Often overlooked in favor of athletic prowess on the court, the minds that make up a coaching staff can be a crucial cog to a championship team. In Washington, some of the most respected individuals in women’s basketball sit (or often stand in coach Thibault’s case) amongst the players each and every game.
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault is a two-time WNBA Coach of the Year and has the most wins of any active coach. His son, Eric, is one of two Mystics’ assistant coaches and has previously coached at Virginia Commonwealth University, St. John’s University and the Connecticut Sun. While both coaches are heralded in their own right, the final member of the coaching staff is a true pioneer of the game.
Marianne Crawford Stanley was a member of the three-time National Championship “Mighty Macs” of Immaculata College, now University. Stanley, inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, will be joined by her former teammates this weekend when they are recognized as “Trailblazers of the Game” by the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s overdue. I’m really happy that the University, that my former teammates and my coach are all being recognized for our contributions to the game,” Coach Stanley said. “The history of our game is important, it’s important today, it’ll always be important. So, I think it’s fitting that Immaculata was recognized for its place in the development of women’s basketball.”
Immaculata has been called the birthplace of modern women’s basketball. Not only did the “Mighty Macs” squad win the first ever Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) National Championship and defend their title twice more, they also participated in the first televised women’s basketball game, the first women’s game at Madison Square Garden and were the first women’s college team to play outside of the country. Led by coach Cathy Rush, their inspirational story has been told again and again, including in a 2011 motion picture.
An All-America selection in her final two college seasons, Stanley’s basketball story did not end upon her graduation from Immaculata. She led Old Dominion University to three National Championships in six years with an 82% winning percentage. The Philadelphia native has received numerous accolades throughout her career including Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year, Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year (twice) and WNBA Coach of the Year. But the former “Mighty Mac” got her start on her childhood playground.
“Philadelphia has a rich tradition in basketball, both on the men’s and women’s side. [Growing up} I was fortunate to be in a place where basketball was big,” Stanley said. “I just gravitated to it…. I’ve had a love affair with basketball since I was about six or seven years old.”
Janeth Arcain, Janet Harris and Lisa Leslie will be inducted alongside the Immaculata team Saturday. Although Stanley is unable to attend the ceremony, Leslie’s induction is special for the Mystics assistant coach as well, having coached the three-time WNBA MVP at the University of Southern California.
“I’m just so happy and pleased for [Leslie],” Stanley said. “Great recognition, she’s just meant so much to the game of women’s basketball at all levels.
Stanley’s former teammate Theresa Shank Grentz was honored in 2001 and Rush in 2000. This year’s WBHOF class also includes Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke, who passed away in 2011, Indiana Fever assistant coach Gail Goestenkors and Oregon City High School coach Brad Smith. The ceremony will take place at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee Saturday, June 13th.