One Hundred Years Of College Hoops
Two women's basketball teams take to the court - to celebrate
THE Tennessee women's basketball team did not find any old-fashioned peach baskets catching their shots during a recent stay in Springfield, Mass.But the Lady Volunteers found modern basketball hoops - not to mention overwhelming talent - served their purposes nicely. In a game to honor a century of basketball, No. 3 University of Tennessee continued its quest for a fourth national title in six years, beating the 19th-ranked University of Texas 86 to 72. A Civic Center crowd of 3,638 attended the Dec. 19 game in the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Mass. More than a third of the fans were Girl Scouts chanting "Ten-a-see, Ten-a-see." After a sporadic start, the scouts were treated to an exciting game. It was capped by a 45-foot shot by Texas' Nekeshia Henderson. The three-pointer went into the hoop as the final horn sounded. "Fortunately, the game was such that I could watch the flight of the ball and enjoy every bit of it," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. ve had to squirm through too many of those." The old rivals - the respective UT's have four of the 10 NCAA women's basketball championships - were excellent choices to celebrate the sport's centennial. Texas coach Judy Conradt is No. 1 in women's Division I victories (581), including the 1986 championship; Ms. Summitt is fifth (447). Tennessee, three times a ladies' champion, has finished on top of its sport in odd-year succession (1987, 1989, and 1991). Summitt teaches a physical style familiar internationally that stresses discipline and defense. A native Tennessean, she has coached and played for medal-winning teams in the Olympics. As a graduate assistant, she took over a program nobody else wanted. Now in her 18th season at Tennessee, she has five talented first-year players, including three Parade magazine All-Americans: Tiffany Woosley, Vonda Ward, and Dana Johnson. Woosley, by consensus the 1991 national high school player of the year from Shelbyville, Tenn., shot Texas woozy. She scored a season-high 15 points, nine after intermission. Since senior All-American Dena Head is the team's best guard - Woosley usually doesn't start - what is good at Tennessee could become great. The Lady Vols have 14 players on scholarship; several could start anywhere in the country. Talent and a winning philosophy have kept UT at or near the top, while several rivals from the 1980s, such as Old Dominion, have tumbled in the rankings. In a USA Today poll conducted last winter, Summitt, a tireless worker, was voted the coach for whom the most prospects' parents wanted their child to play. "People have asked me how I stay motivated. Well, it's simple: I... have great help, and excellent players. I guess most of all, I love to compete," Summitt has said. "Once you get to the top, you like to stay there. The main thing is you have to work hard and be a little lucky to pull it off. Then you take a new team and start all over again. That's a challenge." The total package at Tennessee is a long way from the sport's humble beginnings, especially where women's basketball is concerned. It was in mid-December of 1891 that college senior James Naismith - unbeknownst to him - transformed the YMCA Training School in Springfield into the cradle of basketball. It happened because of Naismith's re sponse to a professor's assignment. His task was to invent an indoor game to help rehabilitate 18 "incorrigibles." Senda Berenson, visiting Naismith in January 1892 at what would become Springfield College, opened the doors to women's basketball. Ms. Berenson was the first director of physical education at Smith College in nearby Northampton, Mass. She read a published account of Naismith's pet project. Berenson realized that the roughhouse nature of the prototype sport would not do for her girls. She made several modifications in Naismith's original 13 rules. The most significant was dividing the court into three equal sections and not allowing players to leave their assigned area. Eventually, the divided court concept became an ID tag for women's basketball - and in many ways hindered its growth. Overall skills did not advance because guards guarded, forwards scored, and centers passed the ball from one end to the other. The crucial piece of equipment was a ladder or long stick to retrieve the ball. It was 30 years before someone realized the bottom could be cut out of the peach basket. The five-player, full-court approach of Naismith's did not become universal for women until the 1971-72 season (when a 30-second shot clock also went into effect). Other improvements: switching to a ball one-inch smaller in diameter (1985) and adding a 3-point shot (1988).