The letter came in the mail a few weeks ago, signed "Anon E. Mouse."
Hey Weller," it began, "you are starting the wrong people." Then it listed the desired starting lineup of Maryland women's basketball team.
"I loved it," said Terrapin coach Chris Weller. "I figured I had arrived in the big time. I had a critic."
Before Title IX and its offshoots of publicity and increased emphasis, probably the only ones concerned about Maryland's starting lineup were the players and coaches.
But now the technical aspects of the game, those blackboard Xs and Os, no longer are confined to the elite programs of women's basketball. Things have become more complicated wherever a school is trying to reach the level of Immaculata, Delta State and the rest of the powers.
"When we played Immaculata for the first time two years ago," said Maryland guard Tara Heiss, "we didn't have any offense set up for a man-to-man defense. And that's all Immaculata played. We were dead before we started."
This year's Maryland team has five man-to-man offenses and three zone offenses. The Terrapins can free-lance or they can switch to a disciplined patterns. On defense, they can press, they can trap, paly man-to-man or fall back into a towering zone.
"And we still have a long way to go," said Weller. "This is the first time many of the girls have played in such a structured atmosphere. So sometimes we are just too mechanical. Instead of adapting to the situation, we want to run out the plays just like they are diagramed, even if they're being defensed perfectly."
When Weller reviews the various offenses with her team, Heiss, one of the squad comics, will begin to move her fingers as if she was typing into a computer.
"Tara," Weller will say immediately, "it's not that complicated. Really."
Maybe not, but Weller admits that she has tried not to go too fast with her instructions.
"Take our press, for example," she said. "We really haven't got beyond the first stage, where you should turn the person with the ball before she reaches halfcourt. We don't do a good job on that, so how can we go any further"
What is happening at Maryland is not an isolated case. Women's basketball, starting at the high school level, was given so little attention over such a long period in most regions that coaches and players are now scrambling to raise their technical expertise.
"You might call it on-the-job learning," said Weller, who had only one year of junior varsity college coaching experience prior to taking over at Maryland. "Unless you either coached or played in a top women's program, you probably never were exposed to anything but the basic fundamentals.
"Heck, when I played at Maryland, we didn't even have our own uniforms. Things were very simple, because that's how everyone played."
Weller has become an avid reader of basketball strategy books - those by Morgan Wooten are among her favorites - and she attends many clinics. But she also finds herself, speaking at clinics, "although I'm still in the learning stage myself.It's an awkward position."
However, she has already mastered the first lesson of winning basketball: recruit tall players.
Maryland usually starts a front line the bench are 6-5 freshman Krystalbie Stewart and 5-10 Jane Zivalich. On comprised of 6-0 Angie Scotts, 6-1 Del-Kimrey and 5-11 Debbie Jones, an efficient rebounder known as "Swat" or "Ripper" to her teammates.
"Last year, we had a perimeter offense because we were small and our best players were guards," Weller said. "This year, now that we have some height, I want the ball to go inside more. We concentrate on getting close-in shots.
Having Heiss around also is an asset. Some Maryland people claim she handles the ball as well as Brad Davis, and she is also a fine shooter, good enough to make third team all-America last year and received an invitation to try out for the Olympic team.
With this much talent available, Weller spends much of her time looking for ways to generate motivation. That, too, she has found can be a coaching problem, especially for players who don't always view upcoming games as seriously as she does.
Today, for example, as Weller fretted over what strategy Virginia would employ against the Terrapins in a semifinal game of the Virginia Women's Invitational Tournament, some of her athletes were playing touch football in the motel parking lot. Earlier, she had refuseda request to let a group take a car and go on a shopping tour.
"I spent all last year thinking of gimmicks to get them motivated." Weller said. "One time, I had them lay down for 20 minutes before a game and not say anything. I told them they could do their talking on the floor. It worked. They came out and exploded."
Against Immaculata last year, she had eveyone sign a team picture before the game, saying it was for a local high school girl. "Immaculata is always signing team pictures, so I figured I could make our people feel good by having them do the same things. I didn't want themtothink Immaculata had anything, including prestige, on them.
Maryland lost by one point to the heavily favored Macs. "When the players found out afterwards that I had made up the whole signing bit," said Weller, "were they upset."
Sometimes, however, the only thing that works is good, old-fashioned anger. The players think Weller looks like a cat - "they meow at me all the time" - and Heiss says she can be time" - and Heiss says she can be "She can become very upset," said rough.
Heiss, "and we know it. But we earn it. You never know what kind of attitude we'll have for a game."
Their attitude was a problem for Penn State 10 days ago. The Lions jumped ahead and Weller scalleda time-out. Fifty-five seconds later, she stopped the game again after a Penn State player had dribbled through he entire team.
"If you can't stop one person, we'll never do anything right," she told them."Okay, you are on your own. I have only one time-out left and I'm saying it."
The Terrapins lost, 82-64, and have been listening more intently ever since.