Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, 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 Friday at 11 a.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (11:02 AM)
Good morning, folks, and sorry about the chat yesterday being cancelled. Had some difficulties on my end. But let's get started today!
Could Shavonte Zellous be the last missing puzzle piece that the Indiana Fever needs to finally win a championship? The early departure of injured Yolanda Griffith last year left them with a hole to fill in their game plans, and Shavonte Zellous turned out to be a surprise offensive firepower among the year's rookie class. Is this the only remaining thing the Fever needed to make their strategy complete?
Mechelle Voepel (11:05 AM)
I was really surprised Shavonte Zellous wasn't playing more than she was at Tulsa. I think she is an excellent piece of the puzzle for Indiana. I don't know if this is *all* the Fever needs for things to click back into place, but she certainly showed last night with 10 points in 24 minutes against SASS that she can help Indy.
kevin (macon ga)
The Shock traded Shavonte Zellous pretty cheaply. How confident are you in Nolan Richardson's ability to judge professional women's talent?
Mechelle Voepel (11:08 AM)
I think this is where people unfamiliar with the women's game do struggle when they come into the league. Not all people, of course, because Bill Laimbeer was *very* good at it, and Mike Thibault continues to be good at it. But I think it's just natural that someone who never really followed or was that involved in the sport is going to have some issues with evaluating players. If it were just about talent, that is one thing. But it's also about how that player fits into a team, how she affects chemistry, how she needs to be motivated (or left alone as the case may be).
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
With the Liberty getting a jersey sponsorship with Foxwoods, we now have two of 12 franchises financially tied to gambling. Is that a good thing?
Mechelle Voepel (11:11 AM)
Kind of a deal with the devil, I guess. The league needs sponsorship, and of course when you've already got a casino owning one team then anything else involving gambling is going to be on the table, right? I'm not a big fan of gambling, personally, I'll be honest. But ... it's revenue stream that the league needs. At least it's not tobacco-company money, like was the case with women's tennis for long.
Wow, the Dream are doing really well this year! Hard to believe this franchise was the worst in the WNBA just two years ago! What is fueling the turn around and could Atlanta challenge for the WNBA title this year and in seasons down the road?
Mechelle Voepel (11:14 AM)
Drafting Angel McCoughtry was the right move ... and remember, there were people who questioned that at the time. And the way that the Dream has put together its inside game with Sancho Lyttle and Erika DeSouza has worked well, too. Marynell Meadors takes grief at times for some of her coaching decisions - hey, I've handed out some criticism myself - but I think she has to get credit for the composition of this team in terms of how well they seem to complement each other. And players like Shalee Lehning do help because they just play hard and contribute to team unity.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
It's a rough time of the year for Oregon State to be looking for a new coach. Any ideas of who they will/should consider?
Mechelle Voepel (11:18 AM)
It's not as big a job as trying to clean up the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, but it's a mess just the same. The thing is, Oregon State was not that appealing a job even before all this. The program hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1996 and the only thing that's kept it from being the Pac-10's worst is that Washington State has managed to be more pitiful. To me, this administration has to prove it really understands HOW to have a successful women's basketball program - what that takes, which is more than money. I don't know right now who might be best for that job, but nobody is going to succeed there without a better overall administrative plan.
Kim L. (Austin via San Diego)
Mechelle, which team has the best opportunity to unseat UConn? Please say there is hope.
Mechelle Voepel (11:21 AM)
We'll get in a little more college action here. Baylor and Stanford (even with the unfortunate end to JJ Hones' career) would seem the logical best bets to me. And Tennessee should be like a bunch of angry bees. Losing Tina Charles is quite obviously a huge thing for UConn to overcome. Of course, I was pretty sure that UConn wasn't going to win the title in 2003 and 2004, but the Huskies did anyway. So there may be "hope" for those looking for a winner other than UConn, but the Huskies are still going to be in that group of favorites.
Ryan F. (Tiburon, Ca)
Betty Lennox has gone from getting ~21 minutes per game last year to 9 mpg this year. Two years before that she got ~30mpg. Is it LA's new system, or did Betty suddenly just get old and tired?
Mechelle Voepel (11:25 AM)
Probably a combination of a lot of things: new coach and system, change of power structure on team with Lisa Leslie gone, younger guards on the team. Betty is 33, and while she's stayed in great shape, sometimes the years do catch up to you suddenly. I wouldn't write her off yet, though ... a lot can happen during the course of a season in terms of injuries or people getting in or out of comfort levels.
kevin (macon ga)
Alexis Hornbuckle drew a two game suspension for DUI. Do you think that's a proper response?
