Anne Donovan – basketball player Anne Donovan describes her contribution to the 1988 Olympic victory – includes related article

Chuck O’Donnell

With a sorry end to her career in sight, one of the game’s greats dug deep–and brought home a gold medal

I NEVER DREAMED I WAS GOING to go out like this. We were struggling against the Yugoslavians in the gold-medal game at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and I was stuck on the bench after playing poorly throughout those games.

I came to Seoul with more experience than any of my American teammates. I was part of the team that missed out when the United States boycotted the Olympics in Moscow in 1980. I was part of the team that struck gold in Los Angeles in 1984. I had seen it all and always been asked to take a lead role on the teams, and now I was being counted on to bring us the gold in Seoul.

I had struggled to stick around long enough to be on the 1988 team, but I wanted one last chance. I knew going in that this was going to my last time playing in the Games.

But as the 1988 Games went on, I couldn’t deliver. I just struggled. We were winning, all right, but by the third game of the Olympics, I was shifted to the bench and wasn’t getting much time on the court.

I wasn’t used to being on the bench. After all, I had worked as hard as I did to train for the previous Olympics. I kept thinking how this was all supposed to fall into place.

There were some difficult times for me. I remember going through a phase where I was feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t know what to do. Those were some tough times. I was lucky enough to have my family there. My mother, sister and brother had come to Korea. I spent a lot of time with them at other events so I wasn’t too deep in self-pity. But sometimes I allowed myself to think, “Gee, this isn’t going the way I want it go.”

Not that I Was much help, but we beat the Russians, who along with us were the co-favorites to win the gold medal, in the semifinals to advance to the gold-medal game. Through four games, I had three points on 1-of-10 shooting.

It’s a good thing we had so much depth and talent on this team. Teresa Edwards was the co-captain along with me. We had Cindy Brown, Suzie McConnell, Cynthia Cooper, and a bunch of other great athletes.

Before we took on Yugoslavia, there was a chaplain who happened to be a former Olympian who was talking to different teams. Before the gold-medal game, she happened to get to our team. She was talking to us in groups about the big picture and God and how the Olympics was a wonderful experience. Later, she pulled me aside and said, “Do you realize this is your third Olympic team? You’ve been here, you’ve done this, you’ve won a gold before. If you’re feeling badly in any way, it’s because God has a plan for you.”

That was the first night I truly slept soundly through the night, knowing that she was right. I woke up the next day feeling rested, feeling good, able to participate in that gold-medal game.

Yugoslavia had a big team and they were doing well against us early. Katrina McClain, who had taken over at center for me, had her hands full with Razija Hujanovic, a big, wide-bodied center. When McClain got her fourth foul with about four minutes to go in the first half, coach Kay Yow looked down the bench and told me, “Get in there, Annie.”

I think they were up by two points. On our first trip down the floor, I hit a shot from the foul line. We came back down to the other end and everyone knew they were going to go right to Hujanovic. I stole the pass and we got a fast-break basket and the lead.

This was my big opportunity to finally contribute and I wasn’t going to stop there. I made a baseline jumper, a few foul shots, blocked a shot, and got a rebound. I was all over the place. It felt great to finally deliver.

We took a four-point lead into halftime. I came out and played the first six minutes of the second half, doing the same kind of stuff. The biggest thing–no pun intended–I did was to stop Hujanovic. With her somewhat neutralized, we extended to a double-digit lead.

When I left the game, we were ahead by 11 points. It was a big turnaround from earlier in the game, and I finally felt good about my game. We went on to win, 77-70. Instead of ending my career wallowing in self-pity on the bench, I went out with a big ol’ gold medal around my neck.

I don’t want to turn this into the “religion thing,” but the game totally reinforced all my beliefs in God. He showed me in a dear way that things happen for a reason. In the back of your mind you know it’s true, but to have things spelled out for you so clearly, it’s very powerful.

Not only was it a happy ending for me as a player, but also as a person because of the personal growth I went through. It doesn’t matter how hard we plan and prepare and how hard we want something to turn out, there’s a will stronger than ours that has a plan for us. I think that came very clear to me at that time. Things don’t always go the way they’re planned, but there can still be light at the end of the tunnel. For me, it was an important time in my life. I learned some very valuable lessons as a person and as an athlete.

The best part of it all? Getting the gold medal. It was a very emotional moment. I was thinking of my family and all the things I had to go through to get there. It was just a blur of emotions. The network television cameras happened to catch me getting the medal, with the emotions gushing out of me.

To see it later was incredible. I had a photograph of that shot made and it hangs in a prominent spot in my home.


RELATED ARTICLE: An Unmatched Record of Excellence

WHEN YOU’RE BIGGER AND better than everyone else, it’s easy to be a bully. But on Anne Donovan’s long road to becoming one of the best women players of all time, she always carried herself with class. She was as competitive as anyone could possibly be, but it didn’t come at the expense of good sportsmanship.

For instance, Donovan was a 6’1″ freshman on the Paramus Catholic basketball team in Northern New Jersey in the mid-’70s. Coach Rose Battaglia was employing a full-court press one night, using Donovan to choke off the inbounds pass. To say the strategy was working great was an understatement: The other team couldn’t even inbound the ball.

But during a timeout. Donovan looked up to her coach and asked if they could back off the press and call off the hounds. The coach was startled. Why remove the press? “She said, You’re not the one looking into that poor girl’s eyes.” Battaglia says. “Annie was worried about the other girl’s feelings.”

Donovan had a little less compassion for opponents last season with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, for whom she served as interim coach while head coach Nell Fortner led the Olympic team to gold in Sydney. She knew the expansion Fever would take their lumps, but she wanted “a strong work ethic and desire” from her team. Her mantra. “To be competitive every night. We can’t be outworked or outhustled.”

That’s what she got, getting high marks from critics for wringing every ounce of effort from her team. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the expansion team, which finished 9-23, but Donovan chose to evaluate the season not in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of progress. In that respect, it was a successful first year. For instance, even in the season’s final moments, when there was nothing but pride to play for, her team won two of their final four games. And Donovan was especially effective in helping a fellow center, Kara Wolters, round out her game.

That Donovan is a superior coach shouldn’t surprise anyone. Her track record from the time she learned the game by playing in her driveway as a kid has been unmatched by any other woman:

* In high school, she led her team to two straight undefeated seasons and two straight state titles.

* In college at Old Dominion, she was a three-time All-American and the 1983 Naismith Player of the Year, and finished as the school’s all-time leader in points (2,719), rebounds (1,976), and blocked shots (801). She powered ODU to the 1979 AIAW National Championship.

* On the international stage, she owns two Olympic gold medals and a gold medal at the World Championships in 1986.

* Professionally, she dominated while playing five years in Japan and one year in Italy.

* As a coach, she spent six years as an assistant at Old Dominion (1989-1995) before taking over the head coaching duties at East Carolina (1995-97). She then served as head coach of the Philadelphia Rage in the now-defunct ABL.

All her accomplishments added up into induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

The future will surely bring more challenges, although some speculate it won’t be with the Fever. Donovan, who has two more years left on her contract, is scheduled to step back into an assistant’s role while Fortner takes over the head coaching reins. However, her performance with the Fever has probably opened some eyes across the league, and you can rest assured that when a new head coaching job opens up, Donovan’s name will be mentioned to fill it.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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