Prior to Sunday night's tipoff against top ranked and undefeated Connecticut, Prairie View A&M Coach Dawn Brown spent countless hours reviewing film and developing a game plan to topple what some consider to be the most dominant team in the nation. "Why not Prairie View?" is the mantra Brown chose to relay to her Lady Panthers as they embraced their underdog role. And considering the way the season began for the Lady Panthers, it's a role they know all too well.
For those unfamiliar, SWAC basketball teams tend to spend November and December bouncing from airport to airport playing larger schools in an opportunity to make money for their respective institutions. Most of the time, the losses tend to mount fairly quickly. In what is sadly a rare occasion, "PV," as the school is affectionately known to those familiar, was actually able to get Conference USA member Rice, to visit the school for a home game. Now when you consider that Rice is also located in Houston, you start to realize how much the cards are stacked against these student athletes for early season success. The same Lady Panthers you saw leave all they had on the court representing the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season began the season on an 11 game losing streak. This streak included losses to fellow tournament teams such as Texas A&M, Florida State and James Madison and culminating in a SWAC conference play opening loss to Southern University, the team picked by the media to win the SWAC that the Lady Panthers turned about to beat by a score of 72-43 in the semi-finals of the SWAC Conference Tournament.
At this point, you're probably wondering what all this background leads to. Well, while Brown and her team were preparing to take the floor and take their turn at measuring their program and players against the tournament's overall number one seed, everything they worked their behinds off for was being glazed over; as if the Prairie View women's basketball is nothing more than a footnote in a foregone conclusion. ESPN star commentators Kara Lawson, Rebecca Lobo, and Kevin Neghandi engaged in a mocking "moment of silence" for Prairie View and their team. After this game ended, I can guarantee, there wasn't one thought of giving up basketball because of this game or shutting down the university because of embarrassment. These players and their coaching staff are figuring out what needs to be done to extend their tournament stay next season. At the end of the day when we lie our heads down, we are all human beings. These players endure countless workouts and practices then still pick up their weary bodies and attend class the same way that Connecticut and Notre Dame's players do, the same way that BYU and Gonzaga athletes do.
What senior LaReahn Washington just completed most players dream of. She walks away from Prairie View, a 4-time SWAC Conference Tournament Champion, something Connecticut's senior class can't claim. What PV did in holding what was the SWAC's most prolific offense (the Lady Jaguars of Southern finished the SWAC season pacing the conference in scoring at 74.1 points per game) to 43 points in their semifinal win is purely amazing. What junior Jeannette Jackson accomplished throughout the course of the season (Jackson led the SWAC in scoring and steals while finishing third in assists per game and fourth in assist-turnover ration while leading the SWAC and playing 39.1 minutes per game) yet still wasn't named SWAC Player of the Year is just plain highway robbery. Yet none of this was mentioned by individuals in positions of advocacy for the game of women's basketball. By all means, one is entitled to their opinion. And considering that Lawson and Lobo have essentially had red carpets laid out for them since completing their careers at Tennessee and UConn respectively, one wouldn't really expect them to understand what these young women endure for the opportunity to do what they love while receiving a degree. But when you consider the battle women's sports in general, and especially basketball, fights for respect and to maintain relevancy, you would think that these ladies would have a bit more elegance in their opining during the pre-game show.
Upon hearing the comments made, I immediately flashed back to the infamous Don Imus comments about the Rutger's women's basketball team in 2007. Now, let me be clear: the statements made pale in comparison to that attack on the women of the Scarlet Knights. But take a second consider that this wasn't just a statement of how good the UConn women are, this was an indictment of the Prairie View women's basketball team. Moments of silence are something we reserve for death or tragedy. Nothing about this season for the Lady Panthers was tragic, not until this point. Intimating they don't belong or should be happy with just making the tournament is disgraceful. In this day and age, where parity plays a huge part in the enjoyment of and interest in college basketball, shouldn't we be applauding teams with coaches like Prairie View and Coach Dawn Brown for fighting and wanting to take that next step, as opposed to using them as fodder for a laugh dripping with condescension and disrespect?
I write here today in 100% support of the former.