Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sweet 16 - 16 Women College B-Ballers From History You Should Know

Will you be watching tonight's NCAA Women's Basketball Final? No matter who you're cheering for, it looks to be a fantastic match up between two excellent teams. UCONN and Notre Dame have both played quite well all season!

Just in time to celebrate the achievement of these talented young women, I've put together a list of just a few of the many other amazing women who've played an important role in helping women's college basketball players get where they are today.

1. Senda Berenson
While she was not a basketball player herself, she was instrumental for bringing the sport to women in college, and because of her work with the students of Smith College, her rules for women's basketball were published and shared widely, fueling the boom of women's college teams.

Interestingly, and indicative of the beliefs of the time regarding women and team sports, during the first women's match at Smith, Berenson had to agree that no men would be present to assuage the worries of the faculty that this would present their young ladies in an unfavorable light.

2. Clara Gregory Baer
Around the same time that Senda Berenson was working with the women of Smith College in the northeast, Clara Gregory Baer was doing the same at Newcomb College (now part of Tulane) in the south. In fact, she wrote and published her rules of "basket-ball" several years before Berenson. Interestingly, because of a misunderstanding between Baer and James Naismith (the inventor of basketball), Baer's rules included designated regions for players, which limited their movement during the game. These rules, having been incorporated into the unified rules of women's basketball, remained in effect in many parts of the country until the early 1960s. Baer's writings also included descriptions of the jump shot and one-handed shot, although neither actually appeared in play until the 1930s.

3. L. Margaret Wade
In 1930 and 1931, Wade played basketball for Delta State Teacher's College, where she studied health and physical education. During her career at Delta State, the team's record was 28-5-2. In only her second season there, she was made team captain, a role she also held in her junior year, when she was also named the MVP.

Sadly, that same year Delta State officials succumbed to pressures from outside sources claiming the game was "too strenuous for women" and dropped the program, leaving the players with nothing to show for all their hard work. Margaret and her teammates were so upset they burned their uniforms in protest.

After graduation, Wade played semi-professionally, and took a position as a physical education teacher at the high school level. where she coached several successful basketball programs. In 1959, she took an assistant professor position with Delta State and served as chair of the Women's Physical Education Department.

In 1973, likely a result of Title IX, Delta University asked Wade to help resurrect the women's basketball program. She happily agreed, and she led the Lady Statesmen to three consecutive national championships at the AIAW Women's Basketball Tournament, in 1975, 1976 and 1977. Her success as coach of Delta State brought women's college basketball to a wider public audience and she is credited with helping spark the surge of interest through out the 1970s.

4 & 5. Faye & Raye Wilson
While many colleges were cutting women's basketball programs, hundreds of amateur teams popped up around the country, holding matches under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union. These teams found it beneficial to operate within the AAU, since the AIAW hadn't been formed yet and the NCAA did not sanction women's basketball until 1982. The AAU gave them the structure needed to hold regular matches and national championships, while allowing the colleges to turn to private business to pay for scholarships, uniforms, and travel expenses.

From 1953-58 the Hutcherson Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist College were the undisputed queens the basketball court, tallying a 131-game winning streak and capturing 4 AAU national titles by 1958. Two of the brightest stars on this team full of excellent players were twin sisters Faye and Raye Wilson.

Faye and Raye and the rest of their team had to overcome varied obstacles to achieve their basketball success. Not only did much of society believe basketball was too rough for young women, their fellow classmates at the Baptist college were concerned about their moral standing. "They went to chapel and prayed for us every day,” said Raye. “They thought we were more tempted to commit a sin because we wore shorts."

6. Nera White
The fact that the coach of the winning Wayland Baptist College team called the star of their rival team the "greatest woman basketball player in history" should give you a clue to how amazing an athlete Nera White truly was.

She was an AAU All-American for fifteen years in a row, from 1955 to 1969. During that time, she led the Nashville Business College team to ten AAU national championships, and was the AAU MVP nine times.

While it may sound as though she was in college longer than even I was, that's not the case. Like the Hutcherson Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist College, the Nashville Business College team was part of the AAU. Players did not have to be enrolled at the school to play for the team. Still, I'm counting her as part of the women's college basketball dream team because of her incredible talent, and because so few college basketball programs existed at the time, forcing these women to take positions with these programs only loosely affiliated with schools.

She wasn't just a basketball star. She was a versatile softballer, playing center field, shortstop, and pitcher, honored as All-World in 1959 and 1965 for the ASA Fast Pitch softball team. She was the first woman to circle the bases in a remarkable ten seconds.

