Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Asjha Jones still idle

When former UConn star Asjha Jones decided to leave her UMMC Ekaterinburg team shortly before Christmas, her hope was that the injured Achilles tendon injury would heal without the assistance of surgery.

Waiting for a couple months upon returning home, Jones and the Connecticut Sun medical staff finally scheduled a surgery. The result is that Jones is still a reluctant spectator as the WNBA franchise opened training camp on Monday.

Jones should miss at least the first half of training camp. She may be back in time to play in the final exhibition game at New York on May 11. Even if she has to skip all three preseason games, Jones is hoping she will be ready to go for the May 15 regular-season opener against Chicago.

"We waited," Jones said. "We didn't do it right away to see if it would heal on its own and it didn't. It didn't progress far enough, we waited as long as we could and it (the surgery) had to happen."

The injury forced Jones to miss the final 11 games of the season, the first time she was sidelined for a prolonged period during her WNBA career. After winning two of the first three games without Jones, the Sun predictably struggled without the All-Star forward to carry the offensive load. The Sun lost five straight games all by at least 10 points and missed the playoffs for the first time since relocating from Orlando before the 2003 season.

"It hard to look back on that," Jones said. "It drives you forward. Even little things, where to sit on the bench do you want to sit in the middle of the team, do you want to sit by the coaches? It is hard to figure all of that stuff out. You want to help but you can't. You have KG (Kerri Gardin) playing the 4 (power forward) and that is not where she belongs. I felt guilty because now they are being put in a position where they shouldn't be."

With Jones out of action and the trio of Tan White, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda expected to be late arrivals, third-year forwad Gardin is the only person currently practicing with the team who has appeared in a game with the Sun. Lindsay Whalen is now in Minnesota after a trade which netted Connecticut former UConn teammates Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles. Amber Holt and Chante Black were traded to Tulsa (formerly Detroit), Tamika Whitmore was released while Erin Phillips and Kiesha Brown were not re-signed.

Former Sacramento Monarchs teammates Kara Lawson and DeMya Walker are among the new additions, joining Montgomery, Charles and fellow 2010 WNBA draftees Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower on a new-look Connecticut squad. Five training camp invitees including former Sacred Heart University star Kaitlin Sowinski were brought in. A sixth player, former Florida State guard Alicia Gladden, was not able to make it so a replacement for her is expected to be named shortly.

White, one of many travelers impacted by volcano in Iceland, could arrive by Wednesday according to Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault. Jekabsone-Zogota and Gruda are on opposite teams playing for Spartak Moscow Region and UMMC Ekaterinburg in the best of five Russian championship series. Jekabsone-Zogota could be in camp by the first week of May while Gruda is expected to miss at least the first five games before arriving in early June.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

CPTV to air documentary on Sunday

CPTV will air a documentary looking back at UConn's undefeated season at 3:30 and 7 p.m. In between the station will broadcast a look back at the 1994-95 undefeated UConn squad.

Here's the release from CPTV

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has done it again! They’ve won another NCAA championship with an undefeated season under their belt – the fourth undefeated season in the program’s history and seventh NCAA championship.

CPTV is celebrating with the rest of the state with a new original documentary called Perfection…Again! featuring a look back at the entire history-making season, and it’s packed full of thrilling game footage. The one-hour documentary premieres Sunday, April 25 at 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television (CPTV).

Between the first and second broadcast of Perfection…Again! on April 25, CPTV will be presenting a broadcast of its original documentary, 35-0! at 5:30 p.m., in honor of the 15th anniversary of UConn’s first undefeated championship in 1995.

Narrated by veteran ESPN color analyst Doris Burke, Perfection…Again! chronicles all the milestones and extraordinary moments of the 2009-2010 season, including when the team broke the 70-game winning streak record for women’s college basketball. The team demonstrated an unprecedented domination of the sport, having not lost a game since April 2008 and winning every game by double digits with the exception of its challenging match-up against Stanford CPTV’s New Documentary on the 2009-2010 UConn Huskies, Perfection…Again! in the 2010 NCAA Tournament Championship game. The documentary will cover their spectacular Big East tournament win (winning five of the last six Big East tournaments) and honor their unequaled accomplishment in women’s basketball – two back-to-back undefeated seasons culminating in two NCAA Championships.

Perfection…Again! recounts the reasons why UConn’s 2009-2010 team will be remembered as one of the best to ever play the game. Senior Tina Charles – generally considered to be the best center in the country and the 2010 Naismith National Player of the Year – broke UConn’s all-time points and rebounding record, originally held by former UConn players Nykesha Sales and Rebecca Lobo, respectively. Junior Maya Moore, who won the Wade Trophy for the second consecutive year, also passed the 2,000-point mark this season – completing the milestone faster than any player in UConn history. With a 3.9 GPA, Moore was named the 2010 ESPN The Magazine Academic All America® of the Year for women’s basketball as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America. And Kalana Greene, All-America candidate, was named the Big East’s Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and set the record for most games played at UConn.

Hall of Fame Head Coach Geno Auriemma also reached a milestone this year -- winning over 700 games in his career and reaching that pinnacle in a shorter time than any coach before. Coach Auriemma has also been named Head Coach of Team USA.

In addition to the premiere of Perfection…Again! CPTV is airing another exciting re-release, 35-0! This CPTV Original documentary chronicles the extraordinary undefeated 1994-1995 season of the UConn Women’s basketball team that tapped off a 35-game winning streak with their first NCAA tournament championship. From the team’s pre-season trip to Europe to earning the program’s first #1 ranking in January to toppling the perennial powerhouse Tennessee Lady Vols in the NCAA championship game, this one-hour documentary recounts all the triumphs and challenges of Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s team that included such future basketball legends as Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti and Kara Wolters. 35-0! features electrifying game footage, enlightening interviews with coaches and players, as well as jubilant behind-the-scenes moments that demonstrate why this team had the heart and chemistry to take them into the history books.

During the broadcast, CPTV will also be offering unique items for auction, including autographed basketballs signed by the team.

Training camp roster set

With the announcement of guards Sha Brooks (Florida), Alicia Gladden (Florida State) and May Kotsopoulos (Vermont), forwards Judie Lomax (Columbia) and Pauline Love (Southern Mississippi) and center Sarah Sowinski (Sacred Heart) being invited to training camp, it's fair to surmise that the Sun isn't planning to add a veteran off the waiver wire - at the current time.

With Sandrine Gruda not expected to join the Sun until early June because of her European and French national team playing commitments, two of the invitees could make the opening day roster. Anete Jekabsone-Zogota will also not be there for the start of camp.

There are some interesting stories among the invitees. I remember Brooks when Florida played at UConn in the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament. She is a player and I could certainly see her sticking around for a bit especially for a Connecticut team lacking for guards at the current time. If Kara Lawson isn't able to go at the start of training camp because of a previous knee injury she aggravated during the recent U.S. national team training session and Tan White trying to get a flight to the U.S. at the current time, that leaves Montgomery and rookie Allison Hightower as the only ballhandling guards for the start of camp. Gladden is also interesting since she is coming off a solid season playing for Energa Torun in Poland. Kotsopoulos is more of a wing player who was a productive scorer at Vermont who may hold the distinction of being the first player in league history to go from interning to the team one year to trying out for the squad the following year.

