On December 21, the University of Connecticut basketball team will compete against the College of Charleston at 7pm at the TD Arena.  UCONN arrives in Charleston coming off the Baylor game on Sunday night, December 18.  The #2 ranked UCONN Huskies carries a gaudy pedigree and impressive numbers:  participants in the last 4 Final Fours, 12 overall with 7 national championships.  This basketball program creates a buzz and the Cougars will have to “pick their poison” in trying to stop a team that prides itself on discipline, sharing and winning.     

Call to action Charleston!  In the spirit of the holiday season of giving and sharing, let me share some friendly advice with you.  Experience basketball at the highest level in our city played by women who are highly skilled, competitive and fun to watch.  The UCONN basketball experience is similar to the Boston Pops or the Rockettes coming to town.  We’d be scouring for tickets to see one of those traditional holiday experiences and should feel the same vibe about a chance to witness the UCONN women play hoops. 

As a basketball analyst who’s covered the college basketball landscape over two decades, I rarely encounter guarantees in sports and certainly not many worth wagering your mortgage.  But I can say with unwavering certainty if you bring your son or daughter to witness the UCONN women play, you will be entertained.  These women play with discipline, share the basketball and ooze passion about respecting the game by playing the right way as a team.  Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s players love to showcase their skills at the highest level, knowing they are ambassadors with proving-power they can and will allow you to join in the fun.

“Tim Tebow Like”

The UCONN Women share a “Tebowism”.  They believe when they put on the uniform, they will win.   Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos who has become polarized and scrutinized by experts and fans.  What makes UCONN “Tebow-like?”  They only accept winning.  The Huskies have a culture of competitive greatness.   They are inherently confident with a high self esteem about their identity as players and a program. 

When you watch UCONN play, you see attention to detail, the extra pass and a forty minute focus.  This is not a high flying circus act above the rim, but they control the ground better than most.  Geno has more High School All Americans than starting positions.  The last 5 years, he has signed the number one recruit in the nation so skill level and ability to make plays is instinctive.  UCONN will play hard.  It’s the only way they know, like Tebow. 

Geno Like

Iconic Geno Auriemma, the Naismith Hall of Fame Coach is relentless in his pursuit of excellence.  Geno is more teacher than drill sergeant; more philanthropic than tyrant to those who know him or have played for him.  I’ve witnessed Geno in teaching moments that required patience to break down the game to its simplest form.  At times the game is a science, at times it is an art and Coach Auriemma has created a style of play that exudes both.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some people out there that wouldn’t mind seeing Geno “take 2 shots to get out of the bunker” because they are smitten with his level of success and bravado.  The 27 year head coach of the Huskies and 2012 Olympic Coach breeds confidence, consistency and an evolving knowledge of the game.    

Secret formula uncovered

One of my favorite scenes from the movie “Space Jam” involves Bugs Bunny offering his Looney Tune teammates a swig from his bottle of “secret stuff” before the game against the Monstars.  Ironically, the secret is there is no secret.  If there was a secret formula, what coach would say no to what Geno bottled?  Yes, his sideline demeanor is demanding but I don’t know many coaches that wear a forty minute smile on their face and have his hall of fame resume.  The secret is more rudimentary in our society than people admit. Hard work, discipline, choices and building self confidence and a belief in your teammates is no secret to success.   Demand discipline from those that have a competitive heart and work ethic and you will see results.   I contend teams that play for a higher purpose than individual agenda, see results.  The UCONN women play for many reasons but all share the same appetite to win. 

The Boston Pops don’t just show up and toot and strum, nor do the Rockettes show up and dance and kick.  The UCONN women have refined their skill and will showcase countless hours of work with an entertaining style of play on the floor.  Your reward will be to show up.  The secret is there is no secret formula for hard work and commitment to a goal.  Come out and support women’s basketball!  If TD Arena can be as energizing as it was for the Tennessee win last week, this could be a fitting retirement present for Cougar Head Coach Nancy Wilson. 

Debbie Antonelli

ESPN, CBS, Fox Basketball Analyst

Web site: www.debbieantonelli.com

twitter: @debbieantonelli

 
 
 
 
My Penn State Experience
Today, November 10, 2011 my 9 year old son Patrick left the house for school like he always does, with his book bag over his shoulder and his lunch box in his hand. The weather is changing and he required a jacket. The weather will be in the mid 70s today but this morning was in the 50s.  He grabbed the same hooded gray jacket that he has been wearing for the past 2 years, the jacket that reads Penn State across the front.  You see, Penn State is an iconic, idolized brand in our house. My husband Frank grew up watching and cheering for Penn State and revering Joe Paterno. Those affections have been passed to my three boys.

