Welcome to the Archive

Posted in NCAA/College, Profiles, WNBA/Olympics with tags on September 8, 2008 by Helen

This site contains articles I’ve written on women’s basketball.

Also included are some entries from the Women’s Hoops Blog and a link to my 45+page Timeline of Women’s Basketball History, 1892-Present, a beast Kim Callahan has generously hosted, maintained and PDF’d.

I’ve “archived” the articles (also hosted by Kim) in the hope that fans, writers and anyone else interested in women’s basketball and sports will find them informative.

‘Sides, I’ve had a hoot talking to a lot of really cool, smart, committed people about this game I’ve fallen in love with. It seemed a shame to let their words “expire” after publication.

The cool thing about the blog format is you can use the SEARCH feature to find specific people or references (e.g. officiating, Jody Conradt, high school, homophobia, Division III, etc.). I’ve tried to organize the articles in various useful “clumpings” and will also need to review all the pieces for typos, etc. since they’re all in pre-editor version (sorry Sharon, Lois, Tilea and Summer).

The original publishers (each who will be credited in each article) are:

thehoopslink.com gave me my start back in 2000.

Then came Women’s Basketball Magazine, where I learned to write player profiles, Q&A’s and features. In 2004, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association invited me to be a contributing writer to their magazine “Coaching Women’s Basketball,” where I’ve focused on issues surrounding the game.

I’ve also written for the Women’s Sports Foundation and New York SportsScene and produced some “miscellaneous” pieces that appeared on various message boards. Which is what happens when you’re a mouthy fan of the game — and may explain why Ted asked me to join the Women’s Hoops Blog‘s ensemble of writers in 2005.

If you feel the need to know more about me, click here.

The Official Mumbo Jumbo (adapted from Kim Callahan’s mumbo jumbo)

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All documents on this website are Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Helen Wheelock. All rights are reserved. Republication and redistribution of the contents of this web site are expressly prohibited without the written consent of Helen Wheelock.

You may include links to any page within this web site from your own web pages or printed materials. Notification is requested, but not required.

For any other use you must first contact Helen Wheelock and receive written permission. I can’t imagine I wouldn’t say yes, so g’head – ask!

In a bit I’ll be figuring out how to make a “Contact Me” email thingy — until then, you can reach me via: helen [at] womensbasketballonline.com

2014 WBHOF Inductee Charlotte West – 70 years of Advocacy and Action

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

Charlotte West is a little worried. She’s been told she has only five minutes to speak at her Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction. “I thought, my Lord, I’ve been involved in competitive women’s basketball for 70 years. I started listing things that I want to say that I’m like, oh my gosh, this should be an hour and a half.”

Born in 1932 in Michigan, West and her sister were adopted by a couple in New York. She spent much of her early years “snow-birding” as her family traveled from upstate New York down to Florida until school administrators put a stop to it. “That out and in several times a year was really interfering with her [sister’s] progress in school. My parents were called in and they said, ‘she needs to be tutored and to put keep her one place or the other.’ So starting in the fifth grade, I did all my schooling in St. Petersburg.”

West’s earliest sports memory is playing 7th grade basketball. “We probably only had three or four games,” she recalled. “But I can remember playing and feeling very empowered.” She so wanted her own hoop and a basketball but, though her parents were supportive – even though neither of them were particularly athletic — it was wartime. “Everything was rationed. If it was rubber or leather, like a basketball would be, you couldn’t get it.” Yet somehow, they managed. “We were on our way to Memphis to visit my father’s relatives where we spent our Christmases and spent the night in Dothan, Alabama,” said West. “We were walking around after dinner and found a sports store and it had a basketball. So my father bought me that for Christmas. I tell you, that basketball got plenty of use.”

West played three years in junior high and three years at St. Petersburg high school. “I had a great high school coach,” she reflected, someone who “did it for the love of the sport because they didn’t get supplemental pay.” As a player, West describes herself as “Fast. Very, very fast. So I mainly played forward. I did play guard sometimes, when they wanted to substitute different people, and of course I loved the rover because she got to move.” Things changed, though, when she started college. “I went to Florida State and we had nothing,” she stated bluntly. “Nothing.”

Fortunately, St. Petersburg was part of the AAU/Industrial Leagues that swept across the country during World War II. Many companies such as Maytag, Kelvinator, Dr. Pepper and such, sponsored basketball, softball and volleyball teams in an effort to build worker cohesion and brand recognition. “When I was junior or senior in high school St. Petersburg had R.H. Hall (an appliance store company). They would play [teams from] Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa. So I got some early experience with a higher level of play. When I got into college, I played with them a few times when it was convenient to get away from school”

While at FSU, West completed a double major in Math and Physical Education. “I loved math and I was good in it,” said West, “but I also loved sports and I knew I wanted to teach. And at that time there was a little stigma if you were in Phys. Ed. I don’t know if there was some protective mechanism there or not, but I did my practice teaching in Physical Education in Jacksonville, but I did it with the condition that I could go in and do a class in plain geometry at the high school so I’d be qualified to do both.” After she graduated from Florida State she returned to St. Petersburg to be with her mother – her father had died two months previously – and started as the physical education teacher and, eventually, coach of Boca Ciega High School.

West continued her studies at UNC–Greensboro, one of the two prominent graduate schools for women in Physical Education (Texas Women’s being the other). “I visited with both chairs of the department and I just liked the connection at Greensboro.” It couldn’t have hurt that there was a local AAU/Industrial team that seemed more and willing to bring on West and her fellow student, Joan Holt (who later went on to write “A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four”). The two arranged a tryout during a game and, she recalled, “we clicked. We did really well and [the coach] was excited about us. He said, ‘Now you ladies, you are coming back every time aren’t you?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ Unfortunately, the news didn’t go over so well at the University.

“We got to school the next day and we both had a note in our boxes in our mailboxes in the P.E. Department. The head of the department called us in and she said, ‘I understand that you’re down playing city league basketball and we just don’t let our majors do that.’ She turned to Joan and said, ‘You’re a graduate assistant, so I’m telling you, you will not play.’ She looked at me and said, ‘I can’t tell you that (West was on an academic scholarship) but I think it would be to your advantage not to.’ In typically direct fashion, West countered, “Miss. Morris, I love sports, I love to play and I think it’s a crime that we don’t have more for women.’ So,” continued West, “she puts me in charge of a inter-class tournament for all the PE majors. So we played, but that was her ‘solution.’”

After West completed her Masters in Physical Education and Dance, the same department head directed her to Southern Illinois University because, explained West, “she said they do more for women sports and she knew my intent to work towards varsity athletics for women–which I was told might hinder my professional success.”

Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

West arrived at Southern Illinois in 1957 began a 41-year career of advocacy and action in women’s intercollegiate athletics. She coached of the women’s golf team for over 12 years (winning the national championship in1969), badminton for seven years, and volleyball for one year. She also coached women’s basketball from 1959 to 1975 – all while serving as a professor in the department of physical education. In 1973, she became a full professor (having gotten her doctorate at Wisconsin-Madison in physical education with a minor in educational measurement) and developed SIU’s graduate program in sports management, which she directed until June 1991. From 1960 to 1986, West was director of intercollegiate athletics for women and led the transformation of the department into a nationally recognized program with a budget of more than $1 million for 11 sports. After the merger of the men’s and women’s athletics departments, she served as associate athletics director for one year, interim director for another and associate athletics director for 10 years.

