Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indiana (22-12) at Phoenix (23-11)

Game info: 9:00 pm EDT Tue Sep 29, 2009

PHOENIX - The Phoenix Mercury are all about offense, with All-Stars Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter leading a talented cast of scorers in search of the team’s second WNBA title in three years.

The Indiana Fever built their identity on defense, a team that finally ended Detroit’s dominance in the East and has the league’s defensive player of the year, Tamika Catchings, geared up for a one-on-one showdown with Taurasi.

“Those are two amazing players,” said Indiana rookie and ex-Arizona State standout Briann January. “Olympians going head-to-head, going hard. They are two of the hardest-working women in this game. They go at it. Their passion for the game is clear when you watch them play.”

The teams open their best-of-5 series Tuesday night at US Airways Center, where Indiana beat the Mercury earlier this season.

To help make certain Phoenix has a loud homecourt advantage, Suns general manager Steve Kerr bought all 7,000 upper-level tickets and planned to give them away. Kerr said he took a cue from Larry Bird, who bought 9,000 upper level seats for Indiana’s deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals against defending WNBA champion Detroit.

“Both of us were part of championship teams and understand the importance of a packed house,” Kerr said. “For anyone who doubts the WNBA level of play, this is an opportunity to see for yourself. I challenge any doubters to come see the talent, skill and intensity on the court.”

While the Mercury have been here before, this is all new for Catchings, who has spent all eight of her pro seasons with Indiana.

“Oh my gosh, it seems like forever,” Catchings said before the Fever worked out on Monday. “… We’ve worked so hard and it’s finally paying off.”

The Fever defensive standout says she always looks forward to facing Taurasi, who led the WNBA in scoring for the third time and is averaging 23.8 points per game in the playoffs.

“I love playing against the best offensive players,” Catchings said. “Being a defensive player and priding myself in defense, I definitely love the challenge. We and ‘D’ go way back. Even when she makes a good move or gets a shot in my face, it’s all in love.”

Mercury coach Corey Gaines uses the same ultra up-tempo style that his predecessor, Paul Westhead, installed in guiding Phoenix to the league championship two years ago. Five players remain from the squad that beat Detroit in five games two years ago.

“We take into this our experience from 2007, which is such a positive for us and knowing that we can get it done,” Pondexter said, “and knowing what it took to get it done in 2007 is so important and gives me a lot of confidence in this team.”

Catchings calls Phoenix “a great running team.”

“They’re very quick, move the ball, with 3-point shooters in Penny (Taylor), DT (Taurasi) and Cappie, and Tangela (Smith) has been shooting the ball very well,” Catchings said. “We’re going to have to step up our defensive intensity and try to knock more baskets down.”

Taurasi calls the Mercury’s preferred style “chaos.”

Phoenix led the WNBA in scoring at 92.8 points per game. The Mercury allowed a league-high 89.1 points per contest. That’s for a 40-minute game.

“We’re not getting enough shots up, really,” Gaines said. “We’re getting around 85. I want to get like 90 or 95. Really 100, that’s my goal. I need 48 minutes. You give me 48 minutes, I’ll get 100 shots.”

Indiana allowed 73.6 points per game, third-fewest in the league, but Fever coach Lin Dunn believes that it’s more than her team’s defense against the Mercury offense.

“I don’t know that it’s a clash in styles,” she said. “They may emphasize offense a little bit more than we do, and we may emphasize defense a little bit more. But we both want to push the ball. The night we beat them here was a very up-tempo game.”

That 90-83 victory on Aug. 9 gives Indiana confidence it can win a playoff game in Phoenix, something the Fever has to do to claim the championship.

“You’ve got to steal one. When you get one on somebody’s home court, you’ve stolen it,” she said, “because you’re supposed to protect serve. That’s the way it is.”