Lomax was the Ivy League Player of the Year while Love is the only one of the roster camp invitees currently listed on the Connecticut Sun's roster on the WNBA website, not that you can read too much into that. Both were very productive but undersized posts who averaged double-doubles in college. Sowinski is a player I know the Sun coaches and others in WNBA circles kept tabs on.

Many years these invited players are little more than warm bodies which allow coaches to run a training camp but this year the competition should be fierce with those players knowing that there are spots available for them to earn.

I should be able to learn more when I head down to the first day of training camp on Monday in New London. It should be noted that 13 of the 15 players on the training camp roster at the start of camp where not with the team when the 2009 training camp commences as the six invitees are joined by rookies Tina Charles, Kelsey Griffin and Hightower, offseason acquisitions Montgomery, Lawson and DeMya Walker while White was plucked off the waiver wire last year. Asjha Jones and Kerri Gardin are the only holdovers.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Battle cut by Liberty

Former UConn guard/forward Ashley Battle was waived by the New York Liberty on Tuesday.

Battle played the last four seasons with New York, averaging 5.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.8 steals.

Battle, a 27-year-old native of Pittsburgh, was a second-round by Seattle in 2005 but only played two games with the Storm.

Battle was a member of three national championship teams at UConn and had 1,054 points in 149 games for the Huskies. Her 149 games played was an NCAA record before it was broken first by UConn's Renee Montgomery and then by the Huskies' Kalana Greene, who will likely be asked to deliver much of the energy and defensive presence that Battle provided for the Liberty over the last four seasons.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recruiting tidbit

My intention has been to wait until I had a little more pertinent information to report but since my e-mail in box has been lighting up about the very tall visitor at the USA Basketball scrimmage hanging out with UConn assistant coaches Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley, I will pass on what little info I have.

Her name is Marie Mungedi although she often goes by the name of Mimi and I've been told she is 6-9 although she didn't look quite that tall when I saw her walking by me at the XL Center on Sunday. The info I have is that she attended school in the Charlotte, N.C. area but when I contacted the Charlotte Observer on Sunday night, the person I spoke to had not heard of her and I have yet to hear back from the paper's high school reporter. I came up empty on a search of the Observer's website.

The basic info I have on her is that she is originally from Africa, would be eligible to play in the upcoming college season and the other big-name school I've heard about being in the mix with her is Texas A&M.

I'm usually more thorough with my recruiting reports and would have preferred waiting until I had a more complete report on her to post this info but since there is an unhealthy obsession (not sure that is a strong enough word) with recruiting information in this state, something I have never completely understood considering the remarkable amount of success at UConn that should be more than enough for a normal person to focus on, I figured I would pass on what little info.

Geno on WTIC Wednesday

Geno Auriemma will be a guest host on WTIC-1080's Midday show Wednesday from 9 a.m.-noon with UConn football coach Randy Edsall serving in the same capacity on Friday from 9-noon.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Samuelson commits to Stanford

Edison (Calif.) High wing Bonnie Samuelson, who received a scholarship offer after an unofficial visit to UConn, has committed to Stanford according to a report on the blog.

The 6-foot-2 Samuelson averaged 27 points, 9 rebounds and 4.4 steals as a junior at Edison.


A different kind of celebration

Sunday was a joyous day for UConn women's basketball fans as they got to see former Huskies Swin Cash and Renee Montgomery in action again as well as the stars of the 2009-10 national championship team (Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Kalana Greene) in action at a scrimmage at the XL Center. Then Charles, Moore and Greene joined their teammates for a parade in Hartford celebrating the Huskies' seventh national championship.

There are some different emotions going through my head today, however as I attend a different kind of celebration over the next two days - one reflecting the life of Cheshire's Nicholas LaTorraca.

At UConn's season-opening win over Northeastern I heard some rumblings about a sick teenager from Cheshire who was at the game. I did some checking and discovered the story of the then-14 year old Nicholas LaTorraca. The former middle school soccer star was stricken with cancer and when I stumbled across the online journal which his mom so diligently contributed to, I felt compelled to tell his story.

That story ran on Christmas day. Well, this afternoon I will be headed back to Cheshire but this time to attend Nicholas' wake. He died on Wednesday night around 9:30 p.m. at the age of 15. It goes without saying that I was heartbroken when I received word of Nicholas' passing. Although I only met him once, I came away struck by not only his courage in dealing with a battle for his life but also saw glimpses of his fun-loving nature which made him such a popular kid. There have been more than 15,000 visits to his mom's online journal and three separate facebook groups were started in his honor drawing more than 1,500 supporters. I can't even imagine how many people will be turning out for his wake today or funeral tomorrow or how many tears will be shed in his honor. I can't comprehend what his loving parents Henry and Karen are going through right now. Not only did they lose their only child but they had to watch him suffer over these last 14 months. If you take even a minute to look at the online diary, you will get a glimpse of how difficult and painful those last few days, weeks and months were. I am sure the words written by his mom just scratched the surface of the emotions they have gone through and continue to contend with.

Reporters take a vow of objectivity. They are not supposed to get too close to a story but that was simply not possible in this case. Last night I got a little misty eyed when the show Two and a Half Men came on my television because Nicholas told me that was one of his favorite shows. I came away so impressed with the LaTorraca family and the incredible grace and dignity they dealt with the tragic circumstances. Up to the very end I hoped somehow there would be a much different ending to this story. Nicholas said he had dreams of helping others and I hoped there would be a day 10, 15 years down the line when I could document the difference he was making in the lives of others. Unfortunately, that is one story I will never be able to write.

I am going to the wake today not as a journalist but as a human being struck by the same profound sense of loss that so many others are going through.

In the 20 years I have been a newspaper reporter, I have told the stories of countless individual, done so many interviews and met a variety of people but few have touched me as much as the LaTorraca family and the incredibly sad saga they have endured over the last 14 months. When my career comes to an end and I look back at the most memorable experiences and/or stories I have worked on, I find it hard to believe that too many will surpass my mid-December interview with the LaTorracas or the story I wrote about an incredibly brave teenager who inspired so many including myself.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's a wrap

It was closing day on so many levels on Sunday.

First up was the scrimmage at the XL Center between the U.S. senior national team and the U.S. Select squad. The final event of the eight days of the training camp ended in style with Maya Moore scoring in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter.

Moore, who scored more than 40 points in Saturday's scrimmage, had 32 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals. She, along with former UConn teammate Renee Montgomery, were also 4-0 on Sunday. After the U.S. won the first and second quarters with ease, UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma sent Moore and Montgomery to play for the Selects while Monica Wright and Jasmine Thomas moved over to join the national squad. The Select squad promptly won the third and fourth quarters.

"We don’t lose," Moore said. "Renee and I were 4-0 today."

After the scrimmage ended, Auriemma, Moore, Tina Charles and Kalana Greene had to scurry over to the state capitol for the start of UConn's national championship parade.

Hartford police estimated that 25,000 fans turned out for the parade and there was also a pretty good turnout at the exhibition game as well as Sunday turned into a carnival of Connecticut women's basketball.

