Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:00 PM)
Good afternoon, folks, on our last week of the WNBA regular season. Let's get started.
Ellen (Lusby, MD)
Nicky Anosike hardly seems like an insubordinate rule-breaker. Injured players often don't travel with their team. Do you think the Lynx are playing fast and loose here by suspending her so they can replace an injured player as they try to make the playoffs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:06 PM)
Many, many questions on the Nicky Anosike situation with Minnesota. At this point, it's not adding up very well. Lots of speculation that the Lynx are possibly trying to pull a fast one here, either with or without Anosike's agreement. It's pretty much impossible to look at this situation and not at least suspect something is not as the Lynx presented it in their brief announcement of signing Jessica Adair and suspending Anosike. More Lynx issues. Oh, great. Minnesota fans have had enough of this stuff.
kevin (macon ga)
Did you find it odd that Cynthia Cooper didn't mention any of her Comet teammates in her Naismith induction speech?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
I don't mean this in a snarky way, seriously. But not a lot that Coop would have said or NOT said would really surprise me. She has her own way of looking at things that may or may not line up with how observers may look at them. That said, I never thought there were warm, long-lasting friendships among all the Comets players, but that they put aside any differences and did their job on court. And it worked well.
Judith (Washington, DC)
Your column makes a great case as to why Crystal Langhorne should not have been left out of the USA Basketball pool for the Worlds, particularly when Kia Vaughn and Jayne Appel were chosen instead. And you do a great job debunking Geno's stated reasons why this happened. Particularly since nothing else adds up here, any possibility a college coach who was spurned by a high school recruit has a long memory?
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
I understand this theory is being floated. But that's not something I would feel comfortable even suggesting. There is no evidence of that. I believe Geno Auriemma would want all the best players available for Team USA, and that any long-ago recruiting issues - if they existed - would not figure into his thought process. The problem is that USA Basketball left itself and Auriemma open to all kinds of wild speculation by leaving Langhorne out of the mix of players in the pool. It looks just downright silly to have 24 people - 3 of whom can't play with injury - and *not* include someone who is having the season Langhorne is. It's absurd to think she would not at least add to the team's success by practicing with the group, even if she didn't make the cut to 12. USA Basketball made a big, obvious and avoidable mistake. Whatever the reason, they now have to face the scrutiny for doing something that doesn't have any logical defense.
kevin (macon ga)
It was 11 years ago today that Kim Perrot passed away. What's your favorite memory of her?
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
Actually, it's not of her playing. It may seem strange, but it's of seeing her in the arena hallway in Houston, leaving after a game. I can't even remember specifically what year it was. She was just smiling and bouncy, like a little kid who loved to play so much that she couldn't wait until the next time she was on court. I remember thinking at the time that she seemed so young and buoyant ... so alive. And honestly, every time someone mentions her, I get that same image in my mind of her smiling after the game.
Jamie, NY [via mobile]
Hey Mechelle! Really liked your column on Crystal Langhorne. But my question is about the Liberty. What do you credit their nine-game winning streak to? Are they capable of winning it all this year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:29 PM)
Somtimes, you can really see pieces of a team and a season falling into place as they're happening. And I think that's the case with the Liberty. I saw them in person a few times this season, and each time, it was apparent that they were learning from every experience on court. There's no way to overestimate the value of a player like Cappie Pondexter impacting a franchise. But Leilani Mitchell's improvement, Taj McWilliams-Franklin's leadership, and the bench play (especially with the trade to get Plenette Pierson) have all contributed to Cappie's fabulous season for the Liberty's success. I do think they can win it all, but ... at this point it is hard to pick against Seattle, for obvious reasons.
NY Liberty = Momentum. Do you see any glaring weaknesses that might keep NY from making it to the Finals next month?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
I'm not sure I would call them glaring weaknesses. I think they have points of vulnerability, like most teams. Great as Pondexter is, she cannot get the Liberty through the playoffs alone, and so importance of offensive consistency from at least two other players - no matter if they're different players each night - is paramount. The Liberty also has to rebound well, and that can't all fall on Taj McWilliams-Franklin, as it sometimes has. And, of course, the Dr. Jekyll side of Nicole Powell's shooting has to be in evidence, not the Mr. Hyde side.