 We love Penn State Football and Joe Paterno.  A football Saturday with Penn state on television means we watch it live and tape it so we can watch it again.  My boys know the starting line ups, most of the history of the program and can recite some of the best linebackers in the history of Penn State football. All of my boys are capable of recanting these Penn State names and memories, including my 9 year old Patrick.   But instead of letting him wear that jacket, today I said no.  I couldn’t bear to watch my 9 year old son wear that jacket today; 2 nights removed from reading the grand jury report on Jerry Sandusky and what allegedly took place over the past 15 years with small boys; and the day that Joe Paterno has been fired.  I couldn’t bear to watch him put that jacket on and wear it to school.   When I read the grand jury report and read over and over about victim 8 who suffered the same horrific experience as victim 1, I was sickened and upset. I’m heartbroken and saddened beyond what these words can express for the victims that didn’t do anything wrong to deserve such treatment and for a crushed group of men in my house.  I never claimed to be a great writer but I claim to want to make a difference especially in the lives of my children.  I want to stand for something, chose my stance wisely and pray that my boys will always make good choices in their conduct and decision making.  With unwavering self-doubt, I am someone who will not allow ANYONE to hurt another that is vulnerable, weak or incapable of helping themselves.   What Jerry Sandusky did is irreversible and deplorable.  I wondered half way thru the grand jury report if I should continue to read because it was so sickening, it was difficult.  But I read on for the safety of my family and my children.  If you haven’t read it, it’s disgusting and you must be sure you can stomach the results of the 23 page document. 

Joe Paterno is continuing to teach maybe his greatest lesson in his saddest moment for himself and his university.  Joe Paterno is a great man, who used football to create future leaders.  He was first a teacher who espoused the ideals of integrity, character and service.  He gave to Penn State of free will and sound mind and was as generous as any coach in American Sport.  Penn State Football was supposed to be one of the good guys, a program beyond reproach, beyond question since there weren’t NCAA rules violations and the discipline that Joe installed in his program was of the highest regard for empowering his young men to learn to do things the right way, not take short cuts. If you got a parking ticket on Penn State’s campus, you paid the fine and the consequences.  You went to class. You knew what was expected of you as a young man in that program.  Those traits and characteristics are still a part of the fabric of who Joe Paterno is and what he represents.  He made Penn State unique. Joe Paterno created a perceived stance that Penn State is one of the last, truly good representatives of college athletics for honesty, integrity and role models for us to look to for inspiration.    

 

My challenge is to teach my boys to do many of the same things.  Joe is a great man who made a moral mistake and a big one because it affected the lives of many innocent and vulnerable and empowered Jerry Sandusky to continue to hunt young boys and get away with unspeakable acts.  I want my boys to make the right choices and stand for a cause that might be bigger than themselves but understand what is a role model and who the important people in their lives are that can make a difference for them and with them. 

Today is Patrick’s teacher’s birthday.  Amy Ryan is a terrific fourth grade teacher and true role model for my children.  Patrick wanted to do something special for his teacher today so he asked if we could get up early and go to Starbucks to get Mrs. Ryan a cup of coffee because he knew she would appreciate his special thought.  When we arrived in the classroom to deliver her cup of coffee, many of the children in the classroom had lined up to hand Mrs. Ryan a small birthday gift and/or share a birthday hug.  She received each gesture and gift as if it was the most important thing she had ever received in her life.  I watched the smile on Patrick’s face form from ear to ear.  He was beaming.  He gave his teacher a special gift and she gave one right back to him.

We should think about the people in our lives on a daily basis.  The teachers in our children’s lives are real heroes.  If you have a kid in school, you should know what I mean.  We entrust our children to their care, support, safety and intellectual and emotional development.  The minute they leave our arms in the morning, they are exposed to people we trust and have empowered to do the right things with our children and for our children.  Good teachers and educational leaders are the real heroes and leaders in our lives and the lives of our children.  We should tell our teachers and educators, the good ones, more often. 

The lessons and conversations this situation exposed to our family has forced me to have tough, important and meaningful conversation with my boys.  The conversation is about choices and doing the right thing. I believe there are people categorized in this world as those that will take a stand and those that will turn their head and look the other way.  I hope my boys will take a stand and do the right things.  That’s my prayer every night for my family.