"I think this is the dream when you are a little kid, just growing up watching players on TV and seeing women’s basketball, the excitement around it," Moore said. "I don’t think you could get any better. It is a celebration of the two most winning programs in women’s sports."

The impressive turnout wasn't lost on Carol Callan, USA Basketball's Women's National Team Director. After the scrimmage I asked her if it was realistic to expect a future national team camp or two to return to Connecticut.

"Today with just the reception from the UConn fans, it could not have been better," Callan said. "We pulled it together kind of quickly, didn'r have a whole lot of time to sell tickets. The reception was fabulous, exactly what I would think from UConn fans."

Callan was also thrilled with how much was accomplished during the eight days of training.

"It was better than I could have expected in terms of the play between the two teams," Callan said. "The mixing and matching (of the rosters), the competitiveness culminating in the last couple of possessions here, it is exactly what we had hoped for. Getting down to it in terms of value for us, it couldn't have been better. We had the chance to bring in the national team a little early and just have the younger players who played several summers with us just see the competitive level and maturity of the pros really helped them and I think everybody walks away with something to work on, keep getting better which is the advantage that we have."

Callan didn't rule out having a future training camp in Connecticut. Auriemma certainly liked having his support staff at UConn at his disposal.

"There is a comfort level for him that really makes it easier for everybody," Callan said. "The fact that there is as much interest makes the players feel, they know they are going to go overseas and everybody's going to be against them. It is really nice to have a situation where everybody is for them as we send them off. It is a great environment and we are happy to take advantage again if we can."

For a basketball standpoint, Moore and Charles certainly proved them belong on the national team as did former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry. Former UConn star Swin Cash was also a dynamic force who should very much be in any discussions regarding future national teams between now and the 2012 Olympics.

I also found it intriguing to see Auriemma work with college players who will face the Huskies next season as Stanford's Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike, Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson (before suffering a left ankle injury on Friday), Duke's Jasmine Thomas and Ohio State's Jantel Lavender should all benefit from Auriemma's tutelage. I asked Geno if he thought his work over the last eight days could come back to haunt him when his team plays Stanford, Oklahoma, Duke and Ohio State next season.

"We will take a look at that next year and see if we can't make a couple changes to what we are doing just to screw them up a little bit," Auriemma said with a laugh. "I gave them a couple things that are going to mess up their heads a little bit too, so I didn't completely send them off in great shape. I'm sure a couple of them are pretty confused. I like it like that."

I spoke with Lavender and Thomas about the topic and there should be a story - possibly as soon as Tuesday - in the Register about what they got out of the week.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Parade set for tomorrow

The parade honoring the national championship UConn women's basketball team is set for tomorrow at 3 p.m. Here's some info on the parade route and parking

Also, fans can purchase tickets to see the final USA Basketball scrimmage which will start around 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at the XL Center. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at or at the XL Center box office.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kalana impressing; Kara ailing

Just returned home from the scrimmage between the U.S. senior national team and the U.S. Select squad.

First the details, the U.S. national team won each of the 10-minute periods 26-14, 24-13 and 17-15. Four players scored in double figures and all four either attended or in the case of Maya Moore, are still attending school at UConn.

Moore had a scrimmage-best 13 points to go with three rebounds (according to my very unofficial stats). Kalana Greene had 12 points and four rebounds, Renee Montgomery also had 12 points while Tina Charles finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. If you throw in ex-Husky Swin Cash's seven points, UConn products scored 54 points and non-Huskies finished with 55 points.

A couple of newsworthy items.

Greene and Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson, originally members of the U.S. Select player pool, practiced with the national squad on Friday. Greene suited up for the national team and Robinson would have if she didn't injure her left ankle during Friday morning's practice.

How impressive was Greene? Well, let her college coach Geno Auriemma, who is doubling as the U.S. national team coach, answer that.

"Kalana's been amazing," Auriemma said. "She's playing as well as I have ever seen her. She is playing with such confidence, she is really opening some eyes."

It's been a pretty good run for Greene who recently helped the Huskies to a second straight undefeated season, was taken in the second round of the WNBA draft by the New York Liberty and is preparing for her college graduation. On the court she looked at home on the court with former Olympians and those considered locks to be named to the 2012 U.S. Olympic squad.

Greene was as aggressive offensively as I have ever seen her. While she cooled off after a hot start shooting the ball, if she plays during the WNBA season like she did on Friday, she could in the running for WNBA Rookie of the Year honors.

One reason why Greene was called over to the national team practice was because former Stanford star Jayne Appel can not practice because of ankle and foot injuries and Connecticut Sun guard Kara Lawson is sidelined with a reaggravation of an injured knee she has been diligently rehabbing during the offseason.

Lawson practiced on Sunday but has since shut it down after feeling some pain following Snuday's practice.

Lawson has been working with the Connecticut Sun's training staff and is uncertain if she will be available for the start of Connecticut's training camp next week.

Lawson, signed by the Sun in the offseason, was kind enough to indulge me and give me her impressions of her soon to be teammates Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower, who both played for the Select squad.

"Kelsey is playing really well, she is a very good basketball player and really knows how to play," Lawson said. "She gets some rebounds and I wonder 'how did she get that.'

"(Hightower) is crafty and is a good offensive player. She's a lefty as well which is a plus."

Hightower had seven points while Griffin had two points and five rebounds during the scrimmage.

A couple of other players who impressed me where reigning WNBA rookie of the year Angel McCoughtry who had a scrimmage-best six steals and also showed off her passing skills setting up Greene for back-to-back baskets. McCoughtry finished with five assists. Duke's Jasmine Thomas was a star for the Select squad. Thomas had eight point and three steals and I have been at enough of Auriemma's UConn practices to know when he takes a shine to a player and he spent as much time instructing Thomas during breaks in the scrimmage than any other player.

Here's a breakdown of the three 10-minute periods
Session 1, 26-14: Moore opened with an assist on a Candice Dupree basket and followed with a 3-pointer. Montgomery had a 3-pointer and three-point play to give the U.S. national squad a 13-4 lead. After the Select squad pulled within three, Charles scored on a putback off an offensive rebound while Greene had a slick jumper off the glass and McCoughtry hit two free throws during the 6-1 run which stopped the Select team's momentum.

Session 2, 24-13: Jantel Lavender's three-point play off a set up from Andrea Riley gave the Selects an early one-point lead. Dupree's back-to-back baskets gave the U.S. national team the lead for good. Seimone Augustus, still working her way back from a knee injury, had five points during a 12-2 run including a jumper to give the veterans a 20-9 squad.

Section 3, 17-15: In an attempt to even the playing field, Auriemma sent Moore and Montgomery to play for the Selects while Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike and Monica Wright of Virginia played for the National Team.

A Greene jumper was followed by four straight points by Charles to put the Nationals ahead 12-6. Montgomery led the Select squad back, assisting on a Lavender basket and adding a 3-pointer and steal and layup (bowling over former teammate and roommate Greene in the process) to tie the score at 15. Cash hit the tie-breaking basket and Stanford's Kayla Pedersen missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whitmore waived by Sun

Veteran forward Tamika Whitmore, the centerpiece in the 2008 trade which sent Katie Douglas to Indiana, was waived by the WNBA's Connecticut Sun on Thursday.