Sabrina (San Antonio, Texas)
Mechelle,On the message board down here, a lot of fans are blaming GM Dan Hughes, head coach Sandy Brondello and assistant coach Olaf Lange for the Silver Stars' struggles. There were apparently even chats of "Fire Sandy" at Tuesday's game vs. Washington. Is this justified? Or is there more to it? And, how did the team fall so far, so fast -- they played in the WNBA Finals in 2008, but might need wins in the final week of the season just to make the playoffs in the two seasons that followed. Despite have some big-name and talented players.
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
I thought the last couple of years that the Silver Stars really needed another strong post scorer/rebounder to stay competitive in the West and the WNBA as a whole. I did think that signing Chamique Holdsclaw was a good move but that it didn't have long-term payoff ... and as it's turned out, it was unfortunately not nearly long enough this season because of her injury. Teams do go in cycles, for the most part. And if I were a SASS fan, I think I would see what is in store for next season before I'd call for any firings. They are just two years removed from going to the Finals, as you pointed out.
Blake Whitney (Washington, DC)
Kentucky kind of came out of nowhere last year to have a really good season. Most of their players are back this year (with the exception of Amber Smith, who is out with the dreaded knee injury). How good will UK be this year, and can they keep this momentum going and be a regular power? They certainly have the fan base to do it.
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
They were underestimated last season, but not without reason. There was not necessarily an understanding outside the team of how much talent and determination they had. The great thing in sports is that outsiders' evaluations (preseason predictions, etc.) really don't mean squat. You can ignore them or use them as motivation if you want, but they are no limit on you. Kentucky showed that, and their style will continue to pose problems for other teams. Nebraska, for all the Huskers' success last season, could not keep up with the Wildcats when they met in the Sweet 16. And I think they can keep it going. It would be great for women's basketball to have a regional rivalry situation that involved the likes of Kentucky, Louisville and Xavier as top national programs.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Favorite dog breed(s) and why.
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
Shelter "mutts" are the best dogs in the world ... and there are no bad dogs. :) If I had to pick an all-time "favorite" breed though, it would be German shepherd. I grew up with them and have always adored them.
David (Mesa, AZ)
Within living memory, New York and Washington used to pull in WNBA crowds of 15,000 or more on a regular basis, and Phoenix around 13,000. This went on for years, and then faded out. League-wide attendance decreased over 25% from the 1998 peak before re-starting a mild upward trend in 2007. What is your thinking on the reasons for all this?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I think it's pretty well-acknowledged that certain teams did some big ticket giveaways in the early days. I think now, you see much more "real" attendance numbers. Anything that is "new" sometimes can be hot and then fall off. The economy in the last three years has affected all entertainment spending. Overall, I think the WNBA has held its own well enough. Always room for improvement.
The Phoenix Mercury hired some male practice players for this season. Is that a standard tactic used by most teams to help save some wear and tear on their players' legs, or is that still the exception to the rule?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
To my knowledge, many pro teams do use male practice players. It would make very little sense to me to *not* do this. It's just a smart move all around, especially as it helps save wear and tear on players in practice.
Great article on Langhorne, so I won't ask about that. I will ask you where/if Alana Beard fits with the Mystics next year? I assume the playoff run would have something to do with it.
Mechelle Voepel (2:58 PM)
It was interesting to talk to the Mystics and hear some of them mention that Monique Currie perhaps played more confidently without Beard than with her. That may sound odd, and I didn't take it as a knock against either one, really ... just that Currie seemed to defer too much to Beard. Maybe going back to their days at Duke. If the Mystics stay mostly intact (will Katie Smith return?) then Beard may need to adjust to being part of a better overall group. I think she will be able to do that.
Is there any specific reason why Katie Douglas has never played on an Olympic team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:01 PM)
There's been a variety of things that have gotten in the way of this. There have been times when Katie just decided it wasn't best for her to be involved in the process because she had too much else going on in her life. Other times, I think USA Basketball perhaps should have reached out more. But I talked to her last year about this and didn't get the sense that she had any grudge against USA Basketball or vice versa.
How big is the group of sportswriters who vote on the end of the season awards, like MVP? Can you tell us who some of them are, or is that sort of thing strictly confidential?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
I actually don't know. I can ask them how big the group is. I am voting, and have for the last several years.