In parallel with her duties SIU, West became heavily involved with Title IX legislation, serving as a consultant for the Health, Education, and Welfare portions of Title IX that related to athletics. Since the NCAA was not willing to sponsor championships for women, West helped do so through the American Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) – and organization for which she also served as president. With the dissolution of the AIAW (1981), West continued her work advocating for equity in in athletics by serving on the NCAA’s Committee on Financial Aid and Amateurism, the Committee on Athletic Certification, and the Gender Equity Task Force. She spent five years (1992-97) on the NCAA Council, a 44-member group that governed collegiate athletics and was the first woman member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), eventually being inducted into the NACDA Hall of Fame (2006). The first recipient of the Woman Administrator of the Year Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, in 1996 West was also named the first recipient of the Honda Award of Merit— a national honor given for outstanding achievement in women’s collegiate athletics. She retired from SIU in 1998

When she reflects on all she did, the teaching, the coaching, running tournaments and serving on panels and committees, she laughs. “Billie Jean King talked about their efforts in the ‘70s and she says, ‘when I think back I have to take a nap.’ It’s a good line. I think back and wonder, ‘My gosh, how did I live through it? How did I do it?’ But you know, you are driven because you love what you were doing. We could see so much progress. And, yes, we had setbacks, but it just it was exciting. It was an exciting time of seeing your efforts come to fruition.”

For all that was accomplished, West knows that the work is not close to being over. “You know, we’ve documented that men’s participation is growing at a more rapid rate than women. We’re not even close to equity in participation. The budgets are just extreme,” she continued. “The men are just gaining twice as much every year as the women, and people just seem to say, ‘well, as long as the women are getting a little something everything’s okay.’ The administration is going down you know the number of women in athletic director roles has been flat or now starting downwards, which is a huge surprise.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that if it hadn’t been for AIAW, we wouldn’t have had that growth and we wouldn’t have had a billion dollar television contract — all these things that really happened in the 70s. It’s a kind of a paradox for some of us,’ said West. “We worked so hard to give the athletes the benefits they have today, the opportunities. So you rejoice in that. But then you’re saddened by the fact that they don’t know how they got there. No respect whatsoever, you know they expect these benefits which — I’m glad that they’re there for them — but they don’t appreciate them. They don’t understand how you have to continue to strive.” She takes some comfort from a friend who heads the SIU Department of Philosophy. “She said, ‘every great movement rises, and then there is always this falling back.’” West pauses a moment. “Just so long as it doesn’t it fall back to where you started.”





Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014 — Hall the end of a long journey for Jazz Perazić

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Yolanda Griffith – Perennial underdog arrives at pinnacle

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

Tracing Yolanda Griffith’s route to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, one sees a career that might have been de-railed but was, instead, constantly re-railed. Those who watched the 6-4 center play in the ABL and WNBA will remember her as fierce, focused competitor. But, said Griffith, “That happened later.”

It started simply enough: Born March 1, 1970 into an athletic family, the youngest of five children living in the Southside of Chicago, volleyball, softball and, of course, basketball were a natural outlet. “I was the prankster,” she admitted. “I was involved in just having fun and being a kid.  But being a kid, I just got into trouble all the time. My parents said, ‘you need to do something’ so I started playing basketball.”  In seventh grade, she tried out for, and made, the boy’s team. “I got more involved with basketball, playing in the summertime, with the guys also, and it just took off.”

Local high schools began to recruit her, but her mother favored George Washington Carver and coach Gloria Smith. “My mom knew her and trusted her and my two older sisters also went there,” explained Griffith. She became a player who, as coach Smith told the Los Angeles Times in 1997, “was so good on defense, some of my players were afraid to go near her with the ball.” In her senior year (1988–1989) Griffith was a first team All-America in softball (hitting a school record 35 homeruns) and named on Parade Magazines All-American basketball team.

College basketball seemed to offer more opportunities, and she leaned heavily on her father to guide her through the pressure-filled recruiting process (her mother had passed her freshman year in high school.). Saying “no” to coaches was particularly difficult. “I had to have my father do it. It was just me being young. And some coaches just wouldn’t accept that I was going in a different direction. So, my father pretty much handled closing door to the schools.”

The door she opened led her to one of the top programs and coaches in the country, Iowa and C. Vivian Stringer. But, not long after enrolling, Griffith discovered she was pregnant. With the father uninterested in raising a child, she left school and returned to Chicago where her family banded around her. The birth of her daughter, Candace, in May of 1989 found Griffith unsure what the future held for her. Realizing she wanted to continue to play basketball, a game plan was laid out: go to a Junior College, graduate, then finish out her career at a four-year college. The first thought was to stay local, but a good friend knew the head coach at Palm Beach Community College, Sally Smith. Interestingly enough, Smith, who had been the first black All-American on the legendary Nashville Business College team, herself had had a daughter when she was 18. “He said,” recalled Griffith, “’This is the best place for you as far as the facilities, getting education, and helping single parents.’”

So, months after the birth of her daughter, Griffith was in Florida juggling study, basketball and a most unusual part-time job. PBCC teammate Charlene Littles introduced Griffith to Caeser Allen, who coached city league girls’ basketball and owned Allen’s Recovery Agency, a car re-possession firm. Griffith learned how to hot-wire cars and drive a tow truck, working from midnight to 5 a.m. so she could go to school, practice and raise her child. The focus paid off on the court: PBCC won state championships in 1990 and 1991 and Griffith earned NJCCA All America honors.

Division I programs came knocking, but she decided to stay within the Florida community she’d built around her daughter. She transferred to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, (1992-93) where she still holds the single-season record for points scored (621), scoring average (28.2 ppg), field goal % (.631), rebounds (352), and rebounding average (16.0). She was also tapped as a 1993 Kodak Division II All-American and the WBCA Division II Player of the Year.

But, with no women’s professional basketball in the United States, a post-college basketball career meant going abroad. “It was a decision I felt I needed to make to support my family, to support my child. I went to Germany, went to Italy, played in Russia four years; played in Italy two years, went to Korea, went to China. It was a great opportunity to learn different languages, to learn different cultures, and to continue to play the game I fell in love with.”

In 1996, the 27-year-old returned to the States as the number one pick of the fledgling American Basketball League, earning First Team and Defensive Player of the Year honors. When the League folded in 1998, she was drafted by the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs in 1999. A seven-time WNBA All-Star, she won the League’s MVP, Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player award. ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel wrote of Monarchs run to the 2005 WNBA title:

No WNBA championship team has been as blue-collar as Sacramento, and no one better symbolized that than Griffith. The 6-4 Griffith is that wiry type, deceptively strong. That, a certain fearlessness and soft hands with long fingers helps explain — physically — why Griffith is such a great post player, particularly on the offensive glass. But then there’s that “wanting it” factor. A lot of the time, that’s just a cliché that means nothing. In Griffith’s case, it’s a phrase that finds its true core.

“I have fun when I am not in uniform. I’m as cool as anybody else,” said Griffith, reflecting on her 16-year career. “But when I’m on the court, it was no nonsense. A lot of people will probably say I was an ‘–itch.’ (“I’m not going to say the B-word,” she laughed.) “But it wasn’t that. It was just, ‘I can’t be your best friend right now when you’re about to elbow me in my lip.’ I just felt if we didn’t score, you couldn’t score.  That was my mentality. If I needed that rebound, that rebound meant another possession, that rebound meant a possibility of another win, of a championship. I had a goal and my goal was to show the doubters that I belonged.  That’s just how I was. I always was hungry to win.”

