The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 26, 2021
What 'grow the game' means — Geno Auriemma speaks — Must-click women's basketball links
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My friend Mel Greenberg shattered a barrier earlier this month. He’s become the first primarily women’s basketball reporter to be honored with the Naismith Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award.
In typical fashion, Mel sat next to me on Monday night at the New York Liberty game and ran through some of his potential opening one-liners for his speech, a long, winding set of stories that were tangentially related. Here, read Mike Jensen’s piece back in 2017, it captures the rhythm of Mel perfectly. There were extended soliloquies on his travel budget, mixed with some anecdotes about covering long-past basketball stars like Cheyney State’s Valerie Walker and rooms Mel was in that no one else was. I have urged Mel to write a book — let an editor sort through the former and publish the latter. It is history no one else can tell.
And that’s the thing about Mel’s career. He covered women’s basketball in the way I think it should be covered, what I strive to do every day: with fierce urgency, with the importance that has been reserved for the men’s game. And he did it, truly, alone so often.
Listen to this former La Salle guard, Cheryl Reeve (wonder what she’s doing these days) on what it meant just to be covered by Mel:
“I mean, I played in the ‘80s,” Reeve said. “And I know, he was covering before I got there. You wanted Mel at your game. I remember being in the Big Five. And, you know, Mel couldn’t be everywhere… I always remember, you wanted Mel Greenberg at your game, because that really meant something.”
Cheryl pointed out that there was “no winning”, meaning that when Mel went one place, three other games didn’t get his coverage. What that really means is there was only one Mel, and it wasn’t enough. But it was a start.
Mel does the things that matter in permanently altering the trajectory of coverage, not just the small but vital win in the moment of getting a particular story told. His college basketball poll, now the AP poll administered by Doug Feinberg, was created and expanded with that in mind. He is always mentoring people in this business, and the ones smart enough to stop and listen to what he has to say can learn from him, covering games even now, in 2021.
I grew up with two newspapers on my kitchen table in southern New Jersey: the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. And those writers were heroes to me: a Harvey Araton, a Bill Rhoden or an Ira Berkow in the Times, Jayson Stark, Bill Lyon, Mike Jensen and Mel in the Inquirer. I am certain I can trace many of my passions and professional paths today to words these people wrote, and I devoured, in my youth.
Stark made it logical to care about the intricacies of baseball. Jensen made it clear that basketball was basketball. And Mel brought stories of the women’s game to life as if it were the norm.
And we all know it should be the norm! Increasingly, it is becoming the norm. But it took someone to make it that way.
“We owe the growth of the game to people like him that that that have been so committed,” Reeve said. “And back then for him, in the face of people not really caring very much at all about what he was doing in terms of the bigger sports landscape — obviously, those of us in the women’s game, appreciated the hell out of him every step of the way.”
Now Mel is the first women’s basketball writer Naismith is honoring. It feels decades overdue, to be honest. But I also know this: when it was zero, it was easy to ignore. When it is one, it’ll be necessary to reckon with why it isn’t more.
I’m not sure there’s a better summary for what Mel Greenberg has meant to women’s basketball coverage.
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This week in women’s basketball
My latest at FiveThirtyEight on how the New York Liberty can get even better still holds, even if it’ll be an additional four-to-six weeks until Natasha Howard returns from an MCL sprain and makes them whole.
Cheryl Reeve spoke about the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and where we are as a society.
Five at The IX: Geno Auriemma
Question about goals from players reporting to summer school session
“Well, it’s the same thing that we try to do every every summer school session. We want to get them acclimated to getting up in the morning and going to class. And this summer one, unlike last summer, where we didn’t even have this session… they are actually going to be in a classroom. So for our for sophomores, that’s kind of a big difference. So that’s number one, you know, get acclimated to going to class, being a college student. Getting a head start, two classes, six credits, you know, that’s one.
Two, we get them acclimated to our basketball culture, you know? What’s it like in a weight room? What’s it like conditioning? What’s practice like? What’s an individual instruction session look like? What’s watching film look like? So the other stuff? What drills are we running? What kind of offensive concepts are we putting in? You know, those things are kind of secondary, I think, but at the same time, they’re important.
What’s getting harder to do? Coaching practices or coaching games?
