Katrina McClain, All-American Red Heads among inductees into Naismith Hall of Fame

All-American Redheads
All-American Red Heads uniforms. Photo courtesy John Molina.

My morning today started with a text message from John Molina, a man who has given his heart and soul into keeping alive the history of the women’s game, especially the barnstorming group of ladies known as the All-American Red Heads.

“All-American Red Heads will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame!”

Five and one half hours later, with one simple tweet, Georgia coach Andy Landers let another secret be known:

“Congrats to Katrina McClain on Naismith Hall of Fame. No doubt in my mind she’s the greatest power player in women’s basketball…EVER!”

Reggie Miller may be the name most familiar of those announced today as the next induction class of the Naismith Hall of Fame, but women’s basketball fans are celebrating today the induction of  three legends deserving of the honor as well, Katrina McClain, the All-American Red Heads, and Russian player and coach Lidia Alexeeva.

Katrina McClain

Katrina McClain was a two time All-American at Georgia and National Player of the Year in 1987. At Georgia, McClain lost a total of fifteen games in four years, and still ranks second all-time on Georgia’s career scoring and rebounding lists.

However it was with the letters “USA” across the front of her uniform that McClain really made her mark. Over the twelve year period from 1985 through 1996, McClain played on a USA team in an international event nine of those years, starting with a silver medal in the 1985 World University Games.

She was an integral part of USA teams in the 1986 Goodwill Games (gold medal), 1986 World Championships (gold medal), 1987 Pan American Games (gold medal), 1988 Olympics (gold medal), 1990 World Championships (gold medal), 1990 Goodwill Games (gold medal), 1991 Pan American Games (bronze medal), 1992 Olympics (bronze medal), 1994 World Championships (bronze medal), 1996 Olympics (gold medal). Seven gold medals and three bronze medals, an amazing achievement.

In the 1987 Pan American games gold medal game, she had one of the great games in USA Basketball history, dueling with Brazilian legend Hortencia point for point, as each scored 30 points in the game won by the United States 111-87. Her performances led to her being named USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year in both 1988 and 1992.

McClain concluded her career in the ABL, playing with the Atlanta Glory, making the ABL All-Star team in 1998. In 2006, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

She has waited patiently for inclusion in Springfield, and goes into the Naismith Hall of Fame on the heels of last year inductee and long time teammate Teresa Edwards. It seems only fitting it should happen that way.

The All-American Red Heads

The road to Springfield for the All-American Red Heads you could say was driven in an old limousine, with their name painted on the side. This is how the team would travel around the country, playing anywhere and everywhere, against any and all comers.

Prior to Title IX, the Red Heads were one of the few places that the best women’s players around could play. From 1936 to 1986 they were the female Harlem Globetrotters, entertaining and playing, defeating everyone they faced. The big difference is that the Red Heads’ opponents TRIED to win.

The early teams were loaded with AAU All-Americans. The ladies all dyed their hair red, and each played the game with a passion and love that helped sustain them through the long days and nights of travel. At one point the Red Heads won 96 consecutive games, and over a span of 96 days won 206 games with 14 defeats.

They continue to amaze and entertain at reunions and appearances to this day. At the Big East tournament just last month, they participated in an exhibit and put on demonstrations of their skills, which they still have even in their seventies. Fans of all ages were thrilled to see and meet the ladies.

Lidia Alexeeva

Lidia Alexeeva was an inductee in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. As a player Alexeeva was part of four European Soviet National teams in the 1950’s. As a coach, though, she was a huge success.

She coached Soviet teams to gold medals in both the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, five FIBA World Championship titles (1964, 1967, 1971, 1975, 1983), twelve European Championships and seventeen USSR National Championships. She was undefeated in international play for an incredible seventeen years!

As we anticipate a national championship game tomorrow night with some of the best players in the women’s college game today, it is only fitting that these legends join the other luminaries in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Here is hoping the youth of today remembers the stars of the past; the trailblazers and pioneers who did not have a WNBA to look toward. The athletes that played out of love and respect for the great game of basketball.

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