Thursday, October 30, 2014

RIP to ODU fan Mr. Booker

 Section 112, Row E behind the scorer's table at the Constant Center. Two seats. 

As long as he could, Old Dominion supporter Gilbert Booker sat in one of them.

Booker died on Sunday, at 96 years of age. He would have turned 97 on Nov. 9.

At one point, he had missed only a handful of Lady Monarch games, but age sent him to a Portsmouth nursing home a few years ago.

He was a friend and an inspiration to me. I sat in front of him in 1997 when the ODU charter bus stalled on a French highway amid a blizzard. The Ticha Penicheiro-led Lady Monarchs spent the night on that bus with nothing but snow and tractor-trailers in view. ODU was on a 10-day trip to France and Portugal; we had just seen Lucienne Berthieu play against the Lady Monarchs hours before. The highway closed with us on it.

I wanted to scream that night. My legs ached. I was scared and hungry and there were no restrooms. Cell phones didn't really exist. Mr. Booker was calm, upbeat and unrattled. He had terrific perspective. I never heard him complain about anything over the years. He was an astute fan who had scrapbooks full of photos of the team that he started following as a hobby the day he retired. He didn't go to ODU, but I rarely saw him without his blue hat.

I can't be at his funeral on Saturday. My own mother is battling for her life in an Arlington hospital, and I am going to see her. She could use both his perspective and his strength. Frankly, those are things we could all benefit from.

RIP, Mr. Booker. You will be missed and remembered every time the ball tips for the Lady Monarchs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Remembering Ginny, bidding adieu to Wendy, new look at George Mason, and Robyn in Spain

Ginny Doyle #ThrowbackThursday pic

Remembering Ginny: Stephanie Gaitley couldn't figure out the text message. It was from Delaware Coach Tina Martin expressing sorrow. Gaitley was in Las Vegas on the morning of May 8.

The text sent Gaitley to the Internet where she learned of the tragic balloon accident that killed the Spiders associate head coach and the team's director of operations, Natalie Lewis.

Stephanie called her sister Coco. "We cried together on the phone," she said.

The week before, the Fordham coach had been recruiting alongside her good friend and player she recruited to attend Richmond, Ginny Doyle. The two had a blast, joking about if limited to one person on a desert island, who that would be. Ginny picked actress Melissa McCarthy.

"I was Ginny's mentor," said Gaitley, who keeps a framed photo of Doyle in her office. "She loved Richmond so much."

Gaitley plans to keep Ginny's memory alive in a number of ways, even planning to name a play for the1992 Spiders graduate who led Richmond to consecutive NCAA tournaments. "Naturally, it's going to be for a 3," Gaitley said.

Gaitley also dedicated all of the money from her offseason clinic to the Ginny Doyle Scholarship Fund.

"We'll do that annually," Doyle said. "She'll be with us forever."

Once the scholarship fund reaches $50,000, each year an incoming freshman player will be known as "The Ginny Doyle Women's Basketball Scholar Athlete."

Ginny's brother, Joe, posts a photo of Ginny every Thursday for #throwbackThursday to raise awareness for the scholarship. Donate by clicking here.

Driving Miss Virginia: Former ODU coach Wendy Larry, who spent the last three years as an associate commissioner at the Atlantic 10, was part of her last official function for the conference at media day. Larry, with more than 600 coaching wins next to her name, will retire but plans to be plenty busy over the next several months.

Larry's mother, Virginia, 89 and living in New Jersey, is eager to travel around the country with her daughter, who plans to do a lot of driving in the coming months. "We're going to Cape Cod, Charleston, my condo in Florida, New Orleans, and she wants to go to Italy," said Larry.

Wishing Wendy and her mom happy travels!

Home sweet home: George Mason coach Nyla Milleson enters her second year coaching the Patriots with a new home and an upbeat attitude about her new-look team, which includes two transfers.