Who should Seattle and Phoenix, respectively, most want to end up as their opponents in the first round of the Playoffs? Does it even matter?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Well, considering the Silver Stars' injury woes, at this point, I would think they'd be the team either the Storm or Merc would most want to face. But I'm not sure it matters. Seattle and Phoenix simply have to play to their capability, and that should set them up to meet in the conference finals. I'm not saying that Minnesota or LA don't pose some challenges when they're playing well, but obviously neither has been consistent. This is going to be about Seattle and Phoenix just playing to their potential.
Erin Hengesbach (Portland, MI) [via mobile]
With all of the young talent the Sun have what do they have to do in the offseason to become a title contendor?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
Just mature, and then make smart selections in the draft. There's no reason to think those things won't happen. The Sun's future looks good to me.
What is the future of the Ground, oops, I mean the Sky? They have Fowles, Perkins and Prince. Should they be filling holes, or going after the best players available?
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
I really wonder who the true "leader" is among players for the Sky, or if they have one. There is talent on this team, but who really rallies the troops? Who is the one who sets the tone on and off court? Who is the player everyone universally respects and listens to? My experience with Fowles, Perkins and Prince is that they were all either too quiet or not necessarily wanting to be in that "I'll knock heads when I need to" role. I'm not saying there is a lot of that needed in the WNBA. But you look at the teams that are most successful, and they tend to have at least one personality that can get everyone's attention and will be listened to. So maybe the Sky needs that. And maybe a new coach is needed, too. We'll see.
stever (ann arbor)
Kudos on your column yesterday re: Langhorne & Team USA...Geno's answer seems to be: "she's not big enough"...you buyin' this?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
This is the easiest question today. :) In a word: "No." Not buying it.
Matt (Ann Arbor, MI)
Now that Cynthia Cooper is in the HOF, what other WNBA players should we expect to see get the call in the next few years? Edwards, Swoopes, and Leslie seem like no brainers, but what about players like Yo Griffith or Nat Williams? Maybe Katie Smith when she finally retires?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
Yes, Edwards, Swoopes, Leslie are all absolutes. To me, so is Katie Smith. And I already put Diana Taurasi and Lauren Jackson in the Naismith HOF pool, too, though their careers are far from over. I think Tina Thompson should be in there, too.
kevin (macon ga)
With Whitney Hand out until at least January, will Oklahoma remain a Top 10 team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
Last year, I thought Oklahoma would really struggle without Whitney Hand and having had the Paris twins graduate. And the Sooners still made the Final Four again. I don't want to make the same mistake twice. But it's hard for me to see them as top 10 right now.
kevin (macon ga)
Who is a more valuable player; Briann January or Kristi Toliver?
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
At this point, I'd lean toward January in terms of her assists numbers and the fact that she's a better defender. Plus, she has had the experience of playing in the WNBA finals. But I think Toliver, for whatever reason, is one of those players that some fans seem to really like to tear apart. I am not sure why.
kevin (macon ga)
What's your take on Yelena Leuchanka promoting the "femininity of the WNBA"?
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
I thought it was a stupid one-paragraph waste of time on the Wall Street Journal website. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt that somehow she didn't realize how incredibly dumb it sounded. ... but it was idiotic of her if she did actually say those things. Nobody is stopping any WNBA player from wearing whatever they want when they go to functions or before/after games. Women display their varieties of style and their personality off the court in the WNBA. They are free to be whoever they are, and that's all that matters.
Joe (Washington DC) [via mobile]
good afternoon. i was just wondering who would you choose for coach of the year in the wnba? i could see cases for 3 or 4 teams this year
Mechelle Voepel (3:37 PM)
A lot of questions on coach of the year. I wrote for ESPN.com earlier this week that I was going with Julie Plank. I can see the case for Brian Agler or Anne Donovan. Some might even say Lin Dunn. But I credit Plank for helping in the development of Crystal Langhorne the last two years. And the fact that she helped the team adjust well to different roles and responsibilities with Alana Beard out for the season.
Diana Taurasi had 8 technicals last week with the 2 she got in the Chicago game. League rules call for a suspension at 7 games. Suddenly, a Opening Day tech gets rescinded, a second gets turned into a flagrant foul 2 and she avoids a suspension. Is there any chance that this was special treatment by the league toward a star or an attempt to avoid bad press?
