Friday, May 30, 2008

Rookie starter brings fighting spirit to Lynx

Nicky Anosike gives much of the credit for being a starter to two women who were tough on her: Pat Summitt and her mother.

Nicky Anosike feels more grown up these days.

Anosike, the 6-2 rookie center for the Lynx, passed her driver's license test last month and is driving a Jeep Liberty the team loaned her.

"I felt like a kid before, asking people for rides," said Anosike, 22. "Now I can get myself to most places."

Anosike is also helping drive her new team to places it has not gone before. After back-to-back 10-victory seasons, Minnesota is the WNBA's last unbeaten team at 3-0. That's the best start in the 10-year history of the franchise.

Anosike is averaging 11 points and 4.3 rebounds as a starter. Two other rookies, Charde Houston (12 ppg) and Candice Wiggins (11.7), are averaging in double figures coming off the bench.

Minnesota will try to extend its winning streak against defending champion Phoenix (0-3) at 7 tonight at the Target Center.

Anosike, taken 16th overall in last month's WNBA draft, played collegiately at Tennessee, which won the NCAA championship the past two seasons. But scoring was a secondary role for her on the Vols, as evidenced by her career average of only 7.5 points.

After scoring 11 and 20 points in her first two games, Anosike was only 1-for-6 from the field Thursday. But her only basket was an 8-foot jumper with 1 minute, 26 seconds left that put the Lynx ahead to stay in a 75-69 victory at Chicago.

"[Anosike] is a fighter, and that rubs off on her teammates," Lynx coach Don Zierden said.

'Equal opportunity'

Anosike insisted she has the ability to score the day after the Lynx drafted her. She averaged 22.2 points as a high school senior at St. Peter's, an all-girls private school on Staten Island in New York City.

But Tennessee coach coach Pat Summitt wanted Anosike primarily to rebound and play defense for her talent-laden team.

"Now with coach Z, I'm in a system of equal opportunity," Anosike said. "We don't just give the ball to one person, and that's when you really can shine if you are on a real team."

Candace Parker, a rookie with Los Angeles, was the Vols' All-America player.

Anosike gives much of the credit for her becoming an WNBA starter to two women in her life: her mother, Ngozi, and Summitt.

Her mother, who immigrated from Nigeria at 18, is a single parent who raised eight children in a Staten Island project. Until she became a nurse at age 40, Ngozi usually worked several jobs interspersed with night classes. She was just as demanding of her children.

"We'd bring a test home with a 92 or 93," Nicky said, "and she would say, 'This is not good enough. You need a 100.' "

Summitt, like Mom, pushed her

Nicky, the youngest daughter, finished first in her class in eighth grade, and fifth academically at St. Peter's. She started playing basketball at age 9, and by fifth grade one of Nicky's coaches was telling Ngozi that her daughter could some day be a great player.

Mom was skeptical, but she appreciated what coaches and parents of teammates were doing: always picking Nicky up for games and practices despite her living in a neighborhood so tough that Ngozi would not allow her children to play outside.

The first time her mother saw Nicky play basketball was as a high school junior in a game she scored her 1,000th career point. Summitt was also present.

Nicky, a McDonald's high school All-America player, had her choice of colleges. Her mother had just one in mind.

"I kept my mouth shut," said Ngozi, "and prayed Nicky would go to Pat Summitt. She reminded me of myself, a very hard-working woman, very disciplined, very tough, always pushing her girls to bring out the best in them."

Mom was right about Summitt. She was tough, especially on Nicky. "I had to meet the highest standard on the team day in and day out," Nicky said. "Why she was so much harder on me, I could not understand it. But it was for my betterment. It's why I am starting now."

At Tennessee, Nicky became a leader. She authored a team pact two seasons ago which everyone signed. It committed everyone to giving everything they had on the court, no matter what, Anosike said.

"I know it helped," she said.

So she persuaded her teammates to sign another pact her senior year. Nicky completed a triple major in criminal justice, political science and legal studies in four years at Tennessee and had a 3.8 grade-point average. She graduated May 9.

