Archive for the Profiles Category

Lucy’s Legacy: A Profile of Lusia Harris-Stewart

Posted in NCAA/College, Profiles, WNBA/Olympics with tags , , , , , on September 21, 2008 by Helen

Question: Who scored the first-ever basket in Olympic women’s basketball competition?
Answer: Lusia Harris-Stewart, USA, 1976.

It would come as no surprise Harris-Stewart’s name didn’t leap to mind. Since she’s a quiet and self-effacing woman, teammate Ann Meyers had to point out the historical significance of her basket.

The 6’3” Harris-Stewart is considered by many to be the prototypical modern center. Born February 10, 1955, in Minter City, Miss., she grew up watching her equally tall older sister win high school championships. “Most people don’t realize how organized [girls’] basketball was in Mississippi during that time,” she explained. “In my area, it was a money-drawing event.”

“I used to love watching her play,” said Harris-Stewart of her sister. “She could really handle that ball. When I went to Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, we had the same coach, Conway Stewart. That was so awesome, to be able to play for someone who loved the game.” Harris-Stewart remembers coach Stewart talking about the game and keeping a cool head. “He talked to me a whole lot about keeping my composure and not to do things to be thrown out of a game. Because,” she admitted with a sly smile, “even though I was a shy person, I would get you back on the court.” 

During high school, Harris-Stewart was honored as a three-time all-conference and all-region player (1971-1973) and a two-time all-state selection (1972-73), and she once scored a school record 46 points in one game. Though her team didn’t win a high school championship, the trip to play in the state tournament in Jackson made an indelible impression. “Never having the chance to leave Greenwood, it was a big thing to travel two hours away and stay in a hotel for the first time. That was real nice.”

Harris-Stewart understood that with her graduation in 1973, her competitive basketball days were over. She intended to get her degree at Alcorn State when opportunity, nudged by the passage of Title IX, came knocking. Nearby Delta State University, had just lured legendary high school coach Margaret Wade out of retirement to resurrect a basketball program shut down since the 1920s. They were looking for players and, said Harris-Stewart, “the recruiter, Melvin Hemphill came to my school and said, ‘We’re starting a women’s basketball team, and we want you to play on that team.’”

The invitation was significant not simply because it offered her an opportunity to continue playing but, as Pam Grundy and Susan Shackelford point out in their book “Shattering the Glass,” because Harris-Stewart was black, Delta State was a white school and Mississippi had been a fierce battleground during the Civil Rights era. In keeping with her character, Harris-Stewart doesn’t make much of being the only black player on the team. “Sometimes the fans would say, you know, things in the stands,” she told Grundy and Shackelford, “but my focus was to score that basket. And sometimes it got to be pretty rough in the games… Everybody said that I did a lot of smiling, but I had a few to say that I was pretty physical under the boards.”

Delta State lost only three games that first year, but the last loss prevented them from participating in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) tournament. “Oh, wow,” Harris-Stewart remembers thinking. “’We just missed out on another trip!’ I was so upset. I said, ‘I bet we won’t miss out on it next year!’”

Harris made good on her prediction. 

In the second year of the program’s existence, Delta State traveled to Harrisonburg, Va., for the tournament, advancing to the finals where they met the three-time defending champions, the Mighty Macs of Immaculata. “Everyone was talking about the Mighty Macs. And those nuns were beating on those buckets,” laughed Harris-Stewart, recalling the famous galvanized buckets Immaculata fans would bang as noisemakers. “We said, ‘Okay, this is our time to shine.’ Everybody kept asking each other, ‘Are you ready?’ ‘Yeah, I’m ready. You?’”

Delta State defeated Immaculata 94-78, repeated the win in 1976, and in 1977 defeated Louisiana State University for a third consecutive championship. Harris-Stewart was MVP of the tournament each of those years and finished her collegiate career with 2,981 points (25.9 ppg) and 1,662 rebounds (14.4 rpg). A three-time Kodak All-American, she helped lead the Lady Statesmen to an overall record of 109-6. In her final season, she won the inaugural Broderick Award as the nation’s outstanding female collegiate basketball player as well the Honda Broderick Cup as the best collegiate athlete in any sport.

