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September 30, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:02 PM)

Hey, good afternoon. Just got off a USA Basketball teleconference from the Czech Republic. Looking forward to the medal round beginning tomorrow. Let's get started.

kevin (macon ga)

Are you surprised that San Antonio decided to change coaches?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:06 PM)

I was a little surprised, considering SASS did make the playoffs ... although, admittedly, that was nearly by default this year in the Western Conference. There were rumblings during the season that not all the players were on board with the dynamics of the coaching situation ... as far as them being comfortable with who was really "in charge." The day that the coaches were let go, I asked Dan Hughes if he would talk about what was next for SASS, what they were looking for in a new coach. He said he did not want to talk then, and that he'd let me know when he was ready to discuss it. So we'll see when that will be. I think SASS has more problems than whatever issues there are with coaching ... they have a talent deficit. That will have to be addressed no matter who becomes the new coach.

Mary (WV)

Where was Jenny Boucek during Game Three? She's usually sititng right behind the Seattle bench, but I didn't see her during the whole game. And she's not in any of the celebration photos, either. What happened?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

She had to watch on TV from a hotel. WNBA rule on number of assistant coaches/travel. But let's face it, this seemed pretty silly. Boucek had a huge impact on this team, and the players were all disappointed that she wasn't able to be there with them. I think this is something the league really does need to re-examine. I understand cost-cutting and all that but ... come on.

kevin (macon ga)

Do you think Kelly Mehrtens resigning as UNC-Wilmington AD is related to the Julia Finlay situation?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:16 PM)

Of course, it was. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back there ... UNCW alumni/donors had also been upset with other things, such as the way the men's basketball coaching situation had been handled (or mishandled in many eyes), and donations were down. People seemed to have lost confidence in the school's overall leadership, based on what I've read. Things can snowball pretty quickly on an AD when a fan base gets upset, and in this case, it seemed there were a lot of things happening that would have been hard for Mehrtens to successfully overcome.

Mary (WV)

What changes do you think Kim Mulkey is incorporating into Brittany Griner's game for this season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:20 PM)

I would guess working on some counter moves in the post - not that she needs a ton of work there - getting her even more comfortable as a post passer and improving her strength. I don't know what Griner's future may be for Team USA, but it's interesting seeing Aussie center Liz Cambage and imagining her and Griner going head-to-head eventually, internationally and/or in the WNBA.

Kelly (Maryland)

Michelle, I'm a big fan of your work for women's basketball. Despite all of this recent hoopla with USA basketball, do you think Crystal Langhorne will ever receive another invite for the national team?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:23 PM)

Yes, I think so. She is very young, and still has a long career in front of her. As I've said, I don't understand why she wasn't at least in Team USA camp this time ... it didn't make any sense. But ... as her game continues to develop, she seems very likely to be in the pool of candidates for the 2012 Olympics and 2014 World championships ... and even beyond that, as long as she's healthy.

kevin (macon ga)

Why would Maine give Blodgett an extension, given their results the last few years?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:25 PM)

Because it's Maine and she's Cindy Blodgett, I guess. :) Maybe Maine is looking at this and saying, "Realistically, how good of a coach do we think we can get? Are we sure we can find someone who's better than our program's most famous alum?" In other words, I think the benefit of the doubt goes a long, long, long way when it comes to her and Maine.

kaylee (usa)

sue bird really hasn't been up to her standard, thoughts?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:33 PM)

Interesting question ... I don't know that I'd say that, though. Admittedly, I see where you're coming from: Her stats are not the same as they are in the WNBA. One thing that stands out is 10 turnovers ... this from a player who had only 60 TOs all during the WNBA regular season. But ... I think it has something to do with Sue taking a few more risks when she's with this caliber of players on the national team, especially in games where they are winning by large margins. Consider also that neither she nor anyone else is in the same kind of rhythm they would be in the WNBA, with the different sub patterns and such. Sue did say on today's teleconference how much she is enjoying it when both she and Lindsay Whalen are on the court at the same time ... I think it's fun for a true point guard to sometimes have that kindred spirit on court with her. They have similar minds. In general, I look at the USA stats and see five players averaging between 10-11 points, four more players averaging between 7-8 points, and then the starting point guard, Bird, shooting over 50 percent from the field and leading the team in assists ... and the team is 6-0. So ... I think she's doing a very good job.

kevin (macon ga)

The NCAA is planning to change the RPI formula for WCBB to match MCBB starting in the 2011-12 season. The new formula gives more weight to road wins and home losses. What impact will that have?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:37 PM)

Here's what I hope does NOT happen ... that it causes teams to go more cupcake-like with home scheduling. But that it DOES encourage them to be more daring, if you will, with going to play tougher road games. Unless you're one of the super powers, I understand that you have to be careful about setting up your schedule ... but being afraid to challenge your team means you are not going to grow as a program.