7. Joan Crawford
Crawford began her college basketball career at Clarendon Junior College. During her two years there, she helped to lead her team to the quarterfinals of the AAU national tournament in 1957, and she was an AAU All-American.

After she graduated with her associates degree, she was sought after by a number of AAU teams affiliated with four-year colleges. She was offered a scholarship to Wayland Baptist University, but chose to go to Nashville Business College instead. She began as a student, taking classes in the business program. But she dropped that and took a position as supervisor in the mail facility. She continued playing with the team for twelve seasons. Every year of her time there, she was named to the All-American team, and helped her team win the AAU National Championship ten times. She and Nera White became the dominant duo of the era. "We knew almost what each other was going to do. We didn't have to look or aim. A lot of times, in a fast break, I'd just throw it down to Nera, she'd just throw it down to me."

8. Lucia Harris
Shortly after the reinstatement of the women's basketball program at Delta State, Lucia Harris joined the Lady Statesmen, and helped lead the team to a 16-2 record. In her second year, the team made it all the way to the AIAW final, where they faced the powerhouse Immaculata University, three-time champions looking for their fourth win. Instead, Harris and her team served them their walking papers. Harris scored 32 points and 16 rebounds, for a final score of 90-81.

In 1975, Delta State was the only college team with an undefeated record. Harris lead the team in four games at the national tournament and was named as the tournament's MVP, scoring 138 points and 63 rebounds. And the nation was able to watch her do it all, since that year, for the first time in history, the championship game was televised nationally.

During the 1975-76 season, Harris continued to dominate the leader boards with a 31.2 points per game average, and scoring 1,060 points. Her team was invited to play a match in the Madison Square Garden, one of the first women's basketball game ever played there. Now a senior, Harris was the star of the show, scoring 47 points. Her team continued to excel, and again reached the AIAW finals, this time blasting the Louisiana State University team 68-55, winning their third consecutive title. Again, Harris was named the MVP.

Her overall college career record was 109–6, and she finished with 2,981 points and 1,662 rebounds, with a 25.9 average points per game. She graduated holding fifteen out of eighteen records at Delta State, and was awarded the first Broderick Cup in 1977.

9. Nancy Lieberman
The mid- to late-70s was an exciting era for women's college basketball. Increased national attention coupled with the passage of Title IX gave women's hoops a huge boost in support and viability. One of the powerhouses was Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. And Nancy Lieberman was one of their top stars, earning herself the name "Lady Magic."

She attended ODU from 1976 to 1980, and in that time she lead her team to two consecutive AIAW national championships, and one WNIT championship in 1978. In each of the four years she was at ODU, she led the team with 2,430 points, 1,167 rebounds, with a college average of 18.1 points per game. Her school records of 961 assists and 562 steals still stand today.

She was the first woman to win the prestigious Wade Trophy, named after Margaret Wade, two years in a row. After college, she was the first woman to play in a men's professional basketball league when she joined the USBL's Springfield Fame in 1986.

10. Ann Meyers
The same time Nancy Lieberman was ruling the court at ODU, Ann Meyers was dominating at UCLA, having been recruited with a unprecedented 4-year athletic scholarship, the first of any university. And for UCLA it was a very valuable contribution. In her Junior year, she recorded the first "quadruple-double" in NCAA D1 history, an amazing occurrence when a player accumulates a double digit number total in four of five categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots) -- with 20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals. It's really no surprise that the Bruins won the AIAW national championship that year.

During her time at UCLA, she became the first woman basketball player to earn four All America titles. She also took home the Broderick Cup in 1978.

11. Carol Blazejowski
Unlike many college basketball players, Blazejowski didn't begin playing the game until her senior year in high school. But she was a natural, and playing for Montclair State College in New Jersey, she went on to develop her talent at the jump shot (which she'd only seen performed by professionals she watched on television), and became one of the highest female scorers in the history of the sport.

Known as "The Blaze," she led the country in scoring, with a 33.5 points per game average in the 1976-77 season, and 38.6 points per game in 1977-78. Sports Illustrated called her "the most relentlessly exciting performer in the history of women's basketball."

In 1978, she set a Madison Square Garden record for women or men, scoring 52 points in a game against Queens College. In her final three games with Montclair she scored a remarkable 40 or more points. That same year, she won the first ever Wade Trophy. After graduation, she played for the Allentown Crestettes, an AAU team, where she became the leading scorer on the national team and was chosen for the ultimately doomed US Olympics Team.

