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 (2:11 PM)
Sorry to get off to a little late start today, but here we go. :)
Ashley (Boerne, Texas)
What is wrong with the Silver Stars? You would think with players like Becky Hammon, Sophia Young, Chamique Holdsclaw and Michelle Snow they wouldn't be struggling like they are.
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
You know, it's always interesting what different people's perspectives are. I actually thought the SASS would struggle this year because I wasn't sure they'd really done enough to keep up in the Western Conference. Then with the injuries in LA, SASS kind of elevated by default into a playoff contender, since it was quickly clear that Tulsa wasn't going to be much of a factor this season. Then the whole West, minus Seattle, has been kind of a mess. I think SASS doesn't quite have the firepower that it needs to compete with the best WNBA teams right now. They're not bad ... but it just strikes me that they'll need to make some changes in the off-season if they're going to make a real run at the WNBA title during the remainder of Becky Hammon's career.
Between your journalistic experience and sincere objectivity, I would love to know what your opinion regarding the WNBA's most recent handling of the Diana Taurasi technical/flagrant foul situation.
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
Lots of questions on the Diana Taurasi situation. Whew. Well, I think, as I've said before, the league has a hard time figuring out how to discipline its star players. And DT makes it harder, because she's *really* a star. She's charming. She's fun to watch, and very popular ... for the most part. But she also has a history of letting her temper go too far and figuring she's going to get away with it. At what point does the league say, "Hey, you really need to avoid letting this happen?" There's nobody in the league that DT respects the way she respects you-know-who in Storrs. Maybe Geno Auriemma takes her aside during the time the spend together in the upcoming World Championships and preparation and says, "OK, you're one of the greatest players ever, try to address this one thing." I don't think it "mars" DT's reputation a great deal ... I do think it has become part of what she's known for, though. And I wish that wasn't the case.
Apparently the WNBA is preparing to make an announcement about some kind of partnership with Logo TV. How would you characterize the league's relationship to the gay segment of its fanbase over the years? Do you think this new partnership, whatever it is, is driven more by economic neccessity or by the belief that associating with gay people just isn't as controversial as it used to be?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
The league's relationship to the gay fanbase has been pretty much all over the map. And there's also the factor of different franchises' approach to that demographic. Some have been much more open than others, generally based on geographic location (stereotypical as that may be.) At some point, I have to wonder what the league is worried about. The critics don't like the WNBA anyway, so what they think and whatever insults they may toss are irrelevant anyway. I always think "sunshine" is for the best. Honesty, openness. The gay players shouldn't be afraid to be out and talk about their relationships - if they so choose _ the same as straight players. The league shouldn't be afraid to be affiliated with gay businesses, etc. The WNBA has been forward-thinking in a lot of ways, despite some of the mistakes it's made.
Why do you think a point guard has never won the MVP award ?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
It's just always harder for point guards to win these awards, either in college or the pro game. Few PGs put up big scoring numbers, of course, and those stats tend to get voters' eye. Back in 2008, I voted for Sue Bird for MVP, making the case that PGs tend to get overlooked/underestimated for all the things they do, and I thought she'd done more for her team than any PG in the league. She didn't win, of course, but I felt justified in that vote. However, I don't know that she'll ever win league MVP.
Natalie (North Carolina)
There's been some good reporting recently from the Indianapolis Star on allegations of NCAA violations and emotional abuse by IUPUI women's basketball coach Shann Hart. This, of course, isn't the first time we've heard about something like this happening. What steps do you think the NCAA needs to take to better protect its athletes--many of whom won't come forward, fearing the loss of their scholarships?
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
I'm not sure I'm going to put this on the NCAA. They are trying to manage a lot of things, it's a large bureaucracy, and it's not the most nimble organization in terms of reading and reacting to situations (to say the least). I'm putting this on each school's athletic department. If you're an AD and your women's basketball program reaches this kind of crisis situation, you have failed to do your job. You are supposed to be an overseer who protects both the interests of the school AND the student-athletes. But too often, I've seen the student-athletes be ignored, pushed away, not believed, called "weak" and "troublemakers." I've seen coaches protected who I think need serious counseling for their emotional issues, which instead a bunch of 18-22 year-olds are having to deal with. It's hard to balance all you have to do in athletic administration. But it's your job to have good relationships with your employees and your student-athletes, and figure out sooner, rather than later, if there is trouble brewing with a team. Act then ... not when a newspaper is calling you asking you why the team has imploded under your supposed "watch."
Julia (Land of squalls and sweat)
Where, when, how did the CT Sun go so wrong this year? Even with the loss of the 2 guard whose name I can't spell they still seemed loaded with talent. Woe is me...whoa is them.
