It is not hard to distinguish the finest women's basketball player in the country from her Montclair (N.J.) State teammates. She looks the part even in pre-game drills. No one else on the floor sports a nifty sweatband on each wrist, wears a big button that says BOSS on her warmups or has a swagger that comes from leading the nation in scoring last season with a 34-point average. She is the one who shoots the textbook-perfect jumpers and who goes through a little disco act whenever her favorite rock song blasts over the Montclair P.A. system. Even before the tip-off, it is obvious that Carol Blazejowski knows she is going to be the star of the game.
And no wonder, because stopping the 5'10" senior from getting her points is harder than spelling her last name. She scored 39 in two of Montclair's first four games this season, and when the Squaws meet Rutgers at Madison Square Garden on New Year's Day, she will have even more reason to show she's hot stuff. It was there last March, playing before a crowd of 12,336, a record for a women's game, that Blazejowski erupted for 52 points in a 102-91 victory over Queens College and established a scoring record for a game played in regulation time at the new Garden for men or women, collegians or pros.
Opponents say that Blazejowski plays—you'll forgive the expression—"just like a man." Maybe that is because as a kid she took part in a lot of New Jersey playground games in which she was always the only girl and usually the only white on the court. She rehearsed for these games, by mimicking what she saw the pros do on TV. Yet her style is fluid and natural, not mechanical or memorized. She pounds the floor with a stiff, high right-handed dribble, her left arm raised to protect the ball. Equally adept at playing forward or guard, she can pull up and shoot a jumper off the dead run or make a change-of-pace move and scoot inside for a finger-roll layup. She is well enough coordinated to hang in the air, draw a foul and still make the field goal. And, oh mama, is she intense. She is all clenched fists and slapping palms after big baskets; she screams at her teammates when she thinks they are dogging it; and she excels in taking the hands-on-hips, you-gotta-be-kidding-me pose that referees, whether they are wearing pants or skirts, despise. With every movement Blazejowski makes, her body language says, "Ain't I terrific!" In that sense she bears a startling resemblance to Rick Barry, who grew up about five minutes from the Blazejowski home in Cranford, N.J. and went on to become a scoring champ in college and in the pros.
Oddly, national scoring leaders generally stir up at least as much criticism as praise. Just as no one in the NCAA seems to know what to make of Portland State's Freeman Williams, the men's champ in 1976-77, few participants in the women's game agree on how good Blazejowski is. As a result, a dispute has raged for a year and a half over whether she should have been chosen for the 1976 Olympic team.
Billie Moore, the Olympic coach who is now at UCLA, sent Blazejowski home from the trials, telling her to sit down and read a book on defense. Pat Head, one of the players selected, said, "All she wanted to do was shoot. What are you going to do with her?"
Seeing Blazejowski play these days—and even she admits her defense needed work—it is difficult to believe that she did not deserve to be among the 12 U.S. women chosen to go to Montreal. (She was not even accorded the token gesture of being one of the three alternates.) Of course, the U.S. men's teams, which somehow have had no room for outstanding players such as Barry, Pete Maravich and Bernard King, have often been embroiled in similar controversy. But it would appear that the women's game has not yet evolved to a level where it can afford to overlook such a free-flowing offensive talent as Blazejowski.
In her record-breaking game at the Garden last year against a good Queens team, Blazejowski had only 14 points at halftime, and Montclair trailed by 11. In the last 20 minutes, she hit 17 of 21 shots and scored 38 points—30 of them while saddled with four fouls. Earlier, she had destroyed Texas with 49 points and made 15 of 22 from the field against Rutgers. She wound up as Montclair's leading re-bounder for the year, too, with 10.1 per game, and that was another skill that Moore told Blazejowski she needed to work on. In light of all those accomplishments, it seems her failure to make the Olympic team may have been caused mostly by her brazen personality and outspokenness, which the selection committee may have felt would interfere with the team concept it had in mind.
"I know I don't have a way with words," says Blazejowski, whose heavy New Joisey accent often creates a poor first impression. "I'll say lots of things to people. Some of them are unnecessary. I do that to my teammates. I used to let it hang, but now I go back and explain what I meant. They accept me very well. But Billie Moore made me sound like I had no arms or legs. I had to try to straighten her out. I went in and asked what she thought of the girl playing defense against me when I was scoring 20 points a game at the tryouts. She made the team, but I didn't."
Lucille Kyvallos, the Queens College coach, is in Blazejowski's corner. Kyvallos made a phone call to persuade her to play for the U.S. in the World University Games in Bulgaria last summer. "I not only think Carol is the best player in the country," says Kyvallos, "I think she may be one of the best in the world. She was our leading scorer and one of the top rebounders, got 38 points against the Russians and was instrumental in us winning the silver medal."
Head has even changed her mind. Now coaching at Tennessee, which was picked as the No. 1 team in the country in a preseason poll of the coaches, she watched Blazejowski put in 39 points in Montclair State's recent 87-80 win over the Volunteers, and then said, "Carol is 150% better. There is no question that if she had played that way she would have made the Olympic team. I don't see how she can miss in 1980."
Blazejowski is hardly given Olympian treatment at Montclair State, a former state teachers' college that sits on a bluff overlooking Giants Stadium and the Manhattan skyline. However, she does have a small but enthusiastic cheering section at home games that includes most of the players on the Montclair men's team.
"Yeah, we like to come out and watch Carol do her thing," says Guard Tom Frank. "We see her practice so often that we aren't stunned by what she can do. That's Carol. She can score some points off our second string, but we're getting a little tired of hearing everybody say that she's good enough to play for us."
"I don't go in for those Battle of the Sexes type things anymore," says Blazejowksi, "but some people think I'm tough enough to handle anything. They've got me wrong. I'm very sensitive; I cry at old Lassie movies. Oh, there was this 6'3" newspaper reporter who wanted to play me in a game of one-on-one when I was in high school so he could write a story about it. I whipped his rear end."
That's Carol, too. And you might just as well get used to her.