 
 
 
 
My Kay Yow experience              

I’ve had many wonderful memories of my friend, my coach, my mentor, Kay Yow.  I wanted to share one during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The night the court was dedicated in her name will always be special and a proud moment for me because of my role in the court bearing her name.  Beating undefeated and # 1 Duke in the ACC Tournament emotional since she could not stand on the bench without help.  Both of these moments were from the 2007 season, a season that will always be special for me as a broadcaster in those emotional, heart-stretching moments.

I want to share a memory from 1998, the year Coach Yow added to her resume with her first and only trip to the Final Four.  The day following a heartbreaking defeat by La Tech in the national semifinals, I attended the Senior All Star game that was played between the semis and the finals of the NCAA Tournament.  I selected a seat on press row and visited with a friend in the stands. When I returned to my seat, Coach Yow was sitting next to me.

In July of 1997, my middle son, Frankie was born.  Frank and I didn’t know until an hour after his birth that Frankie was born with Down Syndrome.  It was news without warning or preparation.  I was struggling during this time.  I had not seen Coach Yow very often that season and didn’t have time to have meaningful conversation but she knew I was struggling with managing the plans and choices for our future as a family.  I wasn’t planning to talk about Frankie and my challenges at that moment with Coach Yow.  She had just lost a devastating game and a dream season had come to an end. 

As the jump ball was tossed and we chatted about the events of the previous night, she began to dig into my opportunities as a parent of a special needs child.  She related my struggles to finding out I would have a different path than the one we had planned for our family, just like finding out the news that she had cancer.  So as only Coach Yow can do, she started to tell a story.  It was a story of faith and determination and how God had given us something that we could handle: her cancer and my challenges to raise Frankie. 

She started like this.  When faced with adversity, we nurse the hurt.  We want people to feel sorry for us.  The second step is we curse the hurt.  We are mad this adversity happened to me. We ask why and don’t understand.  Then we rehearse the hurt. We look for empathy and want people to feel sorry for us and coddle us instead of encouraging us to move forward.  The final step is we reverse the hurt.  At some point we decide to make a choice about the way we are going to handle adversity. We decide to make a positive change in our attitude and our outlook.  When we do this, we are on our way to making a difference in our lives and in the lives that we touch. 

I was nine months from giving birth to Frankie.  It was shortly after that conversation that I decided she was right.  It was time for me to make the right choices with my responsibilities as a mother for my family.  My struggle thru all four stages was true.  She put it into context that I could understand.  I am the strongest advocate for my son Frankie who is smart, handsome, athletic, funny and very social.  Frankie is all of those things and just happens to have Down Syndrome.  It doesn’t define who he is; it is a part of him. 

I’ve had many wonderful memories with Coach Yow in my 30 year relationship with her as a camper, player and professional.  The time she spent with me at that game during that time in my life, will be forever remembered. I am so thankful that Coach Yow continued to mentor me years after I had graduated proving once again that she cared about us as people first, before she cared about us as players.    

 
 
 
 
Top ten at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, October 2011

1.        Northwestern players know a thing about marketing at Media Day.  Kendall Hackney and Allison Mocchi selected a few recipes from a Wildcat Cookbook and made the best Oreo Balls I’ve ever tasted.  Everyone visited their round table.  Coach Joe McKeown’s daughter Megan was the only guard in the Big Ten with 0 turnovers last year!

2.       A Freshman Point Guard can make the difference according to Minnesota Head Coach Pam Borton.  Minnesota lost 5 games by 5 points or less in conference play last year and Coach Borton is relying on the playmaking skills of Rachel Banham to be the difference in late game.

3.       Former Michigan State alum Lauren Aitch creates custom made business suits. Coach Suzy Merchant is a regular customer.  Aitch held a fund raiser and raised $15,000 for Pediatric Cancer and Coach Merchant walked the runway as a model to support.

4.       Illinois returns everyone including Big Ten preseason first teamer Karisma Penn.  That should tell you expectations are high for Coach Jolette Law’s team. 

5.       Penn State is picked to win the Big Ten by media and coaches. Coach Coquese Washington’s point guard Alex Bentley is the pick to be player of the year.  Backcourt mate Maggie Lucas made 100,000 shots this summer to avoid the 1-11 performance in the NCAA Tournament last season.  I predict Maggie won’t repeat that kind of shooting night since she made 112 3 pointers last season, Big Ten and Penn State single season records.