Griffith’s drive also helped the US Olympic Gold Medals in 2000 and 2004 and she now serves as a member of USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Selection Committee.  She retired from the WNBA in 2009 and two years later joined Dartmouth’s Chris Weilgus staff. She currently is an assistant to coach Dianne Nolan at Lafayette College.

Reflecting on her journey to the Hall of Game, Griffith said, “It is truly a great honor. I’m happy for the recognition. But every day I say I am blessed. I am blessed with how I turned out because of my parents and my brothers and sisters. I’m blessed because I’ve never taken anything for granted. I don’t want you to give me anything.  I want to earn it. That’s just how I was raised.”

“But throughout my career playing basketball, I’ve had the right coaches that guided me in the right direction. Basketball’s just a huge part of my life, taking up a lot of time and focus. Trying to get my game better, realizing that there’s somebody out there that’s better than me. I was always the underdog, not getting the publicity. And, you know, I’m pretty much okay with that not happening — because people that know basketball know.”

They sure do know. Which is why Griffith can now add “Member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame” to her very impressive resume.

This was the third in a series of profiles on the six players, coaches and contributors who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 14 as part of the Induction Class of 2014. The 1976 U.S. Olympic Team will also be honored as “Trailblazers of the Game.”

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Mimi Senkowski Griffin — A love affair with the game

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

When Mimi Senkowski Griffin is inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame next month, it will be for her contributions to the game as a basketball commentator. But one could also see it as the culmination of a three-generation love affair with Pennsylvania women’s basketball.

“I grew up on Big 5 basketball in Philadelphia. It was religion in our family,” explained Griffin. “My grandmother played back in the day when they had cages around the court. They played in bloomers and guys weren’t allowed in the gym.” At six-feet, Griffin’s mother Anne, played for Little Flower High School in the Philadelphia Catholic League, considered the elite of girls’ basketball. “She told us that their coach would call her ‘the point,’ but not in terms that we would recognize it. She said it was because he would tell the rest of the team that ‘the point’ was to ‘Get the ball to Anne!’”

No surprise, Griffin (then Senkowski) and her three sisters followed in the family’s basketball footsteps. Griffin considers her coach at Lancaster Catholic, Pat Wallace, a woman far ahead of the time.

“She didn’t just teach us how, she taught us why.  She allowed us to think for ourselves, not just in sports, but in general. It was not, ‘Okay, do this and just do this.’  It was, ‘Do this because this will be the result if these things happen.’  She made it like a chess game for us so that we would see three and four iterations down the line. It was an education beyond what anything could have given us in that day and age.”

Griffin is not unaware that the role girls were expected to play in a Catholic school seemed contradictory to those they played on the court.

“That’s the dichotomy of sport: allowing you to be what you weren’t able to be in school,” she reflected. “I think one of the reasons that young girls in Catholic schools loved basketball was it gave us a sense of identity. It was so great to find something that made you feel good about yourself and feel good about accomplishing something with others as a group. It cemented our self-esteem and,” she added with a laugh, “it was just the bomb.”

Griffin’s high school career included a 64-game win streak, 1,168 points and, in her senior year, the 1974 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association title.

“When we won the state tournament in the Harrisburg Farm Show Arena there were at least a half a dozen college coaches in the aisle way to our locker room — one from West Virginia, one from Pitt, one from Florida – and they were screaming at me, ‘Do you want a scholarship?  Do you want to come to our school?’  I had no idea what they were talking about.”

Understandable, since Title IX was only two years old and 1974 was the first year full scholarships were offered. Indeed, Griffin recalls that under the prevailing mores of the time, going to college for basketball was “something young women did not do,” the implication being it somehow “diminished” one as a student.

Griffin ignored the offers and attended the University of Delaware to study computer science — and play basketball.

“We had a team that had started four freshmen, each from four different high school state championship teams. In my freshman year, we almost beat Immaculata, the defending national champion.”

But Delaware was not the right fit for Griffin, who transferred to Pittsburgh, where she finished out her basketball career and earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics.

Upon graduation there were opportunities to play professionally, but they were trumped by a job offer with Manufacturers Hanover in the special events department.

“That was pretty much a dream job because it was one of the first in sports marketing in the country,” said Griffin. She ran the Women’s Christmas Classic in Madison Square Garden (1980-82), moving to Converse as the national director of promotions for women’s athletics (1983-85). Converse’s decision to sponsor six women’s games of the week on TV (though they never aired) gave Griffin her first opportunity in front of a microphone.

“I worked Leandra Reilly who, at that time, was ESPN’s only female commentator,” said Griffin. “She recommended me to ESPN. The very first event I did [for them] was a national high school cheerleading competition and I was awful. Just awful,” she admitted. “Somebody made a triple pyramid and a girl jumped off and into a split. My comment was, ‘Well, that’s got to hurt.’ And yet, then they invited me back to do the Division II national championship game later that year.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Griffin worked for ESPN and CBS from 1983-99 as a women’s basketball analyst for regular-season and tournament games, and serving as the first female color analyst on a men’s NCAA tournament game (1990). She also worked as a studio analyst, together with Robin Roberts, for ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA Women’s Tournament from 1996-99. She eventually left broadcasting to devote her full attention to her Allentown-based MSG Promotions, an event management and marketing company that specializes in professional golf championships and other major events.

The upcoming ceremony in Knoxville this June has given Griffin time to reflect on the state of the game she loves.

“From a talent perspective, there’s nothing that compares to what these young women and coaches can do today. They really are incredible physical specimens and the coaches are so technically educated.  But,” she added, “I wonder if there needs to be more heart, too.”

“There’s success out there for everybody,” Griffin continued. “Somebody else being successful does not, in any way, shape or form diminish you or your ability or chance to be successful. It just doesn’t. “

Which is one reason Griffin has asked former Texas coach Jody Conradt to be her presenter.

“In her most successful years, she invited anybody and everybody to Austin to come and watch them practice. She not only invited them and opened her door, [but also] had them stay in her home. She said, ‘There is no secret to what we do. It’s how we do it.’”

“My hope for the game is that we go back in time a little bit and remember what made us really popular back in the mid-’80s. We connected. The players, the coaches, the fans connected as people, not as a sport.  Nobody truly really cares about basketball.  They care about the people involved in that sport.”

This was the second in a series of profiles on the six players, coaches and contributors who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 14 as part of the Induction Class of 2014. The 1976 U.S. Olympic Team will also be honored as “Trailblazers of the Game.”

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Lin Dunn played “like a guy,” built legacy for women’s game

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

Trace your finger down Lin Dunn’s resume, and the legacy that earned her a place in the 2014 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is quickly revealed.

Drawing on a potent combination of humor, energy, advocacy, vision and straight up orneriness, she created women’s basketball programs at Austin Peay State University (1970-77), University of Mississippi (1977-78) and Miami University (1978-87). She coached at Purdue for nine years (1987-96), where she collected three Big 10 conference titles, made seven NCAA tournament appearances, four Sweet Sixteen appearances, and a trip to the Final Four in 1994. In 1997 she transitioned to the professional game, earning Coach of Year honors in her first and only year in the ABL (1998). In 1999, she spearheaded the establishment the new WNBA Seattle Storm franchise, serving as coach and general manager for the team’s first three years. She joined the Indiana Fever staff in 2004 as an assistant. Named head coach for the 2008 season, Dunn led the Fever to the WNBA championship in 2012.

