Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 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 (2:05 PM)
Good afternoon from thunderstomy Kansas City, where our motto is, "If you don't like the weather, move someplace where you have to pay a lot more for a house." We are two weeks into the WNBA season, and things are a-hoppin' as the Silver Stars - who I didn't even pick to make the playoffs - are 3-0. All the best in prognostication, you can count on it here. Let's get started.
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
By the way, I can already tell we have a few jokers who have posted questions, and if they're not careful, I'm going to activate ESPN.com's top-secret electronic shock for trolls. You've been warned! :) Now, seriously, let's get going as there are lot of legit questions, too.
What's your take on the Atlanta Dream? Does Harding just need time to mesh with the team? Are the coaches even remotely competent?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
Ouch! Yes, I think the coaching staff is competent. Marynell Meadors knows her strengths and weaknesses, and assistant Carol Ross, in particular, is a strong strategic coach. Remember the Dream was really streaky last year, too, in terms of both wins and losses. I think Angel McCoughtry being hurt at the start of the season and easing her way back in, plus some other folks adjusting to the WNBA season again AND Harding getting used to this group - those all are factors. Plus, they lost two overtime games. The recent win at New York showed some spark.
kevin (macon ga)
Most people seem to agree that All Star voting starts too early in the season. What would be the best way to have more games in before we start choosing All Stars?
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
OK, I had to take this - even though this might NOT be one of the questions my chat hero Kevin posts that he REALLY wants me to take - because every season I laugh out loud at the first WNBA.com "Vote for the All-Stars" plug. I can't help it. It's like, "What? Some people are still trying to figure out where everybody's playing." I keep thinking someday it's going to be "Vote for All-Stars today! The season starts next week!" I don't know ... I'd say just wait awhile to do your voting. :)
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
The Mercury had a losing record last year and lost an important cog in their machine. We shouldn't be surprised by their rocky start, right?
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
Yeah ... two games in, with one of them at Seattle and the other at Los Angeles. Probably a stretch even to call it a rocky start, although I can see why Merc fans would feel that way. Let's see how they do when the mighty Silver Stars visit Friday.
Ginger (Chapel Hill, NC)
I know you just wrote an article on Tulsa but I have to ask (again). Why has the Tulsa ownership continued to have faith in Richardson and keep him as both head coach & GM? It defies logic.
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Probably because it's easier to make these decisions when you're an observer or columnist, rather than to really have to pull the plug on somebody's job. I think the Tulsa owners probably figured: Hey, we're getting this good team from Detroit that's won three titles. We can get a coach with name recognition, especially to this area, and he's won an NCAA men's title. We have instant credibility. It just hasn't worked out that way. I don't want to belittle anything Nolan Richardson has done in his career, because clearly he's accomplished a lot. But the folks who can come into the women's game with no prior experience and knowledge of player history and be successful ... there aren't many of them. Heck, there are people who've spent their careers in women's basketball but had little success in the WNBA. I think what should concern Tulsa management, though, most of all is how quickly they might lose fans this season, as opposed to those who were willing to sit through a lot of losses in a debut season.
Your take on President Richie so far (other than she REEEEALLY likes the word "amazing"?
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
Oh, goodness, what time is it over there? Thanks for posting questions, Helen! You know ... I have to say so far, I'm still waiting to be wowed. That's my dead-honest appraisal, but obviously it's very, very early in her tenure. I realize my expectations for the person who has this job are extremely high, and she's coming at it from a different perspective and background that Val Ackerman or Donna Orender. Still way too early to make any kind of comprehensive assessment. But I hope for more to come, let's say.
