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November 4, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:02 PM)

Good afternoon, everyone. Let's get under way.

Mary (WV)

Will Stephanie White stay or go as Chicago's assistant coach?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:07 PM)

I talked to Stephanie White during the WNBA finals, and she said she wanted her next job to be as a head coach, either in the WNBA or in college. She did interview for the position with Chicago. She said she really did not want to continue being an assistant. However, she said if she felt there was an opportunity to be an assistant someplace that would really help her learn more and progress as a coach, she would still consider that. So I guess we will see what appeals to her, and where she ends up.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

With wiggins and augustus already and a host of rookie scale players, do you think Minnesota will keep the #1 pick this year and blow it up to build around Moore or will they trade the picks for vets like last year?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:09 PM)

I don't know how you pass on the opportunity to get a player like Maya Moore, especially with the success rate of former UConn players in the WNBA.

Rosa (Washington, DC)

Have you ever heard anything as strange as the Sheila Johnson media phone call? Has the Mystic's organization lost its collective mind?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:17 PM)

Very rarely have I ever heard someone on a teleconference so apparently ill-prepared to answer legitimate questions. It's hard to understand how someone could run a business with such little grasp of public relations, customer service and dealing with the media. If the Mystics sought to make changes for their financial security, that's their choice ... but considering the season they just had, they needed to communicate the "why" to their fans. They needed to respect their fans, period. Instead, the fans got condescension and illogic. I can't fathom why anyone would do business like that. Being condescending and insulting to the media is one thing - we get that at times. Doing it to your customers is a whole other issue, and it makes no sense.

Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

Forgetting the way the whole thing was handled, how do you think Trudi Lacey will do in DC? Surely she's not as bad a she seemed in Charlotte, right?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:27 PM)

I don't know, and Sheila Johnson didn't exactly give her a great vote of confidence by suggesting that it was crapshoot as to whether Lacey will be successful. One of the many things Johnson said that was just baffling. I assume what Johnson meant was that any hire has the potential to possibly not work out. Which is true. But why you say something like that in the introductory teleconference announcing your hire _ that is a mystery. The Mystics also didn't have a teleconference for Lacey, for whatever reason. In the end, none of this is Lacey's fault ... she got offered a job and she took it. Any coach is going to be judged in very large part on past W-L record, for obvious reasons. I think everyone wishes her the best, for the good of the league and this franchise. But how it was handled couldn't have been much worse.

kevin (macon ga)

The SASS are the only team still looking for a coach. What are the chances they hire Julie Plank?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

A big part of it depends on whether SASS upper management is going to insist on a combined coach/GM role. Or coach/director of player personnel, as is sometimes the title. Because if SASS does, then Dan Hughes is either out as GM or he has to come back and coach. There are several questions posted about the whole concept of coach/GM and whether the league is behind trying to "mandate" that ... I have not heard that to be the case. In talking to various coaches in the league, I don't get the sense that the league itself is trying to force that to happen everywhere. It seems individual franchises are making that decision because they think it's an effective cost-cutting measure that doesn't have to hurt the quality of the product if the right person fills the role _ if that person gets enough help on business aspects of running the franchise. Now ... all that said, if SASS decides to keep Hughes as GM and hire a coach, is Julie Plank the right person? I think, based on various conversations I've had, she needs to take some well-meaning constructive criticism on how she handled pro athletes and apply it if she takes another WNBA coaching job. She probably needs to learn to trust pro players' decision-making ability more. But I do think she did a lot of things right, too.

Judith (Washington DC)

Trudi Lacey is chatting live on line right now. Any questions you'd like to ask her? (And thanks for your column yesterday; those things needed to be said.)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:38 PM)

What's she going to do to get Katie Smith to come back for one more season? How does she intend to improve the Mystics' post game? How will she reach out to disenfranchised fans? I wonder if she'll feel free to speak with her own voice, really, in regard to things that have gone on with the franchise. To a degree, she has to continue the "party line," as any employee of a company does. But for the sake of connecting to fans and players, she has to project some sincerity for mending fences and moving forward.

Amy (Michigan)

Are players around the league pretty used to this sort of thing? Or when these WTF type things happen are they sitting there shaking their heads just like we are?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:45 PM)

It kind of depends on the player. Some are very plugged in and pay close attention to everything that goes on with their franchise. Others are a lot more detached from it, possibly because they feel it's all out of their control. And others are just oblivious to everything except themselves. In this case, I don't think the players had any idea what was happening or why. Some of them, as I've said, were not pleased with Julie Plank. But I know others thought that if Julie had taken some well-meaning constructive criticism, they felt the relationship between her and the team would have improved next season. All in all, I was told by several sources that the players trusted and got along with Angela Taylor. Whether Angela and the front office had a dispute that went beyond her contract - such as overall managing of the franchise's finances - I don't know. The Mystics have not indicated that, but really, they've done almost nothing to make their organization look good. The players, to my knowledge, were pretty surprised by everything and were not truly consulted about what they thought or wanted.

Lonnie R. Martin (Amarillo, Texas)

What teams are your top five?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:47 PM)

A college question ... I sent in my AP preseason poll vote like this: 1. UConn, 2. Stanford, 3. Baylor, 4. Tennessee, 5. Duke.

steve (ann arbor)

Really enjoyed the interview with Swoopes last Friday, did you get a chance to schmooze Jackie Stiles at all?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:49 PM)

Yes, I did chat with Jackie, who looks in fantastic shape and is now very much into yoga, which she thinks might have saved her career. Or at least given her a few more years. I will be spending more time soon with Jackie in Springfield, Mo., for a book project we are working on together.

Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

Purdue fans expect Drey Mingo to be a big piece of getting the team back on track after missing the NCAAs last year. Should we expect the Mongo who was a high school All-American or the Mingo didn't make much of an impact at Maryland?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:52 PM)

I know she's a really bright kid, and it seemed like Purdue was just a better fit for her in a lot of ways, not just basketball. If she's in good physical shape and happy where she is, I think you'll see a pretty good player.

Carol Anne (Seattle)

I've just learned of Kye Allums, transgendered student-athlete on the GW women's basketball team. What are your thoughts? How will opposing fans treat this player?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:04 PM)

I am going to be writing about this for on the college page tomorrow, where I have stories that appear weekly on Mondays and Fridays. A few weeks ago, I talked to Helen Carroll of the NCLR, which spearheaded a think tank last year on the issue of trangenderism in sports, and then last month released a report about it. I think for even the most sensitive and aware people in regard to the gender spectrum, this issue can be difficult. Competitive sports are sex-separated for reasons that are very legitimate. Since Kye is not proceeding with hormone treatments, as I understand it, he is still biologically female and therefore eligible to compete. Where does one draw the line on when someone no longer does biologically "qualify" for a women's team? The NCAA does have standards for this - again, for good reasons. In this case, Kye's gender identity is male, but because of his physical body right now, he still wants to compete on a women's team. This tests gender boundaries that we are all accustomed to, and I don't think it makes you a bigot in any way to have questions about it or be uncertain about it. It's a tough issue. I am glad that GW is supporting Kye, but if any of his teammates were uncomfortable with this, how does GW support them? I think all those issues are important to discuss.

Mary (WV)

The Hartford Courant editorial page wrote that Pat Summitt filed 11 charges of NCAA violations against UConn, and only the one about Maya Moore was judged worthy, but only as a secondary violation. What was the substance of the other 10? Is that sort of thing ever made public? Is it routine for media outlets to have to file a FOIA request to get those details directly from the schools? Do you agree with the dismissal of the other 10 allegations? It's hard for me to imagine Pat Summitt having a 91 percent failure rate at anything ......

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:12 PM)

ESPN filed the FOIA on the report that Tennessee sent to the SEC, which was subsequently sent to the NCAA. It was all about things involved in recruiting, including the alleged involvement of former student-athletes in the process. The NCAA apparently did not feel the other allegations met the standard of a violation, or they didn't feel it merited further investigation. Here is a link to a story by ESPN's Shelley Smith on the details of the report:

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

Actions say the WNBA is in trouble (Roster rules, coach/gms, cutting assistant coaches etc) words say they're growing (New arenas, tv ratings, attendance, jersey sponsors) which is closer to the truth?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:17 PM)

I think there are elements of truth in both. There are almost no businesses that haven't had to make cutbacks in the last few years as the economy tanked. People have been saying the WNBA is "in trouble" since it launched. Things have improved in some areas and not in others. The league is so obtuse and secretive about its finances that we are always left to guess a lot. From what I understand, a big determining factor in whether a franchise makes money or not in a season is how far it advances in the playoffs. So some franchises that perpetually don't make the postseason or don't get to at least the conference finals have a more difficult time turning a profit.

steve (ann arbor)

...speaking of books, who better than MV to ghost the book SS was talking about?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:19 PM)

It is something we have spoken about, but nothing definitive yet. Will let folks know if it happens.

Eileen (Washington DC)

Tennessee's already landed 2 of the top 5 ranked recruits in the class of 2011. And they could still get another, Elizabeth Williams. What are the chances that in another year or two, the Lady Vols could switch positions with the Huskies (once again) and become THE multi-season dominant team in WCBB?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:21 PM)

As long as the coaching staffs are in place at those two programs, they are going to keep vying for the best of the best recruits, and getting a lot of them. The keys for the game's progress, of course, are having even more programs successfully challenge them for those top kids ... and for there to be a bigger talent pool, so that UConn and Tennessee can't possibly get every "top kid" because there are too many of them.

Rich (London)

Any idea how Pokey Chatman is going to manage being head coach/GM of the Sky while continuing to coach Spartak Moscow? Free agency, the college season, the draft etc. are all going to happen while she's about 5,000 miles away from Illinois.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:24 PM)

She's going to have to have good people here in the United States working with her, she has to be a good multi-tasker, and she has to rely on her instincts in judging talent built up from so many years in women's basketball. To me, the college draft is sometimes the least of the issues because, seriously, there are not that many players who actually make an impact each year out of the draft. It's more putting together the whole team, managing the salary cap, figuring out who will make it back from overseas on time and who won't - and how to deal with that - that are more complex chores for the GM.

Kelly (Maryland)

Mechelle, With a recent string of strong recruiting classes I expect the ACC to be back on top again this year. For Maryland, why do you think it's been such a difficult concept for Brenda Frese to instill a defensive scheme for her team?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:29 PM)

I think some coaches are just more adept at coaching one aspect of the game over others. Some are better at offense, some at defense. Some are great recruiters, motivators ... but not the best at X's and O's. Very few people are equally good at everything, which is why it's so important to surround yourself with good assistants who aren't "yes" people - who will sometimes challenge you - but who you ultimately feel are supportive of you as a head coach. Clearly, as evidenced by his success at Louisville, Jeff Walz was a hard guy to replace on Maryland's staff. A lot of the very best talent in terms of assistant coaches is eventually going to want to move on to take over their own programs. Thus, being able to keep assistants in place - which is often a matter of salary - is a challenge. It's not a coincidence that UConn and Tennessee have longtime right-hand assistant coaches in Chris Dailey and Holly Warlick. They are pillars for those programs just as the head coaches are.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:31 PM)

Thanks for all the questions, and at least now we have an answer about how the Mystics plan to go forward. Just waiting on SASS. And we'll be starting the college season very soon ... I will be going to the UConn-Baylor game on Nov. 16. Chat with you next week!