For all that, one has to wonder what might have happened had she been born decade later.

“To be honest with you,” said Dunn, “I was probably was a better player than I am a coach.”

She likens her game to that of a woman she has coached for years — multiple WNBA Defensive Player of the Year winner, Tamika Catchings. “I have so much respect for her because she’s relentless. We are relentless in our desire to get better because we want to win. We’re both fanatical about time management. To be honest, the reason we butt heads at times is because we’re both so competitive.”

Dunn developed that competitive streak as a youngster growing up in Alabama in the mid-‘50s. Sports were an intrinsic part of her family’s daily life. “We had a high jump pit in the backyard,” Dunn recalled. “We played basketball, softball, baseball, we had boxing gloves.”

She, her father and her brother – 17 months her elder – competed against each other every day. When she was about 10, she remembers being profoundly disappointed that she wasn’t allowed to play football or little league baseball.

“I was good and I was tough and I was so much better than my brother but, because I was a girl, I didn’t get to play. That was the first time I realized, ‘If a girl, you’re treated differently. You’re a second-class citizen when it comes to sports.’”

When Dunn was 15, her parents separated and she moved to Dresden, Tenn. Unlike the attitudes in Alabama, girls’ basketball was revered. Her high school actually fielded a team. “I got to play two years of high school basketball. You would have thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she recalled. A 5-7 guard with a jump shot – rare in the ‘60s women’s game– she relished physical play. “I probably fouled out of every game I played because I was so competitive,” she laughed. “I played like a guy.  And that was the greatest compliment you could get, when somebody said, ‘Wow.  Have you seen Lin Dunn play? She plays like a guy.’”

Her days on the court ended in 1965 when she arrived at University of Tennessee-Martin. There was no women’s basketball because, said Dunn with a hint of disdain, “It was ‘too rough for girls,’ it was ‘not socially acceptable.’ You know you know the whole story.” Ironically enough, her career as a coach began when she was dissuaded from her original goal: major in French and become an interpreter at the United Nations. “I signed up for all these French courses and then the instructor called me in and said, ‘you are destroying a beautiful language.  If you have any hope of doing what you said you’re going to do, I’d like to squelch that right now.’” Nonplussed, she thanked the professor, reconsidered her future, and changed her major to Physical Education. “I spent those four years in college with no basketball and that’s when I decided, ‘Okay I can’t play but I can coach.  I can have a team.’”

For the next 40-plus years, that’s exactly what she did, though it took some doing in those pre-Title IX ‘70s. “When I first started at Austin Peay, I wasn’t hired as a coach,” Dunn explained. “I was hired as a physical education teacher to teach all of the P.E. classes nobody wanted to teach: archery, golf, tennis, swimming, badminton, stunts and tumbling.” When she asked the athletic director if she could start a basketball team, it was approved with the understanding that there would be no budget and few resources. “Every year I would go in and beg and borrow and steal,” recalled Dunn. She scavenged old training gear, “re-appropriated” unattended rolls of tape, and squeezed out access to the gym after classes, intramurals and men’s practices were done. Traveling to games meant waiting to see if a department vehicle happened to be available.

“If we didn’t get a van we went in my car – a big old red Impala. It was one of those gigantic cars that you get about eight or nine in,” said Dunn. Deciding the game day roster was easy: If you didn’t have a good practice you didn’t get to go. “We would drive up the day of the competition and we drive back afterwards late at night.” Tournaments that required overnight stays meant sleeping bags on a gym floor or, if she knew the opposing coach, on the floor of their living room. Dunn remembers her players as women who played for the love of the game and for the opportunity to compete. “There were no scholarships, I had no assistant, we didn’t have a manager, we didn’t have a trainer. If we had to practice at 6 a.m. or 7 p.m. at night, that was okay because it was a chance to play.”

“I think all of those years at Austin Peay, Miami, Ole Miss, working 24/7 to build the programs,” reflected Dunn. “Constantly being a pain in the ass, constantly pushing and prodding and begging and asking and demanding, ‘can we do this, why can’t we do that? Pushing envelope, trying to get more resources. Trying to figure out how to make things better for my teams. Through my entire college career, we were constantly trying to improve the opportunities. Every experience you had was a year later in our growth of equity and opportunities for girls and women in sports.”

Dunn’s induction to the WBHOF signals the end of her coaching career, but not her connection to coaches. She’ll spend next season supporting the new Indiana Fever staff while and continuing her decade-long practice serving as a consultant and mentor to college coaches. In that role, she will remind her fellow coaches that they can do more than “just coach.” “ I don’t think a lot of coaches and athletes understand they have a powerful platform because of who they are and the visible sport that they are in,” explained Dunn. “They have an opportunity to make things better in a lot of areas. Let’s say that I’m going to embrace anti-bullying, or inclusion or maybe to continue to fight for equity, equal pay for equal work, or bias against woman. I can’t make a difference in everything, so we’ll have to try to focus in on those issues that I really, really value. You can make a difference in whatever you decide to do.”

As she prepares to join her fellow inductees in Knoxville, Dunn can’t help to reflect. “People have asked me, ‘what would you do differently?’ Her response is simple: “I wish I had worked harder. I wish had been more of a pain in the ass. I came up in the ‘60s and ‘70s where there were still serious racial issues, you know, and how black athletes were treated. I’ve come up where women had been discriminated against. You do then what did you to make a difference. I wish I had done more.”

Stepping out of the limelight doesn’t mean Dunn, herself, will be abdicating her role in advocacy. It is, after all, in her blood. “I was brought up in a family that was extremely liberal, that was extremely progressive. We were encouraged from the very beginning to not think out of the box — there is no box. That’s the environment I came up in. It’s been ingrained in me. That would be a definition of me: I don’t think out of the box. I figure there isn’t a box.”


This was the fifth in a series of profiles on the six players, coaches and contributors who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 14 as part of the Induction Class of 2014. The 1976 U.S. Olympic Team will also be honored as “Trailblazers of the Game.”

France – U.S. World Cup Quarterfinal: Preparing for the rematch

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

with additional reporting by Lee Michaelson


As the United States moves out of pool play unscathed (3-0) and prepares for their must-win matchup against France in Friday night’s quarterfinal round of the 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championship for Women, the memory of their exhibition loss against Les Bleues in Paris 11-days ago lingers.

“We didn’t play like we wanted to play,” said Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream). “We were sluggish, even a bit lazy.”

“They played really well and we didn’t,” echoed Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx). “We didn’t play with the level of focus and energy that was required to beat them on their home court. Losing a game is going to open your eyes,” Moore continued. “For us, we don’t want to be reminded of those lessons by taking a loss. But it happened. And we’re going to make the most of it by taking those feelings and motivation into tomorrow’s game.”

When reminded how poorly she and teammate Diana Taurasi shot (Phoenix Mercury), Moore laughed. “We probably set a record for worst shooting from the two of us combined.  When we’re playing against each other, we’ve no problem. When we’re teammates….” She laughed again. “I’m confident we’ll score the ball. When we come together and are locked in on defense, our offense will take care of itself.”

The player who could be the game changer for the U.S. arrived after the loss in Paris: Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury). 

“We have been somewhat of a different team since she got here,” said U.S. head Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut). “She’s able to impact the game in ways that others cannot. On the offensive end you have to use more than one player to guard her, and that helps our shooters. On the defensive end you can take more chances because you know if you make a mistake she’s back there to clean everything up. I think it’s a real source of comfort for our players knowing that she’s back there,” he added.

