The news was that Tara Heiss of the University of Maryland didn't make the woman's college basketball All-America team was announced yesterday. In reaction, these typing fingers are about to pound out a few hundred words of indignation, condemnation and irritation. Hell hath no fury like a sportswriter scorned.
Back when the world was young, so young the sportswriter's forehead yet was covered with hair, people began paying him to type words about basketball. He's probably seen a thousand games since. Not until two nights ago, though, had he seen big-time women play.
He loved Tara Heiss.
She's 5-foot-6 and she plays like crazy. What you notice first is that she is so fast, even dribbling upcourt on the break, that she leaves everyone in her wake. Here she comes, flying, weaving around molasses-footed defenders, and you know something will happen in a second.
Something. Anything. She might pass the ball to a teammate whose presence under the basket has been forgotten by defenders intent on Heiss' imminent arrival. Either that or Heiss, flying, will put up a layup-of-sorts so wildly improvised it seems certain to sail out of the building.
An example: it's early in the national tournament semifinal game against Wayland Baptist two nights ago. Here comes Heiss, down the right side, flying on the fast-break dribble. Under the hoop, at full speed, she collides with a Wayland defender. As she falls, her back to the basket, Heiss somehow flips the ball up. Now she's on the floor.
And the ball goes in.
"When you're 5-6 and you like to penetrate, you have to develop some way to get the ball over people's heads," Heiss said in explanation of that inexplicable shot.
Anyway, Heiss is Maryland's most valuable player. People talk of Maryland's quickness being its greatest asset in this season when the Terps have won 27 of 30 games and need only beat UCLA tonight for the national championship. That quickness is Tara Heiss.
In Maryland's 90-85 upset of tournament favorite Wayland Baptist two nights ago, Heiss scored 21 points, had nine assists and two steals. Her opposite number, Wayland's Kathy Harston, scored six points, had two assists and fouled out.
Harston was named an All-America yesterday and sat at the head table for a press conference. Heiss was in the audience, watching.
On one of the nation's long time "name" teams in women's basketball, Harston averaged 13.4 points a game. She was, perhaps, the third-best player on Wayland Baptist. For Maryland, a newcomer to national prominence, Heiss scored 14.1 points a game. The pair's statistic are comparable in all categories.
The stats tell you nothing.
The sportswriter may have lost some hair, but he hasn't lost his ideas of what a basketball player ought to be. And Tara Heiss is it. She plays the game full tilt. She makes things happen. She can are things people say about Phil Ford, the North pass and score and play aggressive defense. Those Carolina All-Americe, and they apply just as well to Tara Heiss.
So why isn't she an All-America?
Apparently, no one knows who Tara Heiss is.
At least, that what her Maryland teammates and coach believe.
"It's really cheap, said Kris Kirchner, the Maryland center. "They left Tara off just because we're coming on late and they haven't heard of her before. It's the committee's fault.
A committee of 10 prominent coaches from the country's tournament regions selects the 10-player All-America team from a list of 30 players, three from each region. Tara Heiss was ranked third in Maryland's region behind the all-time leading scorer, Carol Blazejowski of Montclair State, and Immaculata's Denis Burdick, long a star.
"Only three people on that committee ever saw Tara play," said another teammate, Debbie Stewart. "That's unfair. Wouldn't it be ironic now if we won the national championship and didn't even have a player good enough to be all All-America? That's never happened in women's basketball. I guess we're the little Cinderellas."
The Maryland coach, Chris Weller, was one of the 10 coaches on the selection committee. She voted for Heiss, she said. "But it was done too early," Weller said. The choices were made Wednesday. "We had a lot of people who hadn't even seen Tara," she added.
Another selector, UCLA Coach Billie Moore, saw the questions of a balding sportswriter as a sign that women's basketball is making a mark.
"To be honest," she said, "this is the first time we've ever had anybody ask why so-and-so didn't make All-America. That shows you we have more good players than ever. There's no question there are people not on the team who are just as good as people on it."
Heiss said she "didn't expect to make the team, but felt I would. It just proves to me you have to have a big name or big stats."
A player with both the name and the numbers, Blazejowski, said, "Tara is a very explosive player, very exciting. She's exceptional. As far as I'm concerned, she's an All-America."