KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ruth Riley Hunter says her journey to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame began in front of her television set more than a quarter-century ago. Ticha Penicheiro’s own dream started when she received a basketball from her parents when she was 6.
Both entered the Hall of Fame on Saturday night as part of a class that also included former Women’s Basketball Coaches Association CEO Beth Bass, former Tennessee and College of Charleston women’s athletic director Joan Cronan, former NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chair Nora Lynn Finch and former players Carolyn Bush Roddy and Valerie Still.
“I had big dreams and I dreamed really, really crazy, but it’s not crazy (if) you do it,” said Penicheiro, a four-time WNBA All-Star. “I did it. I’m a Hall of Famer.”
Riley Hunter, who was known as Ruth Riley during her playing career, recalled watching the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team and telling her mom that she also would play in the Olympics and the NBA.
“She didn’t shoot down my dream or even inform me no girl’s ever played in the NBA,” Riley Hunter said. “She simply said if you work hard enough, the opportunity will be there for you one day.”
Penicheiro, who grew up in Portugal, credited her parents for pushing her “to follow my American dream.”
“That’s the main reason I’m here today,” said Penicheiro, who now works as an agent. “They gave me a basketball when I was 6 years old and it was love at first sight. A lot of times I would go to the playground and I had to fight stereotypes that we still fight today. I was the only girl in the middle of a bunch of boys who thought that girls shouldn’t play basketball or girls can’t play basketball. Well, I thought different.”
Sue Bird is the only WNBA player with more career assists than Penicheiro, who helped the Sacramento Monarchs win a WNBA title in 2005.
Penicheiro’s bid for a second straight WNBA championship ended in 2006 when the Monarchs lost in the Finals to Riley Hunter’s Detroit Shock team. Riley Hunter also was named WNBA Finals MVP while helping Detroit win the 2003 title and played on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal.
But she’s perhaps best known for her college achievements. Riley Hunter was the national college player of the year when she led Notre Dame to its first national title in 2001. She now joins Notre Dame coach and 2011 inductee Muffet McGraw in the Hall of Fame.
“There isn’t a woman aside from my mom I have more gratitude, respect or admiration for than Muffet McGraw,” said Riley Hunter, who now works on the Miami Heat’s broadcast team. “She taught me that women can do it all. We can be fierce competitors, we can lead with integrity and greatness, and we can prioritize our family in the process.”
Still starred at Kentucky from 1979-83 and led the Columbus Quest to consecutive American Basketball League titles in 1997 and 1998. Roddy is a women’s basketball pioneer who led the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens to consecutive AAU national championships in the 1970s.
Roddy invited several female student-athletes from where she grew up — Roane County, Tennessee — to the ceremony and spoke directly to them at the end of her induction speech.
“Never, ever give up,” she said. “Even if you’re convinced it’s all over, it’s not over unless you want it to be. A true example of that is standing right here before you tonight. It’s me.”
The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which governed women’s college athletics before the NCAA took over, also was recognized as a “trailblazer of the game.” Several former AIAW-era players, including Ann Meyers-Drysdale and Nancy Lieberman, were recognized.
All the previous inductees in attendance were introduced at the start of the ceremony, and the biggest ovation from the Knoxville crowd arguably went to former Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, who was fired in April after a first-round NCAA Tournament exit. Warlick was inducted in 2001 for her accomplishments as a player.