Sizing up the opposition, Auriemma pointed to two French players he called “exceptional”: point guard Céline Dumerc and center Sandrine Gruda. ”Céline has been a round for a long time. She knows the game; she’s very smart [and she’s] very much in control of her team. Even without scoring,” said Auriemma, “she does so much.

“Sandrine may be playing the best basketball I’ve seen her play in a long time,” Auriemma continued.  “She’s very confident; she’s active. She’s just a very difficult match up for people. Those two are capable of winning the game. But, what they did in Paris was some other people made shots. And that, usually, is the difference. You spend so much time worrying about their two stars, and then all of a sudden, someone that you’re not paying attention to starts making a couple of shots. They’re a good team because everybody complements each other very well. But Celine and Sandrine are the two players that really make them dangerous.”

To counter the potent French duo, the Americans are looking to commit to the tough, defensive identity expected by their head coach. “We’re focused on making it extremely hard on getting the ball inside and then keeping them off the free throw line,” explained Moore. “Making them take hard shots from the perimeter and, obviously, not giving up threes. It’s a hard thing to do against good teams, but I think we definitely have the abilities on this team to do that. And it’s really fun when we play that way – we get off to the races in transition and the fun stuff starts.”

The “fun stuff” has taken a little longer to get to, acknowledged Auriemma, because of the change in the tournament’s format – this year teams play fewer games. “I was watching some film from the World Championship semifinals and the finals [in 2010],” he explained, “and we’d had seven games and we looked like this,” he said, snapsping his fingers sharply several times. “Now we’ve had three. But that’s the format.”

Since there is no easy way to, in his words, “get better quickly,” he’s cut down on what he’s expecting the team to do.  “You have less things that you have to worry about, he explained. “You just give them a few things and try and get really good at those few things. We’ve gotten better every game we’ve played, and that’s a great sign.”

As for France, asked after Wednesday’s 61-48 French quarterfinal play-in rout of Brazil whether the Paris exhibition win over the U.S. 11 days ago gave her team confidence that they could defeat the Americans again in the quarterfinal, Dumerc replied without hesitation — in the negative. “None. None at all,” she said, sizing up her side’s chances of pulling off the upset.”

Some might criticize Dumerc’s approach as defeatist, but anyone who would say so could not know Dumerc. France’s go-to player in the clutch, Dumerc never gives up, and France won’t do so on Friday night either, she said forcefully. Rather, she was being realistic. “[The USA] will not play like that again. Maya [Moore] and Diana [Taurasi] will not play like that again. They will have practiced. They will have watched their mistakes. They will have adjusted to what we did [in Paris],” she said.

“We will play,” she said. “We will do our best. But to win? It will not happen.”

She is probably right, for the reasons she stated and others. First, when it comes to personnel, as Auriemma pointed out, the U.S. did not have Griner in France. France, itself, will be getting back a key player in Endy Miyem, who played a little less than eight minutes in Paris, before injuring her Achilles in the game against the Americans. She was sidelined for much of the tournament until Wednesday’s play-in game, when she appeared for a little less than 22 minutes but in relatively brief stints, with frequent trips back to the locker room for icing and retaping in-between. Miyem, who supplied just six points, was clearly not yet in top form.

“She is a crucial [piece] for us … when she is at her best,” said Dumerc of Miyem. “It is so important that we get her back … to health.”

Miyem, a somewhat undersized forward-center is indeed a valuable piece of the puzzle for France, especially when playing alongside, rather than in relief of Gruda. She gives France a second inside option against teams who opt to double Gruda. Still, at just 6-2, she is no match for Brittney Griner, whose presence by itself is bound to make this a significantly different game from the Paris friendly.

Gruda has been outstanding in preliminary-round play in Ankara, currently ranking fifth in the tournament in scoring at 15 points per game. That’s just two pegs behind Moore, who is tied for second on the tournament leaderboard at 16 points per game, but who had one of the worst games of her career against France in Paris, missing chippies inside and going 1/4 from beyond the arc, to finish with 11 points all but three of which came at the foul line. Taurasi, who had an equally bad day at the office in Paris and couldn’t seem to knock down a three to save herself, going 3/13 from the floor and 1/5 from distance to finish with 10 points. Taurasi, however, currently ranks third in the championship in 3-point field-goal percentage at 58.3 percent and is in a four-way tie for second in 3-point makes per game (2.3). Moore is hot on her heels in sixth place, shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc and is one of the three players tied with Taurasi in 3-point makes.

The highest-ranking French player? Dumerc, in a nine-way tie for 20th place, shooting 33.3 percent from long distance.

Perhaps the most important factor, given the uncharacteristically poor U.S. rebounding in Paris (the significantly shorter French out-rebounded the U.S., 44-38, in Paris) is the significant improvement of the Americans on the backboards over the course of the tournament. Tina Charles, Griner and Moore are all near the top of the tournament’s leaderboard, ranking fifth, eighth and 10th, with 8.7, 8.0 and 7.7 rebounds per game respectively. That might not sound like much, but consider the limited minutes played by the American starters thanks to the depth of Team USA. The numbers translate to 16.8, 17.5 and 13.3 rebounds per 40 minutes played.

How does that compare to the French? Gruda is the only French player who ranks anywhere in the top 20 when it comes to rebounds, and she weighs in in a tie with Griner for eighth place with eight boards per game. However, Gruda has had to play more than 30 minutes per game to get them, meaning her numbers work out to 10.6 rebounds per 40 minutes played — not bad, but certainly no comparison to the U.S. power on the backboards.

Indeed, Team USA currently stands at No. 1 overall in the tournament in both scoring (100 points per game) and rebounding (59.3 rebounds per game). France ranks seventh in scoring (65.3 points per game), though several of its contests in Ankara turned into low-scoring defensive duels, and fifth on the boards (40.3 rebounds per game).

Look for France to try to make this another of those low-scoring, defense-dominated games, to limit offensive boards, and to keep the U.S. out of its fast-break and turn them into a half-court team. Whether that will be enough, even if the French are successful, seems doubtful … but then again, that’s why the play the game on the hardwood.


Of Note:


Though his focus is on the upcoming game, Auriemma took a moment to reflect on sharing this tournament with his former player from Connecticut, Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), the only U.S player to compete in four World Championships.

“I don’t want to speak for her, but chances are this is her last World Championship,” said Auriemma. “She’s been incredibly consistent; she’s been a great leader through all this. She’s someone that everyone on the team respects. And when she left college, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to get a chance to coach her for another eight-year period.’ That’s just too unrealistic.

“But to be put back in that space – to be back in that time – and to see how good she was….,”‘ Auriemma continued. “What people sometimes forget about Sue was that she was always great in the absolute biggest games. Like, in her senior year, the whole season she was just moving along, keeping everybody in the right place at the right time, and then, in the NCAA tournament, boom! She has the ability to raise the level of her game to meet the occasion.

“So, whether it’s this year or in the Olympics, I am going to savor the minutes because I think she’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player. I’m going to finish my coaching career feeling like the luckiest person because most people only get to coach a person for four years and here I got to coach her for eight years.”


