Ask Nancy: July 26, 2007

Basketball Hall-of-Famer and ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman answers your questions and e-mails throughout the year. Click here to submit a question of your own.


Hi Nancy, with the FIBA games and the Olympics coming up, do you think Deanna Nolan deserves a spot on the USA Basketball team? With her athleticism and nearly unguardable shot, she's one of the best shooting guards in the league. Why hasn't she been chosen for the team?
-Sydney, New Orleans

I don't know! But if I were coaching Team USA, Deanna Nolan and her skill set would be at the top of my list. She's unselfish, she's a proven winner, she has two WNBA championships and she can play multiple positions. I'd have to think she'll be wanted by USA Basketball.

Deanna is one of those players who has always had the ability to score at will. But she's often taking a more subservient role on her team because she's very respectful of the people around her. That's what makes her special: it's not about her, it's about the team first and foremost. She'd be perfect for the U.S. team where you have to blend a bunch of highly skilled players together.

I know this is a little bit in advance, but I was wondering if you think the United States will win the gold medal at next summer's Olympics in Beijing. Or do you think there is a chance they will be upset by a team like Australia, which obviously has loads of talent with the likes of LJ, Penny Taylor and Tully Bevilaqua? Thanks for your input!
-Brian, Gridley, Ill.

You can never overlook a team in the Olympics, whether it's Cuba, Brazil or Australia. The Aussies have one of the best groups of players ever collected, thanks to some of the players you just mentioned. They're not just great players, though, they're proven winners and they've all had a great basketball upbringing through their local academy.

But I do think that the United States has the skill, the will and the experience to win in Beijing. I still think we're the favorites. It doesn't hurt that U.S. coach Anne Donovan knows Lauren Jackson's game intimately. If anyone can prepare a game plan against Lauren, Donovan certainly knows her strengths and weaknesses. There aren't many weaknesses, by the way…

I appreciate where you're coming from regarding last week's comments on Chamique Holdsclaw, but don't you think she handled her retirement unprofessionally? The Sparks used a core designation on her, tied up a big chunk of their salary cap during the free agent signing period on her, designed their whole offensive and defensive schemes around her talents and featured her heavily in their marketing. In return, she played five games before suddenly retiring so that she could, in her words, "chill." I don't think it's out of line for Sparks fans to be upset about the way it went down.
-Kevin, Macon, Ga.

Obviously, Kevin, you're very astute and follow the game quite closely. And I think you make some valid points. In a perfect world, Chamique would have taken all of the issues you mention into consideration. But she is not the first athlete, CEO, sports commentator (or whatever) to do what she thinks is best for her and to do it in her own time frame. We don't really know what she was feeling. We can only assume. And I think that in a situation like this, when people know she's a good person and we know she would never do anything to hurt the game, it's important for us to give her the benefit of the doubt.

And I'm not saying that her leaving hasn't hurt the Sparks. Clearly it has. But we have to respect her decision and the timing of it as being her decision. There might be pieces to this that we're just not aware of.

For example, you could go out and quit your job tomorrow. To me, it might seem unreasonable or unfathomable. But to you, it's what you feel you needed to do. Are there people who don't agree with her decision? Of course. But we need to respect it, because it's her decision.

Thanks for having the courage to call out the angry Holdsclaw fan last week. As you know, the Seattle Storm have been quite inconsistent this year. Right now all we can do is hope for more consistency and more fire in the players' bellies to finish out this season to carry us into the playoffs. But let's look ahead to next year. Forget the sale and the possible move. If you were the coach and GM, what would you look to do to get and keep this team consistently in the win column?
-Helen, Seattle

In the WNBA, the way to consistently win from year to year is to be able to defend on a nightly basis. Most of the teams that are consistently going to the playoffs -- your Detroits, your Sacramentos, your Indianas, your Connecticuts -- can all defend and rebound. They're always going to stay in games, even if they're not having a great offensive night.

That's something Seattle needs to continue to address. Lauren is a better defender than people think, but Betty Lennox is average and Izi Castro Marques isn't great on D. Sue Bird is not a great defender. They have good depth in Janell Burse, Wendy Palmer and some others up front who are strong and athletic. And they're decent in their team defense, but they struggle individually on the ball. They understand rotations, but they're not on the same consistent level as the teams I mentioned above.

