6-2 175 03/12/93 2011 Jean Ribault H.S. Jacksonville, FL
Loliya Briggs F 5-10 159 01/28/93 2011 Potter House Christian Academy Gainesville, FL
Cierra Burdick G 6-2 160 09/30/93 2011 South Mecklenburg H.S. Mathews, NC
Jasmine Camp G 5-7 130 04/20/93 2011 Chamblee H.S. Ellenwood, GA
Briyona Canty G 5-8 --- 01/23/93 2011 Trenton Catholic Academy Willingboro, NJ
Andraya Carter G 5-8 140 11/21/93 2012 Buford H.S. Flowery Branch, GA
Bashaara Graves F 6-2 185 03/17/94 2012 Clarksville H.S. Clarksville, TN
Justine Hartman F 6-2 --- 01/30/93 2011 Brea Olinda H.S. Brea, CA
Rachel Hollivay F 6-4 180 10/24/93 2012 New Hope H.S. Columbus, MS
Malina Howard F 6-4 205 11/20/93 2012 Twinsburg H.S. Twinsburg, OH
Moriah Jefferson G 5-7 118 03/08/94 2012 Texas Home Educators Sports Assoc. Glenn Heights, TX
Alexis Jones G 5-9 145 05/08/94 2012 Irving MacArthur H.S. Midland, TX
Whitney Knight F 6-2 140 01/09/93 2011 Bishop McGuinness H.S. Winston-Salem, NC
Betnijah Laney F 6-0 160 10/29/93 2011 Smyrna H.S. Clayton, DE
Jewell Loyd G 5-9 132 10/05/93 2012 Niles West H.S. Lincolnwood, IL
Ariel Massengale G 5-6 152 06/10/93 2011 Bolingbrook H.S. Bolingbrook, IL
Breanna McDonald F 6-0 160 11/26/93 2012 Chamblee H.S. Lithonia, GA
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis F 6-0 165 11/03/93 2012 Mater Dei H.S. Anaheim, CA
Alexis Prince F 5-11 173 02/05/93 2012 Edgewater H.S. Maitland, FL
Bria Smith G 5-10 160 02/16/93 2011 Christ the King H.S. Massapequa, NY
Alexia Standish G 5-8 120 02/15/93 2011 Heritage H.S. Colleyville, TX
Kiah Stokes F/C 6-3 185 03/30/93 2011 Linn Mar H.S. Marion, IA
Morgan Tuck F 6-2 175 04/30/94 2012 Bolingbrook H.S. Bolingbrook, IL
Alexyz Vaioletama F 6-1 176 06/12/93 2011 Mater Dei H.S. Fountain Valley, CA
Courtney Williams G 6-1 158 03/21/94 2012 North Shore H.S. Houston, TX
Elizabeth Williams F 6-3 185 06/23/93 2011 Princess Anne H.S. Virginia Beach, VA

By the way, the Under-19 and World University Games trials begin later today at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

All-Star game tickets on sale

The WNBA just announced that tickets for the July 25 All-Star game at Mohegan Sun Arena are now on sale.

Here is the release:


-- Limited Tickets Now Available to the General Public --

NEW YORK, May 13, 2009 – The WNBA is releasing a limited number of tickets for the 2009 WNBA All-Star Game taking place Saturday, July 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., the league announced today. The game will be televised live on ABC.

The sale follows a presale conducted for season-ticket holders of the host Connecticut Sun and the WNBA's 12 other teams.

Tickets are available by going online to or by calling 1-877-WNBA-TIX.

With tickets ranging from $10 to $55, fans can enjoy the unique experience of seeing the greatest female basketball players in the world take part in the WNBA's showcase event at one of the league's most exciting venues. Special pricing will apply for groups of 20 or more.

"To be selected to host the All-Star game for the second time in our short history is a credit to our fans and their passion for the WNBA," said Sun General Manager Chris Sienko. "We also look forward to hosting fans from around the WNBA and across the country when the best-of-the-best showcase their skills here at Mohegan Sun for what is sure to be an extremely entertaining event."

