VU winning tradition began with sacrifice

Vanderbilt's women laid foundation for success with love of the game and sacrifice to bring national prominence to today's program. The destiny of a basketball program often rests on the shoulders of those who shaped its past. On January 27, 16 former Vanderbilt players gathered at a tribute honoring three decades of sacrifice and commitment, which contributed to the success of today's program.

An unassuming Rhonda Blades Brown, the full-throttle point guard for the school's record-setting 1992-93 Final Four team and the first WNBA league player to sink a 3-point shot, acknowledged the tradition that began with a club team in the latter 1970s.

Players from 1977-2007 and former assistant coach Pat Moran were recognized by Vanderbilt's Alumni Relations "30 Years of Women's Hoops" tribute prior to Vanderbilt's 80-53 thrashing of Ole Miss. Brown's comments followed an introduction of players by Vanderbilt grad and television political commentator Pat Nolan.

Connected to Vanderbilt basketball for 17 years, Brown said she's associated with the program's four former coaches: "My neighbor is Joe Pepper, who was the first coach here, Phil Lee recruited me and I played for (Ohio State coach) Jim Foster. Now I get to support Coach Melanie Balcomb. With three SEC championships since 2000 alone ('02, '04, '07), it's just exciting to see the winning tradition continues," Brown said.

Although she thanked the 1984 WNIT championship team for "putting Vanderbilt on the map," it was the Final Four team that set the standard for future teams. The 1992-93 squad finished with a 30-3 school record best and SEC Tournament championship. It claimed the championship at the Midwest Regional and advanced to the Final Four in Atlanta. It achieved the school's first No. 1 ranking on January 5. The Commodores finish the season No. 1 in the AP Poll and No. 4 in the USA Today Poll. Heidi Gillingham (6'10") becomes the second Commodore to be named a Kodak All-American.

Brown added that she learned great lessons from her teammates. "I learned a little about leadership, toughness, competitiveness and winning from each of them, and the fans kept coming back. The bandwagon kept getting bigger and bigger. We'd come in at 2 or 3 in the morning grouchy and just trying to go home, and they'd be just fired up for us."

Brown regards her time at Vandy as very special, " My four years here were the best years of my life. As I get older, I appreciate this more. They were the toughest I've ever been through. I do not want to get up at 4:30 a.m. anymore to get to our wonderful 6 a.m. practice. I've thought about doing that with my (Brentwood Academy) team, but I haven't entirely ruled that out. I don't totally know Coach Foster's mentality in having us do that. I don't know what he was trying to keep us from, but sleep was mostly what I didn't get."

What she did get was a quality education, enduring relationships and a sense that excellence is always worth pursuing.

Former Commodore players attending the tribute were (Front row) Rhonda Blades Brown and daughter, Renee Allen Carter, Kitty McKee, Jeannie Kohrs Camp, June Stewart (former women's AD), Molly O'Toole, Asst. Coach Pat Moran. Middle row: Sarah Mannes Homstad, Lesley Smith, Hillary Hager, Eva Lemeh-McFall, Libby Crow, Michelle Kennedy. Back row: Misty Lamb Thompson, Candice Storey, Nicole Jules, Dana Reece, Karen Booker. (Caroline Williams attended, but not pictured.) Top Stories