Check out my Final Four photo gallery, which starts at the end and runs to the beginning, at Saturday open practices. Lots of good stuff.
The Final Four begins for fans on Saturday, when each team has a one-hour open practice that the public can attend. This session is either followed or preceded by a press conference for the media.
Notre Dame ended their practice by doing a unified Irish jig for fans. The court side emcee took Brittany Mallory aside and asked her why she was the glue for the team, and she said “a lot of people on our team are really emotional,” and they needed her to hold them down.
After the UConn practice, the WBCA All-America team was named. Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt showed up with assistants Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood to support Glory Johnson, named to the team. I ran into some of the team members in the hallway after the ceremony, including Delle Donne, who seemed like a Redwood tree to me.
Baylor’s practice was spirited, in part due to Coach Kim Mulkey, who was suffering from Bell’s Palsy. Nevertheless, she stepped on to the court and got involved in some drills. “Mooooove! Mooooove! Mooooooooove!” she extolled.
At the press conference later, Mulkey had Brittney Griner repeat her answer to a question twice: she is not leaving Baylor early to enter the WNBA. Apparently they’ve been asked that question a lot.
After the practices was the WBCA High School All-American game. It was a bit one-sided, as the White Team lead the Navy Team throughout, and won by 12 points. I especially enjoyed the games of Duke commit Alexis Jones and Notre Dame recruit Jewell Loyd.
Who knows how we will look back on this game? It was in the 2009 WBCA game that Griner and Skylar Diggins starred, and were made MVPs of their respective teams. (I interviewed each in the locker room afterwards). And in their junior years playing against one another for a title? No fiction ever touches real life.
It was a personal thrill to see and talk to Summitt and Warlick.
I was running back to my hotel that morning and stopped in full stride when I saw the Baylor bus parked with the driver in it. I knocked on the door, and he opened it.
David was funny and cool. He’d driven them since round one, and said they’d grown so used to him that they’d taken to rubbing his head. He asked me, with a twinkle in his eye, “Whoooo’s going to win?” He had grown fond of them too – I could tell.
The semis were the opposite of what fans had projected: the Notre Dame-UConn game was the thriller, going to overtime, while the Baylor-Stanford match up turned into a solid win by the Bears.
The WBCA Awards were pretty special, as I posted previously here. I’m surprised the organization doesn’t post the transcripts of all the coach’s acceptance speeches, because some were extremely moving.
Brittney Griner won the Wade Trophy, the Naismith Trophy and the Defensive POY award. She was a bit shy in her speeches, on the second trip up apologizing to the audience for “having to listen to her again.” More on this in a bit.
Mulkey, who Saturday had said that she’d had worse than Bell’s Palsy, on this night said that the ailment was “kicking her rear.” Her eyes were watering and light bothered her, in addition to the drooping left side of her face. I really respect what she went through to coach her team to a title.
It snowed fiercely in Denver in the morning. Apparently the same storm that made tornadoes in Texas put snow in the mile-high city. It was flurrying and cold, the temperature having dropped 50 degrees from Friday and the weekend. No bueno.
After the championship game, Mulkey said a few things. Of Griner’s work ethic she said, “That child comes to work EVERY DAY.” In the press conference, Griner was again funny, a bit shy, and self-effacing. In the haste of fans to make college players larger than life, they forget that they’re just kids. Ages 18-22 may be adult in the eyes of the law, but not in the ways of life.
– Nnemkadi Ogwumike was incredibly poised after having lost her last collegiate game. Her maturity was exceptional.
– Stanford freshman point guard Amber Orrange doesn’t seem to know how good she is yet. She’s shy like Griner.
– In the loser’s locker rooms both nights, I found myself wanting to give some of the players a hug.
– I don’t like the way the minute the game is over, some reporters are asking teams about next year. Let them enjoy or think about the moment. A media member also asked Mulkey about Griner leaving early after the championship game (again!) and Mulkey gave the person a mouthful. I’m not sure why some reporters ask the questions they do. The most interesting part of interviews, for me, is finding out about the people behind the game.
– Honoring the former Olympic basketball coaches during the semifinals was a wonderful idea. Seeing all those legends up there gave me goosebumps.
– Coaches reported a great WBCA Convention this year. It was quite the sight each day, them flooding out of the Denver Convention Center. I saw quite a few of the West coast coaches I know, because everyone knows the women’s basketball world is small.
I will have one more story out of the Final Four, so stay tuned.