The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, February 27, 2019

Changes in Piscataway—Tierra Ruffin-Pratt interview—must-click women's basketball links

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Things have unraveled fast here in New Jersey, where over the past week we’ve seen C. Vivian Stringer take a health-related leave of absence, along with two players getting dismissed from the team, a disappointing turn of events for a Rutgers program that has, let’s face it, been underperforming for years now.

C. Vivian Stringer’s success, her legacy and her rightful place in women’s basketball history is assured and unassailable. And yet, we’ve seen a Rutgers team fail to so much as make the NCAA tournament since 2015, falter greatly down the stretch last season (from a top 16 seed to missing the field altogether in just a few weeks), and a similar fade this year, even before the week’s events.

Meanwhile, the state is overstocked with elite players, players who go to Big Ten programs — ask Diamond Miller — but not Rutgers. It’s disappointing on many levels, from those who admire all Stringer has done, and for those who appreciate the rich history of New Jersey women’s basketball, from Anne Donovan to Cheryl Reeve, Carol Blazejowski to the Mabrey sisters, Jeff Jasper to… still Jeff Jasper.

So the hope here isn’t just that C. Vivian Stringer is well, and returns to the sideline soon. It’s that she finds a way to return the Rutgers program to the elite standard it should play to, year after year. UConn more than survived a downgrade to the AAC. The Scarlet Knights ought to have raised their game, moving to the Big Ten.

And if Stringer decides she’s ready to move on, a decision she has clearly earned the right to make herself, then Rutgers needs to hire someone ready to embrace the full measure of New Jersey basketball greatness. The RAC needs to be packed, and it needs to be a place that hosts NCAA Tournament games in rounds one and two.

New Jersey needs Rutgers to be a crown jewel. And those of us who care about women’s basketball in any of the 50 states will benefit when it is once more.


This Week in Women’s Basketball

As the great Annie Peterson puts it: Here we go and there are a lot! Reminder: The underlined words are the links. CLICK these! Clicks = Attention from editors, producers, and webmasters. If you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! howardmegdal@gmail.com

You should always listen to The Cheryl Reeve Show, but this one has particularly newsworthy thoughts on things like Lindsay Whalen’s tenure and the WNBA president search.

Obviously, listen to Debbie Antonelli, too.

Good stuff from Dan Connelly on the evolution of Katie Lou Samuelson’s game.

Great read by Matt Foley on Tamika Catchings’ chances of becoming an NBA general manager.

Man, Destiny Slocum is good, and Michelle Smith captures why.

Again, Natalie Weiner is writing weekly on women’s hoops, do not miss it.

This seems made-up, but it’s not: Joni Taylor coached TWO DAYS after giving birth.

Why is Mountain MacGillivray called Mountain? Mike Jensen explains that and more.

Jack McLoone profiles Lauren Holden, who has played more minutes as a Fordham Ram than anyone else in program history.

The transfer discussion isn’t just about college: listen to New Jersey’s top coaches discuss how it is affecting the high school game.

Great work from SLAM profiling Hailey Van Lith, Washington state high school prospect in the Class of 2020.

And point of personal pride: loved this Natalie Heavren piece on what it was like to be in the pep band as a George Mason buzzer-beater went down.


Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Los Angeles Sparks

I spoke to Tierra via email recently.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Going into free agency this offseason, what was your mindset, and how did you approach the decision about where you wanted to play?

TIERRA RUFFIN-PRATT: Honestly, I had no clue what I was getting into during free agency. I was super nervous about it. After talking to one of the best vets in the league Mo Currie, she gave me some good advice. I kind of just took it slow and waited to see which teams wanted me and jumped at a great opportunity to come play in LA!

HOWARD MEGDAL: How hard was it to leave the only WNBA team you ever played for, and who will you miss most from DC?

TIERRA RUFFIN-PRATT: If you asked me this same question two years ago, I would tell you I would never leave D.C. I’ll play my whole career there. But I gave the Mystics six great seasons and sometimes making a change is the best for both parties. I’m from the D.C. area - Alexandria, Virginia, I was born and raised there. So being close to family is what I will miss the most. I have two young nephews, so being away from them and them not being able to come to as many games will be tough. But they are already looking up flights to come out to LA to visit!

HOWARD MEGDAL: Your customarily excellent defensive work is showing in Israel this offseason, with blocks and steals in bunches. What have you been working on over these, and what new skill will fans in the W get to see when you return stateside?

TIERRA RUFFIN-PRATT: Defense has always been my strong suit. I’ve been trying to work on pressuring the ball more full-court. I’m trying to master the defensive end like Alana Beard! Offensively, I’ve been working on getting back to playing my game. I’ve been working on my midrange game, shooting the open 3-point shot and finishing better around the rim through contact. But also working on my passing and being a playmaker for others. So, this is the time we work on things in a game setting and I’m hoping it all pays off come this summer.

HOWARD MEGDAL: You consistently rank among the top of the league in defensive efficiency, per Synergy, despite often giving up inches and pounds to those you defend. What allows you to be so effective on the defensive end of the floor, and when did that become a focus for you?

TIERRA RUFFIN-PRATT: I’ve always been a defensive-minded player. I knew that would help me make my way in this league. My rookie season I made it a priority to become one of the best defenders in the WNBA and every year I set a goal to getting better at something on the defensive end. I never average a lot of steals or blocks but I try to do what it takes to keep my man from scoring. I watch a lot of film on players I know I will guard. I try to learn their habits and tendencies. But I also watch a lot of film on great defenders.

HOWARD MEGDAL: What is the first thing you plan to do when you arrive in Los Angeles for the season?

TIERRA RUFFIN-PRATT: I haven’t even thought about that yet. Once I get there hopefully I’ll get a chance to work out with some of the staff. I’m a player that really locks in during training camp. Every year I’ve always had a mindset that I have to make the team just like my rookie season. So that won’t change.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren PGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster