November 14, 2006

Azzi Changed Our Way of Thinking About Women's Basketball

By: Ann Killion, Mercury News Can one naive teenager change the mindset of an entire region? You bet. Beginning 20 years ago, Jennifer Azzi changed the way the Bay Area thought about women's basketball. Azzi, who will be inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame tonight, turned the Bay Area into a hot spot. She helped change the way people thought about basketball. About women's team sports. Maybe even about women. "It always felt like it was about more than just basketball," said Azzi, 38. "Basketball was a vehicle to change perceptions about women." First came the coach. Tara VanDerveer arrived from Ohio State in 1985, ready to change things. But to do it, she needed a player. Not just any player, but a star to build around. "One person does make a difference," VanDerveer said. "What Jennifer brought was exactly what we needed." Her staff scoured the country and found Azzi. A hard-nosed, competitive, charismatic point guard who had the grades to get into Stanford and the desire to leave home. Which just happened to be in Tennessee -- one of the nation's true hotbeds for women's basketball. That Tennessee mindset was an important attribute that Azzi brought to Stanford. Fortunately for VanDerveer, Pat Summitt wasn't interested in Azzi. "They said they had an extra scholarship if I wanted it," Azzi said. "But I didn't feel like they wanted me to come there. And I never wanted to go there. I wanted a different experience." She wanted adventure and academics. And she just assumed that -- no matter where she went -- people would like to watch women's basketball. "We had 20,000 fans at our state tournament," she said. "I grew up in that atmosphere." The first time she got on an airplane was her recruiting trip to Stanford. The first time she set foot in California was that trip. She didn't have any second thoughts, no concerns about homesickness or adjustments. "I'm blessed sometimes with not being very realistic," Azzi said. "It didn't hit me until I got there, my first night in the dorm." That wasn't the only adjustment, when she arrived in 1986. When the team played, they didn't pull out the bleachers. No one came to the games. The team was terrible. "It was pretty depressing," she said. Azzi called her father and said she wanted to come home. He said he'd come and get her, but to get a good airfare he needed to purchase something a month in advance. Meantime, he wrote her every day. "By the time he came out, I was fine," she said. Except for the basketball part. One night after a loss, Azzi sat in darkened Maples Pavilion by herself, wondering what she'd committed herself to and despairing. Also sitting in the dark, having similar thoughts, was her coach. VanDerveer moved next to Azzi and told her, "Picture this place full. Picture us selling out by your senior year. Now picture us winning the national championship. Can you do that?" Azzi, still not very realistic, told her coach, "Sure." "I'd seen 10,000 fans at high school games," Azzi remembered. "Why not here? Why can't we make that happen?" Azzi helped make it happen. She and her teammates papered the dorms with fliers. She helped recruit other key players, such as Sonja Henning. Fans started to come. Victories started to pile up. "It was an obsession almost," she said. "We were so passionate about it." She made the Bay Area notice. She ran VanDerveer's up-tempo offense and embodied the coach's mantra of selling the sport every time she took the court. By Azzi's junior year, the team won the Pac-10 title and she was the league's player of the year. By her senior year, Maples was sold out. Azzi was the Naismith player of the year. And the team won the NCAA championship, in Azzi's home state. Azzi graduated in 1990. She was a member of the national-team pool and in 1995 was reunited with VanDerveer, who took a sabbatical from Stanford to coach the Olympic team. After the triumphant Atlanta Olympics -- where the team won the gold medal -- Azzi and a handful of other stars helped launch the American Basketball League. Azzi played for the Lasers at the Event Center at San Jose State. "That was my favorite 2 1/2 years of my career," she said. "I remember seeing people lined up around the Event Center on opening night. It was amazing what we had accomplished." But the ABL eventually folded because of stiff competition from the WNBA. Azzi played for the WNBA, in Detroit, Utah and San Antonio. She retired in 2004. Now she does public speaking and continues a relationship with the NBA. She's moving back to the Bay Area from Utah -- recently closing on a house in Mill Valley. She's sad that the excitement about women's sports that peaked in the late 1990s has died down. She's concerned that players don't realize they still have to sell the game. "I wonder if we've gotten a little bit lax," she said. "Each person has to earn their own respect." She'd love to see the Bay Area become home to a WNBA team, building around a local name such as -- for instance -- Candice Wiggins. For now, Azzi plans to catch some games as a fan at Maples, where the Cardinal will be putting together a run it hopes ends at the Final Four. Azzi can sit in the bleachers -- which will be pulled out and packed. And she can witness what she helped start two decades ago.