Phoenix won at Indiana 106-90 on Sept. 2, one of only three Fever home losses. Indiana’s No. 2 scorer, Katie Douglas, missed that game with an ankle injury.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fever top Shock, reach first WNBA finals

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Fever advanced to the WNBA finals for the first time, beating the defending champion Detroit Shock 72-67 on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Fever, who were eliminated by the Shock the last three seasons, open the finals on Tuesday against Phoenix.

Tammy Sutton-Brown led the Fever with 17 points. Katie Douglas scored 14, and Ebony Hoffman and Tamika Catchings added 10 apiece. Catchings also had eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Deanna Nolan had 16 points for Detroit. Alexis Hornbuckle scored 15 before fouling out with 18 seconds to play. Cheryl Ford finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Team Harper Competes at 4Kay Golf Classic

ATLANTA - The second annual 4Kay™ Golf Classic presented by Nike, was a huge success as 153 women’s basketball coaches, administrators and supporters of the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund®, in partnership with The V Foundation for Cancer Research, gathered in Greensboro, raising over $175,000 for women’s cancers research.

Team Harper, made up of NC State head basketball coach Kellie Harper, assistant coaches Jon Harper and Richard Barron, and the Wolfpack Club’s Chris Combs, finished third on the Grandover West Course with a total team score of –11.

In addition, Jon Harper won the men’s longest drive on hole #6.

“The Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund is very grateful to the ACC and the City of Greensboro for hosting the 2009 Classic,” said Marsha Sharp, Executive Director of the Fund. “The positive response from our sponsors and coaches resulted in a record $175,000 being raised for the Fund, an increase over last year’s $142,000.”

The celebration began with a charity auction and gala on Sunday night. Silent auction items donated from organizations around the nation raised nearly $10,000, but the real fireworks flew during the live auction.

The first item was a pair of tickets to the 2010 Orange Bowl, subject of a bidding battle between the Virginia Tech and Auburn coaching staffs. As the bid grew, the lot was sweetened by Miami head coach Katie Meier offering a dinner for four at Shula’s.

The next three items up for bid were Kay Yow signature items, designated by Coach Yow to benefit the Fund. First, a pink N.C. State jersey autographed by Coach Yow went to Debbie Leonard (former Duke coach), then a pink hat worn by Coach Yow at the inaugural Classic went to Kristina Johnson, United States Under Secretary for Energy and longtime women’s basketball supporter. Finally, Coach Yow’s director’s chair led to a bidding war between Fund board members Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma and board President Stephanie Glance. Auriemma prevailed with a generous $5,000 bid, then doubled his generosity by giving the chair back to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.

Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt stepped up to volunteer her pink sparkly cowboy hat for an impromptu live auction item, complete with an autograph to the winning bidder. After the bidding exceeded $1,000, Summitt stepped in and offered $2,000, on the condition that Texas assistant Mickie DeMoss wear the hat during a 2009-10 regular season game. Virginia Tech head coach Beth Dunkenberger volunteered to increase the bid if Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors would wear the hat to coach a televised game. Further negotiations and generosity from the assembled coaches led to a total $10,000 contribution, and Goestenkors and Summitt agreeing to each wear a similar hat to coach their December 6 ESPN2 televised match-up in Knoxville, Tenn., in continued public support of the Fund.

Monday morning dawned into a glorious Greensboro day as 39 foursomes kicked off an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start on the Grandover East and West courses. The format was a four-player captain’s choice, with separate tournaments on the East and West courses. Awards and Nike prize merchandise, including golf bags, putters, sunglasses, and apparel were presented to each of the top three teams as well as to winners of longest drive, closest to the pin, and longest putt.

Team ACC, led by ACC Commissioner John Swofford, won the East Course tournament, while Team Robuck, captained by Frank Robuck, took top West Course honors. Full results are included below.

The day ended with an awards luncheon and speeches from ACC Associate Commissioner for Women’s Basketball and Senior Woman Administrators Nora Lynn Finch and Sharp. “It’s apparent that today’s weather was ordered especially for the coaches by Kay Yow,” Finch said to those assembled.