kevin (macon ga)

If Kelly Mehrtens was white and/or male, would UNCW have given her more leeway?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:50 PM)

I don't know ... maybe. Maybe not. I think that's always very hard to gauge unless you're "on the ground" in these situations, and even then it can be difficult to know what to believe. Do I think African-American women in these situations may not always get the benefit of the doubt because of long-standing prejudices that do exist? Sure ... absolutely. I think that can be the case. Anyone with any awareness should acknowledge that. And I have seen instances where it has happened, sadly. But ... there were several things that happened at UNCW that may have really rocked people's confidence in the school's leadership, both overall and in the athletic department. At some point, if you've lost people's confidence - even if they pull it away from you more quickly than they would someone else, whether that's fair or not - you are probably in a situation that can't be fixed. I think if I were Kelly Mehrtens, I'd learn from the experience and apply what I learned to the next job. She has a lot of qualifications to run an athletic department, and maybe - as difficult as this was - it ends up being a beneficial thing long-term for her career. It's a hard world in athletic administration at the top level ... and harder when we are still breaking down some age-old barriers. I'm not trying to waffle, just trying to strike a balance between acknowledging some truths about prejudices that do remain but also the reality of the bottom-line truths about jobs like this.

Helen (NY, NY)

Who do we have to bribe to get the announcer who's been doing the US games to come to ESPN?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:57 PM)

A lot of folks seem to like the one-person broadcast that is really focused entirely on the action going on right then - with very little to nothing about background of the players, and stories that longtime fans have heard a 100 times and roll their eyes about. I think the two-person crews we have here are trying to reach a balance between the newer audience and the old audience. And it's harder than it may appear. The crews here are trying to please a lot of masters, frankly. All that said, maybe the feedback about "less-is-more" that several viewers seem to be giving about these world championship broadcasts may filter back to the network and the announcers themselves.

Ken (Syracuse, NY)

Mechelle, why isn't anyone talking about the Russians at the Worlds? They're undefeated, have talent in Hammon, Abrasimova, Korstin, and Stepanova, and have size. Do you agree they could beat Australia should they meet in the semifinals?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:59 PM)

Actually, I think they are on people's radar, obviously with the fact that they beat the United States the last World Championships, and they probably do have a better team this time around. We have been focusing pretty heavily on Team USA, of course, but I think everyone should have an eye on Russia.

Justine (Sydney)

What are your thoughts on Liz Cambage and her prospects as a WNBA draft pick. Do you think she has a shot at going first?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:03 PM)

On today's teleconference, Geno Auriemma had a lot of praise for Cambage. He really has been impressed with her. Nolan Richardson of Tulsa - which does has the highest probability of getting the top pick - has said he would take Maya Moore. The draft lottery is Nov. 2, by the way. Provided that Cambage stays healthy and indicates she wants to play in the WNBA next summer ... I would be surprised if she didn't go at least No. 2. At least based on what we've seen of her so far.

tom (san francisco, ca)

There have been more expansion rumblings about San Francisco. Have you heard anything concrete, and do you think SF is more a relocation market for 2012?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:04 PM)

Rumblings may not be the best word to use in connection with San Francisco, right? :) Actually, that's all I've heard ... nothing concrete. I think the advantages of the area are pretty solid. It's still about finding a committed owner/ownership group.

Amy (Michigan)

Where do the teams that are looking to replace coaches and/or GM's think they're going to find better replacements? It's not like these teams have new, young blood on their coaching staffs just being groomed for these positions. And why is Rick Mahorn, who did more as a coach than Cheryl Reeve, not seriously considered for jobs?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:12 PM)

Well, the pickings probably are rather slim still. Because the pool of coaches who are committed to being in the professional women's game is smaller, obviously. There is less job stability than if you can get a job you want in college. So it's going to take a while before that pool of candidates gets larger, and there are more viable options - people who really have geared their careers toward working with professional athletes. I don't know what Rick Mahorn's status is ... if he really wants a head-coaching job in the WNBA and keeps aiming for that, I think at some point, a team may decide to go that route. I do think the incident with the "fight" with the LA Sparks a couple of years ago probably has influenced some folks' opinions about him. I'm not saying that's fair or that it is a universal thought. I'm just trying to be realistic. It may be one of the things he had to overcome in order to get a head-coaching job, if that's what he's hoping to do.

Marcus (Cville)

Who will give the USA team the most difficulties?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:14 PM)

Australia and Russia are realistically the only teams that can give the United States enough difficulties to actually qualify as "difficulties." They are both squads that absolutely should have confidence that it's possible to beat the Americans. I still lean toward the Aussies as presenting the greatest challenge.

