Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Auriemma Leads Six Inductees Into Women's Basketball Hall of Fame

By Mel Greenberg

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
_ Thirty years after Geno Auriemma first became involved in coaching female players as an assistant Bishop McDevitt High in suburban Philadelphia, the successful Connecticut mentor led a group of six inductees Saturday night into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown and took the McDevitt job under Jim Foster in 1976, will also be enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in September.

The group of inductees in Saturday night’s ceremony at the Historic Tennessee Theatre became the eighth class to be enshrined since the women’s hoops hall opened its doors here in 1999.

Three former all-Americans _ Texas’ Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, Georgia’s Katrina MClain Johnson, and Louisiana Tech’s Janice Lawrence Braxton were among the other five honorees that also included Bentley coach Barbara Stevens and former international sensation Paula Goncalves da Silva of Brazil.

Auriemma, whose Huskies have won five NCAA titles, was escorted to the podium by former UConn athletic director John Toner, who hired him in 1985 when Auriemma had been an assistant women’s coach at Virginia.

Meghan Pattyson-Culmo, who starred at Central Bucks East and played at Connecticut for Auriemma in the early 1990s, introduced him in one of six video presentations involving the honorees.

“The guy is incredibly, incredibly generous,” she said. “I’ve never met anybody who is more generous with his time, with his money, anything he can share with you, he will, especially with those people who have played for him.

“We’re always very thankful when Geno picks up the tab,” Pattyson-Cuomo quipped. “After all, he’s making big money these days.

“He’s incredibly loyal,” she continued. “He would do anything for those people who are close to him.

“And he’s also incredibly funny. He’s a great joke teller. He’s a fun guy to be around. And I think the one thing the players learn when you graduate from Connecticut you have one relationship with him as a player. And often times you don’t like what he tells you on the court. But when you come back and spend time with him, which we all do, and we spend lots of time telling jokes and telling stories and there’s nothing better.

“He said something once during my freshman year,’” Pattyson-Culmo recalled. “This team is a circle. We don’t let anyone in, we don’t let anyone out. And that remains true to this day. And the circle continues to grow.

“It’s spread across the country now, to different parts of the world. The Connecticut family is huge and very close knit, and that’s all because of him.”

Then Auriemma took the podium for his acceptance speech, mixing his well-known blend of humor with a sincere appreciation of the moment as he was visibly moved while making his remarks.

“First off, who’s ever in charge of those flowers, try to lower then,” Auriemma said of the massive display lined along the stage. “People looking up at me right now, I don’t want any eulogies when I’m finished. I don’t like being around all these flowers. Especially after spending a brief stint in the hospital.

Auriemma then praised the group of performers who sang and danced to Broadway tunes to start the induction ceremony.

“I would love to coach that team any day, anywhere, anytime that performed for us,” he said.

“It’s one thing to be nominated for the Hall of Fame and to have some sort of anticipation toward being inducted into the Hall of Fame. And it’s quite another to actually have to stand before a group of people and explain how it feels. Because it’s very difficult to put in words what goes through your mind at times like this.

“You could probably do a better job at the end of the night at midnight or 1 o’clock than you could right now,” Auriemma said.

“I’ll try to give you a brief synopsis of what has led to this moment,” Auriemma said.

“It is an incredible honor to be thought of in the same breath as
the people who have been introduced to you as former recipients, who I have had the pleasure and privilege of coaching against, and having lots of my career who I have tremendous, tremendous respect for who I have gotten to know as coaches and individuals, and who have made me a little bit better because I have gotten to know them and because I’ve had to compete against them in one way or another.”

Pausing for a moment, Auriemma then looked down at the audience and quickly added, “Especially you Pat,” noting the longtime rivalry with Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

“Next would be the class I’m being inducted with,” Auriemma continued. “It’s appropriate I think that we have two coaches and four players. The four players, fortunately for me, I’ve had the opportunity to watch them play, and coach against them in some instances.

“Great players. There’s a reason coaches get to be Hall of Famers. Because there’s Hall of Fame players. And I’ve always said there’s two kinds of coaches in this world. Those who coach great players and ex-coaches,” Auriemma caused the crowd to laugh.

“The players that are being inducted are Hall of Famers because of what they did on the court. And it’s ironic that Clarissa’s coach (Jody Conradt) is also a Hall of Famer, and that Janice’s coach (Leon Barmore) is a Hall of Famer, and it’s only a matter of time, or at least it should be that Katrina’s coach, Andy Landers, should be in the Hall of Fame.

“And Paula was the coach of her team, so I don’t have to say anything about her.

“In reality, it’s the players who pull the strings. If you got players that peform the way they can perform and you got the right players, than you as a coach get to experience the rewards of their performance.

“That’s why I think a coach being inducted into a Hall of Fame is very difficult to fully appreciate what that means. As a coach you’re dependent on so many others,” Auriemma said.

“I wish I could stand here and talk about every single person that’s touched my life from the time I first picked up a basketball,” Auriemma said. “But time doesn’t allow for that.

“At this point in my life, time only allows for me to look back at the things that I’ve done and the people I’ve done them with.”

Auriemma concluded his remarks playing on the theme of the women’s hall.

“Every time I look at this trophy I’m going to think back to the past and the people that have touched my life, and that have helped me get here,” he said.

“And I’m going to look at the present and see where I am and know that I am blessed to be more fortunate than I ever dreamed of,” Auriemma continued.

“And look to the future and hope that I can have as much of an impact on people as the people that I thank every day have had on me.”


-- Mel

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