Commentary

2007-08 a season of change for many teams, coaches

Updated: November 7, 2007, 12:43 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

I've already done these things and hope they won't happen again, but … they probably will.

I have -- OK, more than once -- referred to the team Gail Goestenkors coaches as … "Duke." And when I went looking for Van Chancellor's comments from SEC media day on the league's Web site, I clicked on … "Ole Miss."

[+] EnlargeTia Jackson
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonFormer Duke assistant Tia Jackson hopes to turn the Washington Huskies into national contenders -- not just a pretty decent Pac-10 program as they were under June Daugherty.

Some things are definitely different going into this women's hoops season, aren't they? Certainly, to a degree, that is true every year. Seniors depart and coaches switch jobs or retire. But some really major changes have taken place since last March.

Of course, other things are still about the same as usual. Like Tennessee is No. 1. Also, we've gone through our annual toothache at ESPN.com of picking the top five players at each position, and again ran into dilemmas such as, "She's listed as a forward/center … but is she more a forward or a center?"

But returning to what's different for 2007-2008 … have you heard the Tennessee-UConn series is off? If not, welcome back to the planet. Incidentally, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have been in a lot of hot water while you've been away.

Seriously, though, we'll begin at LSU, where former Ole Miss and Houston Comets coach Chancellor has taken on another job at an age (64) at which many folks are thinking about impending retirement. But since 60 is the "new" 50 … and 50 is the "new" 40 … and 40 is the "new" 30 … maybe Chancellor is just getting started.

He has an opportunity to add the only major title not on his résumé, even though he's already a Hall of Famer. In his 19 years at Ole Miss, he knocked on the Final Four door four times at the Elite Eight, but never made it. Inheriting a very good LSU team, led by senior center Sylvia Fowles, Chancellor can attempt to not only make a Final Four but win an NCAA championship to go along with his WNBA and Olympic titles.

Chancellor knows from past experience, however, that there is one program in the SEC that has frequently denied the title opportunities of its conference compatriots. Tennessee has seven NCAA titles, the rest of the SEC has zero.

Ex-LSU coach Pokey Chatman reportedly has moved on to coach in Russia. Chatman, of course, resigned last March after it was alleged that she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a former player. In June, she settled her contractual dispute with LSU for $160,000, which precludes her from any future litigation against the school.

Chatman spoke to reporters in August at a high school basketball camp in Louisiana. She didn't discuss the allegations against her, but Chatman did take issue with the way LSU handled the situation after former assistant coach Carla Berry informed school officials of those allegations.

Chatman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "I had a 20-year career at LSU, and that didn't warrant a 20-minute conversation. Would I do things different? That's difficult to say, because I didn't get to do anything. And I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to wrestle in the mud with the pigs."

So … it's left to folks to decide what they think Chatman might have done and whether she deserved to be "forced" to resign, as she puts it. But her statements sound like a "nondenial" denial. Put it this way: If someone accused you of something you did not do, would you think saying the allegations were untrue was the equivalent of "wrestling in the mud with the pigs?" Or would you vigorously defend yourself and deny the allegations every chance you had?

Van Chancellor
AP Photo/Butch DillLSU coach Van Chancellor hopes to add an NCAA championship to a résumé already packed with Olympic and WNBA titles.

At any rate, the LSU/Chatman situation is reflective of the Pandora's box of issues that women's basketball continues to deal with (or not deal with, as the case may be). LSU now wants the difficult times of 2007 to fade away into 2008 with its "grandfatherly" hire, his vast SEC knowledge, his well-practiced ol' country-boy schtick … and a ton of points and rebounds from the fabulous Fowles.

Let's hope that's the case for the sake for Fowles and the rest of the LSU players, who somehow made another run to the Final Four last season despite such a cloud over their heads.

While one high-profile African-American female coach is now out of the college ranks in Chatman, there were some significant hirings of black women. Coquese Washington has taken over at Penn State, Jolette Law at Illinois and Tia Jackson at Washington. These are all programs that have had varying degrees of success but also underachieved in recent years.

Penn State is only three seasons removed (2004) from being an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed, and it's a program that has had great fan support and pretty consistent success. Washington, who was an assistant at her alma mater Notre Dame, has a difficult job. She must try to replicate the best of what former coach Rene Portland did -- that is, win a lot of games -- but also erase any lingering toxins from the worst of what she did.

I don't need to rehash the Portland saga again. Although I want to note the Centre Daily Times report in September of the yard sale at Portland's home -- which included lots of Penn State athletic goods, such as T-shirts -- and ask, "Has she never heard of Goodwill or the Salvation Army?"

It's kind of baffling, in all honesty, since Portland did a lot of charity work in the community. One is left to wonder if she was trying to look tacky, didn't really think about it, or just considered this to be a small way to tell the school to go to h-e-double hockey sticks.

Portland's former Immaculata teammate Theresa Grentz also resigned (or also was maybe just kind of slightly pushed out the door) at Illinois. Think any bitter coffee gets brewed when those two get together these days?

Now Washington and Law, a longtime Rutgers assistant, have the chance to show they can recruit and rebuild/restore at two programs that should be key factors in making Big Ten women's hoops great.

Grentz improved things at Illinois, but then stalled and did not take the program where many think it should/could be. Especially when you consider the nearby recruiting ground of Chicagoland. Illini women's hoops fans want to see Law make sure the future likes of Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter go from the Windy City to Urbana-Champaign.

Meanwhile, out in Seattle, Jackson's hope is to get the Huskies into a position of being national contenders, not just a pretty decent Pac-10 program. Because they were the latter under June Daugherty from 1996-07, as she went 191-139.

The Huskies made the NCAA Tournament six of her 11 seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2001, but there was no real sense of them being a West Coast power at all the way Stanford has been.

Jackson's status as a top recruiter in her previous assistant's roles at UCLA and Duke made Washington's athletic department believe she was the right person for elevating a program that should have a lot going for it.

Speaking of Duke … that leads us back to Goestenkors. Who isn't there anymore, by the way. All things "GG" have been purged as much as possible, with Joanne P. McCallie as the new boss. The returning players and a strong rookie class should have the Blue Devils in very good shape this season.

And in Goestenkors' new home at Texas, there's a lot of excitement about how quickly that program can get back to its "old" status after missing the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. The Longhorns have talent, but there's a lot of work to be done.

Will Goestenkors replicate the success she had in Durham? Can McCallie keep Duke at the same level that Goestenkors did for so long? That's the really interesting thing to think about: less what Duke and Texas do this season, but rather where both programs will be, say, five years from now.

At least by then, I probably won't mess up what school Goestenkors is with anymore.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.