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
This goes back somewhat to the point guard question. Lindsay Whalen (who just signed a multi-year deal to stay with the Lynx) being traded for the rights to draft Tina Charles was a good deal for both Minnesota and Conn, but it meant that the Sun had to get used to a new PG or combo of them. And in a highly competitive Eastern Conference this season, that was just one more hurdle. Asjha Jones has been less than 100 percent all season, and she misses Whalen. Tina Charles has been really good but maybe has been a little weary in recent weeks. Understandable. Anete Jekabsone-Zogota is one of those players whose value is higher than it looks just glancing at her stats. She is capable of taking on some scoring and ball-handling and defensive pressure that definitely could have made a difference in some of the Sun's critical losses. I know I overestimated how good the Sun was "supposed' to be this season ... but it's always easier to tell that in retrospect, of course. Still, I think the nucleus is there for a really good season next year.
Natalie (North Carolina)
How much do you think voters for MVP and Coach of the Year should factor in the weakness of the Western Conference when making their decisions?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
I think you take everything into consideration when it comes to these awards ... and it still has a degree of subjectivity to it. Do I think if you switched Lauren Jackson to Indy and Tamika Catchings to Seattle, for instance, their stats would be much different? I tend to doubt it. Probably it will come down to what criteria each individual voter weighs most heavily. Some vote for more a "most outstanding player" even if the award is called "MVP" because they find it hard to firmly/fairly establish "value." Suffice to say, there are several players who, if you took them away from their teams this year, it would have a major impact. So I think you separate those players into a pool of candidates, and then weigh the various factors that you consider most important. Coach of the year can sometimes be harder, because when a team is "expected" to be good, voters may not give the coach as much credit as they should for the job that coach has done.
Sarah (West Virginia)
Thoughts on today's news that UConn's Caroline Doty will miss the upcoming season with an ACL tear (her 3rd of her career)?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
It's just heartbreaking ... it really is. UConn has had an amazing track record of overcoming key injuries, and that says a lot about how well every player who goes there is prepared to perform. It speaks to how effectively that team practices. But ... In a season after losing Tina Charles, Caroline Doty was going to be one of the key on-court and off-court leaders for that team. You don't just replace someone of that ability and mindset. But beyond all that, we all think about what this young woman has to go through physically and mentally. ACL rehab HURTS like hell. It's painful and challenging and requires a real commitment to pushing yourself and dealing with the depression and isolation that you're bound to feel at times. That she'll be going through it a third time is hard to think about. That said. athletes usually tend to have a understanding that this is part of their life. At any time, an injury can happen and take them away from playing. They have to fight to overcome it. This kid will fight hard and get back. I just wish she didn't have to go through this fight yet again.
Jenn (Boston, MA)
Is it just me or does there seem to be an increase in the number of college players transferring to and fro? Why is that?
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
I don't have hard data in front of me to show there has been an increase over any specific period, but I would agree that there are more now than there were 10 or 20 years ago. As for why ... probably a lot of reasons. There is more exposure for the game, so players see more teams on television and get an idea there is a "better" place for them. There is constant contact with parents via cellphones, something that used to not exist. And that may prevent some players from taking more responsibility for their own happiness than used to be the case. They may tend to "bail" out more quickly. But .. coaches also have to take responsibility for increased transfers, too. For someone to transfer, another school has to take them. Coaches tend to complain if someone leaves them, but you sure don't hear much complaint when someone transfers in to help them. So I don't actually worry about this much at all. I think it's important for a player to find someplace that she thinks is good for her. And that doesn't always happen with the first choice.
Hey mechelle,Wnba quesiton for ya. Do you think it would be smart of the wnba to do charter or private flights instead of always flying commercial. With so many back to back games....it seems most logical. Quite a few women's college basketball teams already fly charter during their seasons. I'm sure the answer has to do with money...would the Lakers be willing to share their private plane with the Sparks....? I really want to see the wnba expand and grow....but instead it always seems like they are cutting back. Hope you can answer my question.
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
Well, you pretty much answered your own question. It's about money. When the league makes enough that charter flights are feasible, they will probably be used. I keep stressing this over and over, but remember we are in our third year of a global economic downturn. As far as I'm concerned, virtually all businesses are in survival mode. The WNBA does a lot of things as inexpensively as it can ... because it's a real business. College teams, for the most part, aren't. If a college team flies charter, it's usually not because the team itself is making so much money that it's paying for that. It's because the athletic department as a whole can pay for it. What I think this means is that while people may be frustrated about what they perceive as WNBA cheapness is pretty much just the reality of building and maintaining a niche business that you want to last. Now, do I always agree with the areas in which the WNBA "goes cheap?" No ... but I also do understand and agree with many of the decisions.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
A WNBA player is currently averaging 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. She is shooting 51 percent from the floor, 44 percent from three, and 89 percent from the line. She is also averaging 1.6 steals per game. She is the ONLY player in the entire WNBA to average at least 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. Have you even heard her name mentioned as one of the top 10 players in the WNBA this year, per WNBA.com? Probably not.Her name is Penny Taylor.