Cause it's never too early to pick a Rookie of the Year... what's your take on this year's class (so far)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
You get two in a row from Ethiopia. As you probably know, I am the last person to vote every year for the WNBA awards, doing so approximately 20 minutes after the supposed final deadline, as I mull my choices past the point of reason. Then I get that, "VOEPEL. NEED. VOTE. NOW." e-mail from the WNBA folks and I force myself to push the button. Just kidding, a little. So I am really going to be in position to pick ROY after two weeks. :) But so far, I've been pretty impressed with the new crop. Liz Cambage hasn't fled home to Australia (just joking!) and although I'm sure she'd like her shooting percentage to be better, she's a star in the making. Glad to see Kayla Pedersen showing that her game is going to translate well to the pros. Maya Moore has been terrific, as expected. Danielle Adams had her big game (32 points) against the Dream. As I think Matt from Ann Arbor pointed out last week, the SASS had all three picks - Danielle Robinson, Adams and Porsha Phillips - make the squad. So far, rooks, so good.
Nancy (New York)
I'm concerned about the Liberty's "home court advantage." Apparently they have to travel an hour and a half to get to a home game versus the visitors traveling 15 minutes from the hotel. With the grueling year round schedule these women deal with, I'm concerned about what the 3 year move to Newark might mean for their well being as well as the team's success. What are your thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
Helen from Ethiopia (who's really from Queens, N.Y., just currently *in* Ethiopia) mentioned all this to me last year in a conversation about the Libs' "move" to Newark. Like, "Are they really prepared for the potential travel issues with their own players?" A rhetorical question, I'm afraid. Then the recent minor car accident involving two players made this more of a concern. I mean, this whole gig is tough for the Liberty. It would be different in a much smaller-sized city where traffic and transportation were not such big issues. I know John Whisenant said they are examining all this. But it's just not the easiest thing to solve.
tollick (Sunny Palo Alto)
Tulsa has 2 guards plus Jones and Swoopes. So they sign... a post player. Do they really think they are that set at guard?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
I had to chuckle, which is nothing against Jacinta Monroe. And I know center Liz Cambage currently has the concussion issue, but it doesn't seem like she's going to be out *that* long. I just keep wondering why someone like Sharnee Zoll can't get a job in this league, because I think she's a developing pro point guard and that's such a crucial position. Ivory Latta has done a pretty nice job for Tulsa, all things considered. But I think Andrea Riley, despite her local connection as an Oklahoma State grad, may be a stretch in terms of what she will contribute. I mean, really, Latta and Riley as a backcourt makes me think of a few too many 35-foot jumpers to beat the shot-clock buzzer. (As if there are an acceptable number of those, right?) Anyway, the Shock continue to be the Shock. But good luck to Jacinta. Maybe she's been working on her guard skills. :)
What are your thoughts about ODU's recent hire? The timing of ODU forcing Wendy Larry out was really bad/late, even if they had a slam dunk outstanding new hire. I don't think Barefoot is that slam dunk even though she's got ODU connections.
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
I actually lived and worked in Newport News, Va., when Karen Barefoot was playing at Christopher Newport, so I remember her from those days. She was really a heck of a player at that level, and there's no one more passionate about the game. But I agree ... was this the "big" hire to replace Wendy Larry that would make a splash PR-wise? No. Barefoot has a history at ODU and some success as a head coach at Elon. She knows the area as well as anyone; it's literally her home turf. And some big-time talent has come out of Hampton Roads and not gone to ODU in recent years. Can new energy with a new coach change that? We'll see. I don't think Wendy Larry deserved to lose her job.
Tell the truth . . . about thirty minutes into Tuesday's Shock/Indy game, were you beginning to wonder where you could buy some Tofu-Crow?
