WE GOT NEXT! THE UTAH STARZZ
A PIONEERING EFFORT
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Fall 1997
"We got next" slogans have been proliferated in the media. The Women's National Basketball Association is upon us. The initials WNBA are becoming recognized as the ultimate in women's sports and the Utah Starzz are part of this pioneering effort.
Valerie Ackerman, president of the WNBA, stated, "It's an exciting time for women's sports. It is a new era in the evolution of women's sports. Our league is enjoying unprecedented national television coverage and sponsor support. The players in our league are the finest in the world and our games are allowing sports fans to see women's basketball as it has never been seen before."
Women's basketball began as a sport with women's rules in 1882 at Smith College. Our U.S. women's basketball team won the gold medal in the 1953 World Championships but it took another 20 years to give AIAW scholarships. It was only 16 years ago that we saw the first NCAA Women's National Championship which ultimately led to the folding of the AIAW. Less than one year ago, eight cities were selected to be WNBA's charter teams. (Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah-Salt Lake City) The first WNBA league game was played on June 21, 1997.
The attendance at WNBA games is averaging about 9,000 which exceeds all expectations. The charter cities are giving their fans the full treatment. I can't think of anything that is watered down. In Salt Lake City at the Delta Center, the games are just like any Utah Jazz game: the announcer, team mascot (The Bear), dancers-gymnasts, facilities, press. The Jazz owner and all support personnel are always around. I have seen the Jazz coaches and some Jazz players in attendance at games. The WNBA is being given every chance to succeed.
With this chance to succeed comes high expectations. It is hard to believe but at this writing already two of the eight head coaches have been fired. Expectations will, I believe, escalate towards the current level of NBA Basketball. Teams already cut players, trade them and demote them. Coach Denise Taylor said, "No, I don't like to let a player go but this is a business. If I don't take care of my business then I could be looking." In the area of strength and conditioning, it is already expected that players will do some form of weight training both in-season and off-season. So, you either get with the program or get out.
Most of the Utah Starzz players did not weight train while in high school. However, all of them did at college. They also feel that weight training will not effect your shot, especially if you shoot and practice basketball as you weight train. Tammi Reiss, the Starzz fiery point guard, stated, "Lifting weights is not just a man thing. It is an athletic thing. Lifting weights is not about sexuality."
The Utah Starzz are as follows: Elena Baranova, Center 6-5 182, Age, 25 College-Russia; Deborah Carter, Guard/Forward 6-0 185, Age 25 Georgia '94; Megan Compain, Guard/Forward 5-10 145, Age 21, St. Joseph's '97; Lady Hardmon, Guard 5-10 160, Age 26, Georgia '92; Dena Head, Guard 5-10 160, Age 27, Tennessee '92; Jesse Hicks, Forward/Center 6-4 187, Age 25, Maryland '93; Wendy Palmer, Forward 6-2 165, Age 23, Virginia '96; Tammi Reiss, Guard 5-6 129, Age 27, Virginia '92; Kim Williams, Guard 5-6 136, Age 22, DePaul '97; Karen Booker, Center 6-1 170, Age 32, Vanderbilt '87; Greta Koss, Forward 6-1 145, Age 23, Montana '97.
Head Basketball Coach, Denise Taylor, grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi. Taylor was raised by her mother and grandmother after her father died of a stroke at the age of 6. She knew the meaning of hard work with her memories of being in the cotton fields. "I was lucky," remembered Coach Taylor. "I was raised on family values. My grandmother Robinson told me 'God don't like ugly and he's not too crazy about pretty either,' and that's how I was raised to be a real person and to treat others how I wanted to be treated.
Coach Taylor went from Cleveland to Texas Southern University in Houston. "Basketball was my ticket to a free education," said Taylor. She finished as TSU's all-time top ten scoring, rebounding and games played. Coach Taylor was born to coach. She even took over the team as captain/coach in her senior year at Texas Southern. After trying to work at a hospital for three years, she could not stand being away from basketball and resigned. "I realized coaching was a passion with me."
Coach Taylor landed her first job at Lamar and then in 1991 she went to American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts where she completely turned their program around. She became the head coach at Northeastern Illinois in 1993 and took that team to consecutive winning seasons and that was after the school had experienced an eight-year 21-183 record. When the WNBA opportunity arose, Taylor sent a resume to all eight teams and Utah liked her instantly.
"I did not train with weights in high school," recalled Coach Taylor. "But now, strength and conditioning is having a tremendous impact on women's basketball. When I was at Texas Southern from 1980 to 1984 I did a combination of free weights and machines but not a lot. We did not have scheduled workouts and stretching was not big but it is now. If I had lifted correctly and known what to do back then I might be playing in the WNBA instead of coaching," she said laughing.
At Northeastern Illinois, Coach Taylor did not have a formal strength program in her first year. "We didn't do Squats and Cleans but then I got a strength coach, Ed Lopez, who had a track background. We did Squats and Cleans from that point. Coach Lopez knew what to do."
"If I were a high school coach," affirmed Coach Taylor, "I would start my players in the 7th grade. When people think that weights will ruin your touch, I tell them that's a myth. As far as losing your femininity, I believe that is changing. That too is a myth. Things are changing through education. Fitness is in. Health is in.
"I believe sports can help your self confidence and discipline. Lifting weights for your sport just adds to that. Some people are afraid a girl could get muscle bound if they lift weights. Well, I have never seen that happen to my players.
"The biggest reward in coaching is how we, as coaches, can touch people by helping them achieve their dreams. Helping my girls like a mother would. Making a positive difference when girls are at a real vulnerable and impressionable age. X's and O's are fine but your main job is to help people grow."
Coach Taylor begins each practice with everyone holding hands saying the Lord's Prayer. This is followed by a thought for the day. For example, Coach Taylor asked her team to comment on the thought, "Your character is your destiny."
The Starzz are dedicated to the game and their coach. They are excited about the WNBA and being a part of this great pioneering effort in women's sports. We thank them and especially Coach Taylor for being Upper Limit and being a leader by example.
Pictures of the Starzz players lifting will be added at a later date.