Both University of Minnesota basketball teams last month held their respective annual alumni days. It presented the perfect opportunity to ask several former male and female Gopher players, as well as others, their thoughts on their best-evers.
Melvin Newbern (1987-90): “Julius Erving. I loved the way he played the game and how he carried himself. Another player and the reason why I wore [uniform] number 34 [in high school] is Len Bias. He was a horse on the basketball court in any stage of the game and literally could win the game on his own. And my brother Marcus Newbern — he played high school ball and college ball.”
Ellen Stewart (1988-89): “Teri Snoddy — she played in the ’70s at North. She was the first woman I ever saw dunk a basketball.”
Walter Bond (1988-91): “When I came out of Chicago, it was Marcus Liberty, the number-one high school player in the country. He didn’t have the pro career people thought [he would have], but he was the best high school player I’ve ever seen. Incredible talent and a good guy. He was the LeBron James of his time. Karl Malone, who I played with at Utah, was an unbelievable talent. Those are the two that stick out in my mind.”
Lea (Bergin) Olsen (1988-90): “Cheryl Miller and Lisa Leslie. I always looked at them because they were tall post players. The McGee twins [Pam and Paula, Miller’s college teammates at Southern Cal] also changed the game.”
Kim Prince (1999-2003): “[Leslie] had all the fundamentals that it takes to be an all-around player. She always will be the one I looked up [to].”
Dana (Joubert) Hayes (1988-92): “Lynette Woodard. She was just a phenomenal athlete, not just a basketball player. When I first started, she was in college, and I loved to watch her play.”
“I have to go with Cheryl Miller — hard, tough minded, and just a go-getter,” said Crystal (Flint) Lanoue (1991-94) of the four-time All-American and two-time national champion. She and Darrell Thompson (football) are among 22 distinguished Black athletes recognized on the Big Ten’s Black History Month website, which also features stories on Moses “Fleetwood” Walker, the conference’s first Black athlete, and Jesse Owens, who attended Ohio State. “Seeing the people that also are featured, it is a great honor. It’s pretty cool.”
Minnesota Men’s Coach Tubby Smith: “I tried to recruit Michael Jordan out of high school. I got to see, touch, feel and shake [Jordan’s] hand before he became great. To see him in the 11th grade, and then see what he achieved, I would say he was the greatest.”
MSR sports intern Onika Nicole Craven: “Daphne [Walker] was a year older than I was, but [I was] watching her at Franklin Junior High; [she] then went on to North. When I was a freshman in college four years later, I got to watch Daphne be a big post player and got to play with her [at Rainy River Community College]. She was an all-around player — she could get the rebound off the board and get down to the other end, dish it off or take it to the hole. I got to watch her game and her [work] ethic.”
Olsen also likes a current sophomore at Ohio State, who played Minnesota last Sunday. “I thought Tayler Hill at [Minneapolis] South handled the fundamentals of basketball — she was the best I’ve seen in Minnesota in a long time,” noted the local broadcaster. “Her ability to make it look easy… When people make it look easy, you know they are at a different level.”
Sheryl Swoopes also tops Olsen’s list — the two-time All-American and 1993 national player of the year led all NCAA tournament players in scoring and rebounding as she led her 1993 Texas Tech squad to a national title. She was also a founding player of the WNBA, playing on four championship teams, and was a three-time MVP.
“She got people to watch girls’ basketball [in the 1990s] who hadn’t watched it before because of her finesse and the way she [played],” continued Olsen on the all-but-certain-to-be Hall-of-Famer. “I always liked her style.”
Over a decade after her collegiate career concluded, Lanoue admitted that she was taken aback when a Big Ten spokesperson contacted her last month. “It is definitely an honor to be chosen, so I guess I’m still relevant. I graduated in 1994, and 17 years later, it makes me think that I played Big Ten basketball, and that means something.”
Teammates Seimone Augustus and Monica Wright recently were voted as starters on the “Rest of the World” team for the March 8 EuroLeague All-Star Game.
Next week: a columnist’s best ever.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.