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October 28, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:03 PM)

Good afternoon. Just a few hours before I head off to far west Kansas and a basketball game that raises funds for cancer screening, we'll try to solve the mystery of the Mystics. Just kidding! About figuring out the Mystics, that is.

Jake (Florida)

Hello, I have a couple of questions about the two powershouses in the game. What are the chances of UConn losing it's second game against Britney Griner and Baylor? Is Tennesse a legit Final Four team this year and what do you like best about this team? Oh and also, when will the ESPN/Coaches Poll be released? Thanks!!

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:09 PM)

Yes, I do think that Baylor does have a chance to win that game, and I don't think that's any disrespect in the slightest meant to UConn. Baylor has so much strength coming back, and Kim Mulkey has said she thinks this is her most talented team. Tennessee had the pieces to go to the Final Four last year, but Baylor stopped that run. This season, I really do think Tennessee has everything it needs again. It will be very good to see Vicki Baugh back if she is fully healthy, and I expect a big year from players like Glory Johnson. I think what I would say is Tennessee's biggest step forward this season is that there is a lot of experience on that team now. As for the ESPN/Coaches poll, it is set to be released on Nov. 3.

Julia (Florida)

We fans seem obsessed with "coaches on the hot seat" on an annual basis. When a new regime comes in for an overhaul, what is a reasonable time to wait before expecting a significant return on investment, particularly when the program was in the dumper prior to the overhaul?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:13 PM)

I really think it's a case-by-case basis. You have to look at how real the commitment by the university is ... it does have to be more than just financial. There has to be a real support system in place that cares whether the program grows. You have to look at the conference, and how tough it is to gain ground. And then you have to consider the financial state of the university. Do you pull the plug and eat money on a coaching contract because of lack of success in a sport that doesn't make money? Usually schools don't. They ride out contracts not matter how the program is doing. So a reasonable time is different everywhere. In general, though, I feel like if you haven't made significant progress in five years, it seems unlikely to happen. There have been exceptions.

Kelly (Maryland)

This season I believe Stanford will have the best frontcourt in the country, but the backcourt is still lacking. Why do you think Tara has problems recruiting elite guards? They really suffered with missing out on Skylar Diggins. She is the difference between a final four and winning a national championship.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:16 PM)

Yes, the guard issue has been a continual one for a long time now at Stanford. They've had good guards, but point guard has been a consistent issue, usually because of injury. It's been freakish how many injuries have affected Stanford's backcourt for the last decade-plus. As for Diggins ... yes, that would have been a great fit for Stanford, but considering South Bend is her hometown, there's no way that was really going to happen. I think she really always wanted to stay home.

kevin (macon ga)

What are the chances that Jacki Gemelos can play in the WNBA?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

I just spoke with Southern Cal coach Michael Cooper by phone a few hours ago, actually, talking about the upcoming season. He said he thinks Jacki is at about 85 percent ... although it's hard to know how to gauge that with her after all the injuries. Probably the first player that comes to my mind who really battled serious knee injuries in college and who I thought would stop playing after college because of that - and yet still has had a WNBA career _ is Georgia's Kiesha Brown. So I think there is always hope ... but Jacki has been through a lot. Cooper said he still believes we'll get to see in college the Jacki that was such a sensation in high school.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

Has the recruiting landscape in WBB generally gotten uglier? I do see way too many AAU ties to be comfortable...but are we heading down the same road as the men's game and is this what has the old guard so up in arms (Pat's actions and comments aren't the first and won't be the last)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:25 PM)

Yes, I do think it's gotten worse in a lot of ways, and every coach I talk to thinks the same thing. To some extent, the women's game always follows certain things that happen in the men's game. But there isn't the money in the women's game to bring on the nearly the same amount of sleeze factor. Coaches, off the record, complain about other coaches' recruiting tactics constantly. Everyone is convinced everyone else is doing something they're not supposed to. Whether there's more shaky stuff going on, or everyone is just increasingly suspicious and paranoid, or some combination of both _ I'm not sure. But I'd say it was the combination.

Judith (Washington DC)

Alana Beard gave an interview to the Washington Post this week and looked pretty foolish saying about Angela Taylor's sudden "departure" that "It's something that I haven't really focused on. Was I surprised? I can't say if I was surprised or not, because it's not something that I really paid attention to." Any thoughts on why the Mystics Front Office has been so inept in handling this matter -- ignoring the press and season ticketholders, and not even helping the players figure out how to answer expected media questions about Angela? This is Washington. "Spin" is a profession! There are media experts for these things. Do you find it mind-boggling? (And I note that the "new" you were promised "soon" - two weeks or so ago -- has yet to materialize.)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:33 PM)

I'll just get in the Mystics question farily early. I have heard from other players that they really were upset at Angela's departure. Alana's answer makes her seem rather isolated from some of her teammates, and that maybe isn't too surprising since she spent the year rehabbing her ankle. It's hard to stay connected when you're not playing. Plus ... of course, AB has been on the Mystics' merry-go-round a long time now. Maybe she's just taken the approach to not count on anything staying the same? I'm not even trying to be snarky. Maybe that's just survival mode with the Mystics.