Last week Summitt called Nicky and said she was proud of her.

"People look at me like, 'Oh my goodness, three majors -- you are crazy, just be happy with the one,' " Nicky said. "But you want to do the unthinkable, you want to go that extra step."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Comin' For You

Parker leads Sparks to 99-94 victory over Mercury

PHOENIX - Candace Parker scored 34 points, the most ever in a WNBA debut, added 12 rebounds, and 8 assists to help the Los Angeles Sparks beat the defending champion Phoenix Mercury 99-94 on Saturday.

The previous high in a WNBA debut was 25 points by Cynthia Cooper in 1997.

The game was tied at 79 early in the fourth quarter when Parker, who led Tennessee to back-to-back NCAA titles, took over. She scored 10 straight points to give the Sparks an 89-86 lead with 3:15 to play.

Parker, who made 6-of-7 shots in the final quarter, hit a short hook shot to put the Sparks up 97-94 with 12 seconds to go.

Parker wore a brace on her left shoulder, which she dislocated during the NCAA tournament. It didn't slow her one bit.

Parker came within two assists of becoming the first WNBA rookie to record a triple-double. Only one NBA player did it in his debut _ Oscar Robertson, in 1960.

Cappie Pondexter scored 32 points for Phoenix but missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 4 seconds to go. Lisa Leslie, who missed last season on maternity leave, had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks.

Before the game, the Mercury celebrated their 2007 WNBA championship with a ring ceremony and the unveiling of US Airways Center's lone basketball title banner.

Mercury star Diana Taurasi told the crowd of 13,749 that the Mercury aim to make it two in a row this season. But this is a different team.

Former coach Paul Westhead left after the season to join the Seattle SuperSonics' staff, although he returned for the ring ceremony. And star forward Penny Taylor is back in her native Australia preparing for the Beijing Olympics.

With Phoenix-area resident Muhammad Ali watching from a baseline seat, the fired-up Mercury broke out to a 15-7 lead midway through the first quarter.

The Sparks answered with a 10-0 run capped by a pair of 3-pointers by Sidney Spencer, who hit 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the opening quarter.

Taurasi missed her first six shots, showing the effects of a stomach virus she contracted after returning from Russia this week. She was scoreless until she made a 3-pointer late in the first half. Taurasi finished with 24 points.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Big Names At Vitale Gala

Sarasota, Florida - Basketball analyst and Sarasota resident Dick Vitale hosted his 2008 Dick Vitale Gala for Cancer Research tonight at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Sarasota.

The sold out event of over 700 attendees saw some of the biggest names in sports. But, it was headlined by two of the winningest coaches in NCCA basketball history, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and former Texas Tech and Indiana head coach, Bob Knight. They were the honored guests at the event which is part of Dick Vitale’s efforts to raise money for cancer research.

Vitale is hoping to raise at least $1,000,000 for pediatric cancer research in memory of five-year old Payton Wright who lost her battle against cancer last summer.

For more information or to make a donation, please visit

Sunday, May 11, 2008

UT's Pat Summitt finds she's 'mom' to many

Coach continues to support players long after they leave

NASHVILLE — Pat Summitt guesses it was about 20 years ago when she took on another role with her players.

Until then she had been the University of Tennessee women's basketball coach, teacher, disciplinarian and something akin to a sister to her players.

In fact, because she was so young her first year as the coach in 1974, her players just called her Pat.

"When I first started coaching and I was only a year older than my seniors, I was probably too tough and probably distanced myself too much from them so that they would recognize me as their coach," said Summitt, who guided the Lady Vols to their eighth national championship this past season.

"Now that's not an issue," she said. "That's probably been the case for the last 20 years. Now it is more of a mother-daughter relationship. We try to have a family atmosphere so those roles come naturally."

As the seasons came and went, Summitt says, her relationships with her players became more protective, more passionate, more maternal.

That is why she will spend time Sunday answering phone calls and opening Mother's Day cards from so many former Lady Vols. And from her son, Tyler, of course.