Kelly (Maryland)

Do you think Bria Hartley, has what it takes to lead Uconn to a national title as a frosh point guard.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:17 PM)

It's a lot to ask, but UConn gets cream-of-the-crop talent and then develops it as well as any program in college -men's or women's - develops talent. She will have a lot on her shoulders, but there is still plenty of talent around her, obviously, and a coaching staff that's proven its success over and over for multiple generations of players now. Just look at Team USA.

Hank (Martin)

Why didn't Jayne play yesterday?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:22 PM)

I am sure Jayne Appel knows that as the 12th player on a roster of 12, her time is going to be limited. This whole experience, though, is good for her.

tom (san francisco, ca)

Looking ahead to the college season, which major coaches are on the hot seat - Tom Collen at Arkansas? Tia Jackson at Washington? Curry at Texas Tech?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:26 PM)

Oh, the hot seat question. Fans are always asking about that. Part of the issue is that in women's basketball, though, the "hot seat" isn't really the same as in sports like football and men's hoops at the Division I, bigger-conference level. In those sports at that level, poor performance of your program IS going to result in you losing your job sooner rather than later. Almost always. In women's hoops, it depends on a variety of things - contract situation (buying out women's sports coaching contracts not done nearly as often), the overall economic health of an athletic department, the relationship of the coach with the administration. One would have to guess all of the above coaches are on the so-called hot seat. And, off the top of my head, realistically eyes are going to be on Bonnie Henrickson at Kansas, too, as the Jayhawks have yet to go to the NCAA tournament in her tenure and the AD who hired her, Lew Perkins, has now stepped aside.

Mary (WV)

How permanent is the US National team roster now? After these World Championship games wrap up, when will they play next? When will any changes be made as players (like Candace Parker) come back from injuries?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:30 PM)

Not sure what their schedule will look like in 2011, the "in-between" year. Certainly, it's to players' advantage to making the 2012 Olympic team that they were on this roster ... but if Candace Parker is healthy, she is a shoe-in. I would think that, even though she didn't play in worlds, Cappie Pondexter will be on the Olympic team ... but we'll see. And there are unknowns, like Griner. Will she be participating in USA Basketball by then? How will her game have developed? So there could be some significant differences between this team and the one that goes to London. But if healthy, a lot of these players should make it.

Frank (New Braunfels)

Who do you think the Silver Stars will hire as their next coach? Do you think it'll be someone already in the WNBA? I was thinking maybe Boucek at Seattle or White at Chicago.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:39 PM)

This is what I know for sure from conversations with the principles you named: Stephanie White most definitely wants her next coaching job to be as a head coach. Either at the WNBA or college level. She is interested in the Sky job, but she's not going to "beg" for it. She feels they already know what she can do, and she is pretty realistic and pragmatic about that situation, in my opinion. Jenny Boucek has been a WNBA head coach, and was treated very poorly and unfairly, in my view, in Sacramento by John Whisenant, who decided he wanted his old job back and tossed her out. Boucek loves the pro game, has studied it intensely (both the NBA and WNBA) and cares about helping players reach their potential - that is what motivates her. She would be a good head coach again, or she will be a good assistant. She is not one of those people who is motivated by "climbing" - she just wants to help players achieve their best.

Laura (Delaware)

How soon will Blaze be replaced in New York? Have you heard any rumors?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:41 PM)

In conversations with NY folks, it doesn't seem it will happen immediately, but in the next month or so. I don't know at this point what direction they are leaning ... in general, they've been extremely tight-lipped about all of this. I doubt this will surprise those who are familiar with MSG Inc.

Elizabeth (Missouri)

Mechelle, what do you think of the IUPUI head coaching decision. The men's assistant coach, really?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:45 PM)

Several questions on the IUPUI situation. It's a mess, so I wasn't expecting the solution to immediately clean it up. I don't know how many options they really had, considering it's nearly October, the school's financial situation, and - let's face it - how big a priority do we think the women's basketball program is at this school? At this point, it's probably about trying to just settle things down and figure out what can be done for a better future.

UConn Steve (TX)

Who is on your All FIBA first and second teams so far? lists USA-Korea as 15h30 (GMT+2). If i did my math right, is that 9:30am EDT?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:48 PM)

I really have not poured through the stats just yet to come up with first and second teams. I have been impressed with a variety of players. As for the game ... it's at 3:30 in the Czech Republic, so that's 9:30 am Eastern time, 8:30 for me in the Midwest. And 6:30 out in Jayne Appel land. :)

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:52 PM)

Thanks for all the questions. The plan is to keep this weekly chat going even in the time between the end of the World Championship and the start of the college season. I am going to be doing some additional college coverage for besides basketball, so that will factor into the chat as well. I expect hoops will remain the primary chat topic, though. Hope you continue to join me. Thanks!