McElhiney makes debut with Nashville Rhythm

Last month when former Vanderbilt star Ashley McElhiney became the first female head coach of a men's professional basketball team, the Nashville Rhythm was swept into a media whirlwind. On Saturday, McElhiney made her first public appearance on the court, as the Rhythm held open tryouts for the team.

On Saturday, McElhiney made her first public appearance on the court, as the Rhythm held open tryouts for the team, which will begin play in November. Fifty-six hopeful hoopsters attended the day-long session in Allen Arena on the campus of David Lipscomb University.

Although TV crews and newspaper reporters appeared at various points during the day and stayed around afterwards for interview, Saturday was a day for action on the court, not for the cameras.

The day began with drills and continued with scrimmages through most of the afternoon.

"It went really well," said McElhiney afterwards. "I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to come in and compete from 8 to 5, and that's what they did. Good attitude, great enthusiasm."

If a casual spectator who had missed the furor over McElhiney's hiring had walked into the gym on Saturday, he would have had no inkling that history was being made on the court. It could have been any gym, anywhere, any time, squeakers squeaking, whistles, some great passes, great shots - and some not so great.

As the games progressed, a female coach was visible on the floor, but it wasn't McElhiney. Karen Booker, a former Vanderbilt star who graduated in 1987 and played in the WNBA, was coaching one of the scrimmaging teams.

On the other end of the court, Sam Howard, a 2001 graduate and the current coach at Currey-Ingram Academy, was working the opposite sideline.

Meanwhile, McElhiney sat in the bleachers taking notes and sharing observations with former Vanderbilt star Charles Davis, who played for 12 years in the NBA after graduating from Vanderbilt in 1981, Charlie Anderson, the legendary former coach at Aquinas Junior College in Nashville, and Daniel Bucher, General Manager of the Rhythm.

"I thought it was very good, very well organized," said Anderson. "I thought it was a very good program, and I think they'll get something out of it. I think they've definitely seen some people here who can help the Rhythm."

Davis agreed. "There was a lot of ompetitiveness out there," he said. "We narrowed it down to about 27 or 28 then narrowed it down a little more. There was some talent in here today, but we'll still going to do some more looking around."

Davis was non-committal regarding what role he might play in the Rhythm's future, aying "That's up to Ashley and her staff."..

But he didn't close the door, either. When asked if he'd be available if the opportunity arose, he said, "I can't really say.

"I'm doing a lot of other things as well. I've been out of the game for a while, but just to get back into it, to feel the competitiveness. . . It's kind of jogging something there, so who knows?"

For the staff, there's still more work to do. "We saw some people that stood out, and we're going to take our notes and the film that we have on them and do an even more careful evaluation," McElhiney said.

McElhiney was pleased with how the day went. "I think for our first time at this, we couldn't have asked for a better day," she said. "The group of coaches we had, and the group of players that we had in here, willing to learn and give it all they had for one day. It was awesome."

* * * * *

Photos by WhitneyD for Top Stories