Coach reaches out

The close-knit bond lasts long after many of the players leave school. Summitt said she routinely gets visits or calls from former players seeking advice on everything from what to do about a work-related problem to when to start a family to matters that are best kept private.

Sounds like an added hassle for a coach trying to keep her program at its peak. Who has time to deal with a former player's stress or mess?

"Oh, I love it," Summitt said. "I think it's more fun for me. Now that I'm more secure in what I'm doing as a coach, and what I want to continue to do is to help these young women be successful. That was the problem when I was a young coach; I wasn't secure and so I kept that distance. I like it much better this way. You don't just say goodbye at the end of their playing careers and end it there."

Nikki Caldwell is thankful her relationship with Summitt lasted after she graduated from Tennessee in 1995. In fact, Caldwell followed in Summitt's footsteps and became a coach.

She spent the last six seasons as one of Summitt's assistants and recently was named head coach at UCLA

"Pat has played many roles in my life, and one has definitely been like a mother," Caldwell said. "I called her my agent when I was going through the process of getting the UCLA job. She was so helpful in that. She has worn so many different hats as a coach and now I am looking to her to help me to learn how to do the same."

Summitt became an actual mother during Caldwell's freshman year at Tennessee. She was pregnant with her only child, Tyler, and Caldwell says it was interesting to see her motherly instincts take over.

He became the top priority in Summitt's life.

"Anytime the baby sitter brought Tyler to practice, we knew practice was almost over," Caldwell said. "During those really hard practices, we would be looking around and saying, 'Where is Tyler?'"

Of course, Summitt did not allow the changes in her personal life to affect her professional life.

"I'll never forget when we were on the track running, and of course we had to be there at 5:30 in the morning," Caldwell said. "They told us Pat wasn't going to be there one morning. She had gone to the hospital to have Tyler. So we're thinking we can leave the workout and go to the hospital. But that was incorrect. She sent word for us to finish the workout before we came to visit."

Following in her footsteps

Tyler, now 17 and finishing his junior year in high school, and his mother are headed into an interesting time in both of their lives.

"He's at the same age now as the kids I've dealt with throughout my career," Summitt said. "This is the age when I start recruiting players. He just took his ACT and is getting ready to take his SATs. It's a little bit different. I am usually the one doing the recruiting. Now I'm just trying to help him sort through what he wants to do, if he wants to continue to play basketball after he graduates from high school or whatever."

Tyler recently informed his mother that he eventually wants to be a basketball coach.

"I'm trying to discourage him from that," Summitt said with a laugh. "But whatever he wants, I just want the best for him."

Lady Vols, Memphis take awards

Tennessee's Pat Summitt has been selected women's Coach of the Year and former Lady Vol Candace Parker was named women's Player of the Year by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association, the group announced.

They will be honored during an awards dinner July 9 at the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association in Hermitage.

Memphis Coach John Calipari was selected men's Coach of the Year and Chris Douglas-Roberts was named men's Player of the Year.

The TSWA also selected men's and women's all-star teams.

The men's team includes Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose of Memphis, Shan Foster of Vanderbilt, Tyler Smith of Tennessee and Lester Hudson of UT Martin.

The women's team includes Parker, Amber Holt of MTSU, Alexis Hornbuckle of Tennessee, Alex Anderson of Chattanooga and Jana Cross of Freed-Hardeman.

Also to be honored at the July dinner will be Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett, the college football Player of the Year and UT's Phillip Fulmer, the college football coach of the year.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ohio picks Randall as new women's coach

ATHENS - Ohio University tapped a familiar pipeline in selecting its ninth women's basketball Friday.

Semeka Randall was introduced as the new face of the Bobcats, and like her predecessor, Randall carries the clout of having been a successful professional player and an up-and-coming coach.

"We hit a winning half-court shot at the buzzer in hiring Semeka Randall," Ohio Director of Athletics Jim Schaus said in a statement released by the university.
"I am very excited about her leading our program and is a perfect fit for what we were looking for. She is energetic and tenacious to succeed."

