On the night of Jan. 29, moments after Oregon had become the 14th consecutive victim of Southern California's women's basketball team, Duck Coach Elwin Heiny propped himself up against a wall outside the losers' locker room. A small group of reporters had gathered to hear him assess his team's 86-64 defeat and the damage USC's 6'3" Ebony Bookends, identical twins Paula and Pam McGee, had wrought. Let's see: 46 points, 32 rebounds, combined 57.1% shooting with only two of their 20 baskets coming from farther than four feet. "All I can say about the McGee twins is that they're awesome," said Heiny. Indeed, the twins alone had outrebounded the taller Ducks 32-30, including a 17-10 advantage on the offensive boards. "It was their second effort that really made the difference," Heiny continued. "Both of them are incredible."
A few hours before, during his team's afternoon shoot-around in a chilly Los Angeles Sports Arena, Heiny had discussed the strategy that few teams have been able to implement—though many have tried—this season against the Trojans. "To stop USC you have to stop the McGees," he said. "You have to have help on them; you can't match up with them one-on-one. Two 6'3" players with their agility and strength on the same team—you just don't find that too often."
Indeed, no women's team has a pair of performers who can match the McGees for sheer athletic ability. Each stretches 170 exquisitely proportioned pounds across her frame. Each is blessed with sprinter's speed and yet has the strength to overpower most opponents. Off the court the McGees are stylish, elegant and free of the self-consciousness that causes many tall women to slouch or forgo wearing high-heeled shoes. "For my part I think that being a woman is something to be enjoyed," says Paula. "When I'm not playing, it's time to be a lady."
On the court the McGees, sophomores from Flint, Mich., are anything but ladylike. Last season, Paula, playing out of position at center, and Pam, coming off the bench, led Southern Cal to a 26-8 record and its first appearance in the AIAW Final Four. This year, with both of them in the starting lineup, the Trojans had won all 18 of their games through Sunday, were the only unbeaten college team—male or female—in the country, and were ranked second in the AP poll.
February 22, 1982
Following last week's 79-58 victory over Arizona, Paula, who's now playing her natural forward spot, was averaging 20.5 points and 10.7 rebounds, and Pam had responded to her new role as a starting center by scoring 20.7 points and getting 11.7 rebounds a game. She was also shooting a team-high 58% from the field.
Basketball fans aren't the only ones who have taken note of the McGees. In the March 1981 issue of New West magazine, Pam and Paula were featured in a photo essay celebrating the physical splendor of the female athlete. Helmut Newton, the fashion photographer who shot the essay, was so impressed by the twins that he asked to have his picture taken with them at the end of the session.
When Jet magazine put the twins on the May 7, 1981 cover, the McGees received a series of phone calls from somewhat different kinds of admirers. "This guy called me up and introduced himself," says Pam. " 'Hi, my name is Rod and I'm from the Land of the Angels. I saw y'all in the Jet, and I think y'all just some beautiful people.' Then I got a call from another guy who asked me to call him back, and when I did, all I got was silence."
From the moment Real People began taping a segment on the McGees in the spring of 1981—it hasn't run yet—field producer Danny Gomez knew he had a hit, literally. While shooting in the twins' dorm room, Gomez persuaded them to pull out the two pairs of five-ounce boxing gloves Pam had brought from Flint to use in settling arguments or just working out frustration. "They swung hard and they swung for the face," says Gomez. "Any one of those punches would have put me down."
"Mom said that when we left home there'd be nobody to referee," Pam says. "So I went to the store and picked the gloves up." Says her sister, "Pam fights to kill."
But Gomez, like his executive producer, George Schlatter, the creator of Laugh-In, also saw a "show business quality" in the McGees. "They're naturals," Gomez says. "They're tall, beautiful women. And they've got more on the ball than your average college athlete. They've got ambitions that go way beyond college."
Paula, the conservative, old-fashioned, practical half of the pair, is an industrial engineering major. She has a B-minus average and someday would like a job working for a major corporation. She had at one time been considering pursuing a career in computer science until her high school counselor suggested she switch. "I've always 'been pretty good in math and science," Paula says, "but I had a computer class in high school and didn't like it. Then I read an article on industrial engineering and found out that it included subjects like psychology. Industrial engineers are called the people engineers."
Pam, more outgoing, emotional and perhaps a touch more glamorous—she seems trendier—than Paula, has temporarily abandoned plans for a career in sports broadcasting for one in business. She also has a B-minus average. "I made the change because I can do more things with economics, like banking, or opening a business," says Pam. "Eventually, I'd like to get into the stock market and be a financial adviser to professional athletes. There aren't too many people that athletes can trust these days, and there aren't that many women in the stock market."
"They always have been self-motivated," says Dianne McGee, the twins' mother, herself 6'2". "Anytime anything was going on in church, some youth activity, they'd be involved, but I had no idea all of this was going to happen."
One thing Dianne was always sure of was that someday women would be offered athletic scholarships. So when her daughters began to display a special interest in basketball as fourth-graders at Ralph Bunche Elementary School, Dianne put a basket and backboard above the door of the garage behind their Cape Cod-style house. After work on an assembly line at the General Motors plant in Flint, she would take in whatever sport her girls were involved in that day—basketball, volleyball, track and field. "She was right there whenever we did something," says Paula. "Even when it was parent-teacher night, she'd take off work to be there."
