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December 20, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:02 PM)

Greetings from Kansas City, where we have our first snow of the season. I left Dallas yesterday when it was about 80 degrees. About a 60-degree drop in temperature coming back home. :) Let's get started.

Sofia (Durham, NC)

Kamiko Williams seemed the lone bright spot for UT in the game against Baylor. 15pts on 7-13 shooting, 10rbs, 6 assists, 0 TOs. Is she a 'reasonable' candidate for a roster spot in the WNBA? Or will she make her basketball living overseas if she decides to pursue the sport after this season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:05 PM)

Kamiko Williams would need to have an about-face in terms of her approach to the game if she wants to play anywhere professionally. Holly Warlick said the only thing that stops Kamiko *is* Kamiko ... but the Tennessee coaching staff has been saying that since she got there. She's a senior, but still seems to struggle with having consistent effort day-to-day. So I don't know if basketball is something she truly loves and wants to do long-term. Sometimes players do discover a spark after college is over that they somehow never really had in college. But that doesn't happen that often.

Lindsey Densing (Houston, TX)

Do you think the Connecticut Sun will realize they made a mistake when they figure out they can't upgrade from Mike Thibault?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:07 PM)

I've been working on the assumption that Connecticut felt very good about what possibilities the franchise had other than Thibault. Otherwise, there was no reason to fire him. My philosophy is that unless you are *certain* you can upgrade from a successful coach, you don't make that move. So we'll see who takes the job. Whether it was a good move for the Sun remains to be seen ... but it DID end up being a good move for the Mystics.

Charles Ross (Washington, DC)

How much do you think Meighan Simmons has matured as a player? Even though she is a definite energetic and competitive player, I think her shot selection still looks as erratic as it did her freshman year.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

I think that is a concern for Tennessee ... but part of the issue may be that Simmons feels she has so much weight on her shoulders with such a young team. Maybe as this group matures, she will feel less that way ... but maybe this is also a matter of her erratic shot selection being a very hard habit to break.

kevin (macon ga)

Mike Thibault stressed in his press conference and in other interviews that his association with the Mystics was a long term commitment. Was this more to allay fears that the team might fold or to give himself some breathing room if the team isn't immediately successful?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:11 PM)

I'm going to guess the latter. When I talked to him the day the Sun let him go, he was definitely interested in the Mystics but said he wouldn't be if they didn't offer enough of a commitment to give a coach/GM time to turn around the franchise. So I know that was paramount in his mind.

jbb1985 (NY)

What do you think is affecting Griner's lower minutes played per game and blocks per game? Is she slightly injured? Is she still coming back from her longboarding off-season bone break?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:13 PM)

She's got a lingering shin issue, and Kim Mulkey acknowledged that she wanted to give Griner some rest when she could to help her over the course of a long season. Mulkey is giving her team a good amount of time off for the Christmas break, which is smart. This is a mostly veteran squad that could use the rest/recuperation and will still be fully prepared for Big 12 conference season because of their experience.

Greg (La Crosse, WI)

Do you think UConn and Tennessee could be convinced to play each other again if there was a great cause involved (say a game played in the spirit of We Back Pat with money from the game going to Alzheimers research - it could make quite a bit of money for a great cause)? Do you know Holly Warlick's opinion on possibly renewing this rivalry game in any form?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:17 PM)

In talking with the writers closest to Tennessee, they seem to think that there is at least a chance that the series could be renewed at some point. The embrace between Pat and Geno at the Final Four last year perhaps was more than just a 'moment' - maybe it was symbolic of the start of a reparation in the rift. This is Holly's program now, and a lot has changed at Tennessee. Maybe that would actually make the renewal easier.