In other news, former Connecticut Sun guard Jamie Carey has been named to the USA Basketball Women's Development National Team Committee which will select the Under-16 national team next month.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Faris, Walker headed to trials

Kelly Faris, UConn's only incoming freshman, and Samarie Walker, one of four high school juniors to orally commit to UConn, are among 27 players who have accepted invitations to try out for the U.S. Under-19 national team. Walker is the only high school junior to accept an invite to the trials.

Former Trinity Catholic star Da'Shena Stevens, named the Big Eats Freshman of the Year after a brilliant rookie season at St. John's, will also be taking part in the trials from May 14-17 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Here's the complete list
LaSondra Barrett F 6-2 161 03/16/90 2012 Louisiana State Jackson, MS
Kelsey Bone C 6-5 210 12/31/91 2009 Dulles H.S. / #South Carolina Stafford, TX
Sarah Boothe C 6-5 212 07/08/90 2012 Stanford Gurnee, IL
Sydney Carter G 5-6 135 11/18/90 2012 Texas A&M DeSoto, TX
Layshia Clarendon G 5-10 135 05/02/91 2009 Cajon H.S. / #California San Bernadino, CA
Skylar Diggins G 5-10 145 08/02/90 2009 Washington H.S. / #Notre Dame South Bend, IN
Kelly Faris G 5-11 155 01/16/91 2009 Heritage Christian H.S. / #Conn. Plainfield, IN
Nikki Greene C 6-4 000 09/06/90 2009 Diboll H.S. / #Penn State Diboll, TX
Keisha Hampton F 6-2 170 02/22/90 2012 DePaul Philadelphia, PA
Tayler Hill G 5-10 159 10/23/90 2009 South H.S. / #Ohio State Minneapolis, MN
Shenise Johnson F 5-11 164 12/08/90 2012 Miami (FL) Henrietta, NY
Kierra Mallard C 6-2 193 06/20/90 2012 Texas Tech Dallas, TX
Lindsey Moore G 5-10 000 06/03/91 2009 Kentwood H.S. / #Nebraska Covington, WA
Atonye Nyingifa G/F 5-11 170 12/08/90 2012 UCLA Torrance, CA
Nnemkadi Ogwumike F 6-2 188 07/02/90 2012 Stanford Cypress, TX
Samantha Prahalis G 5-7 130 01/23/90 2012 Ohio State Dix Hills, NY
Ceira Ricketts G 5-9 143 02/22/90 2012 Arkansas Louisville, KY
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt G 5-11 170 04/11/91 2009 T.C. Williams H.S. / #UNC Alexandria, VA
Chay Shegog F/C 6-5 204 02/22/90 2012 North Carolina Stafford, VA
Andrea Smith G 5-8 146 07/19/90 2010 Gulf Coast C.C. Lakeland, FL
Taber Spani G 6-1 180 01/27/91 2009 Metro Academy / #Tennessee Lee's Summit, MO
Nikki Speed G 5-9 140 04/30/90 2012 Rutgers Pasadena, CA
Da'Shena Stevens F 6-1 170 09/25/90 2012 St. John's Stamford, CT
Markel Walker G 6-1 172 11/07/90 2009 Schenley H.S. / #UCLA Pittsburgh, PA
Samarie Walker F 6-1 170 09/15/92 2010 Chaminade-Julienne H.S. / *Conn. Dayton, OH
Destiny Williams F/C 6-3 181 09/20/91 2009 Benton Harbor H.S. / #Illinois Benton Harbor, MI
Shawnice Wilson C 6-6 235 08/08/90 2012 Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Charles, Hayes, Moore headed West

Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes, who comprised 60 percent of the starting lineup for UConn's national championship team, are among 29 players who have accepted invitations to try out for the World University Games.

The trials will be held from May 14-17 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The list will be cut down at the end of the trials with the finalists being invited back to Colorado Springs on June 18 for training camp. The 12-player roster will be announced before the team leaves for Serbia on June 25.

The list of invitees for the Under-19 team is expected to be released later this week and as previously reported will include UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris as well as former Trinity Catholic star Da'Shena Stevens, who edged out Hayes to win the Big East Freshman of the Year. Hayes missed out on the U-19 age cutoff by less than 3 1/2 months since you have to be born no earlier than Jan. 1, 1990 to be eligible for that team and she was born on Sept. 20, 1989.