It was during her collegiate career that she earned a gold medal as a member of the 1975 U.S. Pan American team, and led the United States in both scoring and rebounding as they earned a silver medal in the 1976 Olympic Games. Inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (1990), Harris-Stewart was is one of only a handful of women in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1992) and was part of the first class of inductees into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (1999). This past October, she was honored during the Women’s Sports Foundation dinner as she entered the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

“The game has changed so much,” reflected Harris-Stewart, who’s taught and coached at the college and high school level since graduating. “It’s the outlook from the athlete’s point of view. We have scholarships. When you get out of college there are endorsements, there are professional teams. All of that is there. But it wasn’t there [back] then. I think that we played for the love of the game. It really was just for the love of the game. Most people say, ‘Well, why aren’t you rich?’ And I say, ‘How could I be rich?’” she laughed, “I didn’t get paid for playing.”

At her core, it’s the opportunities and experiences of her playing days that Stewart-Harris revels in, not the statistics. “I look back on my career, and I think about all the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met,” she reflected, “and it’s been great; and it’s all been because of basketball.”

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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)

You are not permitted to copy, reproduce, distribute, publish, enter into a database, display, perform, modify, create derivative works, transmit, or in any way exploit any part of this website, except that you may download material from this website for your own personal use. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, you may not distribute any part of this website over any network, including a local area network, nor sell or offer it for sale. This website does not endorse website duplication for offline browsing.

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

Adia Barnes – Seattle Storm

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

Reviewing her WNBA career since being drafted by Sacramento in 1998, Adia Barnes is characteristically frank. “A few years later, you wouldn’t think I’d even be in the league.”

Consider, in her first season Barnes played in every game – starting 16. Since then, she’s watched her playing time diminish as she’s been traded or waived by four different teams. Yet the 2002 season found Barnes in the starting lineup for the Seattle Storm.

“[Storm coach] Linn Dunn gave me an opportunity,” explains Barnes, “and it was a good fit. A lot of why people are successful in the WNBA is the situation they’re in,” notes Barnes. “They used me well.”

In Seattle, Barnes became a specialist. “They were expecting me to shut people down on defense,” she explains. “We didn’t need any other scorer because there was Sue (Bird) and Lauren Jackson. And,” Barnes adds dryly, “they did that very well.”

That she’s persisted speaks to Barnes’ ability to transform herself. At Arizona (Tuscon) she played post. Realizing that 5’11’ wouldn’t cut in the pros, she converted to guard. The transition has been challenging, especially considering the WNBA’s preseason is time coaches focus on building chemistry, teaching plays, and integrating new players. “Working on your skills,” Barnes says with a laugh, “is the least of their concerns. I was years behind.”

Months spent overseas developed both her skills and confidence. “It’s a different mind set,” explains Barnes. “Facing the basket you can do a lot more – it’s exciting. I think my attitude this year,” says 25-year old, “has been, ‘Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? Few women in the world are able to be in this situation. What do I have to lose?'”

Nothing, as it turned out. The Storm surprised everyone by reaching the playoffs in only their third year of existence. Barnes acknowledges that, while there was an enormous pressure on first round pick Bird (“All the hype was true,” says Barnes, “She proved it.”), there was little on the team. “We were picked second to last in the west. No one’s expectations were high.”

Barnes anticipates that will change next season – even taking into account the unexpected resignation of Dunn. “We have a great group of girls, great team chemistry. The players — we make it happen,” says Barnes. “We’ve had a taste of what it’s like and we want more.”

Ashley Battle – University of Connecticut

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

University of Connecticut red-shirt sophomore Ashley Battle’s on-court identity is as mercurial as her game. At six feet, she’s not quite tall enough to play the post, yet lacks the ball handling skills expected of guards. Instead, the Pittsburgh native has forged her own identity, using her tremendous quickness, defensive ferocity and lightening speed to energize her teammates and fluster opponents. Initially a starter, Battle now comes off the bench, allowing her to dissect the opposing team and plan her attack.

“You’re looking for weaknesses,” explained Battle. “If they’re careless when they pass the ball, maybe you step in and get a steal. If they’re always driving right and pulling up, you want to take that away. I look for how they’re playing people defensively and where I can take advantage.”

