“Nice. What a cool opportunity.”
That was Syracuse senior Cornelia Fondren’s response when I introduced myself as “Frank Gogola, a graduate student from IUPUI right here in Indy” during Saturday’s open locker room session ahead of the Women’s Final Four at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
After I finished interviewing Fondren, she asked me if I knew Ron Patterson, an IUPUI men’s basketball player who transferred from Syracuse. No, I told her; I had heard the name but had never talked with him.
In between her comment and question, I asked her about her season, the team’s game plan against the Washington Huskies in a semifinal game and, most pertinent to the story I was focusing on at the time, about associate head coach Vonn Read’s offensive system that emphasized number of shots (quantity) over field goal percentage (quality).
I had come across a line in Read’s bio during my research that read: “A talented writer, Read has published six basketball playbooks, which are in a series of books called ‘The Basketball Encyclopedia of Plays.’ He has also written numerous articles for various basketball publications.”
Well, that had certainly intrigued me. I Googled the title, found the book’s website and was stunned by what I read: “With a compilation of over 7,700 different plays…” I thought to myself, “How are there possibly that many basketball plays?”
I finished going through Read’s bio, checked out some of his sample plays on the website and decided I needed to find out how he accrued so many plays. However, a Google search provided nearly nothing in the way of who Read was, other than bios from the teams he’s coached with.
So, that was going to be my first objective at the Final Four: Talk with Read about how his offense and the books came about.
But back to Fondren’s initial comment. Yes, covering the Women’s Final Four, with its relaxed and laid back atmosphere, was a great opportunity indeed, and one that I was very grateful to have.
Earlier that Saturday I spoke one-on-one with ESPNers Beth Mowins, Kara Lawson and Doris Burke, one of my favorite broadcasters regardless of the sport, about gender equality in coaching opportunities – a timely topic given this was the first time there were four male coaches at the Women’s Final Four.
Then there was Mel Greenberg, who gave me two hours of his time Saturday and another 30 minutes Tuesday at 1:30 a.m. to talk about the Associated Press women’s college basketball poll, which he created and which was celebrating its 40th year this season.
There were also so many untold stories to tell because of the (unfortunate) lack of regular media coverage of women’s sports and the fact that three teams – Oregon State, Syracuse and Washington – were making their Final Four debuts. Most players seemed so excited yet nervous that someone wanted to talk with them.
Take the story of true freshman Shelby Rupp, who won a Division III national championship with Thomas More on Monday. Although she was a semi-regular bench player during the season, she wasn’t expecting to be answering questions after playing “0+” minutes in the title game. But the Milan, Indiana, native had finally won a championship in her home state.
How awesome is that opportunity?
— Frank Gogola | @FrankGogola