12. Anne Donovan
In 1979 Anne Donovan had the distinction of being the most heavily recruited female college player, receiving offers from more than 250 schools. She decided to follow in the footsteps of her college hoops hero, Nancy Lieberman, and attend Old Dominion University, where she helped lead the Lady Monarchs to the 1979-80 AIAW championship.

While at ODU, she set school records left and right, with 2,719 points, 1,976 rebounds, and 801 blocked shots, as well as 38 seasonal games played, and an over all .640 seasonal field goal average. In fact, she averaged a "double-double" for her entire career, with 20 points and 14.5 rebounds per game average. Her NCAA record of 801 career blocked shots still stands, and her record of 50 points scored in a single game is still a school record.

In 1982, the NCAA began its attempt to wrestle the college championship from the AIAW, and the first two Final Fours were hosted by ODU, who played in both, losing to Kansas State in 1982, and Louisiana Tech in 1983. Donovan was the first female Naismith College Player of the Year in 1983.

13. Pam Kelly
The first NCAA women's basketball tournament was held in 1982, and won by the Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech, led by the amazing Pam Kelly. Championships weren't new to them, though, as she'd already led them to the AIAW Championship in 1981.

During her time at LA Tech, she was the only woman named to the All-American team three years in a row, 1980, 1981, and 1982. At graduation, she held 24 school records, and had helped her team win 143 of 153 games played during her career, driving them to a national record of 54 straight wins during their two championship seasons. She is still the all-team leading player, with 2,979 points and 1,511 rebounds.

In 1982, Kelly was awarded the celebrated Wade Trophy, and in 1984, she was enshrined in the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, and her #41 jersey was retired.

14. Cheryl Miller
Cheryl Miller set tons of records during her four years at the University of Southern California, and led the Trojans to a 122-20 record and NCAA championships in 1983 and 1984, where she was the tournament MVP for both years.

During her college career at USC, she scored 3,018 career points, placing her sixth all-time in NCAA history, and was named All-American for all four years. In fact, her career rebounding mark of 1,534 ranks third in NCAA history.

She held several Trojan career records, including 414 assists, 321 blocked shots, 3,018 points, 1,534 rebounds, 1,159 field goals made, 700 free throws made, 128 games played, and 462 steals, of which all but two still stand today.

Miller was named Naismith College Player of the Year three times, while also earning the Wade Trophy and Broderick Cup. In 1986, her #31 jersey was the first basketball (male or female) jersey to be retired by USC.

15. Sheryl Swoopes
Sheryl Swoope's college basketball career got off to a bit of a rocky start. She had originally been recruited by the University of Texas, but left almost immediately after she arrived on campus, instead enrolling at South Plains College, where she played basketball for two years.

In 1992, though, she transferred to Texas Tech, where she played out the remaining two years of her college career. During her senior season she helped lead the team to the 1993 NCAA championship. In her short time at Texas Tech, she set a slew of national records. She hit 47 points, breaking the best single-game championship scoring record set by Bill Walton, and 177 points in five games, setting the record for scoring in a championship series. She also set the record for the most field goals in the championship, hitting 16 overall.

Her school records are just as impressive. In the 1992-93 season, she scored 955 points, with a career average of 24.9 points per game. She made three triple-doubles, and twenty-three double-doubles, 14 of which she made during her record-setting senior year.

In 1993, she was awarded the Naismith College Player of the Year trophy, and the Women's Sports Foundation named her the 1993 Sportswoman of the Year.

16. Chamique Holdsclaw
Chamique Holdsclaw played basketball for the University of Tennessee from 1995 to 1999. She helped the Lady Vols become the first to win three consecutive NCAA championships, in 1996, 1997 and 1998, and three SEC tournaments in 1996, 1997, and 1999.

While at Tennessee, she earned 3,025 points and 1,295 rebounds, setting the school's all-time record, male or female. She was the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in both the SEC and the NCAA's women's history, with 470 points and 197 rebounds.

She was the fifth woman in NCAA history to have 3,000 points, and one of only five women's college players to ever accumulate over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists, and 300 steals. She graduated with a career a remarkable win/loss record of 134-17.

In 1998 and 1999, she received the Naismith trophy, and in 1999, she was awarded the prestigious James E. Sullivan prize as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

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For more information:

WNBA History of Women's Basketball

Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Timeline

About: Women's History - Women's Basketball Timeline

"Hoop Queens," Texas Monthly - a brilliant piece about the women of the AAU

"Nashville Business College NCAA Women's Basketball," The Tennessean

Flying Queens documentary

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