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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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame -- I: Katrina McClain Biography

(Guru's note: The Guru hasn't transcribed yet or taking the easy way hadn't had a chance to see if Katrina McClain has an electronic copy of her acceptance speech. The All Americans Red Heads acceptance is under this post. Having found the draft copy submitted for the print program for induction night as requested by McClain to be written, what is in the program follows this note. Most of her speech hit the points in the bio though she also praised her high school coach and the late North Carolina State coach Kay Yow. But here's what the Guru penned for the folks in Massachusetts. ),

By Mel Greenberg

Growing up in Charleston, S.C., Katrina McClain never met a team sport she didn't like, but the one that endured and brought her acclaim has now enabled her a year later to follow her prestigious Georgia roommate Teresa Edwards into enshrinement here in Springfield, Mass., at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Both Lady Bulldogs earned their inductions in their first years as eligible candidates, which longtime Georgia coach Andy Landers, himself a Women's Basketball Hall of Famer, said establishes their worth as all-time greats.
Former Georgia men's sensation Dominique Wilkins is also enshrined here in Springfield.

"I was just a tomboy and loved sports," McClain, a 6-2 forward center, recalled. "It wasn't just basketball. I played baseball, football with the guys. Whatever sports were being played, that was what I was doing."

But in playing at a good friend's court across the street, the sport with the hoop and McClain quickly became closely attached to each other.

"That was the place to be. I was always getting picked first and I was getting to be very good at it so basketball became the dominant sport."

From those moments McClain grew up to become one of the all-time dominant individuals as a women's player inside the paint, first as an All-State star at St. Andrews High, next as an All-American at Georgia, and then internationally.

By the time she graduated Georgia in 1987, McClain had become national player of the year. She went on to star internationally playing on three Olympic teams and winning two gold medals along with a bronze.

"Being at Georgia, working those games, her nickname was 'Tree' and she just grabbed everything," recalled Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Anne Meyers Drysdale, who broadcast many of McClain's games, including the fabled 1995-96 run to the Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games.

"She was always around the basket. It was always difficult to stop her. She had lots of terrific moves. She was one of the first post players we saw with that kind of footwork and athleticism," Meyers Drysdale added.

"And then when she played USA Basketball, she dominated the world. She was the best player in the world. And when you're playing with your collegiate cohort in Teresa Edwards, they knew each other so well, you enjoyed watching that, because you knew what was going to happen."

Edwards, who is the most decorated basketball Olympian with five medals -- four gold -- said of the Atlanta Games playing with McClain: "That was a special time for her and me. We were what people were calling the 'Old Ladies' and then you had people like Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie coming along big time with media coverage and the marketing you see today."
Edwards won Gold Medals as the youngest and oldest player at both ends of her career.

"We played with so much pride, Katrina and I, because we knew we were there when TVs weren't there and people weren't paying attention," Edwards related. "We knew all the hard work we put in would make women's basketball at its best. I think it changed the game and we were really around a long time to see all the changes that came in women's basketball.

"Katrina McClain was just a phenomenal player who was never seen by the American public. She was just amazing and how easy she makes the game look. She was dunking before we were talking about dunking. She was grabbing the rim and playing above the rim with guys we trained together with. We were always training with guys who were taller to make us better.

"I can't think of a player who can compare with her or even tie her shoes.

That girl was the absolutely best post player I ever saw. I played with a lot of great ones. I can't remember anyone else. She could grab a rebound, throw it halfcourt to me and still beat everybody down the floor and then next thing I know I'm kicking it back to her in the middle.

"She was unbelievable."

Edwards, incidentally, was the chef de mission for the United States Olympic Committee at the games in London this summer.

McClain, also an inductee to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, among five other Hall of Fame honors, torched the Georgia record books during a collegiate career (1983-87) that saw the Lady Bulldogs reside in the Top 10 rankings portion of the Associated Press women's basketball poll and advance to the 1985 NCAA title game.

Georgia's won-loss record was 116-15 during her era in Athens and in this year in the 40th anniversary of the landmark Title IX legislation, one can say that McClain was one of the original beneficiaries of the law that helped grow women's sports across the nation.

Though it has been 25 years since her graduation, McClain is still No. 1 in career field goal percentage (62.0), third in career points (2,195), second in career rebounds (1,193), second in made foul shots (449) and second in blocked shots (290), to highlight some of her accomplishments at Georgia

Her senior season in 1986-87 in which McClain earned her national player of the year award, she set five season team records that have endured -- points (796), points per game (24.9), field goals made (310), free throws made (176), and free throws attempted (240).

In the 1996 Atlanta games, McClain led in rebounds (8.3), was second in scoring (14.1 ppg), and shot 51-for-69 for a 73.9 shooting percentage.

"Katrina is one of the greatest players in the world that a lot of people don't know about," said WNBA executive Renee Brown, who was an assistant coach with the 1996 USA Basketball contingent.