Battle’s biggest weapon – her speed — has also been her biggest challenge. “Sometimes I’m too fast for myself,” she admitted with a laugh. “I don’t have any brakes. My freshman year, I would just go out there and run around like a chicken with their head cut off. I’d get tired really easily, and I wouldn’t know why.” Experience and proper medication – last year it was discovered she had asthma – has taught the Business Major to pick and choose when and where to exert her energy. Her efforts bore fruit this season, earning Battle Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors.

As a young UConn team entered the post-season, Battle, 20, brings much needed tournament experience. Sidelined by an elbow injury, she witnessed UConn’s 2001 run to the Final Four, and participated in the undefeated run to the 2002 National Championship. “Last year,” she reflected, “I knew nobody could beat us. This year, we’re beatable,” A loss in the Big East Tournament not only proved that – ending a 31-0 run – but also inspired whispers that UConn might be taking winning for granted.

“Honestly,” said Battle, “I don’t pay much attention to what people are saying, because I know it comes from within us. We control our destiny right now. We have a lot to prove. We’re not taking the tournament lightly,” added Battle. “We are the defending champions, and we’re going to act like it.”

Sue Bird – Seattle Storm

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

Nothing in Sue Bird’s sophomore season’s numbers, so similar to those of her rookie year as the Seattle Storm’s point guard, would suggest that anything was physically amiss. Playing in all 34 games, Bird ranked fourth in the WNBA in minutes played, second in the league in assists and, though she averaged a couple of points less per game, ranked first amongst point guards in scoring.

And yet, through most of the year, she was hampered by near debilitating knee pain caused by patellar chondromalacia, likely related to the ACL tear Bird suffered during her freshman year at UConn. September surgery and several months of rehabilitation find Bird greeting the start of the WNBA pain free and with an almost audible sigh of relief. “You have no idea. It’s unbelievable,” says Bird. “I feel great out there now.” She’s also eager to apply lessons learned to this year’s WNBA campaign.

“Early on last season,” recalls Bird, “I had a lot of trouble with knowing I could do certain things and not being able to do them. Having people wondering what’s wrong with me and not being able to explain. It was tough. But I look back and – even though as a team we didn’t make the playoffs and personally I was injured -I learned a lot. Because I couldn’t do the things physically, I had to make up for them on the mental side of things. Mentally, I’m a stronger player.”

With less teams in the league, that strength will come in handy. “I’ve only been in this league three years and I’ve already played against Nikki Teasley 8-9-10 times,” says Bird with a laugh. “You definitely start to learn the players, so that’s when it becomes even more of a mental game. I know what Dawn Staley can do, I know what PeeWee Johnson can do… and yet, it’s still hard to stop them. Just like they know what I do. It becomes a mental game at that point.”

Fortunately, Bird believes the addition of Betty Lennox, Sherri Sam and Janell Burse to the team have made an immediate impact. “Last year and the year before we always had a hard time scoring,” explains Bird. “This year we have more weapons. I think we have on of the best starting five out there. When we’re on, we can score 100 points like that. And our defense gets better and better. We’re most definitely looking to win a Championship. Obviously the first step is to win the Western Conference and get home court advantage. I think those are realistic goals for us.”

Of course, with those goals, comes pressure, something Bird’s four years at the University of Connecticut prepared her for. “I think your character comes out when you are in a pressure situation – on or off the court. It’s all about how you handle yourself when you face those situations. Hopefully, you’re a good athlete and person and you rise to the occasion.” Ironically, “rising to the occasion,” often results in off-court distractions, something she also became familiar with at UConn, but on a slightly different scale.

“Although college basketball has a larger following than the WNBA, the WNBA is on a national scale. So at Connecticut, yes, you’re being pulled in a lot of different directions, but it was all in Connecticut. Whereas in the WNBA, I can name a million and one things that I’ve done. I mean my rookie year, whether it was the ESPY awards (in California) or the Women’s Sports Foundation dinner (in NYC). You have an opportunity for an endorsement deal, different promotional things the WNBA does.”

