Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
Good afternoon, folks. I want to start out by cheating, kind of. Someone asked last week which five players I'd take *right now* in the WNBA to be a "dream" team. And I wanted more time to think about it. So here they are, as of today: Candace Parker, Lauren Jackson, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Cappie Pondexter. (And it is extremely hard to leave out Penny Taylor, Sue Bird and Angel McCoughty, who now would be my next three.)
kevin (macon ga)
Do you think ESPN went overboard with the Marion Jones coverage in the Shock-Mercury game? Interviews, constant reaction shots, and a halftime special, seemed to distract from a great game.
Mechelle Voepel (2:07 PM)
I can count on Kevin to post lots of thought-provoking questions every chat. And to answer this one, in a word: Yes. I was at the game and found it very entertaining to watch, especially because Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor were so offensively on fire. But it's not like the Shock didn't put up a good fight. Sitting there at press row, I honestly didn't think much at all about Marion Jones. That said, I think this is something that television does, not just ESPN ... it sometimes "over-focuses" on certain aspects of a story to the point of irritating viewers. That's just my opinion, and it applies to all networks.
What do you think the future holds for Elena Delle Donne? Could the level of play in her current conference keep her skills sharp enough to be a hot draft prospect? Is there any chance she might transfer to U Conn and get a last year under her belt there?
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
I can't see Elena ending up at UConn again. I think she's got all the talent needed to be a good pro one day, if that's what she wants to do. Offensively, she can be poetic to watch. But defensively, in particular, she will have to be a more aggressive and tougher player at the next level. I feel like at Delaware, she can "get away" with not having to play as high-level defense as she's capable. That kind of bulldog-defensive mindset is something she would have developed much, much better at UConn, obviously.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
When are you going to be in Phoenix? Are we doing lunch again? And is there any chance Nneka Ogwumike usurps Maya Moore for National Player of the Year next year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
You know how much I enjoy visiting Phoenix and chatting hoops with you B, so hopefully it will be sometime this summer! Much as Nneka has impressed me, I still think Maya is far and away the front-runner for POY again next season. And it will be *really* interesting to see who ends up getting the coveted top pick in the 2011 draft.
Do you have any recommendations for books on women's basketball (i.e. Venus to the Hoop)? And do you have plans to write a book on the topic. It would be great, I am sure.
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
Some of the "oldies" are very good, like "In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle," "Full Court Press," "Shooting from the Outside," Pat Summitt's two books,"Reach for the Summit" and "Raise the Roof." I liked bios by Geno Auriemma and C. Vivian Stringer. Liked, "The Same River Twice." Probably leaving out some, but those are all good. And, actually, yes, I am in the process of starting a book that I hope to have finished this summer or fall. It will be about the life and times of Jackie Stiles.
What's your take on San Antonio. I think many predicted them to be a lottery team out west but with the addition of Mique they are scary. Perhaps what makes them even more scary, is the fact that Jayne Appel is starting to get healthy and in shape. Can they contend?
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
It sure looks like I might have underestimated San Antonio. It will be interesting to see if Chamique can stay healthy, because if she does and is in a good frame of mind, she's still an effective player with real charisma. Be nice to see Jayne Appel get a chance to create some better memories in the Alamo City than she has from her last game as a collegian there. :)
kevin (macon ga)
Cheryl Ford was on Dishin' & Swishin' this week and said she might be able come back this season. Where do you think she would fit the best?
Mechelle Voepel (2:20 PM)
If she's healthy, she is still one of the most effective rebounders in the league. It's kind of difficult right now because we're so early in the season to say definitively who needs help on the boards. The Liberty is off to a slow start in that department, but may come around. But if Ford is in good shape, I believe she would help any team.
Mechelle,Prediction time, I know you so love to do this....who will be this seasons MVP and eventual Champion?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Right now, I'll stick with my preseason pick of Phoenix for winning the title. I didn't actually pick an MVP for ESPN.com, just gave top candidates. That's called waffling, which I excel at when it comes to predictions. But ... having just seen Taurasi score 35 at Tulsa, she's my early MVP pick. And I'm really not just saying that because you're a Mercury fan. :)
Genise (NY, NY)
Do you receive any backlash from the league or other powers that be regarding your level of honesty in reporting on the sport? The lack of sugar coating in your work is quite refreshing.