Mechelle Voepel (3:40 PM)
I talked to Donna Orender on Monday for the on-line radio show I do here out of KC with Brenda VanLengen. And asked her about this - the perception that a star player got special treatment. She said it didn't happen, that there is always video review of things like this. But she said the league is also not ignoring fans' questions about things like this, so they want people to know they take the disciplinary actions very seriously and want to be seen as fair to everyone. You can believe it or not, but I credit her with really trying to answer the question and not dodging it.
kevin (macon ga)
I just can't get used to Tamika Catchings being the oldest player on Team USA. Doesn't that make you feel old?
Mechelle Voepel (3:46 PM)
Actually, I had a moment this summer when I "almost" felt old ... when a 20-something did not get a reference I made to "Frampton Comes Alive," which everyone on earth seemed to own in the 1970s. She had never heard of Peter Frampton, let alone his famous live album. But in general, I don't feel "old." Still, you're right that it's strange when Catch is your senior spokeswoman. :) Time marches on.
talking usa basketball, would you agree with me that brittney griner should no doubt be on the squad esp. for the olympics. She would be great defensively and she would draw double teams and leave wide open shots for taurasi bird etc.
Mechelle Voepel (3:48 PM)
Part of this depends on whether Brittney is going to want to play on the US national team or not. That's been a discussion in previous chats, of course. We will see how that develops. I don't think anyone would argue that the natural progression of her talent seems to indicate a national-team future. It may not be a path she chooses, though.
Judith (Washington, DC)
The Storm are running a full page "ad" on their own web site touting Agler as Coach of the Year. It's like an Oscar campaign. What's your reaction to this? Unseemly? Fun? Should other teams do it for their own players, coaches? Where would it end?
Mechelle Voepel (3:50 PM)
I think it means the franchise really does care about promoting itself ... I am all for that. I've seen too many half-hearted media/public relations and marketing departments in the WNBA. I like passion. Go for it. I don't know that it has any real impact on the voters, but it does publicize the team's success.
I think it's ridiculous to hype Leilani Mitchell as MIP based on her increased scoring which is an expected result of her increase in minutes. How about someone who actually, you know, IMPROVED this year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:55 PM)
Increased minutes and improving your game go hand in hand. She is getting more time on the court because she's more productive. I don't see how you can look at what she's done in 2010 and not see improvement. Cappie Pondexter wasn't her teammate last year, and made a point of saying how much improvement she's seen in Mitchell this year playing alongside her.
Wouldn't it be less embarrassing for USA Basketball to invite Crystal Langhorne, let her out-play some of their favourites in training camp behind closed doors, and then leave her out of the Worlds team anyway, than it is not picking her in the first place for a squad she should clearly be in?
Mechelle Voepel (4:00 PM)
That's a really good, pragmatic way to put it. Yes, it would have been less embarrassing -not necessarily any more fair, but less embarrassing _ for them to do that. I sometimes think USA Basketball folks forget there really are people paying close attention who will look for answers when things don't add up. I wonder if the Minnesota Lynx kind of forgot that, too, you know? :)
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Best tennis commentator/analyst? Mary Carillo? John McEnroe? Tracy Austin? Chris Fowlers? Lindsey Davenport? Mary Jo Ferndandez? Brad Gilbert?
Mechelle Voepel (4:04 PM)
Mary Carillo has always been the one I enjoyed listening to the most because her ego never gets in the way, she's funny, she's compassionate, and she knows the sport and the personalities so well. I kind of thought she went overboard on blasting Serena Williams last year with the U.S. Open incident ... but I can understand some people get more irritated than others about Serena's various incidents. McEnroe is very good, too, but he will never quite get past his inherent sexism, though he's made progress. Kind of ingrained. Mary Jo is OK. A little bland. I like it when Tracy Austin actually lets the funny/wiseacre/critic part of her personality come out.
Do you think the US are a lock on the world championships? How do you rate Australia's chances?
Mechelle Voepel (4:06 PM)
I don't think you can ever say a team is a lock in this event, but I don't see how anyone will dispute the Americans have the most talent. They will also have a lot of fire to get back WC gold. I do think they'll win, but that doesn't take any special insight. And as long as Australia has LJ, they've got a lot going for them.
Mechelle Voepel (4:11 PM)
Thanks for all the questions. I am sorry I didn't come close to getting to them all. Want to give you a heads up on a time change for the chat next week. It will be at 1 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, rather than Thursday. That way, it will come before the start of the playoffs on Wednesday. At that time, I will happily and confidently predict the final order of finish in the East and the last two West teams to make the the postseason. Hahaha! Thanks, and see you next week.