Stanley in her element once again

A win from WNBA Finals, Hall of Fame player, coach remodels career, Mystics

Pro Basketball

August 24, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Last week, after the Washington Mystics had won their inaugural WNBA playoff game, Chamique Holdsclaw retold a joke that broke up the room of reporters.

Holdsclaw said that Tausha Mills, a reserve center, had noted that the Mystics, for the first time, had a Coach of the Year winner. "And the coach is actually favored to come back next year," Holdsclaw said.

The subject of the joke, coach Marianne Stanley, was sitting next to Holdsclaw and laughed harder than anyone else in the room, serving as testament to the notion that Stanley doesn't take herself all that seriously.

What Stanley - the runaway winner of WNBA Coach of the Year - does care about, quite deeply, is basketball. Her passion and drive for the game have steered the previously woeful Mystics to a victory away from the WNBA Finals. Washington travels to Madison Square Garden to meet the New York Liberty tonight in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference championship series.

"I genuinely love this team and I really have enjoyed the daily grind of working with them," said Stanley, 48, who frequently flaps her arms to get the MCI Center crowd going. "And after 25 years, to feel like this is one of the most fun, most rewarding situations because of the people that I work with every day, is more than enough reward for me."

Despite her youthful appearance - some Mystics players privately and jokingly call her "Harry Potter" because her pageboy haircut makes her look like a certain young wizard - Stanley is a hoops lifer. She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in April.

Stanley was the All-America point guard of the legendary Immaculata (Pa.) teams that appeared in four straight national championship games in the early 1970s, winning two championships. Right out of Immaculata, Stanley went to Old Dominion, where, after a year as an assistant, she became head coach at age 23.

In 10 years in Norfolk, Va., Stanley recruited future Hall of Fame players like Nancy Lieberman and Anne Donovan, and led the Lady Monarchs to three collegiate national championships and six Final Four appearances, before leaving in 1987. She spent two years at Penn before taking over at Southern California.

In five seasons in Los Angeles, Stanley turned around the Trojans program, reaching the Elite Eight once and the second round of the NCAA tournament three times. However, when Stanley asked for a contract that would pay her the same base salary as men's coach George Raveling, USC athletic director Mike Garrett turned her down.

Stanley refused a contract extension that did not provide equal pay and was eventually let go. She filed an $8 million lawsuit, alleging sex discrimination, and while the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission granted her a trial, a federal court of appeals eventually backed USC.

In the meantime, Stanley, who recruited Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson at USC, was essentially blackballed from basketball and forced to take jobs in a bookstore and refinishing furniture, among other tasks, while her case was being heard in the courts.

"In 1993, I couldn't get a job. Nobody wanted me," Stanley said. "To go from that point, to [now], is pretty special. I never stopped believing in what I could do as a coach. I just needed to get in a good situation. USC was a great situation. I just took a stand on principle about the work. I left that team as No. 5 in the country going into the season with pretty darned good talent. I think I more than did my job adequately out there. It just went the way it went. From that point, that didn't mean that I didn't know how to coach anymore."

Eventually, Stanley got back in the game, serving as a co-interim coach at Stanford in 1996, the year the Cardinal's Tara VanDerveer took a sabbatical to coach the Olympic team. Stanford went 29-3 in that season and reached the Final Four.

From there, Stanley took over at Cal for four years before landing in Los Angeles as an assistant coach of the Sparks, then came to the Mystics last season as an assistant to Australian national coach Tom Maher.

Maher and general manager Melissa McFerrin were forced out last December, and the Mystics privately dallied with Tennessee coach Pat Summitt before making Summitt a player personnel consultant and naming Stanley head coach just before the April draft.

The Mystics bounded out of the gate to a 15-6 start before stumbling badly in the final month, losing nine of their last 11. Through the slide, which cost Washington first place in the East, the players say Stanley stayed consistent.

"It [the slump] was really hard for her, because I don't think the team was responding to what she was trying to teach us at the time," said center Vicky Bullett. "We couldn't find a reason for what was happening, and she couldn't get through to us. It's our fault that she couldn't get through.

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