The odds of Whitmore, who averaged 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 58 games with the Sun, making the 2010 Connecticut roster were not promising with DeMya Walker claimed in a dispersal draft and the trade which brought former Nebraska All-American Kelsey Griffin to Connecticut.

“We thought this was the best course for both Tamika and the Connecticut Sun,” Vice President and General Manager Chris Sienko said in a statement. “Doing this now gives Tamika the best opportunity to find a spot on another team."

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Maya wins Honda Award

Maya Moore won the 2010 Honda Sports Award in basketball making her eligible for the prestigious Honda Broderick Cup.

Moore, who averaged 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds as a junior, is the second straight UConn player to win the award and sixth since Rebecca Lobo was the winner in 1995.

Moore, who is the first junior in program history to reach the 2,000-point plateau, beat out teammate Tina Charles, Kelsey Griffin of Nebraska and Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike to win the award.

CPTV's "Perfection...Again!" a retrospective look at UConn's recently-completed 39-0 season will air on the station on Apr. 25 at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

U.S. national/select teams to scrimmage

The U.S. national team camp, under the guidance of UConn's Geno Auriemma, will wrap up with a scrimmage on Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford.

The U.S. national team includes UConn rising senior Maya Moore as well as former Husky stars Tina Charles, Swin Cash and Renee Montgomery while former UConn standout Kalana Greene is a member of the U.S. Select team along with 2010 Connecticut Sun draftees Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower.

Tickets are $10 and are available at or by calling ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 and in person at the XL Center box office. Seating for the scrimmage will be general admission. This is the public's only chance to watch the training camp as the other practices and scrimmages are closed to the public.

After the scrimmage is over, Charles, Moore, Greene and Auriemma will head over and join the rest of the national champion Huskies for the start of the 3 p.m. parade held in its honor.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Raymond leaves Kansas

Not sure if this is old news or not but former UConn star Tamika (Williams) Raymond's decision to leave her post as an assistant coach at Kansas definitely escaped my attention.

Raymond, a member of UConn's 2000 and 2002 national championship teams, stepped down so she could be closer to her husband, who lives in Dallas.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Appel: A reluctant spectator

When Geno Auriemma held his first training camp as the head coach of the U.S. senior women's national team, an injured Jayne Appel could only start on the outskirts of the court and absorb everything she could. Six months later it was like deja vu all over again for the former Stanford star.

Ankle and foot injuries suffered during the national championship game loss to UConn is preventing Appel from taking part in drills this week at the U.S. training camp but once again she made the trip to the East coast to be on hand for the training sessions.

"It is definitely disappointing," Appel said. "I wanted to get on the court but in the long run, hopefully there will be another opportunity to try out. I am keeping that in mind. As much as I want to go."

This has to be a bit of a surreal experience for Appel. Her college career came to an end against UConn as did her junior season yet here she was in the hub of Huskymania surrounded by current and former Huskies Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Swin Cash, being coached by Auriemma with some help from Auriemma's UConn staff and mementos of UConn's incredible run of success everywhere inside of Gampel Pavilion. Taking all of this in less than a week after a bitter loss to UConn has been interesting to say the least for Appel.

"It's a little quick but it is all positive, to be here is an opportunity I would never not want to take advantage of," Appel said. "It is definitely a little strange, it's weird seeing all blue everywhere but it's for the right reasons."

Appel has been hobbled for much of her senior season but fought through the pain and had Stanford on the cusp of a national title. That all changed when she collided with UConn's Tiffany Hayes and crumpled to the floor. Appel displayed tremendous grit in returning to the game but she was not the same player. For the first time in her remarkable career at Stanford, she did not score.

"When I went down, my ankle got really hot and I knew I had redone it," Appel said. "I knew I only had that much time left and I wanted to leave it on the floor literally. That was my emotion of 'hey, how can I get back out there as soon as possible?'

"I knew it wouldn't need surgery, it was just a bad ankle sprain the first time and it wasn't strong enough to hold out through six games, it got me through 5 1/2."

Appel, perhaps because of the injury concerns, slipped to the fifth pick in the WNBA draft but was thrilled to be taken by the San Antonio Silver Stars even if San Antonio was the scene of the worst game of her college career.

"Very excited, the more I thought about it, the more excited I got," Appel said.

Appel believes she is only weeks and not months away from being healthy but is not going to rush back and risk another pain-filled season.

"My goal is to be 100 percent healthy. I don't want to be 90 percent and have it deteroriate over time," Appel said. "I am definitely going to start playing when I am 100 percent healthy, whenever it happens, it happens."

In terms of her USA Basketball future, Appel has at least one valuable person in her corner.

"This is not for everybody," Auriemma said. "You can't be just anybody and say I am involved in USA Basketball. They have to have a tremendous love for the game, love for the program that USA Basketball is and Jayne fits that category. She loves to play, she has had great success with USA Basketball, she's done a lot for us and she knows because of the situation she is in and the position she plays, she has a real chance to be a factor. I think she wants to be ready, when she is ready to play she
wants to be ready instead of jumping in and trying to catch up. Maybe it will be sooner rather than later. I am looking forward to when that it because obviously the stuff that we run, she fits in perfect with that."

The national team will continue training in Connecticut through Sunday. Practices are not open to the public but there is a chance that fans will be able to watch the scrimmage on the final day of the training camp. Details on the camp-ending scrimmage should be coming soon.

Speaking of the training camp, the U.S. coaching staff for the World Championships was completed with the announcement that Marynell Meadors of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream will join Auriemma, DePaul's Doug Bruno and Jen Gillom of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks on the world championship staff.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Geno's double life

These are hectic times in Geno Auriemma's life.

Fresh off guiding UConn to its second straight undefeated season and seventh national title, Auriemma only had a couple of days to unwind before preparing to run a training camp with the U.S. senior national team. The camp opened on Sunday night at Gampel Pavilion and will end with a scrimmage on April 18.

"There are a lot of things that I have to do at Connecticut between now and next October and I am lucky that our staff is going to able to help me do that and there is a lot that I have to do for USA Basketball including win a world championship," Auriemma said. "Right now my main focus between now and the start of preseason practice on Oct. 15 is to win a world championship and everything I do this summer between now and then is going to be geared towards that.

"As soon as I am done with that, just kind of turn the switch and get ready for UConn basketball again in October. I have always been pretty good about that, just kind of picking things up and putting them on the shelf and then coming back to them when I need them and go onto the next thing. The first couple of days were tough, Wednesday/Thursday were not easy after we won because of the intensity level of what happened. I feel good, I feel better now than I did Wednesday, I was shot on Wednesday."

Auriemma's next public act as UConn's head coach will come at the April 18 parade in Hartford but behind the scene he will be coordinating his staff's game plan for the NCAA evaluation period which runs from Friday-April 20.

"This coming week there is practice for the national team, the young guys - the college guys - are coming in midway through the week, I have some recruiting to do, we have the parade, the scrimmage," Auriemma said. "It's probably good that we cram all that in because my Sunday night, Monday morning I know I am done and I can really kind of step back and observe the whole thing and see where it is. I am kind of looking forward to next Monday, it will really be the first time that I don't really have anything looming except the Kentucky Derby."

