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.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guru's Special Report: Immaculata Era Gets Another Spotlight Moment

By Mel Greenberg

The roll continues for the Immaculata championship era, 1972-74.

Following August's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., the Mighty Macs' trio of national champions are being honored Thursday night, as in tonight, with a similar induction into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

On Saturday, the school will kick off its now-Division III season with ring presentations to its foremothers with ring presentations off the Naismith induction.

In January, the current edition will meet Queens College's current edition in one of the games of the annual Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 40th anniversary of when the two powers of the day met as the prime attraction of the first women's game to be played in the magic arena.

By the way, the game was the opener of a doubleheader with a men's game and after the women's game, which helped load the Garden stands with the female gender, they left to prove a point of who they came to see.

In those times many matches at schools were men's and women's doubleheaders besides the stand-alone contests and often the crowd at women's games did not become more full until the second half.

Meanwhile, next June, the group being honored with the two aforementioned halls of fame will then be honored in Knoxville, Tenn., with placement in the Trailblazers of the Game section where the 1976 U.S. Olympic women's team was placed for being honored last spring.

That said, for all of you in this area and beyond who can't be at the Sheraton Hotel in Society Hill in downtown Philly, here is a sneak peak at the piece the Guru (this is getting to be a habit :) ) wrote for the evening's printed program.

Oh, while the Guru has your attention here, for those of you who live in twitter land, the Guru will be part of the first media panel for women's basketball to appear on an Associated Press-hosted twitter chat beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time for about a half-hour.

The hashtag to filter and find directions to questions is #APHoops .

The Immaculata Championship Era 1972-74

By Mel Greenberg

Tonight's event as honorees is not new for former Immaculata coach Cathy Rush and two of her former All-Americans in the 1970s - Theresa Grentz and Marianne Stanley.

All three are existing inductees in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

But this time they have brought along virtually all of their contemporaries from the entire national championship era of the Mighty Macs from 1972, 1973 and 1974.

It has been a big year for renewed stardom for the group. In August they were inducted under the same team accolade as tonight in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

In June they will be added as a group to the Trailblazers section of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., where the aforementioned trio are already individual members.

And one of the historic events they were part of back in the 1973-74 season when they were part of the first women's matchup in Madison Square Garden, 40 years ago, will be noted on January 4 when the Mighty Macs, now a Division III program in the Colonial States Athletic Conference, will again play Queens College as part of the annual Maggie Dixon Classic in the Garden, which will also host two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut and St. John's in the other contest.

When Grentz served as the representative of the group in terms of speechmaking in Springfield, she jokingly referred to her contingent as being ready for another party. "We're a bunch of old broads and now they bring us out and dust us off."

Grentz, however, is not so old that Lafayette recently restored her to active duty as an assistant coach to Dianne Nolan, a South Jersey native whose brother Drew starred at Temple in the late 1960s.

Besides the three championships, a run in which they went 60-2, which were then achieved under the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) before the NCAA began sponsorship in 1982, the group also was involved in the first telecast of a women's game when they played Maryland at old Cole Fieldhouse.

"We knew we had to have them," retired Terrapins coach Chris Weller once recalled. "We knew we were going to get killed, but if we were doing TV, Immaculata had to be part of the telecast."

After Rush, the Mighty Macs' DNA on the sidelines was carried on by Grentz, who had a successful career, first at Saint Joseph's, then at Rutgers, which she led to the 1982 AIAW title, and then at Illinois, besides being the USA Olympic coach in 1992.

She was the dominate player of her time as a center while Stanley was the top point guard of her era and went on to win three national titles coaching Old Dominion, serve as a head coach in the WNBA and is currently an assistant in the league to Mike Thibault with the Washington Mystics.

Grentz also has run her own Elite Coaching Academy and in the past year has authored a book: "Lessons Learned From Playing a Child's Game." She has also been a recipient of the Lapchick Character Award in New York.

Rene Muth Portland had a long run of success coaching Penn State and led the Lady Lions to a Final Four appearance in South Philadelphia at the currently named Wells Fargo Center in 2000.

"These women were being hired right out of high school," Rush said of her coaching heirs. "That would be unthinkable today."

Additionally, Mary Scharff, another all-American of the era, coached her alma mater, which is now led by Patty Canterino, who is also the athletic director of the program that is now co-ed.

Judy Marra didn't go on to coaching but she is constantly in the local and national public eye as the wife of Phil Martelli, the Saint Joseph's men's coach.

"I can't say this is a dream come true, because when we played, who could dream about this?" Ms. Martelli said last spring representing the group at the official inductee announcement at the men's final four in Texas.

"They were the original Cinderella team and the impact of their story forever changed women's basketball," said Tim Chambers, who wrote, produced and directed "The Mighty Macs," which had a successful appearance in movie theaters in the fall of 2011 and can now be purchased on DVD.

Rush ended her overall era at Immaculata in 1977 with a record of at 149-15.

The influence of Rush also extended to her summer camps, where just about everyone today and yesteryear in the sport had some role as a counselor or camper.

One of those working in the Poconos back in the day was Geno Auriemma, another Philly Sports Hall of Famer besides membership in Naismith and the WBHOF, who has now won a record nine NCAA women's title through last season and could tie fabled UCLA men's coach John Wooden for total NCAA titles in basketball at 10.

During last season's Women's Final Four weekend, when it was known the Mighty Macs were about to be celebrated, Auriemma, whose team was playing for the title against Notre Dame, coached by Saint Joseph's grad Muffet McGraw, remarked, saying, "Had they been doing today what they did back then, they would be off the charts. They did it in an era when not too many people were paying attention.

"I think it is important for our history that we go back and celebrate them. I'm proud to be from that era. I'm proud to be with all those people that were part of that. I think Muffet and I are part of that."

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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