Tuesday night, Sacramento was able to outlast L.A. because they still get it done defensively. They struggled on offense and they very well could have lost that game, but they put together a couple of really solid defensive possessions late in the game and pulled it out. Seattle could have beaten Washington that night, but they couldn't get the stops they needed down the stretch.

Nancy, what recourse does anyone -- players, coaches, fans -- have with respect to the quality of the officiating? I have predicted a high in technical fouls for coaches and players this year due to the "quality" of the officiating. Can't there be some kind of "review" for refs who are chronically just plain wrong? Certainly it has gotten bad enough often enough for something to be done about it. Can't someone deal with this?
-EC, Tyngsboro, Mass.

As someone who argued every foul ever called against me in my whole career, I can sympathize. I always felt like they were singling me out!

Honestly, though, I think these officials have the toughest job in that they're never going to please everyone. I hear you… believe me! ... but I know for a fact that the league reviews film all the time on its officials and the officials review the tapes, too. The refs go to training camps to do the best they can. They are not trying to get it wrong. I promise you that they're trying to get it right to the best of their ability. Are they going to make some mistakes? Yeah. Are they trying to get as much right as they can? Of course!

The officiating in the league has gotten better and better. Each year, as the league and the players get tougher, officiating gets more difficult. They're constantly told to let the players play, but that they have to balance that with managing the game and keeping it in control.

How's that for toe-tapping around your question? I can't really give you the answer you're looking for because I know many of the officials and I know how hard they work to make the game as great as possible.

Hey there, Nancy! Usually every year there is a "steal" in the draft. Who do you think is this year's steal? My vote would have to go to Sidney Spencer whom the L.A. Sparks chose with the 25th pick. As a college player, she was a proven threat from the outside while playing for Tennessee. And although I'm not a huge Lady Vols fan (GO UCONN!), I really admire the hard work she has put in since the start of the season.
-Don, Grand Forks, N.D.

Sidney Spencer is an excellent call. Wow, what a wonderful job she has done in L.A. I liken Sid's situation to when we (when I was with the Shock) drafted Sandy Brondello with the 34th pick in the fourth round in 1998, my first year. Everyone was asking, "Sandy who?" And she turned out to be a WNBA All-Star.

Without a doubt, Spencer has thrived because of Michael Cooper's system and because he has so much confidence in her. Let's face it, you don't go through four years at Tennessee and not come out a fundamentally sound player. She understands the game and has the quiet demeanor of a pro and it's paying off for her with the Sparks.

Nancy, two things: 1.) Do you see the league expanding its rosters to 15 players anytime soon? This would give a lot more young women the opportunity to play in the league and increase bench depth. 2.) Do you see the league expanding to 12-minute quarters anytime soon? It would increase scoring significantly and playing time for some of the reserve players. Thanks in advance!
-Jeff, Clarksburg, Md.

1.) I'm always a fan of creating more jobs in the league, but I'm not sure that 15-player rosters would work. It's not high school where everybody gets to play. I don't think it should go higher than 12, because otherwise you're just going to dilute the talent level in the league. To play in the WNBA, you have to be the elite of the elite.

Do I think we could and should have more jobs? I would love to see that… maybe with expansion… sometime in the near future. I think that adding a team or two would make more sense, then you could let the extra players fight it out to make one of the 12-person rosters. I don't want to see expansion too quickly or to a city that won't support a team, but I do think that expansion is a part of the next level that this league is going to.

2.) This is also related to the growth of the game and of the league. We just got to the point where we added the eight-second backcourt rule and the 24-second shot clock to speed things up and increase scoring. I think we need a little bit of time to figure out if this stuff is working, and I think it is! But I like where things stand right now.

I play on my JV basketball team and I have a teammate who thinks she is the best on the team and puts others down for mistakes even though she really isn't a great player herself. What should I do to deal with her?
-lil bit, Charlotte

If your coach is aware of the discrepancy and the problem, he or she should talk to that player and set her straight, especially if it's becoming a problem for you and the other players on the team. If the coach is not aware of it and if it's just a problem that you alone are having, take her to lunch, sit down with her and talk about it. Tell her what has been bothering you and try to work through it. Tell her, "I don't want to continue having a problem with it, so I want you to know that this is how I'm feeling." Discuss the issue in an adult-like fashion.

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