On the home front, Milleson and husband Brent have settled into a house in Haymarket. Brent recently moved to Virginia after spending last year in Missouri and has settled into a new middle school teaching job with an ideal commute. "We both have a perfect 30-minute real-world commute," Milleson said. The difference? Brent's is almost always a half hour as he's going against traffic, wheras Nyla often gets caught up in the gridlock of being close to D.C.

"Sometimes it's an hour and 30 minutes," she said.
Jasmine Jackson

As for the team, two transfers, 5-9 redshirt junior Jasmine Jackson (Georgetown) and 6-2 redshirt
junior Kristi Mokube (Florida State), should be in the starting lineup, good news for Taylor Brown and Sandra Ngoie, who carried the offensive load a year ago for the Patriots. "Jasmine is a great defender," Milleson said. "She's going to be a great complement to Tay. I can run her both at the 3 and the 2. More importantly, she provides a big voice."

Jackson and Brown were former teammates at Georgetown.

As for Mokube, "She provides a tremendous presence on the block and on the boards," Milleson said. "You don't hear this much about a post player, but she's an energy player. She provides just endless energy physically and emotionally."

Rachel McNair is also healthy again, Talisha Watts has a renewed confidence and Reana Mohamed "continues to get better and is a spark plug for us," Milleson said.

Deeper Spiders: Richmond coach Michael Shafer is hoping the added depth he has will allow Gen Okoro and Liz Brown to return to their natural positions. Okoro played center a year ago but returns to the 4 spot with an added strength that has allowed her to shine in early practices. Olivia Healy, who blossomed last season as a freshman averaging 12.3 ppg before a January ACL tear, has also been cleared for practice, and two freshman will be part of the early mix. They are Karleigh Wike, a 6-4 forward,  and Rennie Harrison, a 6-4 forward/center. Wike is the career leader in rebounds (1,291) and blocks (477) for East Rowen (N.C.) High in Salisbury. Harrison is a two-time all-league player from Episcopal (Va.) High in Alexandria.

Patriot pals: Great idea by Milleson to pair teammates to spend time together outside of practice every day and eat one meal as pals per week. The pairs exchange two tokens of appreciation and encouragement and spend snack time together during practice. The purpose is to help the team get to know one another better and build team chemistry.

In Spain: Hardly surprising that through four games, VCU grad (and former A10 leading scorer) Robyn Parks is atop the stats for scoring with 14.8 ppg for Gran Canaria. Parks is shooting .417 from the field and .500 (4-of-8) from 3, averaging a team-high 30.89 minutes. The team is 2-2.
Robyn in Spain

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Marianne Stanley: a Hampton Roads Sports Hall-of-Famer with an unmatched legacy at ODU

Marianne and me
She was just 12, swinging from a flagpole that overlooked a four-lane highway outside of Philadelphia. When told by a passerby, "You can't do that," Marianne Stanley's response was this.

"Watch me."

So typical of this woman, whose sense of self and confidence catapulted her into heights well above even her wildest dreams.

What an honor it was for me to induct this women's basketball legend into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at Scope in Norfolk.

For her, it was an evening of catching up with many from Old Dominion who remember well the three teams she coached to the national championship, the last one in 1985. She looked around Scope with a gaze that suggested she was replacing all the folks in suits and ties for players with numbers, recalling that surreal experience when ODU hosted a loaded Russian national team and took a halftime lead into the locker room.

It was December 1979. Dr. J's Virginia Squires had never sold out Scope, but Stanley's Lady Monarchs did that night.

"Being back here in Scope brings back a flood of memories," said Stanley, wiping away tears.

If you've seen "The Mighty Macs," a feel-good film about Cathy Rush's success at Immaculata College,  you have some sense of the background Marianne hailed from. She grew up seeking out pickup games on the streets of Philadelphia against guys who towered over her. They weren't welcoming until they realized this:

"I could pass and I could play defense," she said.