kaylee (usa)

love love loved your article today about pat and geno. honestly with all of the hostility between these two figures its almost amazing that their players get along once they are outside of college, it kind of shows that the rivalry is largely (if not entirely) between the two coaches and not the schools. i do think there is something to be said about the number of former uconn players who maintain a relationship with geno long after their days at storrs have ended. out of curiosity, does pat have these same ties with her former players. yes, i am from the northeast, and yes, geno's stars seem to shine the brightest, but i never really hear about that side of pat.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:41 PM)

OK, will try to answer several UConn-Tenn questions here, as best I can. I would say the relationship between Pat and former players is very much like Geno's with former players. They still visit, they still see her as an important part of their lives. They look to her for advice, and they know they can call/text her any time. I'm not saying she has a perfect relationship with everybody who's played for her, of course, but I don't think Geno has either. There are always some exceptions. But the overwhelming majority of people who play for these two are very complimentary and loyal to them. And for what it's worth, Tennessee's Tamika Catchings, who is very, very loyal to Pat, had a lot of great things to say about Geno as national team coach. They get a long very well.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:41 PM)

OK, will try to answer several UConn-Tenn questions here, as best I can. I would say the relationship between Pat and former players is very much like Geno's with former players. They still visit, they still see her as an important part of their lives. They look to her for advice, and they know they can call/text her any time. I'm not saying she has a perfect relationship with everybody who's played for her, of course, but I don't think Geno has either. There are always some exceptions. But the overwhelming majority of people who play for these two are very complimentary and loyal to them. And for what it's worth, Tennessee's Tamika Catchings, who is very, very loyal to Pat, had a lot of great things to say about Geno as national team coach. They get a long very well.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:41 PM)

OK, will try to answer several UConn-Tenn questions here, as best I can. I would say the relationship between Pat and former players is very much like Geno's with former players. They still visit, they still see her as an important part of their lives. They look to her for advice, and they know they can call/text her any time. I'm not saying she has a perfect relationship with everybody who's played for her, of course, but I don't think Geno has either. There are always some exceptions. But the overwhelming majority of people who play for these two are very complimentary and loyal to them. And for what it's worth, Tennessee's Tamika Catchings, who is very, very loyal to Pat, had a lot of great things to say about Geno as national team coach. They get a long very well.

Pete (Connecticut)

Does Pat think she doesn't have to take responsibility for her comments about the integrity of Uconn and Geno or that she can make unfounded allegations without penalty? What will the WBCA do about this?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:45 PM)

My opinion is only that, but here goes: I think she said something that she really didn't mean to say. That doesn't take away saying it, but I think in the scramble to defend Bruce Pearl, she threw out an ill-advised "one-liner" that wasn't funny ... and remember, she was talking to a Tennessee radio station, so she might have felt too much in a comfort level, if you will. Yes, I know how seriously UConn fans are taking this, and I understand why. Meanwhile, Geno and the UConn administration aren't saying anything ... which leads me to believe they might be ticked about it, but they feel like it's not worth engaging in another verbal war with Tennessee. I have talked some with the WBCA and will talk more with them. Let's face it, they are in an awkward position, and I don't know at this point what they will do. But I'm not sure what kind of "penalty" the UConn fans realistically expect there's going to be.

pat amarante (CT.)

why hasn't the ncaa come down on summitt for making baseless accusaction about another wcbb coach especially since they cleared geno of all charges except a secondary violation. where is the wcbb national media; must be afraid of her!!! i guess if she can't beat uconn on the court she'll try to destroy to destroy the reputation of a great program. she really showing a lot of class!!

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:54 PM)

If I can just be frank, I would bet the NCAA has so many fires going on in college athletics that Pat Summitt throwing a jab at Connecticut on a Tennessee radio station is not really going to get the NCAA's notice. I'm not saying this to tick off the UConn fans, just trying to be realistic. I think she made a big mistake with what she said, obviously. I can't speak for all media, but fear of coaches is not something I worry about. I worry about being fair to everybody involved, and also must acknowledge that these are highly competitive human beings who both have made some mistakes in how they've spoken about each other. I also think that there are lot of things about their interaction and stuff that happens in recruiting that I can't possibly claim to know. Ultimately, would both programs want *every* single thing they've done or said in regard to each other for the past 15-plus years revealed? (As if that's even possible, but it's a theoretical question.) My guess is the answer is: absolutely not.

Brian (Salem, MA)

In your own personal opinion, that of a women's bball fan (not as a journalist), what do you think should be done about the Pat vs. Geno squabble?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:03 PM)

It's funny you ask that, because I've spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about it, actually. Because I admire them both. They both have this amazing work ethic and strong sense of obligation to duty. They also both have this high-achiever gene ... nothing is ever enough. They win one thing, and then it's onto the next. I don't think either can ever rest much. So they really do have a lot in common. But they also both want the same thing - to get the very best players and to win championships. And so it's a personal struggle between the two of them. I don't know it could be mediated at this point without both of them "giving in" a little in some way, and I guess I don't see how that can happen.

sue (Barnsville)

who are your final four teams this season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:05 PM)

Well, this is who I picked yesterday when ESPN the Mag wanted me to pick them: Baylor, Tennessee, Duke, Stanford. And I didn't do that to make the UConn fans mad. Heck, they could win it all again. I just think they have a lot to overcome, obviously, with injuries and graduation. I think it's a lot to just *expect* they can always do that no matter what. By the same token, nobody's surprised when they do.

