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Vol. 52, No. 2 • January 2015 • .pdf version
USBWA shares special day with Lauren Hill
By MEL GREENBERG
At a recent function here in Philadelphia, popular Saint Joseph's men's coach Phil Martelli approached and started a conversation by noting: "Lauren Hill, there won't be a bigger story in all of women's basketball this season."
Indeed, the well-chronicled stand that the 19-year-old Division III freshman player at Mount St. Joseph's in Cincinnati has taken in pursuing her love of basketball and raising awareness in the face of suffering with a terminal and rare form of pediatric brain cancer has captured the hearts of the nation and many in the sports world beyond the basketball community.
And on Nov. 2 at Xavier's Cintas Center, before a sellout crowd of 10,000 that included top stars from the WNBA and some from the NFL and also before a nationwide TV audience, Lauren realized her goal of reaching her first collegiate game and scoring. At halftime, the USBWA was there to help celebrate the realization of her dream with the presentation of the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award that involved an unprecedented action by the organization.
"Today has been the best day I've ever had," Hill said after her team had beaten Hiram College. "Thank you. I don't know what else to say but thank you."
In a surprise appearance, Tennessee women's basketball coach emeritus Pat Summitt, for whom the award is named and is battling Alzheimer's disease, made a special trip to help with the presentation, as did former Tennessee star Tamika Catchings of the WNBA Indiana Fever.
A year ago, Hill was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, and was given at best two years to live. It was just 48 days after Lauren, a star at nearby Lawrenceburg High in Indiana who wears No. 22, had committed to the Lions.
She continued to play last season while taking treatments for the disease but soon after arriving at Mount St. Joseph's in September, she learned the tumor was growing and doctors gave her until December, at best, to live.
At that moment, she still yearned to play in her first collegiate game. Lauren's story became known through social media, with many initiatives involved to raise money for the Lauren Hill Tribute Fund at The Cure Starts Now.
The USBWA will be making a donation as it has for causes specified by previous Most Courageous men's and women's winners.
To help Lauren realize her dream, coach Dan Benjamin was able to get Hiram to agree to move the season opener to Mount St. Joseph's and play two weeks earlier if the NCAA gave an exemption, which it did in an unprecedented action.
A few days later, during a USBWA board teleconference to prepare for the season, it was suggested that perhaps we might take the unusual step of presenting the award right now to give to Lauren while she could still accept it in person.
The motion was approved in a flash. The school was then contacted and, thrilled with the honor, officials suggested that it be given to Lauren at the game with halftime built around the presentation.
Meanwhile, between that time and the actual event, Xavier offered to take the game from the 100 or so seat-gym at Mount St. Joseph's to its larger venue. A week later, tickets were gone within an hour of going on sale.
Fox-Ohio was going to telecast the game, but by Nov. 2, Fox put it on any outlet not involved with Sunday NFL contests. At those places that aired football, the game was aired on a delayed basis.
The network executives also said they wanted to air the entire USBWA presentation. When the half arrived, the running clock between periods would not start until Lauren had received the plaque.
USBWA member Debbie Antonelli, who was the analyst for the broadcast, said beforehand, "Hardest thing I ever had to do. I was around at the end when Kay Yow (her college coach) passed away, but this is much different."
Likewise from here, it was the most challenging speech to write and present, but it was well-received. In the interest of space, you can read the transcript at my womhoops guru blog: http://womhoops.blogspot.com/2014/11/transcript-of-guru-usbwa-pat-summitt.html.
Needless to say emotions flowed greatly, especially when Lauren was announced in the lineup, when she scored right at the outset and when she got back into the game and scored again right at the end.
Recently in a call, coach Benjamin noted, "Lauren achieved what she desired. Our job going forward is to carry her legacy every day.
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