Here's the list of candidates for the World University Games team

Danielle Adams G 6-1 215 02/19/89 2009 Jefferson College Kansas City, MO
Jayne Appel F 6-4 210 05/14/88 2010 Stanford Pleasant Hill, CA
Jessica Breland F 6-3 164 02/23/88 2010 North Carolina Kelford, NC
Doreena Campbell G 5-9 142 07/03/89 2011 UCLA Alexandria, VA
Tina Charles C 6-3 193 12/05/88 2010 Connecticut Jamaica, NY
Alysha Clark F 5-10 162 07/07/87 2010 Middle Tennessee State Mt. Juliet, TN
Cetera DeGraffenreid G 5-5 140 12/05/88 2011 North Carolina Cullowhee, NC
Dawn Evans G 5-7 135 06/30/89 2011 James Madison Clarksville, TN
Tyra Grant G 5-11 166 08/27/88 2010 Penn State Youngstown, OH
Alexis Gray-Lawson G 5-8 160 04/21/87 2010 California Oakland, CA
Whitney Hand G 6-1 165 08/16/89 2012 Oklahoma Fort Worth, TX
Tiffany Hayes G 5-11 140 09/20/89 2012 Connecticut Lakeland, FL
Allison Hightower G/F 5-11 144 04/06/88 2010 LSU Arlington, TX
Ashley Houts G 5-6 144 12/31/87 2010 Georgia Trenton, GA
Ify Ibekwe F 6-2 158 10/05/89 2011 Arizona Carson, CA
Amy Jaeschke F 6-5 225 04/26/89 2011 Northwestern Wilmette, IL
Jantel Lavender C 6-4 210 11/11/88 2011 Ohio State Cleveland, OH
Danielle McCray G/F 5-11 169 10/08/87 2010 Kansas Olathe, KS
Jacinta Monroe F/C 6-5 166 09/04/88 2010 Florida State Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Maya Moore F 6-0 170 06/11/89 2011 Connecticut Lawrenceville, GA
Kayla Pedersen G/F 6-4 195 04/14/89 2011 Stanford Fountain Hills, AZ
Ta'Shia Phillips C 6-6 225 01/24/89 2011 Xavier Indianapolis, IN
Jeanette Pohlen G 5-11 168 05/02/89 2011 Stanford Brea, CA
Epiphanny Prince G 5-9 160 01/11/88 2011 Rutgers Brooklyn, NY
Alex Rack G 5-4 140 09/15/88 2010 Mississippi State Franklin, LA
Danielle Robinson G 5-8 130 05/10/89 2011 Oklahoma San Jose, CA
Carolyn Swords C 6-6 220 07/19/89 2011 Boston College Sudbury, MA
Courtney Vandersloot G 5-8 135 02/08/89 2011 Gonzaga Kent, WA
Natasha Vital G 5-8 145 06/09/88 2010 California Stockton, CA
Head Coach: Charli Turner Thorne, Arizona State
Assistant Coach: Suzy Merchant, Michigan State
Assistant Coach: Julie Rousseau, Pepperdine

One item that I found fascinating but was unable to get into my story on the hiring of Jamelle Elliott as the new women's basketball coach at Cincinnati is that she often spoke with fellow long-time UConn assistant coach Tonya Cardoza about the time when they would leave UConn to take over their own programs. They often dreamed of leaving at the same time but Cardoza said they never wanted to do that or anything that would hurt the UConn program. It's probably not a coincidence that Elliott was in the running for at least three jobs (Fairfield, Penn State and George Washington) between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons but with Cardoza landing the gig at Temple in the last offseason, Elliott was not actively pursuing any job openings during that time. That little tid bit speaks to the quality of character possessed by both Cardoza and Elliott and I expect Elliott's replacement will be of similar ilk.

There has been speculation (including right here on this blog) that the next UConn assistant will be an African-American since UConn has no black coaches on its staff. While that it not a certainty as UConn will look to hire the best candidate, I got to wondering how many other top programs have all-white coaching staffs. I checked on the staffs of the 25 teams in the final Associated Press poll of the season and found that only Oklahoma, South Dakota State and Kansas State had a staff with no black coaches.