Randall, a Cleveland native and former two-time Miss Basketball in Ohio, was an assistant in 2007 at West Virginia and spent two seasons as an assistant at Michigan State. She spent two years at Cleveland State as an assistant with the Vikings' program.

"It is my dream job to coach in the state of Ohio," Randall said in the statement. "If you look at my previous coaching experiences, you'll see that I've always positioned myself around this state because it's a great place for women's basketball."

As an assistant at Michigan State, Randall helped guide the Spartans to the a national championship appearance in 2005 and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2006.

"Semeka has a strong coaching background, including being with programs that have competed in the NCAA Tournament." Schaus said. "She is from Ohio and has strong recruiting ties to the area. She has played at the highest level as a high school All-American in Cleveland, was a starting guard at Tennessee and won the national championship. She played four years in the WNBA and is a winner in everything she has done."

Randall replaces former Ohio coach Sylvia Crawley, who resigned this past week to take the head coaching job at Boston College. Both Randall and Crawley spent time playing in the WNBA. Randall and Crawley were members of the league's San Antonio Silver Stars in 2003-04.

Randall was a two-time All-American at Tennessee and helped the Lady Vols win the 1998 NCAA Championship with a 39-0 record.

"Ohio is a great school," she said.

"I like that it urges student-athletes to excel in the classroom and on the court. It's just a great place and I'm looking forward to becoming part of the Ohio basketball family and the Athens community."

Coaches turn bikers to raise breast cancer awareness

Their do-rags are pink. Their motorcycles are painted Tennessee orange.

Lady Vols assistant coach Holly Warlick and former assistant turned UCLA head coach Nikki Caldwell are hittin’ the road.

Warlick and Caldwell, who both played as Lady Vols and have spent a combined 27 seasons at coach Pat Summitt’s side embark Sunday on their second weeklong “Cruisin’ for a Cause” ride to raise money for breast cancer programs.

The pair rode cross-country last year from Knoxville to Berkeley, Calif., raising more than $50,000 along the way. That money went to various causes, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Wellness Community of East Tennessee.

They held events at every stop where they joined fans and breast cancer survivors to celebrate.

“The best stories are really when the survivors would come out and give their testimony. They’d talk about their fight,” Caldwell said. “That’s why we’ll always be committed to this. It’s really put everything in perspective.”

Warlick wanted to combine the charity work she and Caldwell often did with their love of riding — Caldwell has ridden for 14 years while Warlick began seven years ago and even received a Harley-Davidson as a gift when she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Both wanted to raise awareness for breast cancer. Warlick’s grandmother had the disease and a friend of Caldwell’s passed away from complications in 2001.

Some of the proceeds of the 2007 trip went to the brand-new Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund in honor of the North Carolina State coach, a breast cancer survivor.

Yow was unavailable for comment because of a death in the family but said previously that she started the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund to show that women’s basketball coaches were stepping forward to help fight the disease.

“Kay’s been a huge icon in women’s basketball,” Warlick said. “We thought that was a kind of no-brainer to donate to her.”

Their 2,700-mile trip last year was in September — right in the middle of recruiting time — and Summitt worried a bit about the safety of two-thirds of her assistant coaching staff.

“She was a little skeptical at first, but when she saw the response and the amount of money we raised, she was very supportive,” Warlick said.

They had a little fun with each other too: Caldwell recalled one part of the ride when she became a sandwich between Warlick’s bike and an tractor-trailer truck.

“This year I’m not riding next her. I refuse to,” Caldwell said.

This year’s tour will take the pair 2,200 miles from Knoxville to Key West, Fla., and back traveling through Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. They expect to ride a week and have a fundraising goal of $100,000.

Events are planned in Miami, Naples and Tampa, Fla., where they’ll celebrate with more fans and survivors.

Their entourage includes seven bikes, a motorhome and a chase car.

