Tips for the first-timers
For the second year in a row, we're welcoming two first-timers to the Women's Final Four. This time it's Baylor and Michigan State, giving us a little St. Patrick's Day feeling.
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"I'm so thrilled there are two new teams in," Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I think it's great for women's basketball. People want new people, more stories, different things."
Last year, the newcomers were LSU -- which is making a return visit this weekend -- and Minnesota, both of whom fell in the semifinals and gave us the refreshing novelty of a Connecticut-Tennessee final.
That was as welcome a sight to a lot of women's basketball followers as another Yankees-Red Sox playoff series is to an Orioles fan. Alas, this year Stanford took out "Evil Empire Northeast" in the Kansas City Regional semifinals, but "Evil Empire Southeast" is still going strong and has made its 16th (but who's counting?) Final Four.
All teasing aside, Tennessee deserves tremendous credit for making it. The team had almost as many knee problems this season as Pat Summitt has coaching victories. Yet that didn't stop the Knoxville Express from chugging into Indianapolis, led by co-conductors Shyra Ely and Shanna Zolman, the Hoosier-state natives.
Tennessee knows the Final Four drill inside and out. LSU, now a "grizzled veteran" of the Final Four, found out about it last year. But for Baylor and Michigan State, we offer some tips for your first time at the Final Four.
• At Saturday's media day, feel free to ham it up a little. (A lot is even better.) Somebody has to make up for the Geno Auriemma Quip Quotient, which we won't have for the first time since 1999. (Our chief nominees: Coach McCallie and Kelli Roehrig of Michigan State; Chameka Scott and Chelsea Whitaker of Baylor.)
There will be more media people here than any place you've ever played. If you say something funny, it might even get in the wire-service story that runs in New Zealand. At the very least, it will probably show up in the tournament notes package in Fort Wayne, Ind.
• Some media folks will be so into telling your stories, they might even inquire about what your puppy's name was when you were in the third grade. Others have no idea what they're doing here at the Women's Final Four, and they do a magnificent job of showing it. They might ask if you play basketball because you are tall. They might ask this even if you aren't actually tall. Try a frozen smile and sarcasm on them, they won't get it anyway.
In between are the good reporters who do care, but who don't follow women's hoops all year. So they might ask you something you've been asked 4,971 times already; bear with them. Remember, some viewers/readers are just getting interested now. Sophia Young, be prepared for "mom" questions; Kristin Haynie, the intestine thing is going to come up, so to speak.
• Don't be intimidated. No matter how many people are there watching you, it's still just a basketball game. Play like you always do. You've more than proven that you belong here.
• At the same time, don't fail to appreciate the grandeur of it. Not everybody gets to come to this thing 16 times like SOME people do. Many great players never got the chance. Consider these recent Olympians who never played in the Final Four: Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Natalie Williams, Yolanda Griffith, Shannon "Pee-Wee" Johnson and DeLisha Milton-Jones. (Williams, of course, did play in the volleyball Final Four.)
• Fans: Get the souvenirs you really want early. Then if you're still in town Wednesday for a little while, you can bargain-hunt. Go to the high-school and college senior all-star games Saturday night. (Of course, if you're a Michigan State fan, you probably want to be parked in front of a TV viewing the action from St. Louis. Understandable.)
Take a bunch of pictures. Wander around downtown and talk to people; there are lots of huge fans of the game here. That's a big part of what makes it so much fun.
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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