Former UConn star Lobo set to be inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Published on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 22:56
Written by CARL ADAMEC

JOURNAL INQUIRER

Rebecca Lobo’s basketball story isn’t written with numbers.

In 121 games over six WNBA seasons, the 1995 consensus national Player of the Year at UConn scored 808 points, grabbed 500 rebounds, dished out 115 assists, and blocked 104 shots. Diana Taurasi (twice) and Maya Moore have scored more points in a season. Tina Charles was within 102 rebounds after her rookie year. Sue Bird has recorded more assists in each of her 16 seasons. Second-year pro Breanna Stewart leads in blocks.

But 22 years after her final game in Storrs and 14 years after appearing for the last time in the WNBA with the Connecticut Sun, Lobo continues to make a mark on the game.

For her efforts, Lobo, 43 and a native of Southwick, Massachusetts, will be inducted as a contributor into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night in a ceremony at Springfield Symphony Hall.

“The great ones go above and beyond what they do on the court,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who will serve as Lobo’s presenter Friday. “For Rebecca, the impact that she had at the college level and what she did for the game never stopped. The Olympic team that she was a part of ended up playing in the United States in Atlanta and came at the perfect time. It generated a lot of excitement and (former NBA commissioner) David Stern decided this would be the perfect time launch a new league. Rebecca, along with Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes and those people, were kind of the founding fathers, the founding mothers, of the WNBA.

“Then she moves right into television. As an analyst, she’s bringing the game to another audience. That’s exactly what she did in college. So her impact … Some players’ impact diminishes. Hers has grown. Hers has grown even more.”

A 6-foot-4 forward, Lobo was a two-time All-American and two-time Big East Player of the Year (1994-95) and in 1995 was UConn’s first national Player of the Year. That season she led the Huskies to a 35-0 record and their first national championship. She was named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player as she helped UConn rally from a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Tennessee 70-64 in the final game at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

She finished her UConn career with 2,133 points, 1,268 rebounds, and 396 blocked shots in 126 games.

“When Rebecca was at Connecticut was when I really started to follow college basketball,” Taurasi said. “I didn’t know much about it before then. But starting with Rebecca and then with the games being on ESPN they really developed a national following. I got to see that in California.”

After earning GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America first team and graduating from UConn, Lobo was named to the United States national team and won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She began her professional career with the New York Liberty when the WNBA formed in 1997 and was an All-Star that year. She retired in 2003 as a member of the Sun.

Lobo is now an ESPN analyst for women’s college basketball and the WNBA.

She will be the first former UConn player to be enshrined in the Naismith Hall.

“I understand the ‘as a contributor’ part of it. I’m just thrilled to be going in, period,” Lobo said. “My pro career ended a lot sooner than I hoped it would. It was very different than I expected it to be because of injury. But now, because of perspective, I appreciate the significance of what our UConn team did in 1995 in terms of growing the sport, what our Olympic team did in 1996 in terms of growing the sport, and then how that helped launch the WNBA. So I feel really proud of my role in all of those things.

“I think that is where the contributor part comes in. I couldn’t be more excited to go into the Hall of Fame, and I think the contributor part is pretty cool because it shows that there was an impact in some ways greater than you might just find in the stats. A current player might look up my stats and say, ‘This doesn’t make sense. Why is she going into the Hall of Fame?’ Well if you were around and lived through how significant the mid 90s through the late 90s were for women’s basketball, the people who had a part in that can really appreciate that.”

Joining Lobo in the Class of 2017 are Notre Dame women’s coach Muffet McGraw, Kansas men’s coach Bill Self, former NBA star Tracy McGrady, former NBA and ABA standout George McGinnis, late Bulls executive Jerry Krause, former NCAA vice president Tom Jernstedt, ex-European star Nikos Galis, two members of the Harlem Globetrotters - Zack Clayton and Mannie Jackson - and Texas high school coach Robert Hughes.

Lobo arrived at UConn five months after the Huskies made their first NCAA Final Four appearance. By the time she led them back to the national semifinals again four years later, nothing was the same and nothing would be the same again.

The Huskies caught the imagination of the nation. Their Martin Luther King Jr. Day win over Tennessee vaulted them to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history. Their bid to become the second unbeaten national champion brought in media not only from the Northeast but also from around the country.

In the middle of it all was Lobo, handling it all with grace.

“The perfect storm was there and she kind of took that mantle and everybody came to associate our program with Rebecca Lobo,” Auriemma said. “If you said women’s basketball, no matter what else was going on - maybe there were better players out there, maybe there were better players before her, of course. But it wasn’t until then that people around the country who never, ever gave a thought to women’s basketball knew who Rebecca Lobo was and knew what Connecticut was.

“It was really until the 1995 when we became somewhat of a household name for our program and Rebecca became the face of, not just our program, but almost of our sport throughout the country. Whenever you’re associated with something so significant, it kind of transcends whatever the numbers are.”

Lobo was part of the first class inducted into the Huskies of Honor in 2006.

But she said it wasn’t until the 1995 team came back to Gampel Pavilion for the 20th anniversary of the national championship that she realized the significance of what the Huskies did in 1995.

“I think it takes that long to have perspective,” Lobo said. “Like I don’t think Stewie will have perspective or appreciate fully her four championships until 15 years from now. I really don’t. It wasn’t until they honored our team that you can start having perspective and appreciation and understand the significance of the whole thing and not just your championship. Part of that is because they have gone on to build it into something that we never thought it would be.

“We thought it was ‘a’ national championship. We didn’t realize it was going to be the first of 11 or the first of what would become the best program in the history of women’s college basketball. Now we understand that and now we appreciate that.”

Lobo did average in double figures her first two years in the WNBA with the New York Liberty but a pair of knee injuries limited her to one game in 1999 and 2000. She was traded to the Houston Comets before returning to Connecticut with the Sun for their inaugural year in the state before retiring after the season.

She and her husband, Steve, have four children - three daughters and a son.

The under-30 crowd that follows women’s college basketball and the WNBA knows her more for her TV work than her playing days. To put it in perspective, no UConn player on the 2017-18 roster was born when Lobo last wore her Huskies’ No. 50.

“I try bring insight and humor,” Lobo said. “Hopefully people enjoy listening to me. Hopefully I enhance the broadcast. Hopefully people aren’t muting it because they would rather watch the pictures without the words. But I have a lot of fun watching the games, and I have a lot of fun calling the games. Hopefully that comes across and people learn something but also enjoy the game more than they would if they weren’t listening to me.”

On Friday night, she’ll be heard from again with Auriemma - a 2006 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee - on the Springfield Symphony Hall stage along side her.

Her contributions to the game will be recognized and remembered forever.

“You can say somebody scored more points, got more rebounds, blocked more shots, whatever the case may be,” Auriemma said. “You can come up with any number of statistics you want. But at the end of the day, the impact that Rebecca had was so big that numbers don’t matter.”



Posted in The Bristol Press, General Sports, UConn on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 22:56. Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2017 22:59.