Less than enthusiastic about the girls' athletic pursuits was Jimmy McGee, their father, also a worker at the GM plant in Flint before his death in a drowning accident in 1978. "A real male chauvinist all the way," recalls Dianne with a laugh. "When we were little, Daddy used to play ball with us in the backyard," says Pam, "but when we got older and started playing with the boys, he'd say, 'I'm tired of all these boys coming around here. These girls need to stay in and learn how to cook and clean.' Sometimes my mom would talk about us getting scholarships, and he'd just say, 'Ain't no girls going to get no basketball scholarship.' "
But by the time the twins graduated with A-minus averages from Flint Northern High in 1980, they had led the Vikings to a three-year record of 60-2 and two straight Michigan Class A girls' titles. Both were All-Americas as seniors. Also, Paula ran the first leg and Pam the third on the Northern mile-relay team that in 1980 established the state girls' record (3:51.6). When she wasn't sprinting during track and field season, Pam threw the shot, setting a state girls' mark (45¼ feet) in her junior year. More than 200 scholarship offers poured into the McGee home. "I wish Daddy could have been around to see us," says Pam.
Had Jimmy McGee not died, his daughters might not have ended up at USC. AIAW rules forbid schools to fly in recruits, but because of the return on Jimmy's life insurance policy, Paula and Pam could afford to pay for a visit to one campus far from home. The twins decided on Southern Cal. "They were looking for a program that was young, up-and-coming, one to which they could contribute right away," says Dianne. "The campus excited them, too."
Which excited Linda Sharp, who in 1977, after one season as a part-time Trojan assistant coach, took over a team that gave no scholarships, had never employed a full-time coaching staff and was considered an automatic W by opposing coaches. "We just didn't have any players," says the 31-year-old Sharp. In 1977-78 she guided USC, which had won but five games the previous season, to 11 victories. The Trojans went 19-9 in 1978-79. The next season they were 22-12 and finished second in the AIAW Western Regionals.
Despite the growing success of her program, Sharp didn't think the McGees would select USC. (The twins never considered going to separate schools.) Says Sharp, "I was surprised when they committed, because their father had died, they were the two oldest children in their family [they have a 15-year-old sister and a 6-year-old brother], and I didn't think their mom would let them go away from home."
The girls also had North Carolina State, Oregon State and Michigan on their final list of schools: USC won out because both they and their mother were impressed by Sharp's no-nonsense approach to recruiting—"the soft sell," as Sharp calls it—not to mention Southern California's balmy climate. "When we left Michigan it was snowing," says Pam. "When we got to California—swaying palm trees!"
But life in Los Angeles that first year wasn't a breeze for the twins. In particular, they found the city's "me or you" philosophy of life difficult to take. "When we first came out here we trusted everybody," says Paula. "We found out that we couldn't." They also had almost as much trouble finding boutiques and shoe stores that catered to women of their stature in L.A. as they had had in Flint. The McGees, for example, wear size 13 shoes. Back home, Marianne Flowers, a seamstress and a member of the Baptist church the McGees attended, had turned yards of material into elegant designs for the girls. Occasionally they had modeled in local fashion shows that Mrs. Flowers organized. Last April the McGees resumed their modeling, appearing in a tall-women's fashion show on A.M. Los Angeles, a TV program.
In their freshman year, some observers say, the McGees also had to overcome a reputation for being temperamental sorts who loafed in practice and could give a coach fits with their moody behavior. Pam, a ferocious rebounder, was relegated to sixth-man duty early last season when it became apparent that at times the twins had eyes only for each other on the court and that she had not yet grasped Sharp's man-to-man defense. Paula had a more varied game than her sister, was a better outside shooter and played under much more control.
"Pam was more inclined to do something silly than Paula," says junior Forward Kathy Doyle. "One time in a game Pam fell down and shot the ball while lying on the floor. Did it go in? Nope. I just think of her sitting there in the key. We looked at the bench and the bench looked at us. Luckily we were far enough ahead so we could laugh about it."
But if the McGees sometimes took the regular-season games lying down, they found the Final Four, in which they encountered the likes of 6'8" Anne Donovan of Old Dominion and 6'3" Janice Lawrence and 6-foot Pam Kelly of Louisiana Tech, a knockout. "Those girls came from nowhere to block Pam's and Paula's shots," says Point Guard Thera Smith. "Pam's eyes were big as saucers. She'd never had her shot blocked from six feet." In the first round, Louisiana Tech beat the Trojans 66-50, and Old Dominion defeated them 68-65 in the playoff for third place. The McGees, who together had averaged 37.2 points and 18.9 rebounds during the regular season, combined for only 26 points and 16 rebounds in those games and fouled out of both. "The nationals made them realize how hard they had to work," says Doyle.
"Last year when one would play well, the other would get into foul trouble," says Sharp. "This season they're terrors." Example: When the Trojans avenged last season's loss to Old Dominion with a 66-60 victory in January, the twins had 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Donovan blocked only one of their shots. The McGees will at times still try to force the ball to each other—in a recent game against Cal State-Fullerton, Pam passed up an easy layup to attempt a well-intentioned, but horribly timed, blind wraparound pass so that Paula could score her 1,000th career point—and going into last Monday's game against Arizona State the twins had combined for at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in 13 of USC's games.
The twins would like nothing better than to repay Louisiana Tech for that lesson the Lady Techsters gave the Trojans in last year's Final Four. As if the McGees needed any more incentive, last month they got really riled when the AP poll left the Trojans at No. 2 although top-ranked Louisiana Tech had lost that week to Old Dominion. "It was a slap in the face," says Paula, "but we're not going to let it get to us. The only thing that matters is who's on top on March 28."
That's the date of the national finals, when USC may well find that when it comes to the McGee twins, one plus one equals No. 1.