She stood beneath the basket, crouching expectantly. Her teammates rotated counterclockwise around the key, passing the ball back and forth, then fired it in to her and she laid it up. Down at the other end of the court she boxed out the opposing center, spun around for the rebound and loped back to her basket. Crouching again, she squinted out toward the foul line as a teammate put up a soft, arching set shot. As the ball hit the front of the rim she was off her feet, turning in midair, tapping it in.
She was Theresa Shank and, for all the small world that watched her, she looked like the Bill Walton of women's basketball. Indeed, her Immaculata College team could have been the UCLA of the East. Like Walton, Shank is a junior, and she usually plays in the low post. Although Theresa is a full foot shorter than Bill, she too looks down on the lesser mortals around her; her teams have lost in only nine of 91 high school and three of 53 college games.
While Walton was leading the Bruins to their seventh consecutive NCAA title and 75th consecutive victory last week, Shank sat in the West Chester, Pa. living room of her 25-year-old coach, Cathy Rush, and watched the game on television. Only the day before she had returned from Queens College in New York where she led the Mighty Macs to their second straight national championship and their 24th straight win. Immaculata, like UCLA, has outplayed its opposition by surrounding its big, quick and intimidating pivot player with a meticulously drilled team.
"I've never seen him play before," Theresa said as the UCLA-Memphis State contest got under way, "but I sure wish they'd give me $2 million." The women's game has come a long way, but not that far. Even though Theresa scored 104 points in four games during the tournament and grabbed 72 rebounds, she is still looking for just a bit of that recognition that Walton would gladly duck.
April 9, 1973
Last summer in Iowa Theresa earned a place on the team that will go to the World University Games in Russia in August. "I got off the plane," she remembers, "and someone said, 'Where's Shank?' They knew how many points and rebounds I had and they were expecting someone 6'3" and 230 pounds." She happens to be 5'11" and 156 pounds, with blue eyes and a patrician face that is marred only by a scowl when she is doing battle under the boards for dear old Immaculata.
The spectators at the championships of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women saw basketball, not hair-pulling or hulking girls. Top-seeded Immaculata stopped Indiana State and Western Washington before facing Southern Connecticut State in the semifinals. In that game, the third in two days for both teams, the Macs hustled back from a 12-point deficit in the final three minutes only to have Southern tie it up with 26 seconds remaining. Marianne Crawford, Immaculata's 5'5" freshman guard with a full bag of flashy moves, shot from the outside. "I saw the ball fall off the front of the rim," Shank says, "and I got a good piece of it on my fingertips. I just put it right back up and the ball went through the net as the buzzer sounded."
The next day, in a fitting celebration of Theresa's 21st birthday, Immaculata destroyed Queens before a sellout crowd of 3,000. The closeness of the 59-52 score was a gift; the Macs led 59-37 when Coach Rush began pulling her starters midway in the fourth quarter. "Last year we were not seeded and everyone thought we were a fill-in team, a fluke," Theresa said. "No more."
Rush uses the same six players and a one-guard offense almost exclusively. Her opponents counted on four games in three days being too much for her team, but the Macs have stamina as well as talent and that careful drilling. "Our two-hour daily practices are 90% drills," Rush says. "Ideally, if you have 12 players there should be 12 balls. Scrimmages are easier to organize but they don't do much good. Our way, every player is involved and using the ball."
"I hate those sprints Mrs. Rush has us run," Shank says, "but they make a tournament like this easy. During Christmas vacation we had regular practice and ran miles." They also run their own kangaroo court, Judge Maureen Mooney presiding, where they fine each other 1¢ for a missed outside shot, 2¢ for a missed inside shot, 2¢ for a bad pass, 5¢ for missing a foul shot, 10¢ for missing a solo layup, $1 for fouling out and a penny credit for a steal or an offensive rebound.
Most of the Macs played for CYO and Catholic League teams before going to Immaculata, a tiny girls' school outside of Philadelphia run by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "The Catholic League in Philadelphia is a great incubator," Rush says. "It plays title games in the Palestra in front of 6,000 screaming fans. My girls are very poised under pressure."
Theresa's first exposure to pressure came as a child in her Glenolden, Pa. neighborhood. "There were five boys on the block so I was the sixth player and I wasn't very tall then," she says. "We played behind my house, shooting the ball between the telephone wires and the kitchen window. When I was 13 my father put up a court. I went through an awful lot of loafers in those days because I was too embarrassed to wear sneakers."
She started in the CYO league in junior high school, playing for the first time what used to be known as girls' rules. (Boys' and girls' rules are almost the same now, which anybody can plainly see when Theresa has had a rough game. She is bruised up and down the length of her.) "I wasn't impressed with organized ball when I started," Theresa says. "Half court, limited dribbles, two rovers. I said to myself, 'I don't want to play this way.' I'd cheat like mad to make it up the court in three dribbles, walking before I started and walking after I finished." She went from there to Cardinal O'Hara High School where her team won three titles in four years. "I thought I would be through with basketball after I finished high school," she says, "but God has funny ways of working things."
Cathy Rush, it turned out, was leaving public school teaching to coach at Immaculata, other Catholic League players were enrolling there, and the school was putting up a new gym to replace the one that burned down in 1966. Until it was completed in 1971, Rush's team practiced in the novitiate across the road. "The nuns had recreation from 4 to 4:30," she remembers. "We'd come in as they were finishing up. Not being a Catholic I didn't know too much about the Sisters. I really got a kick out of seeing them roller-skating and jumping up and down on pogo sticks with their habits flying!"
The Rushes have a 5-month-old son whom the coach brings to all practices. While the team drills, little Ed sleeps in his portable crib on the bench. All the girls come from big families—Theresa, whose father is a receiver in an A&P warehouse and whose mother is a nurse, is the oldest of five children, and three of the five starters come from families with seven children—and they love to play with the baby. The Rushes also have a basketball camp in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania—two weeks for boys, two weeks for girls, with an extra week planned for the girls this summer. "They're on the court before breakfast," says Ed Rush, an NBA referee. "They play two full games and five one-on-one tournaments a day, have clinics with visiting pros and then watch NBA films at night."
Shank and several of her teammates work at the Rushes' camp. Theresa also coached a junior-high CYO team through an undefeated regular season. Last summer she worked in a Philadelphia playground, tuning up her own shots after the kids went home. The young coaches play a game called "Taps" made up of two-girl teams. One player lofts a shot from the outside. The other stands under the basket and taps it in. Shades of Crawford and Shank in the semis.
A biology major, Theresa wants to teach science after she graduates and hopefully coach, but first she plans to get married. "I announced my engagement in a huddle at the West Chester game this year," Theresa says. Her fiancé, Karl Grentz, was one of the five boys who played basketball with her through the telephone wires. He also coaches a boys' club team and he and Theresa go to Big Five games together and talk basketball constantly. He gives Theresa advice but never talks down to her. "You're constantly being compared to men," she complains. "It's a different game. At 12 or 13 you can compete together, but not after that. By then, the boys are quicker and stronger."
Shank perhaps underestimates her own strength. At the Regionals in Lock Haven, Pa. she sprained her ankle, taped it up and kept on playing. While resting her ankle before the Nationals she ran 2½ miles a day to "keep my competitive edge."
After she had watched UCLA's Walton finish up Memphis State, she said, "Forty-four points and only one missed shot in a championship game. Not bad. But I wonder if they have fun playing? They don't even look excited and that's the best part of a tournament."
For the Immaculata winners this year it was, anyway. The net came down, the Mighty Macs and their boyfriends stayed over in New York and a case of Cold Duck sent by the school janitor flowed all night. At Immaculata two titles in a row and Cold Duck are plenty of excitement.