This year’s event was hosted at the Grandover Resort and Conference Center - thanks to support from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the City of Greensboro, the Greensboro Coliseum, the ACC Tournament Host Committee, and the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). All proceeds benefited the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.

Local Greensboro women’s basketball coaches and administrators, led by UNC Greensboro head coach Lynne Agee and Associate AD Kathy Roberts, also gave of their time and resources by serving as the Classic’s welcoming committee. The Fund’s founding partners, including The Hartford, Nike and GlaxoSmithKline were also in attendance in support of the cause.

Special thanks go to the following sponsors of this year’s Classic: Nike (presenting sponsor), Harrison Turner and the Bryan Foundation (breakfast sponsor), Guilford Sports Hall of Fame (hole sponsor), Touchstone Energy (hole sponsor and beverage cart sponsor), Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (hole sponsor) and the Big XII Conference (beverage cart sponsor).

East Course Results 
1st place – Team ACC (-11) – ACC Commissioner John Swofford, Chad Swofford, Jeff Elliott, Amber Elliott.
2nd place – Team Conradt (-8) – Jody Conradt (former Texas head coach), Billie Moore, Mimi Griffin, Chris Plonsky.
3rd place – Team Pepsi (-7) – Brad Corbin, Jimmy Burns, Bob Rusher, Joey Rusher.

Individual Awards: B.J. Chockley (closest to the pin #3), Debbie Leonard (former Duke coach)(closest to the pin #7), Tom Newcome, Sr. (closest to the pin #12), Lynn Davidson (closest to the pin #16), Amber Elliott (women’s longest drive #1), Krista Kilburn (women’s longest drive #10), Jimmy Burns (men’s longest drive #6), Brian Ewald (men’s longest drive #15), Debbie Ryan (Virginia head coach)(longest putt #5), Lulu Eure (longest putt #18).

West Course Results 
1st place – Team Robuck (-14) – Frank Robuck, Billy Daniel, Gerry Herakovich, Bruce Ballard.
2nd place – Team Blair (-12) – Gary Blair (Texas A&M head coach), Steve Stevens, Vic Schaeffer, Charlie Milstead.
3rd place team – Team Harper (-11) – Kellie Harper (N.C. State head coach), Jon Harper, Richard Barron, Chris Combs.

Individual Awards: Charlie Hughes (closest to the pin #3), Jackie Ansley (closest to the pin #5), Dan Delmatro (closest to the pin #11), Kathleen Kunkler (closest to the pin #15 & longest drive #12), Nikki Caldwell (UCLA head coach)(women’s longest drive #2), Jon Harper (men’s longest drive #6), Rob Rayl (men’s longest drive #16), Charlie Milstead (longest putt #7), Marc Bush (longest putt #18).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Candace Parker saves her biggest show for off the court


While Sparks forward Candace Parker recounted her ongoing balancing act of being a working mom, she declared her everyday life would be entertaining enough to become a reality show.

It would be called "Three Dogs, a Husband and a Baby" -- "the reality show I live every day," Parker says, a title that sounds like a throwback to "Three Men and a Baby." Parker's night mostly involves her 3-and-a-half month daughter, Lailaa, sleeping on her chest while she watches reruns of "Roseanne," "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Sister Sister." And with all that television viewing, Parker has an idea for a pilot.

Parker and her husband, Boston Celtics forward Shelden Williams, often walk their daughter and their three dogs, Fendi (4-year-old St. Bernard mix), Neno (16-year-old black pub) and Prada (1-year-old black roddy). And while it's typical for the dogs to run away during the walks, Parker didn't exactly expect the following to happen: "One time we were driving in the car and Prada just jumps out through the window," Parker recalled, laughing. "Meanwhile, Lailaa's socks fall off and my husband is asking me to do something. That's my life."

Not bad. Two other anecdotes reveal some other potential episodes.

Acting presidential

During the Sparks' East Coast road trip from July 9-11, Williams called his former Duke teammate, Reggie Love, who currently serves as a personal aide to President Barack Obama. Williams and Parker wanted to see the president.