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
Interesting ... I guess I *automatically* think of PT as one of the top 10, regardless of what WNBA.com may be featuring. But I do think that Phoenix's struggles this season, being sub-.500, has impacted how the Mercury players are viewed individually. Much more spotlight on the East's individual performers this season.
Have you ever seen or heard anything to make you believe Penny Taylor is an instigator or agitator on the court? ( This question is "out there", I know, but I have a bet riding on this one! :-)
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
Another PT question ... and I have to admit when I first heard of this "camp" that thinks PT is an instigator of some sort, I was surprised. Look, as readers have likely heard from various reporters, PT is considered one of the nicest players we all deal with in a league where almost everybody is pretty pleasant. That's how much she stands out. Let me put it this way ... PT is the kind of player who thinks to go turn down the music in the locker room if it's too loud and she realizes reporters taping interviews might not be able to actually hear what they tape. That is consideration, and not something we really ever expect. I've seen her do many "little" things like that over the years ... just the way I see her react to people - fans, journalists, teammates, whatever ... I guess it's hard for me to see that and say, "Oh, but she intentionally and sneakily starts stuff on court." However, I've wondered if it could be that opponents start things with her. Why? I don't know. Maybe they think she's the one to "pick" on since they perhaps didn't want to tangle with Diana Taurasi (or Cappie Pondexter when she was in Phoenix)? Now, I realize, people may say, "Oh, just because Penny is so nice to reporters, they are blind to her flaws." Maybe that's true ... but I'm just telling you how I've seen her treat those around her. I think she's a great teammate, a terrific competitor and a thoughtful person. I don't see her as an instigator - not at all. That's my view.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
Should Jennifer Capriati be considered for the Tennis Hall of Fame, and, if you were making the decision, would she be inducted?
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
I think, just quick reaction: Yes. Three Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal. Four U.S. Open semifinal appearances. A couple semis at Wimbledon. Being in that wave of young "power players" in the 1990s. Her famous semifinal with Monica Seles at the 1991 U.S. Open is one of my all-time favorite women's tennis matches. It was electrifying. Obviously, Capriati never really reached her full potential for a variety of reasons, and it pains me to think her personal life is still troublesome, if recent reports are true. But she had a pretty major impact on the sport, or enough so to be remembered in the Hall of Fame. I could see the arguments against it, but I'd say yes.
Once again, Chicago misses out on the playoffs. I'd be interested to know what you believe is the ONE key factor that's hindering them in this pursuit.
Mechelle Voepel (3:33 PM)
Ah, Howard. A little play on words there? "Key" factor? Clearly, there is a fairly large group of fans who feel that Steve Key is not the right coach for the Sky. I think this season, because the East was so competitive, it is hard to judge. But I would hope there is communication between the Sky's top players and the Sky brass - enough, at least, for them to have an idea of what the players think was the biggest issue this season. You still come back to the fact that the Sky, at 13-17, would be solidly in third place in the West.
kevin (macon ga)
Swish Appeal had an interesting article about the differences in interpersonal chemistry between male and female players. What is the biggest difference, in your opinion?
Mechelle Voepel (3:43 PM)
I look at people more as individuals, not based on what their gender is. There tend to be a lot of stereotypes that men are this way as friends/teammates, and women are another way. And I say for every example you could find to illustrate one point of view, you could find another to illustrate a different point of view. Furthermore, there are so many factors when you're talking about this. How much of it is gender differences? How much is racial differences? How much is socio-economic differences? How much is about where they grew up or went to school? Let me put it this way ... what someone might think is a gender difference in the way NBA players react to one another vs. WNBA players, someone else might say, "No, I don't think that's because of gender. I think that's because one group is multimillionaires with various hangers-on and one group isn't." So ... I'm just saying that I don't tend to think of there being "the way male athletes are as teammates" and "the way female athletes are." I just take all athletes and their team dynamics on a case-by-case basis. That doesn't mean there isn't value to the topic or that I don't think it should be written about ... just that I think it's complicated and not something to be boiled down to "main difference."
I'm somewhat nervous about the chances of the U.S. beating Australia (and maybe Russia) at the World's without Candace Parker. I thought she's the one big the international teams had no answer for. Your thoughts? Thanks
Mechelle Voepel (3:47 PM)
It is important to remember just how effective CP3 is, isn't it? The thing is, the United States has an extremely good coach at understanding how to put versatile threats on court at the same time and get the most out of each of them. In this regard, Geno Auriemma is as good as anybody, as far as I'm concerned. I also think he definitely understands that without the retired Lisa Leslie and with Candace Parker being hurt, the low block is a perceived place to attack the United States that other teams will try to exploit. Not that those teams think that strategy is definitely going to work, but they'll likely try it. And so Auriemma is going to shore up his post game as well as he can, plus he has a lot of other weapons. I think it's smart to be concerned about this, but the U.S. ultimately will have the answers.
Mechelle Voepel (3:48 PM)
Thanks for sticking with me and, again, sorry to get off to a little late start. Two more weekends of the regular season coming up!