Mechelle Voepel (2:52 PM)
Do they make Tofu-Crow? Maybe it's one of those fancy East Coast dishes that a vegetarian can't get here in cow country. Actually, I thought, "Maybe I ticked off the Shock enough that they are now going to be a good team!" No, I didn't really think that. The Shock doesn't care what I write. But I *did* think I would need to write something congratulating them on making me look like a fool. And I would have been happy to do so. The last thing I want is for any WNBA team to struggle the way Tulsa has. I really want the franchise to succeed there. What that game showed, though, was the essence of their problem - and we saw this last year, too - they can play well enough in stretches to be "in" games. But the fourth quarter does them in, even in those games where they are playing well. They get worn down, and the more experienced talent on other rosters gets in gear. Plus, they have to deal with the fact that every team is super aware of not wanting to be the team that loses to Tulsa. I do hope things start getting better for the Shock, and if you know of where I can get that Tofu-Crow in the Midwest, let me know. I'm always looking for new ways to eat tofu.
Does Minn have too much talent? I mean Wiggins, Monica wright, and charde on the bench. There arent enough minutes. Maybe they could parley one of them into a backup PG and Center.
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
Actually, this is an interesting question. It really is. I was talking to somebody - not sure if they were listening, because I talk a lot - about how there are so many dynamic scorers on the Lynx. Some of the most explosive guard-wing types of recent college seasons. And while it would always seem you can't have too much of a good thing, the reality on any team is you still need cogs and bolts, so to speak. Not everybody gets to be the star. We'll have to see how all the players deal with their specific roles ... if some become unhappy because they aren't getting the minutes they want (and I'm not saying that's happened) then it could cause a chemistry issue that could negate some of the benefit of the talent.
Fue (Minneaplois, Mn)
How does maya moore compare to all the other elite female athletes?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
I imagine that Maya could have played very well for any number of the women's teams at UConn - she just has such natural athleticism, strength and instincts. Plus, that "presence" because she is so serious-minded and intelligent. She's a heck of an asset for the WNBA. How that will impact her "Q" rating, or whatever, will depend in part on the success of the team. WNBA players don't get great fame, let's face it, but she's already one of the most known names in women's basketball.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Is there room for a defensive stopper like Kerri Gardin on Washington's roster, or will she be waived once one of the three injured Mystics become healthy enough to play?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
Since she was signed as a hardship player, she has to go as soon as one of them is eligible to play ... unless the Mystics would choose to waive one of those players and keep her. I believe I'm saying that correctly. I don't think that will happen. But she's been an asset to them, and really adjusted on the fly. I guess to be a pro women's basketball player, you have to learn to do that.
Do you think Sheryl Swoopes is here this season so that she can retire for a team and be remembered properly?
Mechelle Voepel (3:06 PM)
Sheryl was not happy about her departure from the WNBA, and she did want the chance to say "goodbye" in the right way. There's no doubt about that. I know she also believed there was still some good basketball in her, and when Teresa Edwards made the contact, there was a level of trust/familiarity between them that made Tulsa the right place for Swoopes to have another season. I'm not opposed to it in any general sense ... it's just that for a team building for the future to really "need" Swoopes to play a lot of minutes and be an on-court force is not a good thing. I'm glad she's getting the opportunity, but I wish the circumstances were different for her and the Shock.
kevin (macon ga)
Will FIBA end up allowing players with religious objections like Naama Shafir to wear undershirts? How is this any different from the disallowing a Muslim head scarf?
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
I don't know how it's going to be resolved, but I would say there are some differences between FIBA, the hoops governing body, and FIFA, soccer's governing body. The latter, in my opinion, still lacks adequate female representation in its power structure. I'm not saying that FIBA doesn't have this problem, too, but not as much. I didn't agree with the FIFA decision on the Iranian team and the head scarves. I think it lacked understanding on how you gradually incorporate a culture into athletics, and ended up hurting the very women who most need the chance to play. Also FIFA pretty much thinks they are the most important sports organization in the world ... and everywhere but the United States, that's likely true. So they tend to act rather monolithically, in my view. Long answer, but you can't change all cultures overnight to be the same ... the most important thing is ensuring female participation in athletics.
