KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Lisa Leslie wants today’s generation of players to respect the game and its history.
While entering the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, the four-time Olympic gold medalist thanked the women who preceded her and offered a message to those who are following her.
“Understand and learn the history of our game because it’s a precious history,” Leslie said. “Those of us who’ve played, and now that we’re moving on and this new generation is coming in, you guys have to understand that we’re all woven together as one. We’re a basketball family and we all represent each other. Do your best out there.”
Leslie headlined an induction class that also included former Brazilian national team member and Houston Comets player Janeth Arcain, former Louisiana Tech and Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke, former Duke and Texas coach Gail Goestenkors, former Georgia star Janet Harris and former Oregon high school coach Brad Smith.
The Hall of Fame also recognized the Immaculata College teams that won three straight AIAW national titles from 1972-74 as “trailblazers of the game.”
Leslie, a former Southern California and Los Angeles Sparks standout, is a three-time WNBA MVP who won Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
“I used to always say I never wanted to do anything that’s disrespectful to my family name on the back of my jersey,” Leslie said. “But I also realized I didn’t want to do anything that was disrespectful to the name on the front of my jersey _ and the one that I’m most proud of obviously is USA.”
Goestenkors, currently an assistant with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, made four Final Four appearances and won 498 games as a college head coach. Goestenkors said she felt uncomfortable at first accepting such an individual honor because her career has focused on team success.
“I feel like I should stand up here with all the teams I’ve ever coached and been a part of,” Goestenkors said. “Even my display case in the Hall of Fame, they said we need some trophies, plaques and rings. I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I didn’t want it to be about me or some things that I’ve received. I said, `No, you need to put pictures of every team I’ve coached in the display case because I want them in the Hall with me because they are with me.”’
Budke, who died in a 2011 plane crash, was the first person to be inducted posthumously since Ora Washington in 2009. Budke led Trinity Valley to four national junior-college championships and posted a combined 192-99 record at Louisiana Tech and Oklahoma State.
Budke’s wife, Shelley Budke, spoke on his behalf and discussed how her husband changed his approach after leaving behind his life-long dream of coaching men’s basketball and moving to the women’s game.
“He was still that intense competitor that I married, but now his priorities had shifted,” Shelley Budke said. “He cared about making his players better people and successful in life, not just on the basketball court.”
Arcain is a four-time Olympian who played on four WNBA championship teams with the Comets. Harris, who said she battled asthma as a child, was the first NCAA women’s basketball player to combine for 2,500 career points and 1,250 rebounds.
Harris is joining her high school coach (Dorothy Gaters) and college coach (Andy Landers) in the Hall of Fame, and she fought back tears while thanking both of them during her speech.
“You both played a big part in getting me here,” Harris said. “I just want to say when you plant seeds, they need to be nurtured to grow. I know in the beginning it was hard, but I had sprouted. I started to grow, and I want both of you to know that I have blossomed.”
Smith, who won 10 state championships at Oregon City High School, is the first high school coach to get inducted since Leta Andrews in 2010.
“The irony of a high school coach is that coaching is our second job,” Smith said. “Teaching is our first. We do this on the side. Coaching may be our first love, but it’s not our most important job. Teaching is.”