U.S. defeats Australia, 82-70; Faces Spain for gold

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

When U.S. point guard Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) says that Australia has “an identity within themselves and they really play to it,” she was speaking not just as a four-time veteran of the World Championship, but as someone who has played with and against Australian players throughout her professional career in the WNBA and abroad. That identity — of fierce, physical play mixed with tactical savvy and timely threes — was on display last night as the Opals went toe-to-toe United States in the Women’s World Championship semi-finals at Fenerbahce Arena in Istanbul, Turkey.

Having witnessed United States’ center Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) thoroughly dominated the French in the quarterfinals, the Opals targeted Griner hoping to get her into foul trouble. That worked, as she picked up two quick fouls and was limited to six scoreless minutes in the first half. Unfortunately for the Australians, as head coach Joyce Brendan noted, “Tina Charles stepped up big time and played a major role in getting her team across the line.”

Charles’ 18 points and Maya Moore’s (Minnesota Lynx) 16, combined with a suffocating defense that limited the Australians to 34-percent shooting, helped earn the U.S. team an 82-70 win and a place in the gold-medal game.

“Tonight you saw the experience that Tina has,” said Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), the American head coach. “Tina’s doing a lot of little things that [don’t] show on the box score, whether it’s getting through a screen, making a pass to somebody, tipping the ball, or keep[ing] possessions alive. I’m not surprised, but I couldn’t be happier for Tina.”

It was a game in which the United States led for all but 4.20 minutes, but never seemed comfortably in control. The Australians cut into what at times ballooned to a 19 point-lead several times, coming within 6 points in the third quarter and forcing Auriemma to call a time out.

“It wasn’t him screaming his head off at us,” said Moore of the huddle, “because we know at this point what needs to be done. We know what we need to do; we know the flow of the game, where we messed up. He just tries to give us things to focus on moving forward. We were a little angry that we were getting beat on defense, and we took that energy and made sure we were connected when we were on the defensive end.

“It’s what we hung our hat on. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in, sometimes there’s a call you don’t agree with, you get an offensive foul and things are getting a just little crazy and you have to get your defense to get you out of those holes to give your opportunity to get your flow back on offense. Whenever we made our runs, it was when our defense was really solid and connected.”

Next up: The US will face Spain in a match-up that echoes the one many anticipated would happen in the Men’s World Championship this past month, but didn’t come to fruition when the Spanish men’s team failed to make the final. Asked if the women’s team was feeling any extra motivation or pressure about the matchup, center Sancho Lyttle (Atlanta Dream) answered with a smile. “I think for me it’s good that I don’t speak a lot of Spanish so I don’t know what’s going on half the time. I think I play differently than them because I don’t know what they’re saying when they’re trying to hype each other up. So I don’t think the pressure was on me – I just came to play. I’m the level one on the team.”

Lyttle is just one of many players known to the American players.

“I played with three members of the Spanish National team,” Moore said. “I’m familiar with their pace, their competitiveness and their skill. They have some quick guards and the post players are pretty versatile themselves, with great hands and great passing ability. They’ll crash the offensive boards. We’re going to have our hands full, but I think collectively, 1-12, we have what it takes to overcome their 12. But, it’s going to be a heck of a ball game and I’m excited to play.”

Full Court.com

Women’s World Cup: Australia takes bronze in 74-44 rout of Turkish hosts

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

Lee Michelson, Helen Wheelock contributer

To the disappointment of a crowd of 7,000 highly partisan fans at Fenerbahçe Arena in Istanbul, Australia roared out to a 17-0 lead over the host country Turkey and never looked back, finishing with a 74-44 win to take the bronze medal at the 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championship for Women on Sunday.

“I’m very proud of the way this team played together and fought,” said Australian guard Penny Taylor (Phoenix Mercury). “They put their bodies on the line and gave it everything they got.”

Taylor was particularly impressed with the 25-year-old post, Marianne Tolo. “She just stepped up unbelievably. I’ve known her over the years, she’s a great player, but it’s hard sometimes to measure her against the best in the world. This tournament, we can say she’s really one of the best post players in the world right now. Had we had Lauren (Jackson) or Liz (Cambage), she may not have had that opportunity. I’m so proud that she took it with both hands.”

Tolo led Australia in the medal game with 21 points on phenomenal 73-percent (8-11) field-goal shooting. She also added six rebounds, an assist and a steal.

Taylor also finished in double figure with 13 points, plus nine assists, five boards and two steals, while Cayla Francis chipped in 11 points, five boards and three assists.

Nevriye Yilmaz, who posted 13 points and four rebounds, was the only Turkish player to finish in double figures. Lara Sanders (formerly, LaToya Pringle) had performed well for Turkey earlier in the tournament, but struggled on this night, posted just eight oints on 2-6 from the field. Sanders did lead the team in rebounding, however, with eight boards, something Turkey could have used a lot more of, as they were out-rebounded by the Opals, 51-23 overall, and 19-8 on the offensive glass, an advantage Australia turned into 20 second-chance points.

The Australian defense also forced the Turks into 17 turnovers, resulting in 23 points for Oz; meanwhile, Australia coughed the ball up just nine times, though Turkey made the most of those errors, turning them into 13 points.

It was obvious that the Turkish team was disappointed and emotionally exhausted after their tournament run, but there was pride, too. “I’d like to congratulate the Australians on their win tonight,” said Turkish coach Ceyhun Yildizoglu. “They fought really hard to get this win, and it was a particularly powerful performance coming off their loss to the United States last night. For us it was just the opposite. We weren’t able to bounce back from the game last night (Turkey’s loss to Spain).”

“To participate in a tournament like this was a great thing,” added Turkish forward Şaziye İvegin. “We did not achieve the goals that we set out, but nonetheless it was a great achievement. Against a team like Australia, we came out and we were down 17 points and they’re a very tough team to come back against in that kind of situation. We tried to do our very best to represent our country and I congratulate my teammates on giving everything they have. I also want to thank our fans for the support they provided us. It was truly fantastic support and I hope they’re pleased with the basketball that they saw. We’re a team that has had increasing success year after year and hopefully, in the years to come at World Championships and Olympics we will continue to have increasing levels of success.

Turkey’s performance in this tournament was a major accomplishment for a team that had never before made it as far as the semifinals in the Women’s World Basketball Championship. Likewise, though Australia is no stranger to the medal stand at either the World Championship or the Olympics, the bronze-medal finish marked a significant improvement from the Opals’ fate at the 2010 World Championship, when Australia was upset by the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and forced to settle out of the money in fifth place.

In Sunday’s classification games, Canada topped China, 61-53, to finish in fifth place and France beat Serbia, 88-74, for seventh place.

Of Note In a special ceremony following the bronze-medal game against Australia, veteran Turkish point guard Esmeral Tunçluer was honored for her 14 years of service to the Turkish National Team. Tunçluer has appeared in 274 games for Turkey, including tonight’s, scoring 2,005 points, and has been a cornerstone in the steady progress Turkish women’s basketball has made in recent years. She helped lead Turkey to a fifth-place finish at the 2012 Olympic Games, the first-ever women’s basketball Olympic appearance for Turkey, as well as to the bronze medal at 2013’s Eurobasket Women.

In addition, she has been floor general for several different Turkish club teams, guiding her clubs to 10 separate Turkish Women’s Basketball League Championships, five Turkish Cups, and six President’s Cups between 2001 and 2013.

The veteran guard will retire followig the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, according to a statement released by the Turkish Basketball Federation, “but she has plenty left to contribute on and off the court.”