6.       Nebraska’s Head Coach Connie Yori missed her first Big Ten Media day.  Good news on her health after complications from knee surgery! She is down to one crutch.  The bad news is the other crutch is used to measure a level for her team to defensive slide under!  Not really but I bet she has thought of it!  Watch out for Connie on that little red scooter on campus!  She doesn’t have a horn!

7.       The Ohio State University has won the last 7 consecutive Players of the Year in the Big Ten.  Their style of play has been to the post, not thru the post.  Expect a different team this year. According to Coach Foster, a more “European” style of play featuring Sam Prahalis and Tayler Hill. They did win 11 of last 12 games last season.  All is not lost at Ohio State!

8.       The Big Ten has a media vote and a coach’s vote for the top 3 spots only.  That’s the way they have done it for years.  Both polls have Penn State at one and Purdue at two.  Media has Michigan State as 3 and coaches have Iowa at 3. 

9.       Purdue welcomes back a strong nucleus with 6 seniors.  KK Houser is back from injury and ready to share point guard responsibilities with Courtney Moses.  There are only 4 coaches in the history of the game that have taken them alma mater to the Final Four.  Will Coach Versyp have enough to get there?  They play the toughest three-game swing in college basketball.  At duke, at Texas A&M, Notre Dame.  All three will be in the top ten.  No one lines up that schedule back to back to back unless you believe that this might be the year.   Now must pull together with the Drew Mingo injury. How much more can that kid take?  Enough is enough.

Iowa is healthy!  This better not be the jinx or Head Coach Lisa Bluder will take me off her Christmas Card list.  Wahlin, Printy and Johnson are veterans who allow Iowa to contend in the Big Ten race.
 
 
 
 
What did I learned at Big 12 media day?  Read on!

1.       Quote of all quotes!  The highlight of the 2011 Big 12 Media day belongs to Coach Kim Mulkey.  Coach Mulkey on not playing Texas A&M after playing them every year since 1974 and playing off the comments of Texas A&M president: “If a man wants to divorce me and says our relationship has no value to him, and then he asks if he can sleep with me, the answer is: NO!

2.        Trace Atkins, the country music singer, had a secret crush on Kim Mulkey till now.  He remade a Lou Rawls love song and dedicated it to this “little girl” from La Tech on his new CD.  Track #13.  Check it out!  Trace was a walk-on football player at La Tech but Kim didn’t give him the time of day! Now he’s reconnecting and might show up at Baylor to sing the national anthem!

3.       Hallie Christopherson, Iowa State sophomore is a graphic designer with forward thinking creativity. No surprise Coach Bill Fennelly is creative in his game planning.  He recruits left brain and right brain players. Get well Coach Fennelly! You were sincerely missed at media day!

4.       Kansas did some interesting off season conditioning involving boxing.  I asked Monica Engelman if she knew what a squat thrust was?  Nope!  Kids got too many funky training techniques. Bring back the old-school squat thrusts! 

5.       Brittany Griner has always been a self-proclaimed “motor head”. She likes to tinker with cars and motorized things. She once tweaked the governor on her go-cart for speed.  She gets around campus on her longboard, her second since arriving at Waco.  She lost the first one under a campus bus.  Ok? If Coach Mulkey is ok with it, me too.  Griner’s working on a hook shot.  Oh boy! Could be unstoppable!  Swin Cash was a big help with the national team experience in Italy and she really enjoyed Coach Auriemma.

6.       K State’s Brittany Chambers was a first team All Big 12 performer last year.  She has added to her game and added 10 pounds to her frame.  She’s shooting the floater and getting her shot off quicker.  She also spent some time conditioning with a fork lift.    K State lined up a couple of forklifts and did some pull ups as only K State can do.  You had to jump up and to grab the bar set over 9 feet. Coach Deb Patterson is literally setting the bar!

7.       OSU Sophomore Point Guard Tiffany Bias is going to be a fashion designer.  Short of calling herself a fashion diva, she’s “ok” with Coach Budke and the orange jacket that he pulls out for the big games! Loves orange! Expect them to be the surprise team from Big 12 on the national scene, not in the Big 12.  The coaches already know!And, Toni Young has the red light when it comes to dunking. She is under the “no-dunking” rule at OSU.

8.       Tyra White, Texas A&M’s returning leading scorer is trying to put the NCAA Title game on the shelf but have become celebrities on their own campus.  Tyra watched the title game 4 times alone and hundreds of times she has seen “the shot” she made late.  Her new focus is the free throw line.  Her routine is 3 dribbles, 1 spin, 1 dribble then swish. Will her ft% climb this year?

9.       Texas’ Ashley Gayle is set to become the best shot blocker in Texas history.  That means a high risk-high reward defense will be more dangerous.  A veteran backcourt with a high defensive basketball IQ will transfer to more offense.  Expect this to be the highest scoring team Coach G has put on the floor in her time at Texas.  By the way, did I mention 6’5 Cokie Reed is back!  Good things for Texas this season.

10.   Texas Tech has 12 players returning and will finish higher than their pre season 6th place prediction.  Don’t sleep on Mallard, Morris and Smalls.  This is a team that beat Baylor and OU late last season.  This team appears to be a hungry, hard working group!

11.   The only Big 12 Wade Trophy Winner in the history of the league is back on the sidelines at Texas.  Edwina Brown is an assistant coach and according to the Texas backcourt, she’s already had an impact teaching a few old school tricks.

12.   The Big 12’s survival creates a renewed energy for the season for all Big 12 Coaches.  The major change in scheduling, playing each team twice, will be a challenge for many but will allow the Big 12 to have a true champion.  I’ve been an advocate for in conference RPI with unbalanced schedules.  The Big 12 has been the most consistent completive regular season race with the best conference RPI the past 4 years.  Will the round robin help or hurt NCAA at large opportunities?

13.   OU will be without 4 year starting point guard Danielle Robinson yet still have firepower at the guard positions with Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg to play with pace.  No one sliced up the court in transition and answered the 3 W’s of a good point guard like DRob.  Who to get it to, when to deliver and where are the 3 W’s.  One of my all time favorite features from the Big 12 was with DRob at center court in the Lloyd Noble Center “breaking it down”.  

Plus one!  12 consecutive years the Big 12 has led the nation in attendance.  The home court is fantastic in this league.  It’s one of the many reasons I enjoy working in the Big 12 the past ten years.  They love hoops and its fun for the fans and the TV crews.   

 
 
My Mighty Macs experience:

Friday, October 21, 2011, Frankie and I get to the Citadel Mall IMAX theatre early to secure the back row and a giant, butter-filled, extra-large bucket of popcorn. Anticipation is high to see a movie on the big screen for the sport I love!  Not only was the movie experience going to be exciting, but enhanced with a special treat.  We attended with the family of one of the actresses in the movie and her teachers from Ashley Hall High School.  The family had not seen the finished product!  Margaret Anne Florence is #23, Rosemary Keenan in the movie.  Her parents, Terry and Hope are friends.     

Terry is battling lung cancer and had a heart attack the week before the premiere.  Terry is a former member of the PGA and is our Director of Golf at Bulls Bay.  As the movie started, Terry and Hope were all smiles!  As the movie progressed and the anticipation of seeing #23 grew, Terry and Hope couldn’t stop smiling as the tears trickled down their faces!  The theatre erupted in cheers when Margaret Anne appeared in her first scene.  The scene was about the girls meeting Coach Rush for the first time for tryouts.  It was a thrill to see anyone fulfill dream.  Terry and Hope were as proud as any parent could be.  It was inspiring watching their dream for their daughter play out on the big screen.  It will be a moment that I will remember for a lifetime.

The movie’s theme is about teamwork, trust, togetherness and toughness.  The struggles by those before us in the game were met with the same conviction and sturdy backbone that we see in today’s hard working players.  Women’s basketball will always be under the label of “movement”.  As we gain an additional slice of the American sports scene, we always should feel compelled to let the fans and the stakeholders in the game know much we appreciate them taking a stand and fighting for their movement.

Commitment, participating in a cause greater than yourself and trusting your teammates are still the cornerstones of successful, winning programs in women’s college basketball.  The story of Immaculata’s basketball run in 1972, 73, 74 is inspiring and motivating.  Coach Cathy Rush talks about believing and hoping and staying committed with her words and her actions in the movie.  These are values I hear in today’s classrooms, churches and basketball courts.  These are not new lessons yet it’s not old school either.  Fundamentals and having a foundation and inner drive are how our game was built and how our game is played today.  Go out and support the Mighty Macs movie! You and your team at home or your team in the workplace will be grateful for what our game is today!