Auriemma said he won't be going out on the road as associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant coaches Marissa Moseley and Shea Ralph will be the ones making the rounds.

"I am going to miss it, it is this coming weekend. All the coaches will be gone and I'll be here," Auriemma said. "We are involved with some really good players and we have an opportunity to get further involved."

NCAA rules prohibits Auriemma from discussing individual recruits but the Huskies have received commitments from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a highly-decorated 6-foot wing out of Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., and Brianna Banks, a 5-foot-10 guard out of Northgate High in Newnan, Ga. UConn is expected to focus its recruiting efforts on landing a post player or two with Elizabeth Williams out of Virginia Beach, Va., Kiah Stokes of Marion, Iowa and Ally Malott out of Middletown, Ohio at the top of the list. UConn has previously offered scholarships to two other perimeter players (Delaware wing Betnijah Laney and California wing Bonnie Samuelson).

One player not on UConn's radar is Kelsey Bone. A recruiting source told me that UConn is not interested in the 6-foot-5 Texas native who recently announced she was leaving South Carolina despite being named the Southeastern Conference's Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press. UConn pursued Bone out of Dulles High in Sugar Land, Tex. but the Huskies were not a finalist for Bone's services.

Swin Cash knows a thing or two about being part of a five-member freshman class, coning into UConn in 1998 along with Sue Bird, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and Keirsten Walters so I asked her if she had any advice for UConn's five-member incoming freshman class.

"Don't name themselves," Cash said with a laugh as she recalled how her class named themselves the TASSK Force. "Have a lot of energy. You are going to make a heck a lot of mistakes but if you go hard, going hard will win you a heck of a lot more games than you think. That is my advice.

"I remember asking Coach (Auriemma) 'why am I starting (as a freshman)?' I came in and Tamika (Williams) was the No. 1 ranked (high school) player in the country, we had Asjha (Jones), Stacy (Hansmeyer), Paige (Sauer) and I am just a skinny little kid and nobody from my neighborhood thought I'd be playing a lot of minutes let alone starting on the team. I think it was the high level he expected us to play, the energy we needed out there."

Former Stanford star Jayne Appel was at the training camp but her injured ankle and foot will keep her from taking part. Appel said she is probably a couple of weeks away from being able to get back on the court but no surgery will be needed. She is not rushing back to be ready in time for the start of training camp with the WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars on April 26, determined not to be back until she is 100 percent so she doesn't reaggravate her injuries.

There will be more from my interview with Appel in the next day or two.

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Taurasi does it again

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 29 points to lead Spartak Moscow Region to an 87-80 win over host Ros Casares in the EuroLeague Women's Final Sunday in Valencia, Spain.

Taurasi, who had 37 points in the semifinal win over fellow Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg, was named the Final Four's MVP for the second straight year.

It was the fourth straight title for Spartak but Taurasi said "this is probably the sweetest of them all." It was a trying year as Spartak owner Shabtai von Kalmanovic was assassinated on Nov. 2. Spartak also saw star forward/center Lauren Jackson opt to leave Spartak to play in her native Australia for Canberra.

Janel McCarville added 20 points, Ilona Korstin had 16 points while former UConn guard Sue Bird finished with five points and six assists.

Delisha Milton-Jones of the Los Angeles Sparks led Ros Casares with 19 points.

UMMC Ekaterinburg defeated Wisla Can-Pack 84-50 in the third-place game behind 21 points from Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks. Sandrine Gruda of the Connecticut Sun had eight points and seven rebounds for Ekaterinburg.

The U.S. senior women's national team training camp started about an hour later with without Alana Beard of the Washington Mystics but the nine players including late arrival Candice Dupree of the Phoenix Mercury all took to the Gampel Pavilion court at 6 p.m. Although the practice was closed to the public, the entire UConn team was allowed in to watch the first day of the eight-day training camp.

At the current time none of the practices or scrimmages are open to the public but there is a chance that the scrimmage on Apr. 18 will be open to the general public although details on the time and place has yet to be announced. In the release put out about UConn's national championship parade, there was speculation that there would be a 12:30 scrimmage at the XL Center in Hartford although details on that scrimmage still have to be wrapped up.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Charles wins Wooden Award

Tina Charles beat out her former UConn teammate Maya Moore and future Connecticut Sun teammate Kelsey Griffin to win the women's Wooden Award.

Charles, who also won the Associated Press, Naismith and United States Basketball Writers Association player of the year awards, leaves UConn as the Huskies' all-time leading scorer and rebounder. She was also a driving force behind Connecticut teams which posted back to back 39-0 seasons.

Charles beat out Moore 252-251 in the closest voting in the seven years that there has been a women's Wooden Award winner. Griffin was a distant third with 114 points.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Bird, Taurasi one win from another title

Diana Taurasi's reputation as the best women's basketball in the world at the current time certainly didn't suffer as a result of her performance in the semifinals of the EuroLeague semifinals on Friday.

The former UConn star had 37 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block to lead three-time defending champion Spartak Moscow Region to an 87-79 win over Russian rival UMMC Ekaterinburg. Sylvia Fowles had 14 points and 12 rebounds, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota of the Connecticut Sun had 12 points and former UConn star Sue Bird added seven points, three rebounds and three assists as Spartak advances to meet Ros Casares in Sunday's championship game.

Candace Parker had 18 points to lead four players in double figures for UMMC Ekaterinburg while the Connecticut Sun's Sandrine Gruda had four points and 11 rebounds. Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova did not score and had one rebound in eight minutes for Ekaterinburg.

Ros Casares, playing at home in Valencia, Spain, defeated Wisla Can-Pack of Krakow, Poland 86-57 in the second semifinal behind a 23-point, 11-rebound effort from former Connecticut Sun forward/center Erika de Souza.

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Championship parade set for April 18

The parade and rally honoring the national championship UConn women's basketball team will be held on April 18 beginning at 3 p.m.

The victory parade will begin and end at the State Capitol and the route will include the Bushnell Park, Main Street and Capitol Avenue areas of Hartford. A celebration rally with the coaches and players will take place on the north steps of the Capitol building immediately following the parade.

Before the start of the parade, the U.S. senior national team, coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma, is expected to play an exhibition scrimmage against the USA Basketball Select Team at 12:30 pm at the XL Center.

UConn just completed its second straight 39-0 season with a 53-47 win over Stanford in the national championship game on Tuesday. It is the Huskies seventh national title including sixth in the last 11 seasons.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

WNBA draft: A look back

Give the Connecticut Sun hierarchy credit for making the WNBA draft interesting.

The three trades Connecticut made landed the Sun the No. 1, 3 and 7 picks. It essentially cost them Lindsay Whalen, Amber Holt, Chante Black and next year's No. 1 pick.

The result is that Kelsey Griffin and Danielle McCray hold head coach and player personnel director Mike Thibault's future in their hands. If they have the impact that Thibault thinks they will, the moves will be lauded. If they have the impact of former Connecticut first round picks Holt, Black and Ketia Swanier, it's likely that Thibault's run with the Sun could be over.

Personally, I think it was an incredible day for the Sun especially when you add in second-round pick Allison Hightower who I couldn't believe slipped out of the first round.