I think coaching practices is harder than ever. It’s not as much fun as it used to be if you’re not careful. Practices used to be the most rewarding part of coaching for most coaches that I know of. Now, practices are very, very difficult, because kids grow up today… they just want to play in games. Because that’s what they do. You know, the culture is play games… if you talk about, who goes to basketball camp, you know, where you learn how to do drills, and how many kids are more involved, let’s say with their high school coach, than they are with their travel team? And how much do you practice with their travel team?
So, a lot of kids work out, they go to these trainers, you know, that never existed, and these trainers, you know, they’re working one on one with these kids. And now you get them and, you know, you’re working two on two, three on three, four on four or five on five, you go up and back, you’ve got to think about this and that and 17 different things are going on. And then you have to be able to maintain that intensity level for an extended period of time and that concentration level for an extended period of time and that proves to be very, very difficult for a lot of these kids. But then as soon as you play five on five, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom… they want to play, they want to win just as much, they want to compete just as much. It’s getting them to understand the preparation part that has become much more difficult.
Is it starting to feel more like a normal season as opposed to a COVID season?
You are getting a sense of that. You can feel that there’s a difference in the air. People are a little more relaxed walking around, there’s more of a looseness about engaging with other people. They’re there.
You know, we’re all vaccinated. So we’re all very comfortable being around each other. And there’s still some people, don’t get me wrong, that that have not finished their their vaccinations… they didn’t get their second one yet, that still wear masks, and still very conscious of the social distancing and all that. And, obviously, we’re okay with wherever you happen to be at that time.
But, when our players come back, all, but a couple of them are going to be fully vaccinated. So we’ll be able to come here, and get started. As opposed to, two guys are allowed in the gym, there’s chair set up over here, don’t touch this, don’t touch that, all the things that we thought were part of the protocol. So you are starting to feel like we’re getting ready for practice. Our planning is now we’re planning for our whole team to be here instead of, we’ve got three sessions today, three groups of four, or something like that.
Recruiting starts June 1, we’re out on the road in July. We’re making plans are where we’re going to go, who we’re going to see where we’re going to see them…. last year, it’s, what am I going to do today that I didn’t do yesterday? Or that’s different than yesterday? And, boy, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, it’s going to be really exciting. You know, the most exciting part of my day was, what kind of wine am I having today? Red or white? That was fun in the beginning, but that’s no way to live. I mean, it is don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to a time when that is my only decision, but it feels great, man. I’m telling you, it feels like a million times different.
What do you feel about the way the transfer portal has played out? And second part of the question, why is Dorka Juhasz a good fit for UConn?
Well, Dorka is a good fit, because she’s a skilled player. She does the things that good basketball players do. We like, multi-dimensional players. So you get a 6’3, 6’4 kid that pass, that can get to the basket, that can make shots, knows how to play, you’re getting a versatile player, who was first team all-Big Ten. So it’s not like you’re getting someone who’s untested and unproven…. So hopefully she’ll just fit perfectly in whatever role it is that she ends up for herself.
The transfer portal is a mess. It was going to be a mess from the beginning. And it’s a mess now, and it’s going to be a bigger mess. Each and every year. A lot of these kids are delusional. You know, they, they have so many voices in their ear. I think there’s like 1000 kids in the portal. I didn’t keep track of the latest numbers. But somebody told me that somebody said there’s like 1000 kids in the portal.
Someone also told me there’s like 200 kids that have not been contacted by anybody. And now those kids aren’t going back to their original schools. And now they’re gonna find themselves worse off than they were where they were. So yeah, the transfer portal is great for a kid who knows where they’re going. Which means they were thinking about it a while back, who has a place ready for them a spot ready for them, which means they’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
So for some kids, the transfer portal is great. But for 1000 kids to be in that portal, that means there’s something wrong with the system. There’s something wrong with the recruiting system, there’s something wrong with the culture of college basketball today, there’s something wrong with the entitlement that happens to exist today. And there’s something wrong with this idea of student-athlete welfare, that everything should be done to accommodate the student-athlete with no regard whatsoever, to the coaches who work their ass off. To recruit these kids in the first place, work with them, help them get better. Make them the player that they are and then they up and leave with no consequences whatsoever.