kevin (macon ga)
How well would a team made entirely of top Europeans (i.e. Dumerc, Palau, Cohen, Jekabsone, Bibrzycka, Torrens, Viteckova, Gruda, Stepanova, Yilmaz, Verameyenka) fare in the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
Probably pretty well, I'd guess, although it's hard to imagine all those players wanting/agreeing to be in the WNBA all season in the same year. The bigger question is which announcing team do you want handling a televised game where THAT team would be involved ... sorry, I couldn't resist. I mean, it's not like I could do it, either. :)
"Mighty Silver Stars" I detect some sarcasm. Do you really think this is a fluke start or can the Stars be competitive this season. Granted two games were against Tulsa but they looked very good as a TEAM and Hughes is going very deep into his rotation with out them missing a beat.
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
I was actually poking fun at myself because I didn't pick them to make the playoffs and here they are 3-0. I've liked what I've seen of them so far. I'm just trying to figure out which West team *won't* make the playoffs if the Silver Stars do. That really could be quite a race.
Sebrina (san antonio, tx)
The Silver Stars are 3-0, with two of the wins vs. winless Tulsa. Do you think the Silver Stars are legit or do you think their record is misleading because of their schedule?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
Just wanted to take another SASS question ... I have turned in a column this morning on the Silver Stars which should be up later today on ESPN.com. I think Dan Hughes is a really good coach, especially from the standpoint of mixing the right players together. I don't want to overpraise the SASS just because realistically, as you said, two of the wins are over Tulsa. But I think there is a good chance they are better than I suspected they would be. Which would be great, especially with the All-Star Game there this season.
kevin (macon ga)
Do you think Nolan Richardson's problem is really men's vs women's basketball, or is it pro vs college? I think the WNBA's professionalism has evolved past the point where a coach can easily adjust from the college game.
Mechelle Voepel (3:26 PM)
You make a very good point, but I suspect in his case it's probably both. Chicago's Pokey Chatman recently talked about the differences between coaching at the pro and college levels as being very significant, especially in terms of understanding how you have to trust routines/habits about pro players and not try to control quite as much. You have to give them enough rest. And these players are very bright, they go against each other here and in Europe. As a coach, you need to make in-game adjustments a lot at the pro level, while at the same time not micro-managing your players, if that makes sense. Bill Laimbeer had no background in women's hoops, but was really shrewd about evaluating talent, regardless of gender. I think he's an exception - it's really hard to do when every aspect of the women's game is new to you. Plus, of course, Laimbeer had played professionally in the NBA so he understood that aspect, too.
Jonathan (New York)
What unique challenges do point guards face in the WNBA game compared to their peers in the NBA?
Mechelle Voepel (3:33 PM)
Another great question, and I'd defer to those who are far more expert at the NBA than I am to give a better answer to this. But what immediately comes to mind for me is that I think women's hoops is still more structured and reliant on the play-maker who really manages the game well. This is NOT to say you don't have to have those skills as an NBA point guard ... we see, especially in the playoffs, that you do. But the NBA players are, in my view, the best athletes in the world, and to some degree there is less orchestrating that needs to be done. The successful WNBA point guard needs to be respected by her teammates, to be low-maintenance, to understand her coach without a word being said, to be able to take the blame even when it's not her fault, to score when necessary and - at the very least - to not be a liability on defense. The great ones who fit *all* of that criteria are hard to find.
A lot of rookies did not make rosters...Should the league allow twp places for staff development (rookies)?
Mechelle Voepel (3:38 PM)
In an ideal world, a larger roster would at least allow for more developmental players to be carried. Whereas now, with the number at 11, it's harder to do that. Young players who don't survive the WNBA cut have to make their way overseas and then try to prove themselves to get another shot at the WNBA. And sometimes, they then have the additional problem of finding the right fit even if they are good enough. Ultimately, it all comes down to economics; player development is one of the things that just doesn't get much funding, if you will.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Katie Douglas is off to a blazing start. Any chance she ends the season the Fever's MVP contender rather than Catch?