“Since the first day she dedicated herself to basketball, she has been a very special player with her personality, with her approach to being a teammate , and being a team player,” said Senior Women’s National Team head coach Ceyhun Yildizoglu. “Not just on the court, but off the court, as a teammate, as a friend, with her dependability, she’s a very, very valuable player.”

Tunçluer, who was born in the Netherlands, came to Turkey when she was seven years old with her older sister to continue her education. Five years later, she visisted the Beskitas athletic facilities and soon fell in love with the game of basketball.

“When I went with my friends to play at the Besiktas facilities, the coaches there saw me and with their offer I started basketball,” Tunçlluer recalled. “That was a turning point in my life. From that day until now it’s been exactly 22 years.”

Tunçluer, who can play both the 1 and the 2 positions, said that the success both she and the Turkish National Team have enjoyed are no overnight phenomena, but rather the product of more than a decade of hard work and investment in the process. She looks forward to starting a family after hanging up her hightops.

“I’d really want it,” Tunçluer said when asked if she would want her child to become a basketball player. “Of course, I’d really want that.”

Women’s World Cup: USA sweeps to gold with 77-64 win over Spain, October 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

Written with Lee Michelson

After a semifinal game against Australia that offered some moments of drama and tension, the United States dismissed any doubts early on as to who would emerge victorious in their gold-medal match against Spain at the Fenerbahçhe Arena in Istanbul, Sunday.

Tina Charles (New York Liberty) opened the scoring with a layup, Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) scored the first of her team-high 18-points on a silky smooth three off a dish from Charles, and before Spain could say “hola,” the United States surged to a 13-point (18-5) lead. From there, the lead at times ballooned to as many as 25, and Spain never got closer than 7, as the Americans rolled to a 77-64 victory to earn their second consecutive Women’s World Basketball Championship gold medal under coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), and their ninth World Championship gold overall. With the win, the Americans secured their berth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s very difficult to win these championships,” said Auriemma. “There’s a lot of great teams and they’re getting better all the time. For us to be able to do that, even though everybody expects us to do it, that doesn’t make it easier. Yesterday’s Australia’s game and today’s game against Spain were perfect examples of how difficult this is to win.

“I’m really proud of our team,” he continued. “These guys just finished playing in the WNBA and a lot of them are getting ready to go play in Europe. It’s a tremendous sacrifice that they made for their country and I can’t be more proud of them.”

The United States’ offense was at times elegant – as when Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) bulleted a court-long past to Seimone Augustus for one of her game-high assists – and at times muscular, as when Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) ended the first quarter with a crowd-pleasing drive to the basket.

“I just tried to be aggressive and get in there and do my thing,” said Whalen, who was one of five Americans in double figures, finishing with 12 points. “That’s what I try to do for the team — come in and provide a spark. Each night that might be something different. It might be rebounding. It might be points. Tonight, it was driving and putting their guards back on their heels. I was able to do that and get in there, and help keep things flowing for us.”

“She’s a tank,” said Taurasi of Whalen. “When she gets going, nobody can stop her. Those points were huge for us.”

“We wanted to come out and jump on them as early as possible,” said Whalen of the game plan against Spain, who had had to battle hard on Saturday to get past Turkey into the final. Mission accomplished.

The U.S. did its best work early on, with Moore, who won tournament MVP honors, knocking down three treys and a mid-range jumper in the first five minutes alone. When Moore wasn’t lobbing them in from downtown, Charles and Brittney Griner were busy inside, dropping in layups, as the Spaniards at first seemed powerless to stop them. The Americans shot a sizzling 71 percent (12-17) from the field in the opening quarter to take a 28-17 edge by the end of one.

After firing off four unanswered points to end the first quarter, the U.S. then reeled off an 11-0 run to open the second. Though the U.S. shooting cooled a bit from their, Team USA finished having shot 61 percent (20-33) from the field for the opening half and 54 percent (32-59) for the game as a whole.

With the exception of a late-game stretch when the Americans seemed to take their foot off the pedal, allowing Spain to outscore them 14-2 and to whittle the U.S. lead from 25 points to 13, the U.S defense was top form, too, holding the Spaniards to 27 percent shooting in the first half and 31 percent for the game. Taurasi drew the assignment of defending potent guard Alba Torrens, who had scorched Turkey for 28 points in Saturday’s semifinal. On Sunday, Taurasi and her relievers held Torrens scoreless for the first half and to 4-for-14 shooting on the night. The Spanish sharpshooter did not notch her first points until late in the third period, when she finally netted a three, and though she finished with 10 points, by that time, the game was in hand for the Americans.

“She’s a great player,” said Taurasi of Torrens, who together with Spain’s Sancho Lyttle, joined Moore, Griner and Australian Penny Taylor on the All-Tournament Team. “I’ve played against her a million times and we’re going to be teammates in Russia. I just really concentrated on doing my best to make it hard for her.”

The U.S. took a 19-point lead (48-29) with them to the locker room at the break. Despite the substantial U.S. lead, the Spaniards never gave up, however, playing with physicality and passion throughout. They traded baskets with the U.S. throughout the third period. At one point, Spaniard Laura Nicholls, hit the deck hard, for the second time in as many minutes, as she and Griner ran up court. After being whistled for a personal foul, Nicholls angrily advanced on Griner, appearing ready to fight. Griner stood her ground though restrained by several teammates. Though cooler heads prevailed and no fisticuffs ensued, a replay showed that Nicholls’ tumble had been precipitated when Griner caught Nicholls her with an elbow. The two were assessed offsetting technicals, and Spanish coach Lucas Mondelo later chalked the incident up to two players both wanting, and trying hard, to win.

Play resumed, with neither side gaining or losing ground, the U.S. lead still at 19 (67-48) heading into the final frame.

The U.S. briefly extended its lead back to 25 points (75-50) in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, but from there, on the edge of victory, they seemed to lose focus, while Spain, capitalizing on its offensive rebounding — though the U.S. controlled the defensive glass to the tune of 26-14, Spain dominated the offensive boards, 18-4, and turned that advantage into 17 second-chance points to just five for the Americans — as well as a series of U.S. fouls and turnovers took off on an 14-2 run to cut the margin to 13 points (77-64) with a minute and 20 seconds remaining.

Griner attempted to ice the American victory with a jam in the final seconds, but was thwarted by a foul. (Spain’s Nicholls showed she, too, could dunk during warm-ups, but did not attempt one during the game.)

Four U.S. players joined Moore in double figures with Whalen adding 12 points, Brittney Griner 11, and Seimone Augustus and Tina Charles 10 apiece. Charles also led the U.S. campaign on the backboards with eight rebounds; Augustus hauled down four.

Scoring apart, the most effective U.S. player in this game, as measured by her +/- score, was Taurasi, who finished the day at +24. The numbers bear testament to her efforts as a defender and facilitator as Taurasi finished the day with just six points, but eight assists, to her credit.

Lyttle led the way for Spain with 16 points plus 11 rebounds. Anna Cruz posted 11; Nicholls finished with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, plus two assists and two steals, and Torrens chipped in 10 points. Despite the final loss, the silver medal marked an historic accomplishment for Spain, which had never previously reached the Women’s World Championship final.

With Sunday’s gold medal, her third, to go with the bronze from 2006, Sue Bird became the most decorated athlete, male or female, in FIBA World Championship history. Asked about the record Bird replied,“I know when I hear 2006 [when the USA returned with the bronze medal], it still makes me mad.

