Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Butch van Breda Kolff, Head Coach, New Orleans Pride

So did you think that was a foul at the end of the UConn-Baylor game the other night? 

It's very hard to tell. One thing TigerBlog is reasonably sure of is that had that play happened some random time in the first half, it 100 percent would have been called a foul.

Another thing TB is reasonably sure of is that he would not have wanted to have been the official in a spot like that, with a Final Four spot on the line. Ultimately, the call was no foul, and UConn was off to the Final Four for the 13th straight time.

TB hasn't seen any television ratings for that game against the Baylor men's Elite 8 game against Oregon State, which was on at the same time Monday night. He's very interested in seeing which game did better. Even the idea that it might be close shows the meteoric rise in women's college basketball in the last 10-20 years.

TigerBlog is closing in on being done with the first draft of his book on the first 50 years of women's athletics at Princeton. One of the pieces he just finished writing was on the history of Princeton women's basketball players in American professional basketball leagues.

This past year Princeton had two alums in the WNBA, Blake Dietrick of the Atlanta Dream and Bella Alarie of the Dallas Wings. Dietrick was the first Princeton women's player to play in the league.

By the way, TB cannot believe that Niveen Rasheed never got a chance, and he has zero doubt she could have been successful in the league.

Another Princeton great, Sandi Bittler, never had a chance either, mostly because the league didn't exist when she graduated in 1990 as the Tigers' all-time leading scorer, a record she'd hold for 30 years until Alarie bested it.

Bittler did, however, play a large role in the birth of the WNBA. You'll have to read all about it in the women's history book, right? 

Going back to the 1970s, Princeton had two women drafted by the first American women's professional basketball league, which was called, aptly enough, the Women's Professional Basketball League. It lasted for three seasons, from 1978-79 to 1980-81.

The two Princetonians who were drafted were Heidi Nolte and C.B. Tomasiewicz, neither of whom elected to play, since both had better career options after graduation.

When TB went back to research that league, he found out that there were a few Princeton connections.

First, one of the best players in that league was the great Carol Blazejowski, who played at Montclair State. Blazejowski gave Princeton women's basketball all kinds of fits when she played against the Tigers in the 1970s.

Second, there was also a player named Kaye Young. Is that name familiar? Maybe you know here better by her married name, Cowher. Kaye Young married Bill Cowher, and they had three daughters, two of whom would play basketball at Princeton (Meagan and Lauren). Meagan, with 1,671 career points, is third all-time at Princeton, behind Alarie (1,703) and Bittler (1,683). 

Kaye Cowher, by the way, passed away in 2010 tragically young, at the age of 54, after a battle with skin cancer.

The other Princeton connection was one that TB had forgotten. It involved Butch van Breda Kolff, Princeton Class of 1945.

It was van Breda Kolff who coached Princeton to the 1965 NCAA Final Four, after he had played for (and been the captain of) the New York Knicks. After leaving Princeton, he coached the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals twice, before also coaching the Pistons, Suns and Jazz (when they were still in New Orleans). 

As it turns out, van Breda Kolff also coached the New Orleans Pride of the NWBL. He led the Pride to a 39-28 record over three seasons, in fact. 

His coaching career is fairly unique in that he coached in college, women's pro basketball and high school after coaching in the NCAA Final Four and then the NBA Finals twice. When TB was looking all this up, he found a great quote from van Breda Kolff:

"Coaching is coaching," he once told a reporter. "Give me 10 players who want to work and learn the game and I'm happy. I don't count the house."

That's pretty good stuff. 

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