There will be some growing pains but I think the additions of No. 1 overall pick Tina Charles, Griffin and Hightower (McCray is still recovering from a torn ACL and won't play this season) to new additions Renee Montgomery, Kara Lawson and DeMya Walker change the Sun for the better. However, if the Sun miss the playoffs and the pick ends up turning into the No. 1 overall pick, Griffin will always be known as the player traded for the rights to Maya Moore.

I don't think that is going to happen. I expect Sandrine Gruda and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota to raise the level of their games as the two European stars continue to get more comfortable to the WNBA game. Asjha Jones is simply one of the best players in the league and should have more help in the frontcourt than she did last season.

The moves should make for an interesting training camp. Assuming Jones, Gruda, Jekabsone-Zogota, Lawson, Montgomery, Walker, Charles and Griffin make the team that leaves three spots for Hightower, Tamika Whitmore, Kerri Gardin and Tan White to fight over. If Hightower is as good as I think she is, I think that the final spot may come down to Whitmore and White. Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said guard Erin Phillips will not be back with the Sun this season so she won't figure into the fight for the 11 roster spots.

On a side note, New York Liberty second-round pick Kalana Greene had some fun with Hartford Courant UConn/Sun beatwriter John Altavilla during her conference call with the Connecticut media today. John has periodically asked Charles and Greene about their thoughts on the upcoming WNBA draft and neither player would answer other than saying that they are focused on leading UConn to a national title. So when Kalana took a question from John today, her response of "now I can finally answer some WNBA questions" brought the house down.

Three-time defending champion Spartak Moscow Region, led by ex-UConn stars Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, face the Gruda-led UMMC Ekaterinburg in the first EuroLeague semifinal on Friday while Ros Casares plays Wisla Can-Pack in the other semifinal in Valencia, Spain. The winners play in the championship game on April 11.

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Leedham taken by Sun

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham, the all-time leading scorer in Division II history, was taken in the third round by the Connecticut Sun wrapping up a whirlwind day for the Sun.

Here's a link to a video interview I did with Leedham at the Final Four

Charles, McCray and Griffin headed to Sun

After taking, to the surpise of absolutely nobody, former UConn star Tina Charles with the first overall pick and then took Danielle McCray of Kansas with the seventh overall pick. Then the Sun traded its first-round pick in the 2011 draft and Tulsa's second-round pick in 2011 which the Sun acquired in yesterday's trade to acquire the rights to Nebraska's Kelsey Griffin, taking third overall by Minnesota.

New York took former UConn star Kalana Greene with the first pick of the second round (No. 13 overall) while the Sun selected former LSU star Allison Hightower with the 15th overall pick.

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Feeling a draft

It is a foregone conclusion that Tina Charles of UConn will be taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Connecticut Sun and Virginia guard Monica Wright seems likely to land in Minnesota with either the second or third pick. Former Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince also doesn't figure to fall out of the top five but after that it is nothing but a series of question marks.

What happens with the No. 3 pick could alter the entire draft. If Minnesota keeps the pick, common sense would dictate that the Lynx go big.

When the college season began, all the talk at the top of the draft surrounded Charles and Jayne Appel of Stanford. But anybody who watched the Cardinal play this season can tell you that Appel was clearly not at 100 percent. It was painful to watch her hobble off the court in the national-championship game and see her for 0 for 12 in the game might have second thoughts. There were rumblings that Appel's injured ankle might require surgery and even if it doesn't, suitable rest for the ankle would seem to be in order.

If Minnesota doesn't want to wait on Appel, what do they do? Jacinta Monroe of Florida State is an intriguing prospect and a force on the defensive end but still a work in progression on the other end of the court. Nebraska's Kelsey Griffin had a brilliant senior season and is a versatile offensive player but at 6-foot-2, will she be able to match up defensively with WNBA centers?

It would seem like those would be the likely choices and then if Prince goes to Chicago with the fourth pick, which seems like a reasonable assumption on my part, that leaves the remaining two aforementioned post players with some wing players will differing red flags.

Andrea Riley is a dynamic offensive player but listed at 5-foot-5, she doesn't seem to fit anywhere but at point guard. At Oklahoma State Riley was asked the shoot and ask questions later but that approach won't fly on her WNBA team so it will be interesting to see where she lands.

UConn's Kalana Greene is a winner, in the last 86 games she played the Huskies are 86-0. She has drawn comparisons to another ex-Husky Ashley Battle for obvious reasons as both are high-energy, high-character kids who bring it on both ends of the floor. Greene has more offensive game than Battle and you could do a lot worse than add the intangibles that Greene possesses to a team.

Allison Hightower of LSU was in many people's opinions the best player in the Southeastern Conference and LSU coach Van Chancellor, who coached the Houston Comets to four straight WNBA titles, has been bending the ears of WNBA coaches and general managers touting her as a top-flight WNBA prospect. When I chatted about the draft with Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault, who handles all the personnel decision, I told him I am a huge Hightower fan and thinks she will be outstanding in the league.

Alysha Clark of Middle Tennessee is a scoring machine and unlike her MTSU predecessor Amber Holt (a first-round pick of the Sun in 2008) she won't need to make as many adjustments to her game to make it in the league. Clark did play a bit on the perimeter and that is where she will play professionally.

Alexis Gray-Lawson of California is another high-character kid who just led the Bears to the WNIT title. Gray-Lawson had some monster offensive games and is a refined enough of a prospect to make a smooth transition into the pro game. It

Amanda Thompson of Oklahoma is another multi-faceted offensive player whose game would seem to thrive at the next level.

Now the biggest wild card of all - Kansas' Danielle McCray. McCray was the second-leading scorer on the U.S. team which won the World University Games title and would have been a no-brainer top five pick if healthy. But McCray tore her ACL late in her senior season so it will be interesting to see who rolls the dice and is willing to wait a year for her. Thibault is a guy who has be known to gamble a bit in the draft but I'd be very surprised if he passed on a Greene, Clark, Hightower or Gray-Lawson to take McCray.

The draft starts at 3 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Championship game ratings up

Courtesy of an e-mail update from ESPN's Jenny Zimmerman, I can report that ratings for Tuesday's national championship game between UConn and Stanford is up 32 percent from the 2009 final when UConn routed Louisville.

Here's the release from ESPN

Tuesday night’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game on ESPN, in which Connecticut defeated Stanford 53-47, was seen by an average of 3,531,000 viewers (P2+), up 32 percent from 2009 (2,668,000 for UConn defeating Louisville). The game garnered a 2.7 rating, a 29 percent increase over last year’s 2.1, according to Nielsen Media Research, and household impressions also rose 29 percent, from 2,055,000 to 2,694,000.

Playing at the AlamoDome in San Antonio, Connecticut won its 78th straight game, a record for the sport. The team defended its national title with a second consecutive undefeated season, the seventh championship in school history. Stanford is 56-3 since the middle of last season; all three losses are to UConn, including twice at the Final Four.

