Guru's Report: Auriemma and Summitt Laud Immaculata Movie
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA -- Though many schools have already begun practice leading to Friday night's formerly official Midnight Madness date off a recent NCAA rules change a year ago allowing a jump start under certain conditions, another kind of madness is gaining momentum heading into Friday night's "Red Carpet" advance screening of The Mighty Macs, about Hall of Fame coach Cathy Rush and the first national championship won by Immaculata College in 1972.
The event will be held at the Kimmel Center a week before the film makes its public debut in theaters Oct. 21.
Attire calls for Black Tie but attendees can also dress in apparel relating to the 1970s considering the three-year title run by the Mighty Macs from 1971-72 through 1973-74.
Former star center Theresa Grentz, who went on to a successful coaching career at Rutgers and Illinois, while also being the 1992 Olympic coach, has been back at her alma mater as a vice president for fundraising for the school, which several years ago went co-ed allowing enrollment by men.
Never one to be technically challenged, Grentz this week to promote the film joined the twitter world at @TheresaGrentz12. Another twitter account offering tidbits is from the actual movie marketing group at @MightyMacsMovie.
Grentz and Rush will be part of the media blitz on Friday beginning with an afternoon press conference. For once local personality Phil Martelli, the longtime coach of the St. Joseph's men's team, is going to be eclipsed by his wife Judy (nee Marra), who was also a member of the squad.
Apparently, two of the local major sports team, unfortunately, are contributing to the '70s theme. You see back then Immaculata's first achievement was a relative secret, except for the West Chester paper in the western suburbs and the local radio station, until after the Macs won the first title.
"We flew out standby but after we won we came home first class," former Penn State coach Rene (nee Muth) Portland, another star of the team, said over the years.
Well, it so happens that in those days the pro teams here were really awful so with Immaculata becoming a champion, the local papers in the city, which were then more plentiful, jumped on the bandwagon.
So here we are re-visiting that period of time and this week we find that the NFL Eagles have really hit a low and the magnificent Phillies in one week's time came up real short in the postseason of the promise that magnificence created with a 102 wins.
The original inspiration for the movie, directed by Tim Chambers, who stayed the course to keep the film on track after shooting was completed in 2007, was when the Women's Final Four was held here in 2000 at the now-called Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.
The movie was originally targeted for the 2008, the year Rush entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. It began filming under the title of Our Lady of Victory, a pre-game prayer used by the team, until it was re-named under the current title to enhance marketing and landing a distributor.
The Immaculata run, off its famed rivalry with Queens College in New York City, also caused former Inquirer sports editor Jay Searcy when he came from the Times to suggest to some young everyjob at the paper to launch a weekly Top 20 poll, which two years later became part of the Associated Press collegiate report.
Many former Immaculata stars such as Grentz, and current WNBA Washington Mystics assistant coach Marianne Stanley, have cameos in the movie and area collegiate stars also were extras in the cast such as former Penn star Diana Caramanico and the Guru believes he spotted Katie Davis, who was a star on the Villanova team that won the 2003 Big East title.
One of the co-producers is Pat Croce, who oversaw the NBA 76ers during their last run to glory. And considering the recently concluded WNBA season resulted in the Minnesota Lynx's first championship, what many of you youngsters don't know is that Groce, when with the NBA squad, was an eager advocate to try to land a franchise here, but Minnesota beat out the 76ers' bid the year the Lynx became an expansion team.
WIP sports radio host Anthony Gargano developed and wrote the screenplay.
Hall of Fame coaches Geno Auriemma, the UConn mentor who grew up in the Northwest suburb of Norristown, and Tennessee's Pat Summitt, whose upset in the finals of the 1977 AIAW tournament in, believe it or not, Minneapolis, signaled the end of the Rush's stint, have ties in their growth to the era.
Summitt's was just mentioned, while Auriemma worked at Rush's camps in the summer in the Pocono Mountains in upstate Pennsylvania.
Both of them recently communicated support of the movie, which has been on the sneak preview circuit at colleges, and permission was given the Guru by all parties, as it probably has been to others, to publish here.
Auriemma: "We are all indebted to the Mighty Macs for what women's basketball is today. Tim Chambers has done a wonderful job of capturing the essence of Cathy Rush and the story, and I hope everyone will be in theaters Oct. 21 to see the movie.
"Even though we will have started practice by then, I'm going to do everything possible to see The Mighty Macs on opening weekend. This movie is worth the effort."
Summitt: "What a great film about a special time in the growth of women's intercollegiate athletics. I fondly recall when we played the Immaculata Mighty Macs in the Consolation of the Finals of the 1977 `Final Four' in Minneapolis, Minn.
"They were the veteran team who had hung all the banners .. we were a newcomer on the national scene. Our Lady Vol team was elated to have defeated one of the toughest teams in women's hoops in the 1970s! This film is a `must watch' and truly captures the spirt of the awesome team the Mighty Macs were back in the day."
As a postscript from back then, the Guru later this week will re-tell the famous tale of Texas visiting Immaculata at a local high school in the suburbs on a cold winter night that 1976-77 season and the Guru after the game-- a win by the home team -- taking then-athletic director Donna Lopiano and then-fledgling Longhorns coach Jody Conradt out for some hospitality and what transpired when the dorms, which Texas was staying, had been locked at the stroke of midnight.
Could Fallout From the NBA's Labor Woes Impact The WNBA?
Meanwhile, on another note, what post-championship surprise might occur this time in the WNBA after another successful season for the league.
Over the years there has always been something. Last autumn saw the announced exit of Donna Lopiano as the second president followed by a search that lasted almost to the start of the 15th anniversary season before Laurel Richie was chosen from the marketing world to climb aboard and take control of the wheelhouse.
There was also the ambush dispatch of former New York Liberty longtime executive Carol Blazejowski followed several weeks later by the cost-cutting jettison of general manager Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank by the Washington Mystics.
In previous years, there was the Sacramento Monarchs breakup and the move of the three-time champion Detroit Shock to Tulsa, preceded by the Charlotte Sting and storied Houston Comets franchises, to name a few.
While Richie and other league operatives in the WNBA have expressed confidence in the league moving forward despite the current lockout and labor crisis in the NBA, one needs to hope that one fallout won't be a hastened exit of NBA commissioner David Stern, who had already said this would be the last negotiations on his watch.
As long as Stern has been running the show, the WNBA through all its retraction and growth pains has survived to the chagrin of doomsayers. (See the $10 million Boost Mobile deal late in the season.)
Though there is somewhat quasi independency these days in terms of ownerships not tied to NBA teams, one has to be leery who the NBA ownership crowd would anoint following a Stern exit.
Deputy commissioner Adam Silver has been a strong supporter over the years but anyone else becomes a wait-and-see proposition if a change comes about.