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
That is nice of you to say. Actually, there have been times when Donna Orender or some folks at the league are not thrilled with something I write ... but they've always been respectful in communicating that to me. Donna is very savvy about understanding that independent reporting really is helpful to the league's growth. I respect how she's dealt with the media, especially with me ... even if sometimes I want *more* of an answer about things than I get. That's just part of being a reporter.
Noelle (St. Paul)
There are a few solid internet based sites and publications that have helped pick up the slack with the demise of some newspaper coverage of wbb (and I love that I can still read some of my favorite newspaper writers in new areas). Just wondering if you have any thoughts on the continued transformation of how the sport is covered.
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
It's something I think about a lot and talk to my colleagues about frequently. I like how the Internet has allowed many voices to be heard in a way that never could have happened before. And how people who are passionate about women's basketball can now have a forum about the sport. Still, my worry is that journalism is becoming more an avocation than vocation - something people do when they're not doing their "real" jobs. That does concern me, because I think we need a balance among the sources of information. And, frankly, I worry about how many people can really make a living being professional journalists covering women's sports. It's very much a concern.
Now that all the Olympic dust is settled, what do you think is the aftermath of Becky Hammon's decision to switch to Russian citizenship? Do you think she regrets it at all? Did it have any discernable impact on her relationships with her teammates, coaches, team management, fans? Have her commitments in Russia adversely affected her American schedule of commitments? Will she try to play for Russia again in 2012?
Mechelle Voepel (2:35 PM)
Becky came on the radio show I do with Brenda VanLengen last week, and we talked to her about her reflections on the whole experience. She said she would do it again in a heartbeat ... the chance to participate in the Olympics was her dream. But she acknowledged part of the reason she did not go overseas this past winter was she needed a chance to really decompress and deal with the emotional and physical stress she underwent during the lead-up to the 2008 Games and her subsequent commitment to Russia. I think she learned to have a great deal of appreciation for that country, though, while still loving her own country. I'd guess she'll see how she feels physically and emotionally when it comes to 2012.
My question is, do you think LA will make it to the play offs in the ultra tough western conference? And if it helps get you to Phoenix soon, there is a new Vegan Restaurant downtown! Barry is buying :O
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
It's pretty hard for me to imagine the Sparks not getting it together enough to make the playoffs ... although maybe we'll see the "age" factor hurt them more than I might have expected. The new Vegan restaurant caps it ... just one more reason to visit Phoenix. Plus, you can't beat that 200-degree heat. :)
Mechelle, can you predict when the Sky will pick up win #1 this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
It might come down to me needing to do a feature on one of the Sky's opponents a couple of days before the game, just to get the "jinx" factor going for Chicago. Seriously, maybe they can take advantage of the visiting Shock when they visit the Windy City on June 5. But Tulsa is no pushover. It has not been a very pleasant start for the Sky, and I'm not sure I see things getting significantly better.
Do you think there's too much 'ra ra everything's wonderful!' in the little WNBA journalism that is produced (excepting yourself, of course)? Or are sites like SportsPageMagazine.com, SwishAppeal and others starting to bring more legitimate critical analysis to the league's coverage?
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
Well, I think I could legitimately be criticized as being too "rah-rah" myself at times. Although, sometimes people think I'm too negative. I think you have to write with your heart, but also always keep a critical mind on your topic. It's a balancing act that I try to always improve on. Virtually all of the people who cover or write about women's basketball have a sincere interest in the good of the game, but you could probably say that about people who cover any sport. I think SportsPageMagazine and SwishAppeal and other sites are developing their voices and giving people an outlet for their passion for the league. How critical or not-critical they are probably reflects the personalities of the writers themselves. And I think their energy and passion is good for the sport. Plus, there are boards like RebKell that give people a chance to have some really good discussions about the game. I think all of that is critical to the sport's continued growth.
Ezra (Tucson, AZ)
Do you think former Lady Volunteer Niya Butts can turn the Arizona Wildcats program around and make it into a team that can compete for NCAA bids?
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
I think she is headed in the right direction, and has a lot of energy to return Arizona to a more prominent place in women's basketball. I'd say the next five years in the Pac-10 are going to be interesting ... there are several coaches that could change the course of their programs and elevate the league. But recruiting will be the big thing that decides that.
