Unlike a lot of the growing legion of women’s college basketball fans who came to the sport via coaching or enthusiastically watching the sport at the elementary and high school level, I stumbled onto it on TV one night in March about ten years ago. I was fascinated with the below the rim game. Since few players have the athleticism to compensate for a blown play, execution is a must and there’s a premium on poise, savvy and precision.
When I began to watch, Chamique Holdsclaw was leading the University of Tennessee Lady Vols to three consecutive titles. Shortly after that, Diana Taurasi matched that streak for UConn. Then, the hegemony broke. Baylor won one championship and Maryland won the next one in dramatic fashion, tying the title game with a last second three pointer and winning it in overtime.
The Lady Vols are presently led by Candace Parker, a player who may be better than either Holdsclaw or Tuarasi (four years ago in the slam dunk competition at the McDonald’s High School All Star game festivities, Parker beat the four boys—including future NBA slam dunk champ Josh Smith), however Tennessee while an elite team wasn’t a lock last year, when they won the title, nor is it this season. Meanwhile UConn fans have high hopes too; their team is the #1 overall seed in the tournament, and next season top recruit Elena Delle Donne will join the fold.
There are now more than 20 programs that can guarantee tradition and exposure for top women’s college basketball players but Tennessee and UConn can go one step further, a network into the lucrative women’s hoops circuit abroad. Few WNBA players make more than $100,000 a season, but most former NCAA standouts top those earnings playing during the winter and spring abroad and some make nearly half a million dollars. The Husky and Lady Vol connections are the strongest, but as other schools win titles and build a winning tradition, they too will establish alumni associations with similar clout on the foreign hoops circuit.
That’s one more reason for me to root for Rutgers this spring. They stand the best chance of preventing a return to the hegemony of recent years in women’s college hoops. There’s too much talent in the game right now for two teams to hog all the fun.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.