"She's one of the most athletic basketball players I've ever seen in my life. She's one of the top players ever to play the game. She's one of the greatest rebounders ever -- great body control, she's a great athlete. She can catch in transition. Just throw it up anywhere and she has the ability to score. I can't say it enough about her place as one of the great players a lot of people don't know about."

Two coaches, who are both Women's Basketball Hall of Famers, recalled going against McClain.

Fomer Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, now an assistant with the WNBA Atlanta Dream, had to guide his Tigers against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference women's wars.

"She was an enforcer," Ciampi said. "She altered shots and more importantly brought a toughness to the Georgia team that is characteristic of coach Landers and more importantly characteristic of the McClain-Edwards era. They played with that toughness."

Marianne Stanley, now an assistant with the WNBA Washington Mystics, coached McClain on USA Basketball teams and when Stanley coached Old Dominion, her team had to deal with McClain and Edwards on Georgia in the 1985 NCAA title game won by the Lady Monarchs.

"She was a terrific power forward," Stanley said. "If you ask any coach who coached against Katrina during her days with USA Basketball and college basketball, they would probably tell you she is the best rebounder in her era. And just a terrific person.

"The Naismith is reserved for the elite of the elites and she is definitely one of the elites and very deserving of her honor."

But when McClain arrived at Georgia, despite her status as one of the outstanding collegiate prospects in the nation, she was a work-in-progress as Landers sought to develop her introverted manner into a force.

"First, I must say she and her parents possess strong, outstanding character," Landers explained.

He recalled the first time he ever watched her during the recruiting process.
"She was just an extremely talented and athletic basketball player," Landers said. "She made things look easier than they were."

It wasn't easy for Landers, who had to wait until the final moments of signing day until McClain made her choice of Georgia official.

Landers also did something else to develop McClain.

McClain had decided on Georgia, having become friendly with the players attending the Lady Bulldogs summer camps.

But when she had expected to room with someone else, Landers put Edwards, then a sophomore, and McClain together to have the ever-the-tough competitor Edwards be a positive influence.

"I didn't know her before I went there," said McClain, who still lives in her hometown of Charleston where she runs her foundation to raise awareness of childhood obesity.

One of three Georgia women's players to have her number retired, McClain, who will turn 47 later this month, has three children: Malachi, Emmanuel, and Genesis.

"I thought I was going to room with Susie Gardner. Being an introvert, it was hard to be around people, so being with the Georgia players gave me a comfort level that weighed heavy on my decision.

"When coach Landers visited, he said, 'If you want it easy, don't come to Georgia. You're going to have work for it to be what you want to be.' He was really honest and that helped, although I did think, 'Wait a minute. I wonder if I really want to go there if he's telling me all this stuff,'" she laughed.

"It was weird (in arriving at McClain's dorm). I walked in the room and saw Teresa's pictures all over her desk. I panicked and said, 'Wait a minute, I'm not supposed to be rooming with her.'

"It was crazy. I was always reading my Bible and she said she felt like the Devil because she was always on me. Teresa was so competitive. She'd tell me, 'I'm tired of you getting beat up in practice and taking all that stuff from him. You have to start fighting back.'

"She was really a mentor, though. She was a big sister for me."

Edwards continues to heap praise on McClain, saying "Teresa Edwards didn't make Katrina McClain, it was the other way around. Katrina McClain made Teresa Edwards or I would have been throwing passes 20 rows up the stands that she otherwise caught with ease.

"She came to Georgia as a frail, quiet storm and just ended up being a dominant post player with finesse out of this world. I don't know how you can be a finesse player and be dominant but she came to Georgia with the best hands in the business and helped make me an All-American catching my passes all over the place."

Landers said that his goal was to make McClain mentally and physically tough to become a great player.

He wasn't aware how much Edwards was helping the cause.

"The way I understand she went back every day to the room and worked out on (McClain). 'I can't believe you let that man talk to you like that,'" he said with a laugh.

"But she went from the most talented, passive player, in America as a freshman to the most dominant and physically aggressive player in America as a senior.

"Her senior year, she was the best practice player I ever coached," Landers said.

"I probably was on her for over a month when we first met and then one day she told me to shut up and then she just took off," Edwards said with a chuckle. "Once I knew she was doing that to me, her whole career changed overnight.

"She's the only one I would play with if she came out of retirement right now," Edwards said of her longtime friend.

Edwards and McClain also played together for the Atlanta Glory in the former American Basketball League.

Landers recalled laughing to himself over praise in a national sports publication of McClain as a budding superstar.

"I remember soon after we signed her, I'm reading Sports Illustrated and she was in their Faces in the Crowd," Landers related. "And it said her senior year she shot 83 percent from the floor or something crazy like that.

"And I remember saying to myself, 'Well, that's over.' And then as a freshman she shot over 70 percent from the floor. She had the best pair of hands that God ever created."

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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