Other highlights of the 2010 NCAA Women’s Tournament on ESPN:
The Final Four enjoyed an increase of viewership of 22 percent, from an average of 2,585,000 viewers (P2+) to 3,164,000. The rating rose 20 percent, from 2.0 to 2.4; household impressions rose 20%, from 1,951,000 homes to 2,335,000.
The national semifinals Sunday, April 4, combined for an average of 2,988,000 viewers (P2+), up 18% from 2,541,000 a year ago, based on a 2.2 rating, up 16 percent from a 1.9 vs. 2009. Household impressions rose 15% to 2,181,000 from 1,895,000 in 2009.
ESPN averaged 1,629,000 viewers (P2+) for 12 games, up nine percent (vs. 1,488,000), based on a rating of 1.3, an eight percent increase from 1.2 in 2009. The increase in household impressions was six percent, from 1,175,000 to 1,248,000.

Sun get another first rounder

The Connecticut Sun already swung a major deal with Minnesota, giving up All-Star guard Lindsay Whalen in a move which landed them the top overall pick in Thursday's draft.

On Wednesday Connecticut made a lesser deal, shipping former first-round picks Amber Holt and Chante Black to Tulsa for the No. 7 overall pick and a second-round selection in next year's draft.

With the Sun set to pick UConn center Tina Charles and selecting DeMya Walker in a dispersal draft after the Sacramento Monarchs folded, it's unlikely that Black would have made the Sun's 11-person roster.

The move could pave the way for the Sun to take UConn's Kalana Greene, who is expected to be a mid to late first round pick. Greene is far from the only player on the Sun's radar. The Sun could also pounce if one of the players at the top of the board falls to the seventh pick.

"We’re glad to have another pick in this year’s draft," Sun coach Mike Thibault said in a statement. "We have not decided what we are going to do with it. We have three or four options, depending on how the draft falls. We felt like we knew what the core of our team was. We would have had to cut another player when Sandrine comes, and this will help alleviate that situation as well as some salary cap issues. Amber and Chante are going to be good young players in the league, and they will help Tulsa. But we felt like we were heading in a different direction."

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

UConn returning home schedule

The national championship UConn women's basketball team will leave San Antonio on a charter at noon tomorrow and is expected to arrive at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks at 3:30 p.m.

There will be a brief ceremony at the airport and fans who want to greet the team at the airport should take Route 75 and follow signs to the public greeting area near the intersection of Rt. 75 and Firehouse Road.

The team will then return to Gampel Pavilion in Storrs for a Championship Pep Rally. The doors to Gampel Pavilion will open to the public at approximately 5 p.m. and the team is expected to arrive in Storrs at approximately 5:30 p.m.

The event at Gampel is free and open to the public.

Uncle steps to the plate

With UConn playing in the national championship game Tuesday evening, junior forward Maya Moore couldn't be on hand to accept the Wade Trophy at Tuesday afternoon's WBCA Awards Luncheon.

Her uncle Preston Moore more than admirably filled in and accepted the award on Maya's behalf. The highlight of the speech was Uncle Preston's recalling when he realized his days of being able to beat his niece in basketball.

"I came home from Kathryn and Maya for Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving we would have this little routine where we would play a little bit of basketball," Preston Moore said. "She was shorter than I was, she was junior high at best and I was quite dominant. One Thanksgiving I came down and she did a fadeaway 3-point shot and
I said 'that was interesting, I didn't see that last year.' So I decided if I guarded her a little bit closer, I put my hand up she couldn't get that shot off. So I did that and then she drove right past me and at that point I knew my basketball days with Maya were over.

"I want to thank all the people in her life who helped her leverage that very, very special gift. First of all her family, the people in Jefferson City (Missouri), the people in Atlanta and I want to thank all of her teammates, not only her current ones but he ones in high school and (since) her freshman year at UConn, especially those seniors Meghan, Kaili, Tina and all the other seniors, they had very, very special roles in her development. I want to thank all the coaches from high school up to Geno. Geno is a special guy so I don't have to spend too much time on him and I want to close this with a very valuable Maya phrpase. She is very strong in her (beliefs) so she quotes this many times, 'whatever you do, work with it with all
your heart, you are working for the Lord and not for me and I think that epitomizes Maya."

Dee Kantner, Eric Brewton and Lisa Jones are the officials with Marianne Karp the standby official.


Status quo appears to be in store

Just came back from the United States Basketball Writers Association luncheon and got the national numbers from the semifinals on ESPN which drew a 2.2 share, up 1.9 from last season.

Division I Women's Basketball Committee Chair Jane Meyer also took questions from the assembled media with my of the focus on the proposal of expanding the men's tournament from 65 to 96. Meyer said it was not going to be a rubber stamp deal of the women's field going to 96 if the men's tournament opts to expand. She also said that if the men's field does mushroom to 96 and ESPN gets the broadcast rights that the committee will make certain that the women's tournament still have windows for coverage.

Meyer also said that attendance in the first and second rounds increased 7 percent from last season so that is a signal - at least in the eyes of the committee - that going to 16 predetermined sites was the right move from having eight sites.

"We're very confident of where we are right now," Meyer said.

On a personal note, as a member of the USBWA I always make an effort to make it to the annual meeting if UConn is in the Final Four. The reason is a self-serving one, as it gives me the ear of Rick Nixon of the NCAA and other power brokers in the sport. Last year I was one of the reporters to mention how frantic the Saturday before the start of the Final Four is with award presentations, press conferences and the high school All-American game usually in different locations. This year they were all at the Alamodome. It was still an incredibly hectic day but a lot more workable than it had been in the past.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Time for a talk

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude's reputation for delivering memorable pre-game speeches appears to have preceded her as about a dozen questions pertaining to her dissertation before Tuesday night's national championship game against UConn were asked of the Stanford senior guard during her meeting with the media on Monday.

"The UConn pre-game speech is something that is formulating in my mind over the course of the season, bits and pieces of things I have liked I have seen or things of what I hoped we would be," Gold-Onwude said. "I think I have always wanted to say to my teammates on the very last game in my career playing for a national championship, things that come to me at different moments. It isn't wirtten but there are probably other lines that will pop up. it is something that is a personal thing so it comes from me but it is pretty much have been focused on what we will get done going and getting motivated. This is going to be an interesting one because my motivation is how do I keep the team excited about playing teams that we should beat and usually we are trying to get us motivated to come out at the start and not take anybody lightly. We are the underdog for this speech and I am excited for it.

"A lot of it is fire and brimstone stuff. There are a lot of things, I thought about the USA Hockey team coach (the late Herb Brooks) talking about when they played (Russia in the 1980 Olympics) and 'if you play them 10 times you lose a majority of them but you only have to be better than them one time.'"

Considering that her best friend is a member of Butler's women's basketball team and her sister attended the school which has made a surprise run to the men's Division I national championship game, there's no doubt who UConn freshman Kelly Faris is rooting for tonight.

"We (Faris and Claire Freeman) text back and forth, she is having fun with it getting to go to the practices and games and everything," Faris said. "It's a small school and nobody would have thought they would have made it that far so she is definitely very happy for them."


Charles wins Naismith

UConn senior center Tina Charles has been named the winner of the Naismith Award, becoming the fifth UConn player to win the award including Maya Moore, who won the award last year.

Charles, who is UConn's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, joins Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Moore as Huskies to win the award.