November 8, 2006

Paccione Concedes Loss, May Try Again

By: Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News FORT COLLINS — Angie Paccione, who fought a spirited uphill battle in a district that has not elected a Democrat since 1970, acknowledged defeat shortly after noon today outside her campaign headquarters. The winner, Marilyn Musgrave, retained the Congressional seat with just over 7,000 votes. The loser offered a gracious speech and the victor remained out of public view today, long after Marilyn Musgrave was established as a narrow winner in Colorado's 4th Congressional District. Musgrave, who won by about 7,000 votes, had no plans to meet with reporters until Democratic challenger Angie Paccione acknowledged defeat, according to a Musgrave campaign spokesman. Paccione, who had fought a spirited uphill battle in a district that has not elected a Democrat since 1970, did so shortly after noon today outside her campaign headquarters. Paccione, who has served two terms in the state House representing Colorado's District 53, also said she will consider another bid for the seat Musgrave will now occupy for a third two-year term. "I think we have a great shot at it" in 2008, said Paccione, who spoke with a few dozen staff, volunteers and friends looking on. "I think the trend is certainly moving in the right direction." Musgrave won her seat by 13 percentage points in 2002, and 6 percentage points in 2004. It wasn't until about 4 a.m. today that she realized she wouldn't be the winner, Paccione said. "I went to bed about 5 a.m., and then I only tossed for a while" before getting back up to face a disappointing morning after. Paccione and Musgrave, and independent committees supporting them, spent about $8 million on the race. Paccione said the outcome might have been different, had the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thrown money into her contest sooner. The DCCC did so only in the final days, with an anti-Musgrave ad for which they paid $500,000. "Next time around I would certainly try to have buy-in earlier, from the DCCC," said Paccione. Also, she credited the Republican Party's efficiency at encouraging early voters and promoting the use of absentee ballots. "We need to match that," Paccione said. Paccione's immediate plans are to take what she said would be her first vacation in several years, and then turn her attention to studying Tuesday's voting trends more closely, with an eye toward deciding on a second run for Musgrave's seat in 2008.

November 5, 2006

Debi Gore-Mann is a Bright Addition to USF Athletics

By: Janie McCauley, Associated Press SAN FRANCISCO - The main door to Debi Gore-Mann's office is usually open, and there's a comfy couch and a jar of candy on the desk. The University of San Francisco's energetic new athletic director has made this an inviting place, a rare bright spot in the basement of Memorial Gym. So far, Gore-Mann has been an equally bright addition to a school striving to get the Dons back on the national map the way they were when Bill Russell and K.C. Jones starred for the basketball team a half-century ago. "Really, the only long-term goal is winning, and winning with integrity," she said. "We want to be champions or near champions without tipping the field in our favor. College sports, it's so pure. Your career in some cases can hinge on a 19-year-old." USF hired Gore-Mann away from Stanford in July, making her the first female athletic director in school history and only the third ever in the West Coast Conference. She knows of only two other black women ADs in the country, though the NCAA doesn't track race. Gore-Mann loves it when athletes or coaches come by and plop down to take a load off or share what's on their mind. She even painted the walls white, covering up the aging wood paneling, and replaced a large conference table with the sofa. Anything to rid the room of potential barriers. "It was more like a lodge. I guess that door hasn't been open in like 20 years," she said. "The first day I was like, 'Boom' and I opened this door. For me, I've got to have an open-door policy." Everybody has noticed how approachable she is. Gore-Mann sees her coaches in the mailroom and invites them to stop by for an informal chat. She was all for her staff dressing up for Halloween and acknowledges that ideas sometimes come to mind while she's at home baking cookies. "At the end of the day, we work with 18- to 22-year-olds," she said. "We're not IBM. We deal with young people. We need to keep it fun." Once a staunch business woman, the 46-year-old Gore-Mann has an upbeat, outgoing personality and a refreshing blend of humility and competitive fire. She has been a sought-after executive in athletics almost from the first day she set foot on Stanford's campus again in 1999. She played basketball for the Cardinal from 1978-82. "She's very bright and extremely hardworking," said Ted Leland, the former Stanford athletic director now working at Pacific. "She has a passion for sports. I thought she really had leadership potential. She has a certain effervescence in her personality." Leland hired Gore-Mann, who has a master's degree in business administration from Stanford, away from Bechtel Enterprises, Inc., a premier engineering, construction and project management company. He'd heard about her from some alumni. "After the first 15 minutes, I thought it was a deal I had to make," he said. "She was an ex-athlete with an MBA and had worked on Wall Street." Gore-Mann served as senior associate athletic director and senior women's administrator at Stanford and the Cardinal won 14 Division-I national titles during her tenure. At USF, Gore-Mann replaced Bill Hogan, who left the Hilltop after 15 years to take the same position at Seattle University. The Dons are coming off the most successful spring sports season in school history, highlighted by the baseball team's first NCAA regional berth. "I will be transparent and honest," she said. "I have no secrets with my coaches." In the mid-1950s, San Francisco won consecutive NCAA titles basketball championships. The Dons have a talented men's team this season that is counting on improved camaraderie and staying healthy to make them a contender in the WCC, which has been dominated by Gonzaga for most of the last decade. Gore-Mann already had been commuting from Oakland to her alma mater, so now her drive is a shorter one. "We've got some new energy with our new athletic director," said first-year USF women's basketball coach Tanya Haave. "And she's a ballplayer, which is great." Gore-Mann's husband, Anthony, attended USF and played basketball for the Dons. The couple has a 10-year-old daughter, Quinci. Finding a school in an urban, diverse setting was paramount before Gore-Mann was going to leave Stanford. She became the second woman in recent years to leave Stanford for an athletic director job. Cheryl Levick accepted an AD job at Santa Clara before taking over at Saint Louis University. "I hope she does a good job," longtime Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer said of Gore-Mann. "It does say something that two women left Stanford and became athletic directors." While Gore-Mann realizes she is definitely in the minority as a black woman running a college athletic department, she doesn't make an issue of it. Others, she says, paved the way. "It's still a small number," she said. "I don't think about it. I just do the job. I know there are women who have come before me and it wasn't like that, and I respect that completely. I don't want to make it seem like 'Gee, it's so easy.' They are the women who paid the dues so that it is easy, that people are respectful."