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Your Curated Guide to Women's Sports

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, AP Women's Soccer
Twitter: @AnnieMPeterson

 
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, High Post Hoops
Twitter: @HowardMegdal

  
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, NWHL Broadcaster
Twitter: @ELindsay08
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Fisher's price—interview with Suzy Merchant, slayer of Ducks—must-click women's basketball links


Well, the dust has settled on the decision by the Los Angeles Sparks to hire Derek Fisher as the team's new head coach.
From this view, it is a hire with questionable provenance, even though I believe Fisher is sincere in wanting the job on its own terms, and that he'll make every effort to succeed. That would be difficult for anyone, particularly with a roster that is likely largely locked in—if the Sparks were 19-15 under Brian Agler, who has won everywhere he's gone, it isn't clear how much more upside is present there.
That said: the real problem Fisher has now, as I see it, is Penny Toler conducting a process that did not involve so much as an interview with anyone else. That is her right—there's no Rooney Rule, as the NFL has, to encourage diversity, mostly because the WNBA itself is usually pretty good at self-policing on things like a GM hiring one of her friends without opening the process up to a bunch of deserving candidates. 
But it means every time the Sparks don't score out of a timeout, every time they fail to execute late in games, every lineup that looks unconventional or doesn't succeed, Fisher won't just be graded on the normal, results-based curve of any WNBA coach. He'll be the guy who the Sparks brought in, sight unseen, after a lone head coaching position yielded a 40-96 record with the Knicks (though the context of that was so different, I'd argue it tells us almost nothing). He'll be the guy they flirted with to the point Brian Agler apparently took the hint and headed for the exits. He'll be the guy hired without Amber Stocks or Fred Williams or numerous top assistants like Eric Thibault around the league getting a call.
Worse yet, Toler declined to make herself available for a single interview outside of the press conference, leaving Fisher himself to answer such questions. Not a great way to treat a friend.
All of this is no fault of Fisher's. He's a champion, and deserves the chance to succeed on the merits. But it'll be a part of his story going forward, and that's a shame. So is the fact that so many qualified people didn't even get to go through the valuable process of interviewing for his new job.

The week in women's basketball


More on Fisher, much more, in podcast I did with him, in podcast the great LaChina Robinson did with him, and also LaChina's follow-up podcast with Mechelle Voepel and Megan Kahn.

Speaking of podcasts, you are all listening to The Cheryl Reeve Show, yes? Okay, good.

And as a proud DIII alum, I am a huge fan of Hoopsville.

Jenn Hatfield at HerHoopStats wrote about Bianca Cuevas-Moore, one of my favorite college players to watch, maybe ever.

Kurtis Zimmerman writes about triple-double machine Danielle Carson. His historical deep dives are so vital.

This piece by Stephen Cohen on Breanna Stewart, Seattle athlete of the year, is lovely.

Always read Sloane Martin on Lindsay Whalen.

Tim Graham caught up with the UB basketball coaches, and Felisha Legette-Jack never disappoints.

Mike Zacchio pens a wonderful story of redemption.

Kelli Stacy, who is dominating the UConn women's hoops beat for the Hartford Courant, has a Q&A with Geno Auriemma, who you may have heard is the coach of that team.

Michelle Smith catches you up on USC and UCLA.

Tweet of the week!


Five at The IX: Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant

We spoke to Suzy after the Spartans' beat Oregon.

HOWARD MEGDAL: The win over Oregon obviously legitimized your team in the eyes around the country. You've been watching them close up. Were you surprised at what they did and what did that tell you about your team?

SUZY MERCHANT: We certainly knew they were an incredible opponent and we have to do some things pretty well but, I felt like we've been playing and sharing the ball well.

I felt like some of our strengths matched up with some of theirs, but they were also a little bit better in certain categories that I thought our kids did a good job focusing on, so it didn't surprise me, but I understand it probably surprised a lot of people because they're an incredible team.

I'm just really proud of our fight and the way our kids focused in.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Your team has been in the top 20 in the country in assists and shot rates in each of the past three seasons. How do you prepare your teams to share the ball so well?

SUZY MERCHANT: Well, we always talk about the, not the first shot available but the best one achievable, and I think that's an important concept for kids to understand. I mean you can probably one pass and shoot every time down the floor, but is that the best one we can get? So we always talk about what a good shot looks like to us, and we actually chart it.

We want to rank our shots so our kids are very aware of like what we're looking for, and hopefully the ball goes in.

HOWARD MEGDAL: In many ways Oregon was a coming out party for Jenna Allen. How do you see her future in the next level, and what she can be? Does she remind you of anybody currently in the WNBA?

SUZY MERCHANT: That's an interesting question. So with Jenna, I've always felt like her skillset has been off the charts for a big. She's one of the best passers on my team, and in any of the years I have coached, and that's saying a lot when I've had some really good point guards.

I think she's one of the best passing bigs in the country, and her shot has always been there. The difference between Jenna in the last couple years and this year her senior year is she's really invested and gotten in better shape. Leaned out a little bit, committed to that kind of thing. Just herself, and her conditioning so I think that's big.

Who does she remind me of in the league? I don't know, that's a good question, I can't really answer that one.

HOWARD MEGDAL: You run the “EmpowHer” Retreat annually. Can you talk a little bit about how it came about, and what has been your most satisfying interaction from it?

SUZY MERCHANT: Well, obviously it started from a tragedy. We were recruiting a young lady who took her own life and I just thought over time I would get over it, and really didn't.

And I've seen a trend like most people in young women, and women in general that I just don't think there's a lot of confidence sometimes. There's a lot of battles they fight personally. I just have been concerned about young women in general.

I really wanted to do something in honor of April and what kind of person she was, so we started the leadership retreat that focuses on resiliency, tangible skill sets the kids can leave with, so when they're faced with tough situations whether it be social media wise, bullying, self love, self image that they actually have skills that they can take with them.

So I think that was important to us, and just really appreciate April's parents, Tim and Amy Bocian who allowed us to use April's honor and her spirit to make this happen.

My most gratifying moment was probably when the entire 450 kids that we had there, we brought out a cake, it was actually April's Birthday and we sang happy birthday to her parents. I think that was a very moving, touching moment.

She would have been 19, and obviously is no longer with us, so that to me was a very powerful moment and what it's all about.

HOWARD MEGDAL: For those of you who didn't see you play at Central Michigan, who is the player in today's game who is comparable to how you played?

SUZY MERCHANT: On my team, if I had to say my team it would probably be Taryn McCutcheon. I was always a defense, assist first, now she's a way better shooter, no question about that. I was more of an assist guy and a defender, but I would say just the way she plays the game and how hard she plays. I always tried to do that.

I think if I had to compare someone on my team right now it'd be her, and if I had to look back of some of the competitive fire I would say definitely Tori Jankoska. I mean she was a way better scorer obviously, but we had the same kind of spirit about us.

Probably rubbed people the wrong way sometimes but at the same time if you have a standard and you wanted to make sure that, you know I wanted people to play up to it. I didn't have a problem telling people what to do. And I always tell everybody I was a point guard.

I'm a Leo, and I was a three year captain, and now I'm a head coach, so I've got all of the issues of the Alpha Dog that you could possibly imagine, but it's worked so far.
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