Auriemma will receive the Winged Foot Award on Thursday evening at the New York Athletic Club for leading the Huskies to the 2009 national championship. North Carolina men's basketball coach Roy Williams will also be honored after coaching the Tar Heels to the men's Division I title.
It will be the fifth time Auriemma will receive the Winged Foot Award which first began honoring the coach of the women's Division I national championship team in 1999.

Meet you in Ohio

In recent years, the state of Ohio has been very kind of the UConn women's basketball program.

Dating back to landing highly-touted Tamika Williams out of Dayton, the Huskies have been able to pluck some of the top talent out of the state.

A quick breakdown of 1,000-point scorers in UConn history shows that Ohio is tied for third behind Pennsylvania and Connecticut for having the most members of the 1,000-point club.

Pennsylvania 5 (Swin Cash, Wendy Davis, Leigh Curl, Meghan Pattyson, Ashley Battle)
Connecticut 4 (Nykesha Sales, Jen Rizzotti, Cathy Bochain, Laura Lishness)
Ohio 3 (Barbara Turner, Tamika Williams, Mel Thomas)
Massachusetts 3 (Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Carla Berube).

Not only did UConn land Turner, Brittany Hunter and Thomas out of Ohio but have a commitment from Samarie Walker, considered by many as the high school junior in the state of Ohio and recently began to show interest in another of the state's top players - Natasha Howard.

Ironically, Jamelle Elliott played a significant role in UConn's recruiting success in the midwest and now she is the head coach at Cincinnati where she places a high priority in enticing Ohio's top players to remain within the state boundries.

"I am aware, being at Connecticut for so long, how much talent is in the state of Ohio," Elliott said. "One of my top priorities is to make sure of hopefully make sure that some of the talent that is in the state of Ohio is going to stay here in the state and will want to join the family here at the University of Cincinnati."

That hasn't been the case in recent years. Using one internet recruiting base as a guide, only one of the top five players in Ohio (Ohio State commit Emilie Harmon) has chosen to remain in state among the incoming freshmen as Mikaela Reuf is going to Stanford, Karisma Penn is headed to Illinois, Kendall Hackney will play at Southern California and Alexis Rogers has signed with Duke. The story was the same last year as the top four rated players from Ohio (Amber Gray/Tennessee, Cierra Bravard/Florida State, Shany Selby/Duke, Ayana Dunning/LSU) left the state.

If a top-notch recruiter like Elliott can go in and change Cincinnati's fortunes, it would stand to reason that the prospects of powerhouses like UConn and Tennessee landing the top players from Ohio will become a little more challenging.

"Ohio is a big basketball state, especially on the women's side," Turner said. "They love women's basketball and if they can bring success to Cincinnati it will be amazing energy because they have Ohio State there and they support their women's team really well and Jamelle can get some of the same support and will be able to attract those Ohio kids."

Before UConn played at Cincinnati in January, I asked UConn coach Geno Auriemma to pinpoint the secret for his success recruiting in Ohio.

"I think the No. 1 reason is that there is just so many of them in that state," Auriemma said. "There may be more players in Ohio than any other state in the country because girls' basketball is really good and it is really important in Ohio so you've got this tremendous depth of talent and then you get kind of lucky that it is the right kinds of kids in Ohio who have seen others have success and they want to be a part of it. From some areas of the country, kids are unwilling to leave. You talk about the midwest, you can get those kids to come east. There are certain places where people will want to go to school regardless of where they live. The South is hard, it is not as easy to get kids from coming down south but Ohio has so many good players."

Turner raved about Elliott's ability to communicate with players and believes she will turn the Cincinnati program around.

"I think her strength is how she relates to the players," Turner said. "She was that coach you would go to and talk to her about any problems or issues that you had and you would get her honest opinion on anything. I think that is what I enjoy the most of being able to play for her. She is at a school like Connecticut and has coached under somebody like Coach Auriemma for (12) years and there is no better experience than that to walk into a head coaching job after working for Coach Auriemma for such a long time."

Turner is currently in Houston working with former NBA star John Lucas. She credits her work with Lucas in the offseason last year in helping her make the transition from undersized WNBA forward to effective perimeter player. Now she wants to take the next step.

"Coming off the season I had last year, I am looking to get better that is why I am down here with John just putting in my time," Turner said. "I'm working on more of the same stuff, just fine tuning it. I'm trying to become a better perimeter player, making myself more comfortable playing out on the perimeter. That is really all I can work on, being more explosive is the obvious thing."

A mind is a mysterious thing. I can remember complete conversations I had 10 years ago, I can remember the birthday (April 26) of a girl I went to college with but I have not heard from or seen in more than 15 years but I can't remember that Temple lost to Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March.

If anybody read my story on Elliott's hiring in Wednesday's edition of the Register, I mentioned that Tonya Cardoza's Temple team lost to UConn in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Of course it never happened. That was the matchup people were looking forward to - except those in Gainesville, Florida as the Gators beat Temple in the NCAA opening round in Gampel Pavilion before losing to UConn in the second round. I appreciate the reader who informed me of this error. I despise making factual errors in my stories and pride myself in my accuracy but sometimes mistakes happen. I have already sent in a correction which should run in tomorrow's paper.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Elliott a Bearcat

It became official when former UConn assistant coach Jamelle Elliott walked into the Fifth Third Arena Tuesday afternoon and was officially introduced as the new women's basketball coach at Cincinnati.

Elliott had two goals at the press conference. The first was to maintain her composure and not break down when asked about her last 12 seasons on UConn coach Geno Auriemma's staff or the four years as a UConn player before heading into the coaching profession. The second was not to confuse the words Connecticut and Cincinnati in her first session with the Cincinnati media. She responded perfectly on the latter but failed miserably in holding back the tears when looking back at her time at UConn.

"Every time I talked about the relationship I had with him, I got kind of filled up (with tears)," Elliott said. "That just goes to shows how much he meant to me and how much I am going to miss him."

Auriemma flew in to be in attendance at the press conference, something that made Elliott even more emotional.

"I spent half my life there. Everybody there prepared me for this moment," Elliott said. "I want to make them proud and I am not going to disappoint them."

Elliott spent the last 17 seasons at UConn, four as a player becoming just the second Husky to finish her career with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, then was a graduate assistant in the UConn business office before beginning a 12-year run as an assistant coach at her alma mater.

She replaces J. Kelley Hall who was fired after Cincinnati finished 15th and 16th in the Big East in his two seasosn and becomes the second assistant coach to leave for a Division I job in the last two seasons. Tonya Cardoza led Temple to the NCAA tournament in her first season before losing to UConn in the second round at Gampel Pavilion.

"I heard about from somebody else other than Jamelle and I let her know that I wasn't happy about that," Cardoza said with a laugh. "I spoke with her and said I heard she was a candidate for the job. She said they had offered her the job and was thinking about taking it. I'm really happy for her, it is a great opportunity and it is something I know she has wanted for a while."

It won't be easy. Cincinnati was on the verge of setting a Big East record for fewest points in a half before a Kayla Roudebush 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds of the first half allowed the Bearcats to avoid that distinction. The Bearcats do return three starters including Roudebush, the team's leading scorer for the last two seasons.

Elliott will look to put together a staff quickly. Former UConn star and Cincinnati native Mel Thomas will not be a part of it. Elliott said she would love to have made Thomas a graduate assistant but that Thomas still has dreams of playing overseas and giving professional basketball a chance. She plans to meet with Tari Cummings, the only remaining assistant coach and director of basketball operations Tomeka Brown to decide if there are places for them on her first staff. She said she would like to have at least one assistant coach with collegiate head coaching experience but other than that spoke in general terms about the makeup of her staff.

Elliott said keeping more of the Ohio high school stars in the state is a priority of hers.

"I am aware, being at Connecticut for so long, how much talent is in the state of Ohio," Elliott said. "One of my top priorities is to make sure of hopefully make sure that some of the talent that is in the state of Ohio is going to stay here in the state and will want to join the family here at the University of Cincinnati."

UConn moved quickly to bring in Shea Ralph when Cardoza left a year ago and don't be surprised if they act quickly again.

