At Thompson's Georgetown, Navy women get shut out even before opening tip

Bill Tanton

December 22, 1992|By Bill Tanton

One sport that doesn't get enough respect is women's basketball, although few go as far as John Thompson did to show it disrespect.

On Dec. 3, Navy's women had a game against Georgetown's. It was scheduled for 8:15. The Midshipwomen arrived at the Hoyas' on-campus McDonough Gym at 7 o'clock only to find the doors locked.

Inside, Thompson's men's team was holding a 6-8 p.m. practice and Thompson was allowing no one else in the building -- not even the invited visitors from Navy.

The Navy coaches, players and managers banged on doors. No response. They stood outside, in the dark and cold, until 7:50 p.m., when a student manager finally let them in. The game was 15 minutes late starting. Unfortunately, Georgetown won it, 100-74.

There still are important media people who dismiss women's basketball out of hand. TV's Warner Wolf recently left New York to return to his native Washington as the sports anchor on channel 9. On the Larry King radio show, Wolf was asked how he feels about various sports. Women's basketball was mentioned.

"Wouldn't watch it," said Wolf.

"The women play very well," said King.

"I wouldn't watch it!" Wolf practically screamed. If nothing else, he's honest.

But people do watch it, as we saw last winter when No. 2-ranked Virginia came to play No. 1 Maryland. A turnaway crowd of 14,500 plus 125 media people jammed Cole Field House and saw Virginia beat the Terps.

It was an evening of such drama and excitement that afterward Joe F. Blair, who has been doing sports publicity for Maryland since Jim Tatum's day, was moved to say:

"The two greatest things I've ever seen at College Park were the Queen's game, when England's Queen Elizabeth came to a football game here in 1957, and the women's basketball game against Virginia."

Maryland, coached by Chris Weller for the last 18 years, is a perennial national powerhouse in women's basketball. This week the team is No. 6 in the nation. Its record is 4-1, the loss having been to No. 4 Iowa. Tonight the Lady Terps, for the first time in history, will play a game in Baltimore City. They meet Loyola College at 7 o'clock and the price is right for everybody but Warner Wolf. Admission is free of charge.

I wanted to watch Loyola's women last week and Joe Boylan, the athletic director, told me his team was playing Notre Dame on Saturday.

"You mean, Notre Dame College next door?" I asked.

L "I mean Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind.," he said.

It was a good game with Notre Dame winning, 55-48. These games with the Irish and the Terps are no aberration in the Loyola schedule. After tonight, Loyola's next three games will be against North Carolina, William & Mary and Duke.

Loyola has made a commitment to women's basketball. This year it has its first full-time coach, Pat Coyle, who played at Rutgers a decade ago and was also an assistant coach there (Boylan was an assistant athletic director at Rutgers until he came to Loyola three years ago). Coyle also worked as an assistant at St. Joseph's and Miami.

"We all believe Patty will move our program up," says Mia Vendlinski, who played for Loyola the last four years and is now a graduate assistant. "Patty knows what it takes. She's been there."

"How did Rutgers do when you played?" I asked Coyle.

L "Won the national championship," she said. She's been there.

Is Loyola College equipped to develop a nationally ranked women's team?

"I was at St. Joe three years," Coyle said, "and we were in the top 20. St. Joe is the same as Loyola -- a Jesuit school about the same size."

Almost as critical as Coyle to Loyola's wish to build a strong program is assistant coach Jim Casey.

Casey is one of Baltimore's great characters.

For seven years he owned and operated Casey's Pub at Greenmount Avenue and 35th Street. He's 59 years old, bald and overweight -- but he has one undeniable talent: He's a great recruiter.

For 12 years, when he was an assistant to Frank Szymanski at Baltimore U. and the Bees had one of the top Division II men's programs in the country, Casey did the recruiting. In two years at Loyola (the first one under Szymanski), Casey has brought in two of the best recruiting classes in the program's history.

"I wish I'd gotten involved with the women's game years ago," says Casey, whose wife, Bess, accompanies him on recruiting trips.

"The women are more up front with you than the men. They'll say, 'I've narrowed it down to four schools and yours is not one of them.' The men'll string you along."

At 9.30 Sunday morning Casey was the first to arrive for practice. Patty Coyle walked into the coaches' office a few minutes later.

"How'd it go last night?" she asked Casey, who had sped from the Notre Dame game the day before directly to Downingtown, Pa, to look at a high school player.

"All right," he said. "She got in foul trouble early."

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