This wasn't a first-time visit. Parker, who played for Naperville (Ill.) Central High, had already met Obama at that time. But she obviously still wanted to give him full attention, even if it meant interrupting her feeding with Lailaa.

Said Parker: "When he walked into the office, I took the bottle out of her mouth and then stood up because it's the president."

Then Williams said, "she starts screaming. You don't scream at the president. But he laughed and said, 'I know how it is with two girls."

"I gave the bottle to her and she goes back to being happy," Parker said. "She's a funny little girl."

Blue Chips

After Parker told Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt last winter she was pregnant, she congratulated her and then cut to the chase.

"Where can I send the papers?"

Those haven't arrived yet. But that doesn't mean Summitt hasn't taken the early steps to recruit Lailaa.

"I shipped her out every Lady Vol thing I could get my hands on," Summitt said. "Shelden is pulling hard for Duke, but no way. She's going to be a Lady Vol," she said referring to the Volunteers.

Somewhere the NCAA is digging up its rule book to see if any rules have been broken. Lailaa apparently has other prospects, too.

UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell, who recruited Parker at Tennessee, thinks the gear alone won't be enough.

"We have the edge because she and I bond really well," Caldwell said. "Pat would have to fly out. I always talk to her and say, 'Hey, little Bruin.' "

The next step entails winning over the parents, with Williams deferring to Parker about Lailaa's college choice.

"She's going to Tennessee," Parker said. "I already determined that. The only thing we have from Duke is a blanket, and we use that for the floor."

So Lailaa will play basketball at Tennessee?

"I think she’d be a good tennis player," Parker said. "We’ll push that sport. My parents pushed basketball on me, not on me but I wanted to play soccer and then they were like, 'You'd be a better basketball player.' I fought it and fought it and then I fell in love with basketball. She’ll probably fall in love with basketball. She'll have more of a Venus Williams body type. Slender, long and athletic hopefully -- 6 [foot] 4, 6 [foot] 5. That would be a dominant tennis player."

Just imagine what the birthday gifts from Summitt and Caldwell will be.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sparks' Candace Parker keeps the balls in the air

The reigning WNBA most valuable player juggles being a new mom with trying to get her team into the playoffs and winning a title. She's got help and a good sense of what it takes to make it all work.

Candace Parker and daughter

Sparks star Candace Parker, with her daughter Lailaa, now has to balance basketball, volunteer work and motherhood.

She is on the clock and needs to move.

"What's the quickest way to get to UCLA from here?" Candace Parker asked a van full of fellow volunteers. "I don't want to get stuck in traffic."

The WNBA superstar and reigning most valuable player has to watch the clock these days as she does the impossible: balance her career with being a new mom.

At this moment, she has finished redecorating apartments in Inglewood for domestic violence victims. Before that, she scrambled home to feed her baby, Lailaa. Before that, she practiced with the Sparks for the first time this season -- and none too soon in her view, having missed the first eight games in the 34-game season.

Her day was not over, though. She still had to pick up her godbrother Kenny, who was in town to visit her and her husband, Boston Celtics forward Shelden Williams.

Parker, 23, calls this juggling act a "process."

"It's difficult in any situation, when something new happens, to balance it," Parker said. "Sometimes when you're juggling something, you lose sight of other things."

She hasn't lost sight of the one thing that eluded her and the Sparks last season: a title.

With only three games left in the regular season, she enters tonight's contest against the San Antonio Silver Stars averaging 12.7 points, a WNBA-best 9.2 rebounds and a league-leading 1.96 blocks per game.

Being MVP and rookie of the year, having the league's top-selling jersey and signing lucrative endorsements indicate a popularity WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender says "continues to grow."

Parker knows all eyes are on her. But she is not alone in this balancing act. There are 13 mothers playing in the WNBA, a list that includes four other Sparks, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson among them.

Williams, who is a hands-on dad, said it has worked out fine.

"I haven't seen her overwhelmed," he said. "It's hard for her, but she hasn't pulled her hair out."