“But,” she continued, “I don’t really know how to feel about it right now, to be honest. It’s kind of surreal. I’ve had a lot of great coaches along the way; some amazing teammates along the way. I definitely didn’t do this by myself. I just tried to be whatever it was that my team needed me to be and try to be consistent at that. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to do it for this long.”

Moore had a similar reaction to winning World Championship MVP honors to go along with her WNBA MVP hardware for 2014.

“It hasn’t really hit me,” Moore said. “I’m just excited that we won. If one of us is talking about what MVP means, it means our team won. So, that’s what I’m most excited about. I’m just grateful to be able to contribute to this phenomenal team. Just the legacy of USA Basketball is unparalleled.”


Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Michelle Edwards — The Miracle of “Ice”

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Helen

If someone had told a young Michelle Edwards that 2014 would find her preparing to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, she might have reacted the same way she did when she got the news in 2013: Disbelief. But, perhaps, for a different reason than you might expect.

Growing up in Boston in the mid-70s, Edwards’ sport of choice didn’t sound like the squeak of sneakers on a court, but rather the “swoosh” of skis hurtling down a mountain.

“I actually was playing tennis and skiing,” explained Edwards. “It’s funny because my initial dream was to become the first African-American downhill skier.”

Basketball didn’t become a focus until her teens.

“I used to always hang out with my older brother Rodney. We would walk from the house to the park, and the first piece of the park was slides, the swings and the sand. I would stop there where the girls were and he would continue to the basketball court. But, when you get to the age of 14, or whenever you start noticing boys, you say, ‘Hey, what’s going on there where the boys are?’ So I followed my brother over there one day and I just sat on the sidelines and watched.”

There were girls playing, she recalled, but as much as she wanted to play with them, she was too shy to approach them. But she sure did want to play – and when she did, boy, could she play! In a 1998 Los Angeles Times article, Sean Jensen recaptured those playground battles:

“To a chorus of oohs and occasional ha-has, she broke down foes with head fakes, crossover dribbles and hesitations. Sometimes she lost, most of the time she won. Concrete casualties and courtside crowds alike called her by the nickname she had earned: Ice.

“‘She lived up to that name because she was so smooth,” Chris Jones said, recalling his playground battles with Ice. ‘Everything she did on the blacktop was cold.'”

The play of this young hotshot spread, and local coaches and organizers took notice.

”This guy named Mark Oliver, he came to where I’m from, from Roxbury , and he basically said, ‘Hey, you want to come and maybe play in this league where I need you to try out?'” Edwards recalled.

Since she had never played organized basketball before, there was a steep, and occasionally painful, learning curve.

“I was so fast that sometimes I would always shoot the basket and miss layups. They were laughing at me, because I missed layups and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this feels horrible, but am I going to quit or am I going to suck it up and keep going?’  I learned that lesson very early on.”

Those lessons served her well during her career at Boston’s Cathedral High School (‘84), where she became the first girl in Massachusetts history to score over 2000 points. Her skills brought her to the attention of Alfreda Harris, a legend in the Boston-area basketball scene. At Harris’ invitation, Edwards joined an AAU team which, in turn, brought her game to the attention of national college programs. It seemed that the 5-9 guard had a career at Virginia or USC in her future.

Then Edwards encountered a woman who was trying to build something new at Iowa University — second-year coach C. Vivian Stringer — and suddenly the Midwest was her destination.

“It was like a clean slate,” Edwards told the Des Moines Register. “Let’s see what could happen.”

Together they transformed the Hawkeyes’ program and Edwards redefined her nickname “Ice” with her ability to hit the clutch shot. Following a freshman season in which she helped lead Iowa to a 20-8 record, the Hawkeyes made back-to-back NCAA Tournament regional final appearances (1987, 1988) and held a No. 1 national ranking. During Edwards’ four seasons at Iowa, the Hawkeyes went 97-22, with Edwards leading the team in scoring in each of her final three seasons, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors and finishing her career with a total of 1,821 points, 431 assists and  235 steals.  In 1990 she became the first and, so far, only Hawkeye to have her jersey retired.

After college, Edwards played professionally in Italy from 1988-97, earning three Italian League All-Star Game MVP awards in the process. She also who won a bronze medal at the 1991 Pan-American Games, once again under Stringer’s leadership.

When the WNBA began in 1997, “I was really getting ready to take my shoes off,” admitted Edwards. “I was tired of going overseas and not being with my friends and family.  And I wanted to start trying to work on my Plan B.”

But Edwards couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of that inaugural season. Tapped by the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers in the inaugural 1997 draft, Edwards ultimately played a total of five seasons (1997-2001) in the WNBA, spending her first three seasons with the Rockers, them moving to the Storm after the first three games of the 2000 season. She finished her pro career with a career average of 9.7 points and 2.8 assists per game.

“The first group that came in, we understood the importance of putting a product on the floor that not only women want to come see, but families want to come see,” recalled Edwards. She also remembered the time and energy her colleagues put into laying a strong, community-based foundation for the WNBA.

“I think young ladies today just want to play basketball and don’t really care as much about the business scheme and the long-term goals of the league,” said Edwards.

If she could say one thing to the players of today, it would be simple: “Care about your sport.  Be passionate about your craft.  Work on your skills — not only on the floor, but off the floor. I mean if you’re not connecting with the fans, how’re they going to know who you are? Why would they come to support you?”

In 2002, Edwards reunited with coach Stringer at Rutgers, serving in a variety of roles, including radio analyst, assistant coach and currently as the director of basketball operations. Reflecting back on her long relationship with coach Stringer, Edwards flashes on a memory from her freshman year.

“We had 22,127 fans crammed into Carver-Hawkeye Arena.  We were playing Ohio State, and coach –- basically her vision when she first came was to fill the arena — and she did it in that season.  And I was just thinking, ‘Man, this lady is incredible and powerful.’ That game was so intense; I’ll never forget it. We lost, but there’s a shot of me taking a layup and my face just looked like I was just trying so hard, like I just want to make it. But I bricked it. I remember her saying, ‘Do you see that picture? That is how intense that game was and that is the level of play we need to operate on every time we hit the floor.’”

“I just love the way [Coach Stringer] operates in terms of just commanding excellence, no matter what we’re talking about, what she’s dealing with,” continued Edwards. “As a player, of course, you know your coach one way, but then when you come back and work for her, it’s different. But it’s similar because all of the same principles are pretty much at hand: ‘I demand the best, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get it done.’ And we have the same competitive mentality. But also,” Edwards added with a grin, “it’s nice to see her smile and tell jokes, because, at least when I played, I didn’t see that side of her you know,”

As for the upcoming induction ceremony, Ice still shakes her head in disbelief.

“When I first heard, I was like, ‘What?!’ Then I went online to see who else had been inducted — Lin [Dunn], Yolanda [Griffith] and Jazz [Perazic]….  I mean, Lin Dunn was my coach [with the Seattle Storm]! Then I thought about all the great players that have not gotten in. Then I started thinking back on my career asking myself, ‘Was I really that good?’ It blows my mind, when you really dissect it, because I’ve played with some great players.  And some great players came after me. I’m definitely humbled and feel blessed. I hope my teammates can come because I really want to thank them ….”

Edwards took a deep breath and regrouped, as she looked ahead to next month’s formal induction ceremony.

“I’m going to take it one day at a time and try my best to just take it all in.”

This was the first in a series of profiles on the six players, coaches and contributors who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 14 as part of the Induction Class of 2014. The 1976 U.S. Olympic Team will also be honored as “Trailblazers of the Game.”