Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 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 (2:05 PM)
Good afternoon from the Heartland of America, this collection of states that could be further yanked apart from college-conference affiliation thanks to football's chase after more greenbacks, plus the never-ending Texas/Texas AM macho feud. Gee, can't wait for that first Oklahoma-Washington State women's basketball conference showdown in Pullman! Blech! Seriously, can sanity prevail and save us from this? I hope so.
TX A&M to SEC? Okay. But Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the Pac -whatever??? Really. Really? What do you think is the potential of this happening?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
Obviously, it's been on my mind a lot. As a Midwesterner, I'm pretty furious about the concept of this region becoming nothing more than the furthest-West, furthest-East, or furthest-North hinterlands for a BCS mega-conference that really couldn't care less about Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, etc. and our longtime affiliations. The Big 12 has led the nation in women's basketball attendance for over a decade, thanks to several programs elevating their commitment and being within reasonable proximity of each other. Nobody seems to know when this crazy, football-driven wheel will stop spinning, but clearly it indicates that no other sport really matters in the eyes of the power brokers on college campuses. Not even men's hoops. I am trying to figure out a way these mega-conferences that are geographically ludicrous could benefit women's hoops. Not really seeing it ... except maybe it helps get fans more interested in teams nationwide? Maybe. Likely won't help attendance, at least not in any near-term way.
What is your assessment on the new WNBA president's first season on the job? Has she been visible enough? What would you say her most significant accomplishments have been so far?
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
The Boost mobile sponsorship seems like a good plus for the league, and the ability to broker such deals is the primary reason that Laurel Richie was picked for this role. I didn't have very high expectations for this season, because Richie came in admittedly not knowing much of anything about the league or professional women's basketball in general. I would have probably liked her to be a more dynamic and vocal presence, but I am willing to see how her visibility and leadership may be different after a full year on the job.
Why did Kathy Betty leave the Atlanta Dream owenrship group? Is the league concerned that the team has essentially changed hands three times so far in its short existence?
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
Kathy Betty was the right person to step forward when she did, but there always seemed to be the sense that she was not necessarily the kind of "in-it-for-the-long-haul" owner. As to whether the league is concerned, they certainly are not talking about that. The enthusiasm of Brock and Loeffler seems very genuine and committed. Let's face it, there's always a need to be wary because of the franchises lost. But this seems to be a good move for the solidity of the Dream.
Do you think that the Minnesota Lynx would be as successful this season if they didn't sign Mama Taj?
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
The Lynx have been a great "team effort," if you can excuse such a withered college-coach cliche. :) Rebekkah Brunson told me recently that when she came to the Lynx, she thought one of the problems in the past had been that they were missing the right pieces here and there, more so than the franchise having a feeling of just *never* being close to good enough. And Taj has filled the role of being in the right place at the right time a lot in her WNBA career. I don't think anyone with the Lynx would want to subtract her from 2011 and see how it would have gone.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
How would you assess the impact of the league celebrating 15 years, from a marketing/visibility/PR view? Did they do a good job celebrating the history and milestones with the 15 greatest plays and players?
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
I have to give them credit ... we as humans don't necessarily ever think of "15" as being some really important anniversary year for anything, but the league got behind that concept and really planned well to market and celebrate it. Even to the extent that those of us in the media who might not have made any special notice of the 15th season kind of got caught up in the wave of doing it, too. :) So I will give the league's marketing and PR folks kudos for that.
So, I can totally see how Cheryl Reeve gets COY votes.... But what about the job Marynell Meadors has done?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
Just as the MVP race has several candidates, you can say that for COY, too. Because everybody has faced their own challenges on the way to the playoffs. Marynell Meadors dealt with a new PG and several injuries for the Dream, as you allude to. I didn't pick San Antonio to make the playoffs, so I give Dan Hughes - back in the coaching role for the Silver Stars - a lot of credit. I've aimed some criticisms in the past at John Whisenant, but he's done something right in New York, especially with the development of Kia Vaughn. How about Lin Dunn? Some folks though the Fever were reaching that critical mass of being maybe too "stale" to have a championship season, but every move she's made for 2011 has worked pretty well. Mike Thibault had to let the Conn/UConn Sun grow up. Brian Agler was without Lauren Jackson for much of the season. So there are things to ponder with COY, too.
John (Charleston, SC)
Who are your top four prospects for the 2012 WNBA Draft?
Mechelle Voepel (2:35 PM)
Are there really four "top" prospects right now? Not being facetious, I'm really wondering. Provided all the college seniors stay healthy through the upcoming season, Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike is No. 1 by a mile to me. Others who come to mind are Miami's Shenise Johnson and Texas A&M's Tyra White, but there will be some questions about them. As with Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson, UConn's Tiffany Hayes, Ohio State's Sam Prahalis, UCLA's Jasmine Dixon, LSU's LaSondra Barrett. How many of the players I've named do you feel is absolutely sure of making a team and contributing next summer? Who not jumping to my mind right now will do that? I don't see this as being much of a heavy-impact draft, frankly, but I'd be happy to be surprised and proven wrong.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
If Baylor ever gets out of the way and lets TAMU join the SEC, how will it impact that conference having another school that's won a women's basketball title?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
I can't say I blame Baylor or any of the Big 12 schools that are trying to block TAMU's exit. The Aggies made a pledge to the Big 12 last year. I know they will *never* get over their hatred toward Texas, and I understand they are ticked about the Longhorn Network. But if TAMU can say, "Let's do what we think is best for us, and the hell with anybody else" then they can't get too mad if the likes of Baylor and Iowa State try to look out for themselves, too. It is an interesting point that the SEC, for all its success in women's hoops, only has one school that's won an NCAA title in that sport - Tennessee with eight of them, of course. Gary Blair knows the SEC inside and out from his days at Arkansas, so in that way - provided this TAMU to SEC thing does go down - he will be well-positioned for that transition. The improvements that TAMU has made in all its non-rev sports should be considered positive for the SEC ... but, again, none of that has anything to do with why this move is happening.
kevin (macon ga)
Would Tina Thompson play somewhere other than LA if the Sparks decide they don't want her back?
