Grentz ready to showcase women's Dream Team U.S.' 'finest' shooting for 3rd straight gold

July 22, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY — NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- It seems everyone that Theresa Grentz knows is impressed that she will be coaching the U.S. women's basketball team in the Summer Olympics.

Everyone, that is, but her younger son, Kevin.

"I've got a 5-year-old who said to me, 'Mom, I'm really excited that I'm going to the Olympics.' And I said, 'Yes, son, it should really be an exciting time.' Then he says, 'I'm really hoping you can get me Michael Jordan's autograph,' " said Grentz, the head women's basketball coach at Rutgers.

"Then, as we were watching the [Chicago] Bulls and the [New York] Knicks, Kevin says to me, 'Does Michael know he's meeting me?' Kids have a way of bringing it back to perspective."

It appears that Theresa Grentz's job of shepherding the U.S. women's team to gold might be an easier task than impressing her little boy.

After all, she has assembled perhaps the greatest collection of talent in women's basketball history, from Georgia's Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain, widely acclaimed as the world's best female players, to former Maryland star Vicky Bullett, about to appear in her second Olympics.

So all this female "Dream Team" needs is a caretaker, someone to roll the ball out and get the heck out of the way while the women coast to their third straight Olympic gold medal, right?

If you believe that, then you don't know Theresa Grentz.

"You can't do that," she said. "There have to be some guidelines and some basics and some fundamentals. We have those. We put those in. The players feel very comfortable with the system. I think that's obvious. It shows in the way we play."

Said point guard Teresa Weatherspoon: "She respects each one of us as professional athletes and that helps us to give a little more to her. She's a great person."

As a kid growing up in Springfield, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, Grentz learned little about sports from her father, John, who worked in a nearby grocery warehouse. She says her father would not "to this day know the difference between an offense and a defense."

What he taught her, though, was the more valuable lesson of commitment.

"He taught me I wasn't allowed to quit. If I decided to get into something, I had to finish it," said Grentz, 42.

She recalled a night where she came in from playing basketball in the back yard after missing some shots. Her father was sitting in the family room and noticed that she wasn't as happy as usual.

"He didn't say too much. He said, 'You didn't bring the ball in tonight, huh?' And I said, 'No. I've had it. I'm not playing anymore.' "

"I went along and he said, 'It might be a good idea if maybe you just brought it in. You may change your mind tomorrow.' My father never told me what I had to do. He just made suggestions and you had to read between the lines and know that this is what you're supposed to do. So, I brought it in and played the next day."

Grentz learned baseball, football and basketball playing with the neighborhood boys and eventually starred on her high school basketball team, which lost just five times in her four years.

She received an academic scholarship to attend St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland and was prepared to enroll there until March 1970, when a fire wiped out the family home, and she decided to stay close to home.

She enrolled at tiny Immaculata College, a Catholic school in the Philadelphia suburbs, where the physical education classes went roller skating on the court before the basketball team practiced.

This was no ordinary basketball team, mind you. These were the Mighty Macs, possibly women's college basketball's finest team. The number of national championships they won in three years (three) was more than the number of games they lost (two) in that span.

"Those were four great years," Grentz said.

After graduation and marriage to her husband, Karl, Grentz coached for two years at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia, before moving to Rutgers, where she has been for the past 16 years, compiling a 373-120 record with a national championship in 1982 and seven straight NCAA tournament appearances.

"She's crazy, but she's the best," Bullett said. "She's a straightforward coach. She expects a lot out of you, but she doesn't have to motivate you to get it."

Grentz says she believes good things will come out of the Olympics for her sport, and she wants to be a part of it.

"There will be more things kicked out to us," Grentz said. "I think we're prepared and ready to handle those things. What we're saying is, we're women's basketball. This is the finest team that's ever been assembled. We have a responsibility to the future and to the players who will play after us. Little girls dream, too."

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