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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

WHBOF Induction Weekend: Tribute to the '96 Olympians and Posthumous Honor to Lauren Hill

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Also For Blue Star Media @BlueStarMedia1

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The spirt and memory of the courageous fight by 19-year Mount St. Joseph’s freshman Lauren Hill against a pediatric inoperable brain tumor a season ago that ultimately took the Division III player’s life on April 10, 2015 will be one of two special additions permeating this weekend’s induction here in the Tennessee Theatre of the 18th class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

The other added attraction is a 20-year reunion of the 1996 USA Olympic gold medalists receiving the Hall’s Trailblazers of the Game award after setting the stage for the creation of the WNBA.

In part this also gives officials here a chance to note the 20th anniversary of the women ‘s pro basketball league surviving and thriving past doubters who predicted a short-lived existence in the early years of WNBA competition.

Behind the scenes an important board meeting that besides picking the next induction class will consider bringing greater relevance during the year besides just this annual weekend by announcing during the induction calendar, finalists, done by other halls of fame but not the WBHOF, and then moving to another date with the news of the winning candidates.

In recent years, the new class, while picked each year on the afternoon of the Saturday induction ceremony, gets announced during the WNBA All-Star game in July but the news usually gets overshadowed by the game itself.

The six inductees this weekend are longtime referee June Courteau, who is now the director of NCAA women’s officials, longtime Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, all-time NCAA scorer Jackie Stiles of Missouri State then-called Southwest Missouri State; Former UCLA, Olympic and WNBA star Natalie Williams, who also played in the short-lived American Basketball League; longtime Texas high school coach Joe Lombard; and the late Bill Tipps, who served as chairman of the AAU Girls Basketball for over a decade and served on USA Basketball Games committees.

Some 30 people are coming to support Tipps’ moment.

“I’m really thrilled to be going in as a contributor,” Courteau said this week, “because teaching the game has been as important to me working with officials and teams as working the competition on the floor. And I have an enormous amount of respect for the coaches who are also teachers of the game.”

She is the second referee inducted following Patty Broderick several seasons ago.

Longtime women’s broadcaster Debbie Antonelli, who has the title Voice of the Hall, and is on the board, is a proponent of the calendar adjustments which would keep the Hall in the news of women’s coverage more times during the year.

Nine of the 12 1996 Olympians will be here along with most of the coaching staff headed by Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, herself an inductee here and in Naismith in Springfield, Mass., and also present will be  top officials from USA Basketball.

Rene Brown, the No. 2 executive with the WNBA, who was an assistant on the USA Staff, will be here. She is also on the WNBA board as is Danielle Donohew, the head of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA).

The USA players coming are Jennifer Azzi, now coaching San Francisco; Dawn Staley, currently coaching South Carolina; Sheryl Swoopes, now coaching Loyola of Chicago; Nikki McCray, an assistant to Staley; Lisa Leslie, now retired and involved with some broadcasting and charitable causes;  Ruthie Bolton, Venus Lacey; Carla McGhee, and Katy Steding, currently coaching Boston University.

The two former Georgia greats – Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain, and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo will be unable to attend. Lobo works for ESPN in the summer covering the WNBA and collegiate games in the winter. 

A year ago when the board met, they discussed how to celebrate Hill, whose story tugged the nation’s heartstrings as she sought to make it to her first collegiate game and helped raise over $2 million dollars to find a cure for the disease that took her life.

A crowd of 10,000 that bought up all the tickets the first day of the sale within an hour was thrilled to see Hill score a quick basket and one at the end of the game. Halftime featured the legendary Tennessee coach from here help present to Hill the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award given each year by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Summitt has been battling Alzheimer’s Disease in her own battle of courage.

The WBHOF board inspired by the desires of Hill to live to make it to the collegiate court in Division III competition, has created a love of the game inspiration and courage award, which is really a reference to one of the Hall’s key themes, and Hill is the first winner.

  Her parents were introduced during a timeout of the NCAA championship game in Indianapolis in April with the announcement of the award, resulting in a long and loud standing ovation from the sellout crowd in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

They were on the scene to  watch Connecticut take an unprecedented 11th title for coach Geno Auriemma and also first-ever fourth straight title by beating Syracuse.

Hill’s parents are unable to be here this weekend but Hill’s collegiate coach Dan Benjamin is coming to accept the honor. 

The teenager from suburban Cincinnati, who in death, was still a shining star on Thursday night with the free showing at a downtown movie theater of an absolutely magnificent one-hour documentary following the events from Hill learning of her tumor at the start of her senior year in high school.

The movie was co-produced by local Cincinnati newscaster Brad Johansen, who was the original person on Hill’s story. He  had recently made the move from his sportscaster’s role. He co-produced photojournalist Eric Gerhardt.

The film was previously shown in Cincinnati and a comment Johansen made in interviews noted the hour surprisingly goes by quickly.

The Guru can tell you it definitely did and is filled with as much poignancy as the Guru remembered when Brian’s Song aired about cancer taking the life of Chicago Bears football player Brian Piccolo and also of his friendship with NFL great Gale Sayers.

Today’s events here include the usual interview session with inductees in the afternoon, a reception following, specifically for the most part to focus on the ’96 team, who will then go to a private dinner.

There’s an autograph session on Saturday with the inductees, the ceremony and then post-induction celebration.

Your Guru, himself a member of the 2007 Class, and trusty local photographer William “Willbill” Ewart will be on the scene throughout, though some of the coverage will be delayed until the Guru can find places to transmit to the masses through the blog as well as twitter and facebook.