Who are some of your favorite WNBA players to interview?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
I have to say I enjoy talking to most of the people in the WNBA. They are very articulate and thoughtful athletes, and most are very generous with their time. I should mention that among my favorite interviews are the Aussies, because they bring a different perspective and they're very friendly.
Genise (NY, NY)
What do you think about Mickie DeMoss returning to Tenn? Will she play the same role as before and have a heavy hand in recruiting?
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
I would think she'll pick up right where she left off with Tennessee. It was probably not the best fit for her, in retrospect, at Texas. I do think recruiting is getting more difficult even for the Tennessees of the world, so she's got a lot of work ahead of her, but in a place that's she's very comfortable, of course.
RP (United States)
Why did Chicago swing Kristi Toliver to L.A. for a second-round pick?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
Honestly, I'm not sure I understand what's gone on in building this Chicago team. It seems like there is not necessarily a long-range plan for the franchise in terms of what type of personalities and style they want. Toliver has her plusses and minuses, but I'm not sure the Sky knew what to do with her in the first place when they drafted her.
Who are your picks to make the playoffs out west? Is MN in this year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
I thought Minnesota was going to be a playoff team, and I still think the Lynx can rebound from what's been a disappointing start once they get everyone back and healthy. I always say the hardest thing about "predicting" in the WNBA is that it can be such a small thing - a bad break in scheduling, for instance - that can end up making the difference in who gets in or not. Plus, all predictions could go out the window if there are some big injuries during the course of the season. But ... I'm still, for today, sticking with Phoenix, LA, Seattle, Minn. We'll see how I feel next week.
It's still very early, but are there anything that surprises you so far in the WNBA season?
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
I didn't anticipate that Atlanta, dealing with the Holdsclaw issue, would necessarily get off to such a good start. So that surprised me. I am anxious to see how the Dream does against Phoenix on Friday. Brenda and I will be speaking with Angel McCoughtry and Shalee Lehning on the "She's Got Game" show we do Friday.
merrill (athens, ga)
Looking forward to your book, Mechelle. I recently read a great book about women's basketball called "Shattering the Glass" by Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackelford, which I'd like to recommend to anyone interested in history. I'm sure you're familiar with it.
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
Yes, that's another good book to get historical background. Thanks for mentioning it.
Matt (Ann Arbor, MI)
Purdue had its worst season in 25 years last year. With the starting backcourt graduating, can Sharon Versyp turn things around this coming season? In your mind, what is the problem in West Lafayette?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
I think Sharon Versyp is a really good coach who was in a "down" cycle last year. I mean, the year before that, the Boilers really came close, I thought, to knocking off Oklahoma in OKC in the Elite Eight. That was a tough atmosphere - like a home game for the Sooners - and the Boilers still pushed them to the limit. So I am more willing to see this past season as an aberration ... still, Purdue has to battle now even harder for recruits because other programs in that region of the country have elevated and so there is more competition for top players.
I know they are the least popular people in a game, but do you ever get a chance to interview or talk informally to officials?
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
It's funny you ask, because I was just chatting with Dee Kantner on Tuesday in Tulsa. I was asking her if she was successfully recruiting more former players to the ranks of officials, because I think they have the athleticism and understanding of the game to help improve officiating. And she said she's getting more and more inquiries from players about that. I think most of the officials are really good folks and truly love the sport and want to help its growth ... even if they drive fans/coaches/players crazy at times. :)
kevin (macon ga)
Who are your least favorite WNBA players to interview?
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
Hah! Only fair that I answer that. Players who keep looking at their cell phones and texting while you are talking to them. Very rarely does that happen, though. And the real "pros" never, ever do that.
So, all we have to do is offer you a meal and drinks and you'll pick the Fever and Catch? :-)
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
Ha-ha! Seriously, I love getting the chance to talk with fans in various cities ... people are so devoted and they always know things about their teams that fascinate me. Plus, there is a much more diverse "fan base" than is the stereotype. I particularly like that. But you don't have to buy me dinner or anything. :) I just like meeting fans.
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
Again, more good questions this week! Thanks for everyone who asked, and sorry for the ones I didn't get to. Really appreciate the thought that people put into the questions, and look forward to chatting again next week. Have a happy Memorial Day everyone, and be safe.