Mechelle Voepel (3:42 PM)
I was at the NCAA track championships last weekend and talking about Katie's fast start with David Woods, the Fever beat writer for the Indianapolis Star (and a big-time track aficionado, too). He's been very impressed with how good Katie has looked thus far and her commitment to be in such great shape. He also had a stat he shared with me - the specifics of which I won't quite get right, I'm afraid - about how the Fever did last season when Douglas and Catchings combined to score at least 34 points. The Fever almost always win when that happens. So if they're both firing on all cylinders, Indy just needs a few solid contributors around them, and they are a very good team. Even if Indy didn't look so hot against Tulsa on Tuesday.
What actually happened between Epiphany Prince and the Russian National Team? I read they are planning to "throw the book at her". What does that mean?
Mechelle Voepel (3:50 PM)
I have to say up front that I have not talked with Prince's agent about this yet, so I am piecing it together. From my understanding, she was contractually supposed to be available at least to attend a training camp for the Russian national team for this month's European championships. And she did not do that, which could mean that the Russian federation feels she violated her contract and then would prevent her from playing overseas next season. It's a rather complicated issue but the bottom line is that players have to really understand all the ramifications of signing a contract anywhere.
The Liberty really had no need to suspend McCarville for the whole season due to 'cap considerations'. That's just nonsense. So who's more full of @#!$, John Whisenant, or Mike Cound? Or, more to the point, who do you blame most for how the whole situation played out - Whiz or J-Mac?
Mechelle Voepel (4:03 PM)
As a reporter, all you can do is ask people questions about situations like this and hope that they answer as truthfully as possible. (Referring to a story on my blog earlier this week.) As you could probably guess, no agent and no team is going to tell a reporter every single detail about their negotiations or lack thereof. Each side is going to spin it in their favor. I don't have the Liberty's front offices or coaches' offices bugged - wow, wouldn't that be entertaining, although illegal - so I can't say what really, really, really went on in their dealings with JMac. Her agent is going to represent her in the best light possible, although to his credit, Mike Cound said he was disappointed that JMac didn't report to the Liberty since she was contractually obligated. And he did not blame Whiz for anything. JMac didn't want to play this summer, or at least not right away. Whiz didn't want to deal with that late-arrival situation. I do think that's the bottom line, and whose fault it ultimately is ... I mean, conflicts happen between employer and employee in every occupation. It might mean the end of her time with the Liberty. I guess we will see. And keep up the good work with your takes on the WNBA/behind the scenes, Rich. One way or another, I think all of us observers piece together some semblance of what's really going on. :)
I know it is early. But are there any surprises for you so far this season?
Mechelle Voepel (4:10 PM)
I guess what's not a surprise is that it still takes me too long to answer questions. Sometimes it's not ENTIRELY my fault ... the chat gets frozen waiting for me. Except ... I guess really that's my fault, too. :) As is sort of the theme of this chat, SASS has surprised me. I'll just 'fess up on that completely - I thought they'd struggle. I was hoping Alana Beard's injury was more cleared up than it apparently is, as I wrote a pretty optimistic feature on her in the preseason. But even then, in retrospect, there was something about her voice that made me think she wasn't completely confident that she'd be able to play when the season began. I clumsily fell down my steps last August - it was pathetic - and sprained my ankle, and there are days it still hurts. And I'm a zillion miles from being a world-class athlete who depends on her wheels to make a living. So I empathize with what Beard is dealing with and how difficult it can be for ankles to heal. Maybe the latter isn't so much a surprise, though, but something I was hoping would happen but hasn't. The Mystics have played pretty well even without her - despite having lost Lindsey Harding and Katie Smith through trades - so that is probably a surprise to most.
Mechelle Voepel (4:11 PM)
OK, well my dog is giving me that, "Good grief, how long is this chat going on?" look, so we'll sign off and chat with you again next week. Thanks for all the questions!
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