Okay, I admit it. I like watching the girls. I like it a lot.
Yup, Iím a big fan of the UConn womenís basketball team. What did you think I was talking about?
I started following them back in the Kerry Bascom era because my Mom is a big fan of the team and, other than our woeful Red Sox, it gave us some common sports ground to talk about. Then, during the Rebecca Lobo years and the 35 - 0 dream season, it was impossible not to be tuned in. One barely heard about anything else.
My pal Jay and I used to deride all the hype about the Lady Huskies. After all, the ball is smaller, there isnít much jump in the jump shots and the best college womenís team in the country would lose to any decent boysí high school squad. But now I get it. Those things donít really matter.
Iíve come around. You go girls!
My addiction went through the usual stages. Victimization Ė "You canít turn around without seeing Jennifer Rizzottiís face Ė how can you help but follow the team?" Then denial Ė "Well, the menís team isnít living up to expectations (this was five years ago) so Iím just watching the women until Calhoun and the boys get their act together." Finally, rationalization Ė "Their success is good for the state and its flagship university so I support them as a matter of Nutmeg patriotism."
Iíve arrived at the acceptance stage. Iím hooked and I like it. How hooked? When assistant menís coach Karl Hobbs was playing point guard for the Huskies, I used to say he was the best player ever to come out of Massachusettsí Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school. Patrick Ewing and Rumeal Robinson went there, too.
Now I think UConn point guard Sue Bird is the best-ever basketball player named Bird. Larry who?
Kelly Shumacher Ė she looks like Bill Russell with her shot-blocking. And she has the best haircut in the game. Swin Cash- athletic, graceful like a swan and a fox to boot. And I love the rest of Ďem Ė team leader Shea Ralph, the multi-talented Svetlana Abrosimova, "Bam-Bam" Hansmeyer the enforcer and Tamika Williams who just does it all.
Iím already fired up for next year. Signed recruit Diana Taurasi is supposed to be the best high school player in the country. And you have to like Vermontís Morgan Valley just for her name.
The men are still number one with me, but this yearís team just doesnít have the spirit of previous squads. Other than Khalid El-Amin, they donít seem to run the hardwood this season with their trademark enthusiasm. But those girls, they glitter with more electricity than Reddy Kilowatt.
While I once scorned the womenís game for being inferior to the men's, now I am concerned it is becoming too much like it. Players in the WNBA have been ejected for fighting. Distaff cagers are starting to sport hideous arm tattoos (The UConn girls have an unofficial rule against them and the one player who has one covers it with a bandage for games). Some of the officiating Iíve seen in the girlsí games this year has been just shy of completely incompetent.
Like the men, and perhaps saddest of all, fewer teams seem to be maintaining mixed racial representation. The Lady Huskies are, to this observer at least, a model of diversity and totally void of any ethnic strife. I am warmed and encouraged for the future whenever I watch the displays of genuine affection our girls from Storrs have for one another. If only the rest of us could get along so well.
The Lady Huskies just won their seventh straight Big East Title, but claim just the one national championship from 1995. To really be a college basketball powerhouse, you have to get at least a few of those NCAA tournament titles Ė UConnís arch-rival, the Tennessee Lady Vols have six, including a stretch where they won three in a row.
With no starting seniors on the team and another great freshman class on the way in, maybe this is the season UConn begins a run on national dominance. It all starts this week in the womenís NCAA tournament.
Itís time to root, root, root for the home team. You know Iíll be watching.
March 8, 2000