Eileen (Washington DC)

Do you think it was a little disingenuous of Geno to villainize the Catholic 7 given that (if all the reports can be believed) just a couple of weeks ago his own school was actively seeking to jump to a new conference (the ACC)?And, somewhat related: What do you think would be the better name for a conference consisting of the following teams: UCF, Cincy, UConn, UH, Memphis, USF, SMU, Temple and Tulane . . . The Big East or The Big Mess?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

I think this was Geno talking too much again. And I don't say that disrespectfully, or to anger UConn fans. But come on. You are exactly right: UConn has desperately wanted to get out of the Big East since it started to crumble. At this point in college athletics, one athletic department accusing others of doing whatever they could to cash in is just comical. That's what they are ALL trying to do. As for the remaining conference ... Big Mess works for me. :)

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

From the "I know they lost BUT..." file: Was South Carolina's performance against stanford a wake up call to the SEC that Staley has the team ready to contend and win?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:24 PM)

I think South Carolina getting to the Sweet 16 last season was a good indicator that the Gamecocks' program was climbing up the ladder. And even if the game against Stanford was ugly - which unfortunately has been a trend in games all this season so far - it should lift the Gamecocks' confidence more. It's not as if there is an absolute, sure-fire "Baylor" or "UConn" in the SEC this season. Kentucky is the favorite, of course, but there are a lot of teams who are good, but we really don't know how good.

Charles Ross (Washington, DC)

What do you think of Michael Cooper coaching at USC? Was moving to the college game the best decision for him with his ongoing struggles at USC?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:27 PM)

Michael Cooper at USC and Paul Westhead at Oregon have both had some rough times in the women's college game. So much of the success at that level is recruiting, which is very labor-intensive and relationship-intensive. I just wonder if both were really prepared for women's college recruiting as it exists today.

jbb1985 (NYC)

Okla State and Colorado are both still undefeated. The former hasn't seemingly played any noteworthy teams, the latter beat #8 L'ville -- which one will likely be a bigger threat to top-tier teams down the line?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:30 PM)

It depends on how top-tier we're talking about. Will either beat the team expected to win their respective conferences (Baylor in the Big 12 and Stanford in the Pac-12)? I don't think so. But ... both the Cowgirls and the Buffs have some talented players, and they're building up confidence in the non-conference schedule (even it's not that challenging, especially for Okla St). I think both can be NCAA tournament teams.

Lindsey Densing (Houston, TX)

Do you think Tina Thompson will return to the WNBA next season? She's playing overseas right now.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:32 PM)

Tina Thompson for the last several years has said she makes up her mind usually in January about the upcoming WNBA season, based on how she feels physically. I think she will play at least one more season.

DJ (Phila)

Mechelle--I very much enjoy your work and all the best to you during this holiday season. What are your thoughts so far of Notre Dame? They lost a lot from last year but their newcomers seem to be contributing--can they compete with UConn in the Big East? Thanks very much.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

I don't think that Notre Dame will beat UConn. That said, I think the Irish have a great amount of growth potential this season, and can still have a very good season. But UConn is really, really good.

kevin (macon ga)

Was firing Mike Thibault nuts?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:39 PM)

It didn't make any sense to me. The Sun has been on the ascent the last two years, and I thought he did a really nice job this past season with the team. I understand management really wants a championship, and they were probably most ticked off that Indiana won that Game 3 of the East finals in Connecticut, especially w/ Katie Douglas missing most of that game. But then when you consider that Indy went on to beat the defending champs w/out Douglas, you have to think it was just finally Indy's year, and not grounds to say, "Thibault has to go." Plus, by firing him, the Sun handed him to a team in their own conference that desperately needed an experienced, successful coach capable of also being GM. Connecticut could hire someone and win the title next year, and then they'll look mega-smart .... but at the moment, it still seems like the wrong move to me.

earnest (orlando)

Mechelle... you're coaching Kentucky or UCLA and it's bracket time in March. Would you rather be in Baylor, UCONN or Stanford's bracket for a shot at the Final Four? If you'd keep them out of Baylor's bracket, why are you voting Baylor #3? Do you really think Stanford could take Baylor if Odyssey Sims was healthy? They almost lost anyway...

