By Mel Greenberg
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. _
When new Louisiana State women’s coach Van Chancellor was growing up in Louisville, Miss., he used to watch future Boston Celtics star Bailey Howell play basketball at Mississippi State.
Back then, the last thing that was ever on Chancellor’s mind was that one day he would be rubbing shoulders with Bailey on the way to his own induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
But that’s what occurred here Thursday night at a dinner leading to Friday night’s ceremonies at which Chancellor and other notables took their places as the inductee class of 2007.
``I just couldn’t ever allow myself to think that this could happen to me,’’ Chancellor told Howell, a member of the 1997 inductee class who was one of Chancellor's two escorts to the podium at Friday night's induction ceremony.
The other was Tennesseee coach Pat Summitt, herself both a Women's Basketball and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer as Chancelor has now become.
``I picked the coach who beat me more than any other,'' Chancellor told the crowd here of his rivalry in the Southeastern Conference with Summitt's teams.
That was before he left Oxford, Miss., in 1997 to lead the Houston Comets to the first four WNBA titles and also the United States to an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.
Now Summitt and Chancellor will be competing on the sidelines again when his Tigers meet her Lady Vols.
Besides Chancellor, this years enshrinement group included the late basketball referee Marvin “Mendy” Rudolph, a native of Philadelphia; Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, the 1966 NCAA champion Texas Western team, and international coaches Pedro Ferrandiz of Spain and Mirko Novosel of Croatia.
``To be from a small country farm in Mississippi and be in this Hall of Fame, means so much to be,’’ Chancellor said at Friday morning’s press conference introducing the inductees.
Jackson credited the teams he coached for his enshrinement.
``This is representative of such great teams that I coached and had such great success,” said Jackson, who has led the Chicago Bulls, featuring Michael Jordan, to six NBA titles, and the Lakers to three straight titles (2000-2002).
``If anyone has trouble understanding what Van Chancellor said, I can translate,’’ joked Williams, who led the Tar Heels to the 2005 NCAA and also produced Final Four teams at Kansas. Williams befriended Chancellor when the two were at the induction announcement in April.
"We went to play golf at Pebble Beach together," Williams said Friday morning. "He's the only guy I've ever seen get through the security gate on an airplane using a Sam's Club card for identification.''
Rudolph’s widow Susan accepted on his Friday night.
Chancellor, who one time considered becoming a preacher, made it on the third try after narrowly losing out among women’s nominees in 2005 to the late LSU coach Sue Gunter and last year to Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown.
``You know, when he took the Mississippi job, it was after Sue Gunter had turned it down. So their paths have crossed a few times,” said Chancellor’s wife Betty. The couple recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.
Chancellor has a habit of tossing hard candy to crowds at courtside before Comets' games and Mrs. Chancellor was asked before the ceremony whether he might do the same
A longtime coach of the Lady Rebels (1978-97) who regular were nationally ranked and layed in NCAA tournaments, Chancellor raised his profile in 1997 when he became the Comets coach.
He stayed long enough to become the last of the original eight WNBA coaches when he retired from the Comets last winter just before they were sold by the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
“After we won that fourth title, my assistant Kevin Cook, said, `That’s going to get you the Olympic (women’s) job,’” Chancellor related before Friday morning’s press conferences.
“But I said there’s no way ever that a man is going to get that job,’” Chancellor said.
He got the job and took the USA Basketball squad, whose stars included Temple’s Dawn Staley, to a world championship and then to an Olympic gold medal in 2004 at the games in Athens, Greece.
``After we did that, Kevin said, `Now that’s getting you into the Hall of Fame.’
“And then I allowed myself to think about it a little bit,” said Chancellor, who is already a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville.
Soon after Chancellor retired from the pros, he returned to the collegiate ranks in April, taking the job that became open after Pokey Chatman’s controversial exit.
"Betty had said I don't know how long you're going to enjoy retirement," Chancellor said.
"Everything happened so fast," Chancellor continued. "I got named to the Hall of Fame, LSU called and offered the job with a five year deal, and then we quickly sold the house in Houston.
"I told the buyer, `You'll be able to say you live in a house once owned by a Hall of Famer.'
The college game is great. I'm rejuvenated. The players are like sponges -- they want to absorb everything,'' Chancellor said.
``As far as what happened before, I said we're not talking about it. We're moving forard and looking ahead.''
Chatman, a former LSU star and former assistant to Gunter, took the Tigers to three straight Women’s Final Fours and accepted the 2005 Naismith honor in Gunter’s memory.
But she quit last March amid charges of engaging in improper sexual relations with former players just before last season’s NCAA tournament got under way.
The Tigers, however, advanced to the Women’s Final Four again, and lost to Rutgers in the national semifinals.
Chancellor is taking over a squad that continues to be a national threat this season.
"People ask if there's pressure to win a title with all five starters back. Well, I've already coached a bunch of games with pressure attached. I'm used to it.'' xxxxxxxxxxx
Could Tennessee and Connecticut be ready to play again after Summitt had cancelled the 13-year-old rivalry in June?
Oops, sorry, wrong UConn. Before Friday night's ceremonies, Summitt was seen during the cocktail reception in an animated conversation with Huskies men's coach Jim Calhoun.
They were probably discussing at least one thing they both have in common. xxxxxxxxxxx
The Hall of Fame is launching a 30-city story to bring exhibits and inter-active events to places around the country. Former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, who was inducted a year ago, will be associated with the events.
The tour will be known as HHX (Hoop Hall Experience).
Incidentally, two of the public relations representsatives ofr HHX are Teri Washington, a former NBA staffer who also was a media contact for the Georgia Tech women, and Karen Frascona, a former PR person with the NBA Philadelphia 76ers, who also was a women's media contact at Villanova and Auburn.
Wilkins said he watches the WNBA
"Oh yeah, I have daughters,'' he said.
"(Detroit Shock coach Bill) Laimbeer's teams are good and they might win it again," Wilkins noted. "You know what, a lot of times women are easier to coach than the guys. You don't have to deal with all the egos you have to with the guys. They just want to get out there -- they want to play hard, they want to win, and they're more gentle in a sense. xxxxxxxxxxx
Speaking of Laimbeer, what does former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly think of Laimbeer's success in the WNBA?
Laimbeer was a member of the NBA "Bady Boys" champions coached by Daly.
"Guess what?" Daly grinned Friday night. "He's probably going to end up here in the Hall of Fame like Chancellor and it's not going to be for anything he did under me." -- Mel