Mechelle Voepel (11:29 AM)
I guess you could say it is in keeping with previous punishments by the league in regard to that offense. I might be out of the mainstream with my thoughts in regard to this: I am really, really low-tolerance for alcohol-related driving offenses. I'd rather see a minimum five-game suspension for such an offense. But maybe a lot of people would see that as too harsh. I just think the league needs to send a message that is very strict in regard to this. Unlike men's pro leagues, the WNBA can't just roll with much scandal in regard to player behavior. But beyond that, I want the bar to be higher than it's fallen for men's sports.
San Antonio has really been pounded the last two games. Granted Becky was missing last night and that's huge, but it really seems like they are missing VJ and Wauters. Which one is the bigger loss?
Mechelle Voepel (11:33 AM)
There's so much in flux now about San Antonio, it's not too surprising that the Silver Stars are taking some lumps. The coaching switch, the coaching pregnancy, the baby being born, VJ gone, Wauters not there, Holdsclaw added to the mix. And then Hammon being out hurt last night. You'd hope that once things get a little more calmed down for SASS, you won't see blowouts like this. But as for whom they miss most, I think Wauters at least from what she can do on the court.
Did you ever have the opportunity to interview or meet John Wooden over the years? Did he do things to support the women's game (fundraising for the women's athletic department, mentoring female coaches, that sort of thing)?
Mechelle Voepel (11:37 AM)
I did not meet John Wooden, and I don't know just how active a role he ever took in terms of UCLA women's athletics. The Wooden Award did expand to include women, and he always seemed very much like an advocate of the women's game. Furthermore, his famous quote about what he liked about the fundamental soundness of women's basketball has been repeated and cited so many times that with that comment alone, the Wizard of Westwood helped the women's game. Furthermore, with his goodness and decency, he reminded us that those in college athletics really could still stand on principle if they have the backbone and fortitude to commit to that. I hope there will always be young people who see him as a role model.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Why does The WNBA Plays in the Summer Time instead of the Winter Time Like the NBA Plays in?
Mechelle Voepel (11:42 AM)
OK, OK, OK. Chris has asked me this question every single chat and I kept overlooking it because I wasn't sure if it was a serious question or some kind of taunt about the WNBA. Because I get a few of those on here, too. That said, I will go head and take it seriously ... when the league began in 1997, the idea was that there was too much competition in the winter from the NBA, men's and women's college hoops, and boys and girls prep basketball for the WNBA to get much of an audience. So the summer made more sense. The ABL, a women's league that preceded the WNBA in 1996, tried to play during the "traditional" season and folded after two and half years. The ABL's downfall was certainly not "just" because of when it played - I won't even get into all the reasons - but I don't think it helped. I've always been an advocate of the summer season. I don't know how we would get the WNBA covered media-wise if it was competing with all other hoops here in the States during the winter months.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
What's the story with Plennette Pierson? She is probably the best player on Tulsa's roster (thought Amber Holt is looking good) yet she hardly plays.
Mechelle Voepel (11:44 AM)
Plenette Pierson is not 100 percent healthy as far as I can tell. The last time I was in Tulsa, she missed shoot-around because she was at the doctor's office. I think she's still trying to get back into complete game shape. And with a new coach, new location ... I honestly don't know if there are any other issues going on. But she doesn't look like physically she's all there.
What can you tell us about a possible Bay Area WNBA team? ... I am dying from Monarchs' withdrawal ... ; (
Mechelle Voepel (11:47 AM)
Frankly, I miss the Monarchs, too, and I can empathize with how sad this season is for fans and media followers in Sacramento and Detroit. I will say this about expansion: Donna O plays it very close to the vest about everything. She does not get hopes up if there is not legitimate hope to be had. So for right now, I'd say there is nothing new about the Bay Area other than the WNBA wants to be there. If I get a sense there's more, I'll follow up on that.
Mechelle, what is going on with LA? I know they have no true center (with Lisa retiring) and Ticha's hobbled a bit, but is their GM really incapable of finding a decent starting center and a back-up PG who can actually run the offense? It seems like a hot little mess is brewing, which can't settle well with their MVP candidate.
Mechelle Voepel (11:51 AM)
Someone also asked about Chanel Mokango joining the team, so I'll try to address all these things. I think LA had a plan for this season, but maybe expected more of some older players than those players have thus far been able to produce. But I don't want to discount how the schedule played into this. Starting the season with tough games on the road seemed to take a bigger toll on the Sparks than I would have expected. I don't feel there's enough "data" on a rookie like Mokango yet to make a really accurate reading on how she might help the Sparks. I do think that replacing Leslie is a task that will take longer than just this season.
Ellen (Lusby (MD))
From Holdsclaw's own statements about why she walked out on the Dream, it's clear she feels she had some oral agreement with Meadors that was breached. The team is playing really well without her. Do you think it's perhaps a big relief for the players that she is now gone, particularly if they felt she was holding the team hostage over some deal?
