Saturday, December 29, 2007

Off-Season Reading

I am finding it just as hard to write this off-season as I did the last, despite the exciting things like the change in coaching. I will have more to write about once the coaching/GM decisions are announced.

Sue Bird was in town last week. I found it odd that she would come to Seattle during any time she had off from playing in Russia, but she was courtside at the Sonics/Celtics game on Thursday. She is unsigned and they have no coach, so perhaps she was in town to meet the candidates? She won't sign until the CBA is finalized, but if she is looking at coaches she is not likely considering signing elsewhere. Let's hope the new coach/GM picks a solid defensive, point guard who can shoot an open three so that Sue can get some breaks this season.

In the off-season I have spent some time reading some older offerings on Women's Basketball that I found on the shelves of Epilogue Books in Ballard this fall. I turned in some old paperbacks and picked these up on the resulting credits.

Full Court Press by Lauren Kessler
This book was published in 1997 and covers the 1993-1994 seasons of the women's team at the University of Oregon. The basketball story is not all that strong, though some of the young women have interesting moments. The heart of the book is really the legal battle between second year coach Jody Runge and the adminstration of the U of O. She came in as the lowest paid women's coach in the Pac-10 and was determined to change the culture of the program, not only into a winning culture, but one that acknowledged and respected the atheletes who delivered those winning efforts. This is not a Cinderella tale of NCAA victory, the team does well, but not final four well. There are stories on the court, early season injuries, last minute Aussie signings, players seeking confidence. There are more stories about the late programs, no band support, sub-par locker rooms, limited marketing, and the complete lack of benefactor endowments. I did a little research after reading the book. Runge achieved almost all of what she was trying to achieve throughout the book. She coached there for eight years, setting a 87-19 home winning record and earned 100 career Pac-10 victories. She had her program ranked in the AP poll for 12 straight weeks. None of the players on the team went into the W (that I am aware of) but the two Aussies, Sally Crowe (became Phillps) played in the WNBL for Dandenong and Adelaide and is now playing for the Venom in Big V in Australia. Renae Fegent played for three years with the Capitals. The book is definitely worth a read.

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais
There is less politics, more basketball and a little slice of Western Massachusetts life in this 1995 book about the Amherst Hurricanes girl's basketball team from Amherst High School in Amherst Massachusetts. I grew up just south of Boston, but my Mom was a western Mass. girl and I know most of the towns they discuss in the story. The book digresses into the small town, New England life and wanders around a bit more than I normally like, but it is still a good read. It was originally an article in the New York Times magazine and later expanded into a full novel. It covers a single season for this team, digging into the emotional and intellectual lives of the players and how their remarkable season effected their whole community. The star of their team was Jamila Wideman who went on to Stanford, and played for the Sparks, the Sol and the Portland Fire in the WNBA. Her chief rival was Beth Kuzmeski who played in the WNBL with Betty Lennox, Rita Williams and Rebecca Lobo. This work is much more personal and has a more emotional style than the other book, I was really caught up in the whole story. It is another worthy read.

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