They plan to carry on Cruisin’ for a Cause for years to come, even with Caldwell now a UCLA Bruin. Warlick said she hoped that because their charity is a bit more organized they could bring more riders along with them in the future.

She said they’ve even offered to bring Summitt along.

“We were trying to find a side car for her to go,” she said. “(Summitt) said she’d follow the dot on the computer as we traveled along.”

On the Net:

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lady Vols' Summitt Red Cross guest

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The Appalachian Chapter of the American Red Cross will recognize Red Cross "Heroes" and the corporate sponsors of its annual Humanitarian Luncheon at a special recognition event to be held 11:30 a.m. Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel.

Featured speaker will be UT Lady Vols Basketball Coach Pat Summitt.

The local Red Cross chapter -- serving Anderson County and Oak Ridge -- is celebrating its 90th anniversary.

In addition to presenting awards to its major contributors at the Oak Ridge event, the Appalachian Chapter will present Summitt with the Clara Barton Leadership Honor Award for her leadership and personal expertise that enables the Red Cross to contribute valuable services to the community.

Parker already making strong impact on Sparks, WNBA

NEW YORK - Kathy Goodman admits she was wary of the hype about the impact Candace Parker would have on the Los Angeles Sparks if they selected her with the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s WNBA draft.

“I am the cynic of the group,” the Sparks’ co-owner said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “I’m the one that’s like ‘Yes I know there’s a lot of hype and let’s not believe our own hype. This is still going to take some work.’ And I have to admit, that even I was pleasantly surprised by the response.”

Although Parker has yet to make her debut with the Sparks, the former Tennessee Lady Vols star is already boosting the team and the rest of the league at the box office, in merchandise sales and on the Web.

Los Angeles sold seven times the number of season tickets during the first week after the April 9 draft compared to the same period last year. Also, individual game ticket sales for the first eight days after the draft increased nearly threefold.

No doubt, the Sparks’ ticket sales are also being fueled by the return of Lisa Leslie. The perennial All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist is back after a one-year absence following the birth of her daughter last June.

“It has been really overwhelming to see,” Goodman said. “The combination of Candace joining the team and Lisa Leslie being back on the team, both of those things have been a matter of a lot of buzz in the community.”

And that buzz hasn’t been limited to Los Angeles. According to the WNBA, teams around the league are selling three times as many individual game tickets for when the Sparks are scheduled to visit compared to their overall average.

“I feel like it’s a huge responsibility,” Parker said. “Obviously we’ve gotten people to buy tickets to the games, but it’s a matter of getting them to come back. I guess a little bit of added pressure to perform when we play … not to take any nights off because there’s always going to be somebody watching you for the first time.”

Being a draw isn’t new for Parker. Tennessee is usually among the attendance leaders in women’s college basketball—at home and on the road. The Lady Vols averaged a school-record 15,796 at home this past season en route to their second straight NCAA championship, and eighth overall.

“It’s something I am used to in a way, coming from a storybook program at Tennessee,” Parker said. “We had a lot of sold-out away games this year, a lot of people wanted to see us play. I’m used to it, but it’s something you can’t take lightly.”

A few more numbers to quantify Parker’s impact:

— The league sold more Parker jerseys on in the first two weeks after the draft than any other rookie in league history during a similar time period.

— Parker’s page on received 70,000 page views in the week of the draft (April 6-12), trailing only the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and New Orleans Hornets’ Chris Paul when compared to NBA players.

— The Sparks’ Web site has already set all-time monthly traffic records during April for page views, and set a single-day record on the day of the draft with more than 40,000 visits.

“Obviously she’s a spectacular player and she’s also an incredibly charismatic personality. People are really drawn to her,” Goodman said. “She can be a gateway player where people get hooked on her but they realize ‘Look at all these other great players we didn’t know about.’ This is not like this is a league that has nobody in it except for her. People will come to see her and stay to see the rest of the teams and the rest of the players.”

Parker knows she doesn’t have the pressure that usually falls on a No. 1 pick, of being the focal player for a struggling franchise. Although the Sparks were 10-24 last season, they had to contend with Leslie’s absence, injuries to key players like point guard Temeka Johnson, and the sudden retirement of six-time All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw five games into the season.