Elliott met with the UConn players on Monday and admitted it was extremely emotional speaking with rising senior post players Tina Charles and Kaili McLaren who she worked with every day in practice but they knew this was a good opportunity for her and they were more happy for her than they were saddened by her departure.

Cardoza mentioned that she would love to start a series with Cincinnati so she could play against her close friend and that if they could have dropped a game, Temple could very well have been coming to UConn to play in the three-game WBCA Classic. She is looking to either the 2010-11 or 2011-12 seasons to set up a game against UConn. Elliott was a little overwhelmed with so many other things that future non-conference opponents were pretty far down on her radar screen but did say she could see Cincinnati and Temple playing each other down the road.

For your viewing pleasure

The press conference announcing former UConn assistant coach Jamelle Elliott as the new coach at Cincinnati will be airing live on the Cincinnati website.

I'll have to say the biggest challenge ahead of Elliott won't actually be winning games it will be changing the culture in the program and the program's visibility. By my count, 13 of Cincinnati's home games last season drew fewer than 500 fans.

Her first order of business will be putting together a staff quickly so they can hit the ground running by the time coaches are allowed to go back on the road in July. Tari Cummings is the only assistant coach still listed on the team roster while the bio of director of basketball operations Tomeka Brown also has her bio still up on the website. The Bearcats do return three of their four top scorers from last season including leading scorer Kahla Roudebush so Elliott may not have too much work to do to turn around Cincinnati's on-court fortunes.

If I were Elliott (luckily for her I am not) my first call would go to former Georgetown head coach Pat Knapp, recently let go at Pennsylvania. Knapp is a close friend of UConn coach Geno Auriemma's and certainly knows the Big East thanks to his 18-year stint with the Hoyas and being that Elliott is a native of Washington, D.C., it could be a decent fit. Sure, Knapp is a bit quirky like the time when he opted not to get on the team bus after a particularly poor effort by his team at Gampel Pavilion and chose to get a cab to take him to Hartford. Anybody who has ever been in Storrs can attest to how difficult that could be. Have you ever seen a taxi in Storrs? Me neither. Naturally, it would not be a shock if Elliott placed a call to former UConn star Mel Thomas, a Cincinnati native. Something tells me that the competitor in Thomas wants to at least see if she can make the Seattle Storm first before she decides to give coaching a try but the chance to get a job in her hometown on the staff of one of her former college coaches could be pretty enticing. Next, I would look to get a staff member with ties to the Ohio high school scene since I would think keeping some of the in-state prospects in state would be a major priority.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Let the search begin

When Tonya Cardoza left after the 2007-08 season to become the head coach at Temple, the name for former UConn star Shea Ralph's name came up almost immediately. It seemed like a perfect fit as long as she was willing to leave her gig as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh.

She was and by all accounts, brought a different dimension to the UConn staff not accustomed to shifts in personnel.

Finding a replacement for Jamelle Elliott, who will be named the head coach at Cincinnati today, could be a different story. Logic would dictate that UConn would want to bring in a minority coach with none currently on the staff. The most obvious name to be thrown out there is Tamika (Williams) Raymond, a member of the 2000 and 2002 national championship teams at UConn. Raymond has had a successful stint at Ohio State before moving to Kansas this past season. The only problem with Raymond coming to UConn is it was the chance to find a job closer to her Texas-based husband which led her to leave Ohio State in the first place. Unless her husband's job situation has changed, I just don't see her being a viable candidate.

It is not written in stone that Elliott's replacement has to be a former UConn player. While I have no info AND I REPEAT "NO INFO" that their names have come up or will even be considered, I do have four names to throw out there.

The first is Connecticut Sun assistant coach Bernadette Mattox who has a rather impressive resume dating back to her days as an assistant coach on Kentucky's men's basketball team before becoming Kentucky's women's coach. Mattox has been on the staff of Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault since the franchise moved from Orlando in 2003 so she certainly knows Connecticut. However, her family is comfortably situated in Kentucky so I am not sure if she wants to uproot them but she would be a nice fit at UConn both in coaching ability and personality. She did coach against Auriemma in the 1999 Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Hartford Civic Center and almost led the Wildcats to an upset before UConn emerged with a 68-62 win.