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:44 PM)

Voting is such an inexact science. Hell, it's not a "science" at all. It's a lot of hopefully educated guesswork. Baylor lost to Stanford. Yes, Odyssey Sims was out, but still ... they lost. Does that mean Stanford stays in front of Baylor the rest of the season? I doubt it. For right now, I have UConn, Stanford, Baylor. With Baylor dominating Tennessee, and Stanford struggling with South Carolina this week, maybe Baylor will move ahead of Stanford. We'll see. It's not that important to the teams. When Mulkey was asked the other day about being ranked No. 3, she said she couldn't care less.

Karen (NC)

What's going on at Clemson? Chelsea Lindsay, Danaejah Grant and now, Jonquel Jones transferring, Deja Hawkins claiming a medical hardship? How long does Itoro Coleman last?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:50 PM)

Sometimes programs really get into a bad cycle and it doesn't always mean the coach has to go. However, there's a lot to be concerned with at Clemson. It's a program that at one time really did have some presence in women's basketball, but that seems like a very long time ago.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

With Diggins being less of a factor in the early going and Delle Donne missing time...does this set the draft order into any flux even as simple as it becoming Griner and then everyone else rather than the "three to see"?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

In talking to some WNBA coaches in the past week, none of them indicated that Delle Donne's struggles with Lyme was going to change the perception of her worth/ability at the next level. As for Diggins, she has had her struggles this season, but she is still being evaluated high. All that said, the coaches feel there are more than just three players who will be able to help teams from this draft. Not a lot ... but more than three.

jbb1985 (NY)

Do you anticipate a close game between Stanford and Tenn, or did the Baylor-Tenn game change your view?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:00 PM)

I think it will be close - closer than Baylor-Tennessee - but that Stanford will win. I know everyone will get sick of hearing about Tennessee's youth, but to me, that's a big, big factor in why they are going to have some real ups and downs. Holly Warlick said that she hoped to get Isabelle Harrison back for the Stanford game, which will help. Tennessee wouldn't have beaten Baylor with her, but it probably would have been a little more of a game.

Shades (Minneapolis)

Where do you project Kelly Faris' place in the upcoming WNBA Draft?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:05 PM)

This is a really good question, because in Faris you have a player who is very smart, tough, versatile, just figures out how to help her team. How does that translate to a pro atmosphere and expectations? I've said many times the UConn pedigree keeps proving itself over and over in the WNBA. I think Kelly Faris would find a way to help any WNBA team she played on. I know how hard it is to get a job in the league, but I also know how hard she plays.

Matt (South Bass Island)

Which USA Today Coaches Poll Top 25 ranked team do you feel has struggled the most this season to adjust to playing without a graduated superstar from last season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:10 PM)

I don't think there were a lot of "superstar" seniors last year, beyond Nneka Ogwumike. That said, Miami has had to deal with losing two really good players in Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, and that's a tall order. But the Hurricanes are not currently in the AP or coaches polls, so that isn't a great answer to your question. They are the players that stand out to me as being really tough to replace, though.

Jack (DC)

Mechelle, do you think Thibault will try and go after a trade for Kara Lawson. An Alexandria native and former Mystics fan, this could bring fans to games and bring the mystics one step closer to coming back.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:12 PM)

In the press conference and the teleconference on Tuesday after he was announced as new coach, Thibault wasn't giving away any "state' secrets. :) But he did indicate that he expected the team to be anywhere from 25 percent to 45 percent different in terms of personnel when next season started. Obviously, he had a really good relationship with Lawson, but I don't know if she's on his radar from the standpoint of bringing her to DC.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

Let me rephrase the other Sun questions: Who is out there who has a real chance to accept the job who is better or could be percieved as better than Thibault?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:16 PM)

If Michael Cooper, Van Chancellor, Paul Westhead and Anne Donovan are in the mix in Connecticut, are they "better" than Thibault? They've all won at least one WNBA title as coach, so they have that. Whether any of them - or someone else - would be a truly "better" coach is up for debate. I do think Thibault knows what he's doing, just like I think Dan Hughes knows what he's doing even though he hasn't won a title.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:19 PM)

Thanks for all your questions; sorry I didn't get to several. Hope you all have happy holidays, whatever you celebrate. Should be back to chat next week.