Sunday night's UConn/Baylor national semifinal drew an impressive 2.6 share on ESPN. By comparison, the NBA game between Cleveland and Boston on ABC drew a 2.7 share. In the Hartford/New Haven market, the game drew a 17.3 rating which is the highest of any metered market in the country according to ESPN and the highest since a 20 rating during the 2009 national semifinal between UConn and Stanford.

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Mosqueda-Lewis honored

UConn recruit Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot junior guard/forward at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., has been named the ESPN HoopGurlz player of the year.

Speaking of Kaleena, I have a scouting report on her from Jeff Sink, the head coach of Mater Dei's rival Brea Olinda, in my notebook in today's Register


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Moore wins Wade Trophy

Maya Moore won the Wade Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in women's college basketball, for the second straight year.

Moore, in her typically gracious manner, took moments to recognize the other nine players named to the State Farm All-American team and especially her teammate Tina Charles.

The Associated Press national player of the year award is being announced at 4:15 p.m. with Charles the frontrunner to win that award.

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Tina, Maya are State Farm All-Americans

Thanks to people at the Alamodome who were kind enough to have the names of the 10 State Farms All-Americans on two placards outside the media dining area, I can report that UConn's Tina Charles and Maya Moore are joined by the Stanford duo of Jayne Appel and Nneka Ogwumike, Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap, Kelsey Griffin of Nebraska, Xavier's Amber Harris, Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Danielle Robinson of Oklahoma and Virginia's Monica Wright.

The team will be officially announced at 1 p.m.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Greetings from San Antonio

I'm closing in on the 24-hour mark of my time in San Antonio and I am beginning to remember how much I loved this place when I was here for the 2002 Final Four.

I've probably taken at least four walks along the Riverwalk just to observe the scene and I don't know how you can't have a good time in this city.

I have also been struck by what a small world it is. I didn't realize it until it was too late, but pretty certain that Samarie Walker was on my flight (at least the Chicago to San Antonio). I didn't realize it until I was waiting for my gate-checked duffel bag in the jet bridge in San Antonio when she quietly said "take care" to me as she walked by.

I held one of the doors to my hotel open for two men yesterday and it wasn't until they walked by me that I realized one of them was Russ Davis, the AAU coach of UConn incoming freshman Lauren Engeln. I was hoping to talk to Russ this week about another one of his players Bonnie Samuelson who has been offered a scholarship by UConn but didn't feel like it was the appropriate time or place to chase after him.

This morning as I headed to breakfast, I ran into Beth Bass, the Chief Executive Officer of the WBCA "loading up on the caffeine" as she put it.

I also asked two women sitting next to me in the lobby this morning if they could watch my computer while I ran upstairs to collect my laundry and one of them bears a striking resemblence to former Oklahoma star Stacey Dales. Not sure if it was her or not, but the two ladies were gracious enough to keep an eye on my stuff.

Then came the kicker. I headed to the media hotel to pick up my credential and was waiting in line to get my picture taken when I noticed my credential was leaning up against the lamination machine. What are the odds that of all the media credentialed at the Final Four, that mine would be the one chosen to be displayed. Naturally, they need to find another reporter's ID to use as an example I guess.

Speaking of Walker, she was named the Division II Player of the Year on the Dayton Daily News All-Area teams

Thanks to an e-mail from Brittany Gorniewicz, who is rapidly moving up on my list of favorite public relations professionals, I found some photos of UConn recruits
Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson
from the McDonald's High School All-American game. More photos and information from the game is available at the game's website

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ogwumike reflects on decision

In addition to speaking with UConn incoming freshmen Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Samarie Walker, I chatted with former UConn recruiting target Chiney Ogwumike about her decision to commit to Stanford over UConn.

Even all these months later Chiney Ogwumike still gets a tad bit melancholy when she remembers placing that call to UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

The winner of the Morgan Wootten Award as the McDonald's national high school player of the year, Ogwumike thought long and hard about spending the next four years of her life at UConn. But in the end, the academic credentials that Stanford brought to the table was simply too much for the 6-foot-3 forward from Cypress, Tex. to overlook.

"It was extremely difficult because I fell in love with Coach Auriemma, I fell in the love with the mentality of the team and the way they play basketball," said Ogwumike, who will join her older sister Nneka at Stanford in the fall. "It was tough but I knew what I had to do did not have to be just about basketball, it was what I worked for athletically and academically and I felt like I could best achieve that at Stanford. I think he understood that because we have similar personalities in a way. We are both fierce and I could really understand his philosophies on basketball. It was a difficult decision because the coaching staff there was amazing.

"Some people think it is because of Nneka but I treated her as a teammate, I treated her as a Maya Moore or a Skylar Diggins. It had to do what was right for myself athletically and academically."

Ogwumike bonded with the UConn recruits during her unofficial visit to UConn in October and the relationships blossomed even more over the last few days when Ogwumike was able to hang out with UConn incoming freshmen Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Samarie Walker during the events leading up to Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game at the Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

"I love them. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (one of two high school juniors to commit to UConn) is my best friend, Bria Hartley she is a sweet and she is an amazing player. I really bonded with those two when we were all there over the summer that week, it was really special. They did end up committing that weekend which is really crazy but I knew I had to keep my head straight on. They are just phenomenal people, Bria, Kaleena, Dolson, Samarie and you can tell they are hungry for success and that is one thing I really admire."

Ogwumike will be in San Antonio for the Final Four since she will be playing in the WBCA High School All-American Game on Saturday but she also wants to be on hand to support her sister who has emerged into an All-American as a sophomore for the Cardinal. The younger Ogwumike knows it will be strange if Tuesday's national championship game happens to be between UConn and Stanford.

"Things happen for a reason and if they do end up being in the final (game), I think that would be a great moment for basketball because the No. 1 and 2 teams would match up and I would get to see my sister play in the championship game," Ogwumike said. "I think it would be a great game because Stanford has matured and UConn is flawless, it would be interesting to me."

UConn's Tina Charles and Kalana Greene are among 14 players who have been invited to attend the WNBA draft

Charles will be taken with the first overall pick by the Connecticut Sun while Greene could also be a first-round selection.

Here's a list of the players being invited to the April 8 draft which will be held in Secaucus, N.J.

Name College/University Position Height
Jayne Appel Stanford Center 6’4”
Tina Charles Connecticut Center 6’4”
Alysha Clark Middle Tennessee State Forward 5’10”
Kalana Greene Connecticut Guard 5’10”
Kelsey Griffin Nebraska Forward 6’2”
Allison Hightower Louisiana State Guard 5’10”
Alison Lacey Iowa State Guard 6’0”
Danielle McCray Kansas Guard/Forward 5’11”
Chanel Mokango Mississippi State Forward 6’5”
Jacinta Monroe Florida State Forward 6’5”
Jene Morris San Diego State Guard 5’9”
Andrea Riley Oklahoma State Guard 5’5”
Amanda Thompson Oklahoma Forward 6’1”
Monica Wright Virginia Guard 5’11”

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U.S. national team to train in Connecticut

The U.S. senior national team will hold a training camp in Hartford and Storrs from Apr. 11-18.

The eight confirmed players include current Huskies Tina Charles and Maya Moore and former UConn stars Swin Cash and Renee Montgomery. Former UConn greats Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Asjha Jones are also in the player pool but not expected to take part in the training camp. The squad is coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma.

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