Not only is Leslie back this year, Los Angeles also reaquired two-time Olympian DeLisha Milton-Jones, who was on the Sparks’ championship teams in 2001 and 2002, from Washington last month.

“The team went 10-24 last year, but this year’s team isn’t a 10-24 team,” Parker said.

The Naperville, Ill., native admits she is looking forward to the Sparks’ visit to Chicago on June 3. And an added bonus to her rookie season is a likely trip to Beijing for the Olympics this summer as part of U.S. national team.

“The opportunity to represent my country is something I’ve wanted to do from the time I picked up a basketball,” she said. “It’s a neat experience that very few people get.”

The Sparks’ season-opener is on the road against defending champion Phoenix on May 17. Parker still has some unfinished business back in Tennessee before that.

“I’m trying to see if I can go back for graduation (on May 9),” she said. “I haven’t got that situated yet.”

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Warlick to stay at UT; Staley to South Carolina

Tennessee Lady Vols assistant head coach Holly Warlick will remain on Pat Summitt's staff. Warlick had been in the running for the head coaching job at South Carolina.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley will leave her hometown of Philadelphia to become the Gamecokc's head women's basketball coach. Warlick told 10 Sports, "I love what I do. I feel very fortunate, I love my job."

"It (South Carolina) was an opportunity I looked into," added Warlick. "It didn't work out. I had reservations about even applying for the job."

"I was meant to stay here," Holly said. "I'm not upset about it."

Staley will take over the women's basketball opening subject to approval from the university's board of trustees. Staley replaces Susan Walvius, who resigned after 11 seasons with the Gamecocks.

She has also served as a member of the USA Basketball staff since February 2006. She'll continue to serve through the Beijing Olympics this summer.

Former Lady Vol Charles-Furlow is new Tennessee assistant

KNOXVILLE, TN - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has hired former player Daedra Charles-Furlow as an assistant.

Summitt announced Wednesday that Charles-Furlow will replace Nikki Caldwell, who last month accepted the head coaching job at UCLA.

The All-American has spent the last two seasons as an Auburn assistant under Nell Fortner. She's also worked as an assistant at Detroit Mercy and St. Martin dePorres High School, her alma mater.

As a 6-foot-3 center, Charles-Furlow led the Lady Vols to NCAA championships in 1989 and 1991.

She was named the 1991 Southeastern Conference female athlete of the year and became the first SEC player to win the Wade Trophy, the highest honor in women's basketball. She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Charles-Furlow joins Tennessee assistants Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood.

Bill Self and Pat Summitt to be Honored by NY Athletic Club

New York, NY, May 7th – Bill Self from the University of Kansas and Pat Summitt from the University of Tennessee, the winning men’s and women’s coaches from the NCAA Basketball Tournaments, will receive the WINGED FOOT AWARD at a gala banquet at the New York Athletic Club on Wednesday, May 14th, 2008.

“It’s a great honor to welcome Pat and Bill to the New York Athletic Club and to present them with the Winged Foot Award,” commented James W. O’Brien, chairman of the Winged Foot Award Committee. “Not only are they world class coaches and mentors, they are also world class people.”

This will be the 13th annual presentation of the Winged Foot Award, which will take place at the NYAC’s Manhattan headquarters with the coaches and key personnel in attendance.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt honored by Tennessee House of Representatives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Lawmakers have passed a resolution honoring University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who led the Lady Vols to the 2008 NCAA championship.

The House resolution was sponsored by Democrat Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who called Summitt "the greatest coach in America."

Pegram Republican Phillip Johnson told fellow representatives to remember that "when it came to bringing a national championship to Tennessee, the right man for the job was a woman."

Summitt told the legislators the 2008 team was unique in that "never in the history of the WNBA has a team had five starters go in the WNBA draft."

House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh also praised Summitt's 100 percent graduation rate for all players who have finished their careers at UT.