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
There has been a lot of talk about how "motivated" or lack thereof Tina Thompson has seemed this season. When I spoke to her last month, she said she would likely wait until the January or February of 2012 to make any decision on next season in the WNBA. She didn't rule out leaving LA, but obviously that's where home and family are. Tina is very interested in doing broadcasting work, and she wants to be a more "critical" voice. By that I don't mean she wants to "criticize" players/teams/coaches, but wants to be more straightforward in accessing things without walking on eggshells. There are hardcore fans of the league who seem to really want that, and I'd guess most people would think TT knows her stuff. So we'll see if she has another year in her as a player or will transition to another job in the sport.
Judith (Washington, DC)
Do you expect to be receiving a Christmas card from Sheila Johnson this year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
Do many people still send the paper versions? Seems like if anything, those "e-cards" are the more popular way to go now. But I don't think I'll get either from Madame Mystic. Nor should I. :)
Judith (Washington, DC)
Is Trudi Lacey a worse GM than she is a Head Coach, or is she just terrible at both jobs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:52 PM)
Maybe you're not going to get a greeting card from your team's front office, either, Judith? :) As we've discussed here before, Trudi Lacey has never been a dynamic winner at whatever level of coaching she's occupied. And in this go-round in the WNBA, what she's done is about what we should have expected. I almost feel sorry for her, though, because this season looks/seems even worse - if that's possible - because Mystics fans got their hopes up last year with what seemed like it was going to be a commitment to stability.
Do you think the Sun have the pieces they need to win a championship this year, and if not, what do they need next year to accomplish that goal?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
If the Sun plays as well as they can, then it's not out of the realm of possibility for them to win this title. But I don't really think this is their year ... however, next year maybe will be. I don't know that they have to make major changes at all ... maybe just one more year of growth and maturation as they play together is the best thing for the Sun.
Did you notice how timid Marissa Coleman looked this year? She was not aggressive going to the basket and she hesitated on open 3 pointers a lot!! I don't think she is playing up to her potential, do you think it's a confidence thing or maybe she loathes playing for the Mystics??
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
Marissa Coleman still doesn't look completely comfortable in the league, and that's not uncommon for people who athletically/physically fall into that "tweener" role in the WNBA. It's just hard for them to find the right place, right coach, right group of teammates where they are going to be able to maximize what they do well and minimize weaknesses. You compound that with the player departures of the Mystics for this season and a new coaching staff. Maybe a change in scenery would be best for Coleman, but figuring out where she fits is a challenge.
Sue (Durham, NC)
Do you agree that the top four in the MVP race are Tina, Catch, Angel and Lindsay?
kevin (macon ga)
Who's the better MVP candiadt from Minnesota, Augustus or Whalen?
Why is it that many that say "you can't just look at stats" in discussing Whalen for MVP, discount Catchings for the same reasons?
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
People are talking about Lindsay Whalen and Tamika Catchings top MVP candidates, but neither are in the Top 10 in scoring in the league. Doesn't that keep either one from being a real contender given the way that this award has historically focused on scoring?
Pamela (Southeast US)
I have a ton of respect for Tamika Catchings on and off the court, and I think it's not hard to make a case that she's more all-around deserving of MVP honors than Angel McCoughtry. But if Atlanta beats Indiana this weekend, Catch's team would be 0-4 against Angel's team. Does that hurt Tamika's chances? Can a vote for Catchings be justified if she can't figure out a way to outplay McCoughtry not just once but 4 times in a row?
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
Obviously, the MVP question has been a hot topic all season, and there are valid points to make for several players. We all know this; it's been something everybody's been talking about for weeks. Well, I'm going to shock you, maybe, by not being wishy-washy for a change and just going with the thought that came to me a couple of days ago. Many years, I've considered Tamika Catchings for MVP, but there always seemed to be somebody else who had a slightly better case, if you will. Such as, Catchings was really, really, really good, but someone else was great. And it occurred to me that this season, that kind of thinking should work in her favor. You can vote for Augustus or Whalen of the Lynx, and I have no argument at all with you. If you picked Sylvia Fowles despite the Sky not making the playoffs, you can make that case. If you go with the fact that there's no way the Dream is in the postseason without Angel McCoughtry, I don't doubt your reasoning one bit. If you say Tina Charles has been the pillar for the Connecticut Sun, you're making a whole lot of sense. Heck, if you throw in Sue Bird for all she did to keep Seattle afloat with LJ out, I can see that, too. I made that argument for Bird in 2008. But ... I'm ready to declare my choice, among all these many great choices. For the exact reason that there ARE so many great choices, this time, it's her turn. My vote will be for Tamika Catchings. Look for the wishy-washy stuff to return when I'm forced to pick winners in all the playoff series. :)
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
By the way, for those unsure about voting procedures ... a media panel (17 national media and 24 media local to each team) votes for all the awards except the all-defensive and all-rookie teams. Those are voted on by the head coaches. You can't get media to agree on much of anything, so it will be fascinating to see how the awards voting turns out, and what the fans - who are very well-versed and opinionated about these topics - think about it. Thanks, as always for all the questions. Enjoy the final weekend of the regular season, and we'll chat next week, likely earlier in the week before the playoffs begin. I'll sent out the day on Twitter whenever the playoff schedule is finalized. Chat with you then!