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Women's Basketball Coach Reflects on Hall of Fame Berth

September 24, 1997|LON EUBANKS

Denise Curry is starting to get excited about her big day.

"I've been so busy that I haven't taken a lot of time to even think about it until now," she said.

But now that she's settled in as the Cal State Fullerton women's basketball coach, it's beginning to sink in.

Curry, hired in May to replace Deborah Ayres, officially will become a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Monday night, along with such other luminaries as longtime college coaches Don Haskins and Pete Carril and former NBA stars Bailey Howell and Alex English.

It's a reward for a remarkable playing career that included being a three-time All-American at UCLA, playing for two Olympic teams and then professionally for eight years in Europe.

But it's an honor she says she never expected.

"Until this year they had inducted only eight women, so it's fairly new for that to be happening," Curry said. "They've only been inducting women for the last 10 years. But it's not something I would even have thought about when I was playing anyway. I always played basketball for the fun of it, and that's what mattered."

Curry and Joan Crawford, a former All-American AAU player, will become the ninth and 10th women enshrined in the ceremony in Springfield, Mass.

Billie Moore, who was Curry's coach at UCLA as well as a former coach of the Titans, will be a part of the ceremony. So will Anne Meyers, Curry's teammate at UCLA, who will introduce Curry.

"They want a member of the Hall of Fame to introduce each person inducted and asking Ann to do it for me was a no-brainer," Curry said. "She was a senior when I was a freshman and she helped me a lot. Ann has always been one of those people who makes everyone around her better. I know in my freshman year she did all the work and made me look good."


Curry asked Moore to be part of the ceremony as one of the people who had the most influence on her career, but Curry says it wasn't easy picking only one person.

"I grew up around basketball and there were a lot of people who really helped me," Curry said. "My brother, Mike, who is two years older than I am, always let me play with him and his friends when I was growing up. My older sister, LeAnn, who also played in high school, was always encouraging to me. And my parents let me play when it wasn't that socially acceptable for girls to play basketball in those days."

Curry's father was a high school basketball coach for 35 years in Northern California and Montana before retiring.

While Moore has become something of a role model to Curry, there were other coaches who played important roles in her success.

"I had some great coaching in high school too," Curry said. "And I was around good coaches when I was on the national team, and then when I played in Europe. But as far as I'm concerned, Billie is the best coach there is."

Curry is pleased about how far women's basketball has come in the last 20 years.

"There are more opportunities and better coaching for younger players now," Curry said. "I never played organized basketball until I was 14. And in those days I can remember some girls' teams sharing the same uniforms in five different sports. All that has changed."


Title IX, which has required a movement toward gender equity in college sports, has been a big factor.

"It's probably helped more than anything, but I do believe a lot of schools have improved their women's programs because it's the right thing to do," Curry said. "Everyone is realizing that sports have just as much benefit for women as they do for men."

Curry also is pleased by the emergence of two U.S. women's pro basketball leagues,

"I think the ABL has better talent and depth right now, but the WNBA should continue to get better," Curry said. "I think the WNBA shooting percentages will get better as the players become more accustomed to the smaller and lighter ball they use in that league."

Curry says she has no regrets about not having two pro leagues in the United States when she was playing.

"It would have been nice to have it here then, but I wouldn't trade the eight years I spent playing in Europe for anything," Curry said. "It was a great experience."

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