“The attitude I have is – good or bad, whatever happens off the court, you can’t really let it affect you on the court. My honest belief is that if you take care of things on the court for your team and as an individual, good things will happen for you.”

Rushia Brown – Cleveland Rockers

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

For Cleveland Rockers Rushia Brown the end of the WNBA season simply meant she flew to Europe and played a second nine-month season. But the years of non-stop basketball has taken its toll. “I’m exhausted,” admits the 29 year-old forward/center. So, resisting the lure of European money, Brown is trying something completely new: a vacation. “I’ve got to be smarter about the choices I make. I’m not as young as I was and I need to start making some decisions about keeping up my body.”

Her only problem? “I honestly don’t know where I’m going to put my stuff,” laughs Brown. After seven years of living out of a suitcase, there’s no place she calls home.

More than likely she’ll turn to those responsible for putting her into the predicament: friends and family who urged Brown not to give up on playing in the WNBA. Not invited to the 1997 league-selected combine, Brown attended local tryouts in Charlotte, but missed the final cut. Discouraged but determined, she traveled to Cleveland, where she was selected as a developmental player. Then, in June of 1997, Brown was activated and earned a place on the inaugural Rockers team. Now Brown counts herself as part of the veteran core of players that has taken Cleveland to the playoffs three out of the past five seasons.

Reflecting on that first season, Brown remembers how fragile the infant league seemed, despite the enthusiastic crowds. “There had been attempts in the past to have a women’s league and things never panned out. I just wanted to stay grounded and enjoy every minute.”

Being grounded and consistent has been Brown’s hallmark through the Rockers’ ups and downs. This season a stellar regular season was abruptly ended by a first round playoff loss to Charlotte. Inexperience, says Brown, was the deciding factor. “But,” she reflects, “just to know you played and didn’t give up is a positive thing for us to hold on to for next season.

The talent and drive of the young players on her team excites Brown. Australian rookie Penny Taylor is only 20. Second year point guard Helen Darling is just 23, and 2000 first-round draft pick Ann Wauters turns 21 in October. “My 24 is not even Ann’s 20,” reflects a bemused Brown. “She’s got moves and experience that I didn’t have. It’s scary to think of how she’ll develop.”

Of course, Brown is not ready to abdicate role as the crafty veteran. “What you lack in talent,” she says slyly, “you can make up for with smarts.”

Shameka Christon – Arkansas

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

The start of basketball in the SEC has its rituals. “Whenever we’re on campus,” says Arkansas’ star forward Shameka Christon, “people ask, ‘How good are you guys?’ And we say, ‘We’re really good.’ Then they ask, ‘But what about Tennessee?'” she says with a laugh. “Cause that’s the first name that comes up.”

Christon and her teammates take pride participating in what many consider the toughest basketball conference. “We’re playing against the top teams in the country,” says the 6’1″ forward. “It’s just going to motivate us.”

Not that Christon needs much more motivation. Last year, she was Arkansas’ leading scorer with 16.7 ppg and second rebounder with 6.2 rpg. She led the team in blocked shots and was third in steals.

“Everything we have asked of her and told her would happen so far has happened,” said Coach Gary Blair. “Two NCAA tournaments, all-SEC two years and two summers representing the USA. Now we need an all-America year out of her, and for Shameka to become a leader on this team.”

Christon has embraced those expectations. “You have to learn to deal with the pressure – because if you’re a leader on the team and you’re cracking under pressure, the rest of the team is going to fall.”

Arkansas is a young team, and Christon realizes players are looking to her and seniors India Lewis and Dana Cherry, (both fellow Arkansanians), to set an example. “They’re watching you. [Being] a great leader means doing what is needed for your team. Taking control when things are bad – either on or off the court. Making sure your team is staying together and communicating.”

With a goal of reaching the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen, Christon can barely contain her excitement as she considers the potential of the five incoming freshman – including highly touted Arkansas native Ruby Vaden.

“They are tremendous,” she says. “They work hard, they want to learn, they are VERY talented. What I love most about them is their heart,” explains Christon. “They’re dedicated to what they do. They don’t give up, whatever the circumstances. This is the best talent we’ve had at Arkansas for a long time. I just can’t wait to see what the end results will be.”