Coaches miss point in snub of Langhorne

NCAA Women

April 02, 2006|By RICK MAESE

BOSTON — Boston-- --Someone asked a few players from the Maryland women's basketball team whether they felt a connection to the George Mason men, who were also making a surprising Final Four appearance this weekend.

The answer, of course, was no. In fact, these Terps expected a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament brackets were announced March 13. And truth be told, while George Mason is getting lauded all across the nation, Maryland just suffered a major slap to the face.

Entering the biggest game of the season, the Terps' biggest player was denied one of the game's biggest honors. When the Women's Basketball Coaches Association released its annual 10-person All-America team yesterday, Crystal Langhorne's name was missing from the list. It was a cruel April Fool's joke -- only no one was laughing.

"We have the best center in America and she's not an All-American and we're in the Final Four?" said Terps teammate Laura Harper. "I feel like it's a lack of respect to our program."

Though clearly biased, Harper is hardly the lone voice in this chorus. After all, Langhorne averaged a double double, led the nation in field-goal percentage and carried her team to the Final Four. Though it has happened before, it's rare that a Final Four team doesn't have a single representative on the All-America team.

"I was shocked," says Maryland coach Brenda Frese.

"Very disappointing," says teammate Kristi Toliver.

We can't even print Jade Perry's response in a family newspaper.

Even Langhorne's opponents were surprised. "It's embarrassing," says North Carolina center Erlana Larkins.

Duke's Gail Goestenkors coached Langhorne on last year's Under-19 U.S. world championship team. "In my mind, she's one of the best post players in the country," Goestenkors says, "and in the world. ... I think she's very deserving."

It's not always what happens on the court that results in just accolades. "Everything is political, you know," Goestenkors said.

It's certainly possible that Langhorne suffered from some sort of backlash against Frese, who has ruffled feathers in the coaching ranks in recent years. Some opposing coaches have questioned Frese's recruiting tactics.

But it's more likely that Langhorne, the always-smiling sophomore center, was a victim of a flawed system. The All-America team was selected by a nine-person committee, nominated and voted into place by their coaching peers. The voters were coaches from Mississippi State, St. John's, Elon, Toledo, Minnesota, Colorado State, Washington State and Baylor, which had an assistant vote in place of coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson.

Only St. John's Kim Barnes Arico had coached against Langhorne this season. The rest of the committee members watched video highlights and listened to an argument from Rider coach Tori Harrison, who was in charge of making a case for the six finalists from her region. Harrison, a Baltimore native and former coach at Coppin State, successfully argued for two other players -- Duke's Monique Curry and North Carolina's Ivory Latta.

Somehow, when she spoke of Langhorne, something didn't reach the ears of the selection committee, a group that had the good fortune of selecting the team after four tournament games. The Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers' Association both put Langhorne in their respective top 10s -- and those committees had to vote before the tournament began.

Unlike the WBCA voters, the writers didn't get to see Langhorne score 30 against St. John's in the second round and then 34 against Baylor four nights later. They didn't see Langhorne score 18 and pull down 11 rebounds against Utah, enough to be named the most outstanding player of the Albuquerque Regional.

"All of us were just like, `Are you serious?! '" Harper said. "What does she have to do? Does she have to dunk?"

Langhorne played against All-Americans from Baylor, Duke, North Carolina and Tennessee this season, and more than held her own against the Sophia Youngs and Candace Parkers of the world. Her scoring and rebounding are down slightly from a year ago, but that's because this year's Terps play more like an actual team. Langhorne is a stronger shooter, better from the free-throw line, and tallies more assists and fewer turnovers.

"We have an unselfish roster," Frese said. "When you look at five players scoring in double figures and the way we spread the ball, she's not going to have Sophia Young-numbers because we're not a one-person team."

You want to know the one person who didn't seem to mind Langhorne's exclusion? Langhorne herself. That's not her style. Frese remembers back to the Sweet 16 game against Baylor, when Langhorne showed everyone the gap between her and Young (one of the WBCA's 10 All-Americans.)

Langhorne hit a layup at the buzzer to close the first half. Through just 20 minutes, she already had 20 points and eight rebounds, and there was just no way Baylor was going to come back.

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