She has had plenty of people to keep her calm. Last winter, when an anxious Parker told her brother, Marcus, she was pregnant, he laughed and told her, "You try to write an amazing comeback story every year."

She knew he was right. In high school, she came back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee to lead Naperville (Ill.) Central High to its second consecutive state title. As a junior at Tennessee, Parker won her second national championship while wearing a sling to support her dislocated left shoulder.

Then there was the advice of Thompson and Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt to write her own script. She did, though Parker's expectations were occasionally beyond her doctor's.

She shot 150 jumpers and rode the elliptical machine 30 minutes every day until three days before the May 13 delivery, and resumed two weeks later. When she asked to play in a June 21 game, her doctor said no. Her family thought she was pushing herself too hard.

"Candace is always a very goal-oriented person and wants to set dates," her mom, Sara Parker, said. "I wanted to let her make sure if that day comes and she doesn't feel physically prepared and ready, that it's OK to take extra time."

She finally got the OK to return to the court. Parker's dad, Larry, wanted her to wait but Coach Michael Cooper thought she looked fine at practice, and Parker said she felt ready. It was July 5 and her rust showed.

In her first four games, she averaged 4.75 points on 34.7% shooting and four rebounds -- far below her clip of 18.5 points on 52.3% shooting and 9.5 rebounds per contest last season.

"Some of the things she couldn't do made her frustrated," Cooper said.

She struggled with her timing, stamina and staying low to the ground to protect the ball.

"I got ahead of myself a little bit and didn't realize that it's not just your body performing one time," Parker said. "It's your body performing over and over again with the strain and rigor of a Cooper practice, and the strain and rigor of travel."

But coming back so quickly was "the right decision," she added. A league-leading 12 double-doubles support that. If the Sparks (15-16) make the playoffs, which begin Sept. 16, she expects to be in full form.

"Where I am now is hundreds of percents better than where I started," she said.

The balancing act got a bit easier Aug. 3. Parker arrived at a 9 a.m. practice with a jump in her step. The reason? Lailaa had slept through the night.

Yet even if Parker no longer needs to wake up at odd hours, she still does. She calls the habit part of her "motherly instinct" that also includes singing to Lailaa when she's crying, her favorite song being Will Smith's "Just the Two of Us."

Parker slept 15 hours a day during her pregnancy, and 12 hours a day in college.

"If I get five hours now, I'm good," she said, laughing.

There was another reason she felt awake on this particular day, though. She had eaten breakfast.

"That's a major sign of maturity," Leslie said. "I was spoon-feeding her oatmeal last year and was like, 'You have to have breakfast.' "

Parker has the help of a nanny, Lailaa's grandparents, UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell (who recruited her to Tennessee) and teammates, but she and Williams are the primary care-givers.

She even takes Lailaa on the road and packs "everything," she said. Yeah, agreed Thompson, she "remembers Lailaa's stuff, but still forgets her stuff."

Sara recalled a recent trip in which Candace, with Lailaa in tow, insisted on carrying the luggage herself.

"I'm stubborn," Parker said. "I do things my way."

Her coaches may sense that, because Summitt and Caldwell sent Lailaa some Lady Vol and Lady Bruin gear, respectively. Parker laughs and says her daughter will be going to Tennessee to play tennis.

On a recent afternoon, she is eager to talk about being a mom: teaching Lailaa sign language, reading books to her, giving her baths, playing peek-a-boo, watching "Nick at Nite" while Lailaa sleeps on her chest. "You're making me miss her now," Parker said.

Yet Parker is loathe to take Lailaa to public events, fretting that people might think she is "showing her off." One exception was when she returned to Naperville this summer for a court dedication in her name.

"I wanted my husband and my daughter by my side when something special like that happens," she said.

She knows this juggling act will face new obstacles when the NBA season begins for Williams. But she still wouldn't change a thing.

"I made the decision to have my child and she's healthy and happy," Parker said. "And I'm back playing the game I love."