Mary (WV)

In the men's basketball game, can you think of any two coaches whose professional and personal competition, not to mention professional and personal animosity, is an equal parallel to that of Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:16 PM)

Another thing I find myself thinking about. I have asked various colleagues who cover men's basketball regularly, and there are certain rivalries that used to be/still are very personal and very contentious. However, not as much of it has been played out in the media the same way, in part because there is so much attention on so many more teams in men's college hoops. There are not two programs on the men's side that have separated themselves nationally from the rest of the programs for an extended period of time like these two have. And I can't think of many men's college coaches who are - or ever have been - as "expansive" in talking with the media as Geno is. UConn folks absolutely love that ... Tenn not so much. Tenn fans see his wisecracks as disrespectful to Pat, and they think guys in the men's game don't do that to each other the same way he has done it with her. So the rivalry between UConn and Tennessee is all the more personal. And I think you add a lot of things that are cultural, really. There is an element of North vs. South in this, and UConn is still the "new rich" in the eyes of some Tenn fans, who don't want anyone to forget that Tenn was there in the 1970s, too. All of which contributes to making it so intense.

steve (ann arbor)

Swoopes fans could use some closure re: her career...does she feel retired, or does no WNBA team want to take a chance on her? Good to see she is participating tomorrow.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:18 PM)

I'll see what I can find out in speaking with her tomorrow at the Hoops for Hope game out in Western Kansas. I am curious to know, too, how she is doing. I know she looked into some assistant coaching positions in college during the summer.

UConn Steve (TX)

Pac-10 will hold a combined men's and women's basketball tournament in 2011. Do you see other conferences following that format?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:23 PM)

Well, the Big 12 has since the beginning, and while I don't think the men's coaches care much one way or another, the women's coaches like it that way. Or at least, for the most part they have supported it. Bill Fennelly practically every year at media day mentions it. I can see where it's been a plus for the Big 12, because there really are some schools that have a fan base that mixes just a little: specifically Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor. So it works in the Big 12. I hope it works in the Pac-10. I don't think we will see it in the Big East, ACC or SEC.

Ryan (Princeton, NJ)

Sort of a reverse of the Stanford question. Vivian Stringer seems to often have a surplus of good guards, but seems to often be short staffed in the post (pun intended), not always having great options for the 4 or 5 off the bench. Why do you think that is?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:25 PM)

Well, now that you mention it, that's a great observation. I'm not sure I know why that is. In the case of Rutgers, it may be that Stringer has a more difficult time finding post players she really likes for her defensive system than guards. And with Stanford, I still think it's been a degree of bad luck with injuries as much as anything.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

to try to lighten the mood and prevent artellery from being fired in a public chatroom...seriously WHEN are they going to make a Pat vs Geno movie and WHO would they get to play Pat and Geno LOL

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:29 PM)

OK, this is totally off the top of my head ... but Helen Mirren can do anything, and she's already done the Queen of England. So why not Pat, the Queen of Tennessee? Admittedly, that Tennessee accent may be a challenge for a Brit, but I know she could get it. And for Geno ... maybe Ray Liotta?

Sue (Columbus, Oh)

Enjoyed your article on Geno and Pat. Am a Geno fan big time.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:31 PM)

Thank you. It was a difficult article to write because of how much I do want to be fair to both sides, but also take some kind of opinion on it. In the end, I really enjoy watching both their teams play and I enjoy dealing with them, but they've both made some errors in how they've dealt with situations. Pat's is the most recent, and I don't know how it will be resolved.

Rich (London)

Apparently the Chicago Sky are making an announcement tomorrow about their coach/GM positions. Any scoop on the hire(s)?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:33 PM)

OK, lot of questions on this. I do NOT have this confirmed, so I don't want to act like I do. The rumor is Pokey Chatman. If it is her, I think she deserves this chance, but I also know there will be some difficult questions to answer. If it is not her, then I hope whomever it is can boost some life into this franchise at what I think is a critical time for it.

Mary (WV)

Jane Lynch as Pat (with a wig or a dye job), and Joe Pesci as Geno. (And if Joe Pesci is there, that means Matin Scorsese will direct, so there will be lots and lots of gunfire and blood.)

UConn Steve (TX)

Russell Crowe as Coach Auriemma, Cate Blanchett as Coach Summitt

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:36 PM)

Both very funny answers, and I'd love to see that movie. I'd like to write the script. :) I already know who plays Sue Bird: Ellen Page. Beyond that, we have a lot of casting to figure out, guys.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:38 PM)

Well, I really do have to go because western Kansas is waiting. Thanks for all the questions, and sorry there were more I didn't get to. We will know for sure about the Chicago Sky tomorrow, and we will know about the Washington Mystics' GM situation at least by next summer, right? :) Be back again next week.