Taking into consideration that UConn would preferably like to find somebody to coach the post players, I throw out the name of Minnesota Lynx assistant coach Jen Gillom. In 2008, Gillom's first in Minnesota, she earned rave reviews in the development of rookies Nicky Anosike and Charde Houston. She actually was able to get through more to Houston in one summer than Auriemma did in his four years coaching her at UConn. She is a first-place individual who would be a sensational recruiter.

It is no coincidence that the first two names are WNBA assistants since there was talk in the offseason that the WNBA was going to eliminate one of the paid assistant coaching positions in a cost-cutting move. That could still happen but not for the upcoming season. Still, if I were a WNBA assistant, I would be concerned enough to consider a move to a college staff.

Next is Tom Garrick, who stepped down as the head coach at Rhode Island after the season. As recently as last month Garrick was quoted as saying he would like to coach again. Garrick was 56-112 in five seasons at Rhode Island so it is fair to say the jury is still out but he is a former NBA player with New England ties and he has that working for him.

The last one is the only one to have worked with Auriemma. In 2001 when Auriemma was the head coach of the 2001 U.S. Junior National team, one of his assistant coaches was Willette White, who was the head coach at Northeastern at the time. More recently White had assistant coaching stints in the Pac-10 but she is not a part of Oregon's new staff under Paul Westhead. I have no recollection of ever hearing Auriemma mentioning White's name - either in a positive or negative light - and don't know his take on White but you always look for some sort of connection when it comes to filling a vacancy and there is one in this case.

Again, don't take these candidates as anything more than potential options, just one person's thoughts. This much I do know, the chance to join a staff coming off a 39-0 season and the program's sixth national title will be a golden opportunity for somebody. Using Auriemma's track record as a frame of reference, I would expect a first-rate coach and person to be joining the staff.

Stay tuned.

Notice I didn't even mention the one minority coach who led her team to three straight Final Fours. At some point former LSU coach Pokey Chatman will return to coach in the U.S. but considering the accusations that flew as she resigned in 2007, whoever hires Chatman will need to be prepared for significant amount of backlash. Chatman's 90-14 record as LSU's head coach (105-19 is you count her time as LSU's interim coach for an ill Sue Gunter in 2004) and it is clear she knows how to coach but allegations of inappropriate sexual relationships with her players makes her return to the college game a rather large question mark and a road I wonder UConn really wants to navigate.

Speaking of coaching facing accusations, I just noticed the story of Chaminade Julienne coach Marc Greenberg, who coached not only Tamika Raymond in high school but UConn commit Samarie Walker.

Greenberg has been arrested allegedly using the Internet for the exploitation of minors and his current Chaminade Julienne (Walker included) were interviewed at school by FBI officials and members of the Dayton, Ohio police department about the Greenberg's actions.

Elliott to Cincinnati

Jamelle Elliott, a mainstay of the UConn women's basketball program since she arrived on campus in 1992, has been named the new women's basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati according to a source close to the search.

The hiring will become official at a 4 p.m. press conference on Tuesday the Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.

Elliott, who graduated from UConn in 1996 after leading the Huskies to Final Four appearances in her junior and senior seasons highlighted by a 35-0 record and the first of six national championships for UConn in the 1994-95 season.

Generally considered to be one of the top recruiters in the nation, Elliott has worked with UConn's post players during her career and is credited for the development of players like Jessica Moore, Kelly Schumacher and most recently Tina Charles and Kaili McLaren.

Elliott was in the running for the Penn State job two years ago which went to former Notre Dame assistant Coquese Washington.

She is the second staff member to leave to take a Division I head job in the last two years as Tonya Cardoza just finished her first season as Temple's head coach.

There is no word on a possible replacement for Elliott at this time.

Friday, May 01, 2009

All in the family

While it remains to be seen if former UConn forward Tahirah Williams gets to realize her dream of playing professional basketball, her brother Isaiah Williams was signed by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent.

While fellow University of Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was taken with the seventh overall pick by the Oakland Raiders, Williams went undrafted despite starting 23 games at receiver at Maryland. He finished his career with 64 catches and 902 receiving yards.