She enrolled at Westchester State, but never attended, realizing late that the curriculum didn't match her interests. As much as she loved sports and competing, she did not want to be pigeon holed as a physical education teacher. Instead, she went to Immaculata and majored in sociology and thrived as a point guard in a sport that was in its infancy. Theresa Grentz was among her teammates and she doesn't put any qualifiers on calling Marianne the best point guard of all time.

ODU alum Wendy Larry played against Marianne when Immaculata visited the Fieldhouse. "She was  just so aware of where the ball needed to be," said Wendy, a graduate assistant to Stanley for the '85 championship

In four years at Immaculata, the Macs advanced to four national championships, a feat that Diana Taurasi fell one game shy of. The next year, Marianne was an assistant to Cathy Rush and the Macs reached the Final Four.

"We were pretty damned good," she says.

Winning was something Marianne knew about, so she wasn't daunted when, at 23 years of age, she interviewed with ODU athletic director Jim Jarrett over breakfast at a Marriott.

"I had a certain confidence about what I knew," Marianne said. "I felt like my experience was Swiss cheese: What was solid was real solid, but I had a lot to learn."

And yet she knew this, too. Jarrett was a visionary. He saw value and potential in women's sports, considered by many as nothing more than a nuisance. "There is absolutely no way I would have gotten anything more than what today is a director of operations job or a graduate assistant job with my experience. I don't know why he chose me. My life would be unrecognizable had I not come to Norfolk."

ODU went 30-4 in her first season and the next year, they finished 35-1, winning the AIAW national title in OT over UCLA in Greensboro. The next year, behind a 37-1 mark, they beat Tennessee for the second crown at Central Michigan. Stanley moved her team into the NCAA era with a 70-65 win over a favored Georgia team in Austin, Texas.

Her ODU teams won 30 or more games four times and enjoyed eight seasons of 20 or more wins.

At Tuesday's ceremony, she recalled playing at Virginia when Geno was an assistant to Debbie Ryan. Geno is now a friend, but she smiles when she says, "We went to Virginia and whipped their asses."

Other collegiate coaching jobs followed at Penn, Cal and USC, a place where she made her mark with a lawsuit that made national news. She wanted her pay to be equal to men's coach George Raveling, and after rejecting lesser offers, she was terminated. The Title IX suit she filed claiming sex discrimination was ultimately rejected in the federal court of appeals.

"I had a different kind of career," said Stanley, inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. "I had an awful lot of success early and then had to learn how to deal with not being so successful."

She's an assistant for the Washington Mystics these days, a teacher who stills prefers practice to games. She still loves every bit of it.

I don't have a daughter, but if I did, I wish she could learn from Marianne, an unabashed trailblazer who is a role model for kids playing any sport.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adios, amiga! Dream comes true for VCU's Parks

Adios, amiga!

Robyn Parks is headed to Spain. The Virginia Commonwealth graduate, who led the Atlantic 10 in scoring and rebounding last season, left Wednesday to play for Gran Canaria, part of the Spanish Women's League.

How excited is Parks?

After learning the news on Monday, she called it "one of the most exciting days of my entire life."

Since graduating last spring, Parks picked up a temporary job back home in Waldorf, Md., all the while planning to go overseas to play ball. Calling the process long and hectic, she got discouraged when originally told she'd leave on Sept. 15 to play in Israel or Turkey. That day came and left. Parks admitted she didn't want to play just anywhere.

"I wanted to go somewhere where I could play against better players, so I could continue to get better," she said.

Admittedly, she lost hope and even when her dad woke her up at 7 a.m. on Monday, she didn't believe him.

"You're going to Spain, girl!" he shouted.

Half awake and sure he was joking, Parks went back to sleep.

"When I finally woke up, my agent confirmed that everything my dad was talking about was true," Parks said.

So Parks finds herself on a plane today for Last Palmas, the capital city of Gran Canaria, part of the Canary Islands located in northern Spain.

Her first game is Oct. 15. We're thrilled for Robyn and promise to keep you posted on her time there!