Categorized | Bronx Neighborhoods, Sports

Fordham Retires Gregory-O’Connell No. 55

by Fred Dreier

Anne Gregory-O'Connell Meets Fordham's New Stars

Anne Gregory-O'Connell (right) meets the latest generation of Fordham University's basketball stars

Long before the New York Liberty and the WNBA, Anne Gregory owned the maple boards at Fordham University.

From 1976-1980, Gregory (now Gregory-O’Connell) scored more points (2584) than any woman in school history and grabbed more rebounds (1999) than any female collegiate player ever.

Her jersey now hangs next to Fordham’s only other retired shirt — the No. 11 worn by Ed Conlin.

The two jerseys tell two very different stories of post-college basketball. Conlin left Fordham after graduating in 1955 and joined the pro ranks with the primordial NBA franchise, the Syracuse Nationals, who would later become the Philadelphia 76ers. Gregory-O’Connell didn’t enjoy the same career opportunities when she finished school 25 years later.

Gregory-O’Connell crossed the pond to play in a French women’s league, residing in the Mediterranean town of Antibes. After six months she came back to her home in the Bronx. Her coach at Fordham, Kathy Mosolino, had become coach of the New Jersey Gems, one of the teams in the budding Women’s Basketball League (WBL), and Gregory-O’Connell enlisted. She earned about $10,000 for her efforts. But when the league folded in the spring of 1981, Gregory-O’Connell called it a career.

“I loved it, I didn’t want to give up playing basketball,” Gregory-O’Connell said. “When you grow up in a basketball family, you want to keep it going as long as you can.”

Now in her mid 50’s and a high school guidance counselor, Gregory-O’Connell still has the height and trim physique of a basketball player. She wonders whether she could have enjoyed a pro career, had the WNBA been around when she left school.

Even now, there are questions about whether a women’s professional league can survive. Thirteen years since its inception, the WNBA is struggling at the gate and with ratings. In 2009 110,000 fewer fans attended WNBA games live, a drop of nearly five percent. The WNBA lost ground on television as well. ESPN2 and ABC combined to televise only 13 total regular season games last year.

But it’s the evaporation of job opportunities that is most alarming. In May, the league mandated the trimming of rosters from 14 to 11 players, effectively putting 39 professionals out of work. Those 39 pro women must now fight with incoming prospects o secure a league job, which, in 2009 paid between $35,500 and $95,500 a year.

Teams can only bring 15 players to training camp, down from 18 in years past. Those 39 total tryout spots traditionally went to pro hopefuls, many of them recent college grads or players from overseas. That means even fewer opportunities for women, who come out of college like Gregory-O’Connell once did, with talent, youth and the motivation to keep playing basketball.

“Job security is going down. I hear girls talking about it all the time,” said Laura Harper, a forward with the Sacramento Monarchs this past March. “It’s going to be different. You have to come ready, or you are going to get cut.”

In November the Monarchs announced they would not return for the 2010 season, and Harper was out of a job. The team was the second of the original eight to fold within the last year, after the Houston Comets called it quits in 2008.

Anne Gregory-O'Connell still holds school records for points scored (2,548), field goals (982), free throws (584), and blocks (200). Her 1999 career rebounds is the most in the history of women's college basketball. photo by Fred Dreier

Anne Gregory-O'Connell still holds school records for points scored (2,548), field goals (982), free throws (584), and blocks (200). Her 1999 career rebounds is the most in the history of women's college basketball. photo by Fred Dreier

So what would Gregory-O’Connell’s career path look like had she graduated from Fordham in today’s climate? Mosolino, who worked with ABC Sports and NBC after her coaching career, said Gregory-O’Connell would likely have followed a similar career path — play in Europe, then hope to transfer to a team in the United States.

“Anne would have to play overseas today, most of the kids in the WNBA do it,” said Mosolino. “It’s really tough to get a spot on one of those teams. The players are really good. There’s a lot more talent out there now.”

Had she had the chance to do it all over again, Gregory-O’Connell would gladly follow her dream of pro basketball. These days she works at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, New York, where she lives with her husband, AP sports writer Jim O’Connell, and their two sons. She still shoots hoops with her coworkers. And she follows women’s pro ball.

“I took my boys to a game in the first season of the WNBA,” Gregory-O’Connell said. “When the lights came on and they introduced the pros, I got chills. I think I would have loved to have played in [the WNBA].”

One Response to “Fordham Retires Gregory-O’Connell No. 55”

  1. avatar Tiger Turf says:

    Very true, great post… