Their Claims to Fame: the WBHOF Class of 2024 (Part 1)
This week, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame announced their 2024 class:
Also to be honored are the 2024 Trailblazer of the Game honorees, Cheyney State and C. Vivian Stringer, and the For the Love of the Game recipient, the Afghan Athlete Resettlement Program.
This week, I'll be rolling through the soon-to-be Hall-of-Famers, outlining their basketball accomplishments and honors, keying in on their claims to fame in women's basketball.
Today we start with two accomplished stars in the backcourt.
"Money Mone" was smooth, with a crossover as deadly as her personality was charming. No. 33 has been retired by both LSU and Minnesota Lynx, the former being the program she led to three consecutive Final Fours as a two-time national player of the year (Wade Trophy winner, Naismith Player of the Year, and Wooden Award winner), and the latter the WNBA franchise she loyally led through years of struggle before playing a major part in their four titles in seven years, including a Finals MVP honor in their first (2011).
Her professional accolades go on and on, among them: Rookie of the Year in 2006, an eight-time WNBA All Star, six times All-WNBA, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and regularly a member of the league's top players lists, most recently the W25.
Truthfully, she stood out from the moment she stepped on the court for the Lynx; her 21.9 points per game in 2006 remains a single-season scoring average record for true rookies in the WNBA.
Augustus is among a special group of WNBA stars who bridged the gap between the league's start in 1997 to the current generation skewing more toward players who have never lived without a professional league to aspire to. Luckily, her career is recent enough to mean her highlights were captured and will always live on:
From iconic Sports Illustrated cover to trailblazing statue on LSU's campus, Augustus moved the needle for LSU, the WNBA, and women's basketball as a whole.
For more on the trailblazing Augustus beyond just the court, check out Natalie Weiner's New York Times piece from a couple years ago: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/20/sports/basketball/seimone-augustus-lgbtq-sparks.html
Few players earn a nickname so telling of their ferocity on the basketball court as the "Queen of the Floor Burns," Rita Easterling.
The 5-5 guard from Mississippi played women's college basketball before the NCAA took over and in the professional ranks before the WNBA was even a glint in David Stern's eye.
Miss Basketball in the state of Mississippi in 1973, she continued playing post-high school at Mississippi College, a title contender throughout Easterling's years leading the team, ultimately achieving a No. 9 ranking in her senior year, the first year of the Associated Press's women's college basketball poll.
Easterling helped Mississippi College to a runner-up finish in 1974, when they fell 68-53 to back-to-back-to-back champion Immaculata. They'd return to the AIAW Tournament in 1976 and 1977, finishing in the quarterfinals (the equivalent of the NCAA Elite Eight).
Between her freshman and sophomore years, Easterling represented the United States at the Pan American Games, winning gold. She and the U.S. team went on to also win silver at the 1977 World University Games. She was a Kodak All-American her senior year.
Easterling stayed with the program for several years as an assistant coach, finishing out the 1980s as head coach, stepping away for a few years in the middle to pursue a professional playing career in the upstart Women's Professional Basketball League (WBL).
Already a year removed from college, Easterling was the top free agent drafted to the Chicago Hustle, coached by now-longtime DePaul head coach Doug Bruno.
In her first year, she was both All Star MVP and league MVP.
Disbanding in 1981, the WBL didn't go the distance, but Easterling helped propel the women's game with a scrappiness inherent in a sport still fighting for more of the spotlight more than 40 years later.
"That's the way I play," she told The Clarion-Ledger in 1979, laughing about her nickname, "Queen of the Floor Burns," after learning of her MVP honor. "It's pretty rough. You have to be rough sometimes in order to stand up for yourself."
For more on Easterling, check out this breakdown of her career upon joining the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2011: https://www.mc.edu/news/lady-choctaws-basketball-star-rita-easterling-joins-mississippi-sports-hall-of-fame
For even more on the Chicago Hustle, check out this piece tying them and Doug Bruno to the Chicago Sky's championship a couple of season ago: https://depaulbluedemons.com/news/2021/11/5/womens-basketball-bruno-and-chicago-hustle-blazed-the-trail-for-wnba-champion-sky.aspx
Stay tuned for the next edition, where we'll continue down the list of 2024 Women's Basketball Hall of Famers.
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