Mechelle Voepel (11:57 AM)
It does seem that was the case - or at least that's what Holdsclaw understood to be the case. But if that agreement was in regard to another player being part of the Dream, which is what has been widely assumed, then that doesn't seem very wise on either end. If Meadors made such a promise, she shouldn't have. And if Holdsclaw expected that, then it makes you wonder: What is her actual motivation for playing? I mean, players say all the time, "It's a business," but I have to question if all of them fully understand that. In the end, the Dream has to include the 11 players with which the franchise best believes it can compete for a title. All that said, Holdsclaw has not, to my knowledge, come right out and said what the issue was. So we're left to speculation. As for the rest of the Dream and their thoughts about her, there's enough drama that goes on during a WNBA season with every team that any chance to cut some of it out is usually welcomed. I didn't get the sense in recent talks with some of the Dream's players that they had any animosity toward Holdsclaw, but neither were they lamenting her departure.
How long (if ever) before UCLA becomes a consistent power in the country?
Mechelle Voepel (12:00 PM)
Good, up-and-coming coach with a great Tennessee pedigree in Nikki Caldwell. Good performance in NCAA tournament this season. Great recruiting base. History of success in virtually all women's sports. So no reason why UCLA can't become a consistent power. It could have happened already if the Bruins had made a coaching change years ago. They had a very nice person as coach, but she was not the right person to make the program a national-title contender. Caldwell is.
kevin (macon ga)
Why haven't we had a WNBA player break through to advertisers? If Mia Hamm and Danica Patrick can do it from non mainstream sports, surely some basketball player could.
Mechelle Voepel (12:08 PM)
The best player to break through would seem to be Candace Parker. She is a great talent, well-spoken, plays in a major market and is very attractive. And the bottom line is that advertisers are only interested in women athletes if they think men find them attractive. Mia didn't play up to that at all ... but it was still an undeniable element to why she was featured. As for Danica, every commercial she does has that wink-wink "feel" to it, like she's flirting with her audience. And those "Go-Daddy" ads ... I mean, I don't think I have to explain the subtext of those to anybody. OK, and I'll go a step further ... I think African-American female athletes have been discriminated against in advertising. Yes, you can point to some ads by the Williams sisters, but I think it is naive or blind to think there is no barrier there. I absolutely hate that it's like that. But it's been another obstacle to a WNBA player breaking through as more a mainstream endorsement star.
Alex (St. Paul)
Will you be covering the WBHOF induction weekend? I am looking forward to two of my favorite players (Lobo and Edwards) being hononored.
Mechelle Voepel (12:12 PM)
Yes, for the first time I am going to go to the Hall of Fame induction. I have been to the Hall of Fame itself several times, but never covered the induction. Am looking forward to seeing all the living history that is there in Knoxville that weekend. And it is particularly significant to me to see Teresa Edwards and Teresa Weatherspoon going into the Hall ... they and Dawn Staley are three of the most important players to me in terms of how much I came to love the sport in the early years of my covering it.
In her chat yesterday, Lauren Jackson said she thinks a WNBA player or two could legitimately make an NBA roster (the ones who can shoot and make good decisions with the ball). Do you agree?
Mechelle Voepel (12:19 PM)
No, I don't. I think the athletes in the NBA are the best in the world. You have terrific male players all over the world who never get a chance to play in the NBA because the level of athleticism is so high. Take the best possible player in the WNBA ... who in the world does she effectively guard in the NBA? I can't stand this debate, actually ... all it does is make women feel second-class, and we feel that way too much all our lives anyway. Women play basketball amazingly well in a league where they are competing with people of similar physical build. It's great to watch. There is no need to make these comparisons to men. To me it's like saying could the best welterweight boxer in history go against the best heavyweight in history and win? Of course not. They are in different classes, and each can excel in his class. Same with men's and women's hoops.
McCracken (Clarksburg, WV)
Mechelle, wouldn't lowering the rims to nine feet or lowering it to where a large majority of the women could dunk, improve the WATCHING PRODUCT of the WNBA, as well as college?
Mechelle Voepel (12:25 PM)
I am posting this question because it does come up periodically. I personally do not want to see the rims lowered. I think people who enjoy watching women's basketball do not really care if there are many dunks. I think people who don't watch always bring this up as if they'd suddenly *start* watching the sport if the rims were lowered. (And I don't believe they would.) My feeling is if you lower the rims, all that does is give the "haters" one more thing to trash about women's hoops - how many times now do they bring up the "smaller" ball as if that's an indictment of the sport? - and it wouldn't increase the enjoyment of the sport by those who already watch it. Now, maybe I'm wrong? Sure, that's always a possibility. But I think if you polled most folks who played and watched women's basketball now, they would nix lowering the rims.
Mechelle Voepel (12:26 PM)
I appreciate everyone putting in questions again this week, and sorry again for the change of time. Maybe by next week, we will be talking about the "end" of the Big 12? Conference realignment is the hot topic here this week in KC. Like everybody else, I'm really curious to see what happens. Thanks again and chat with you next week.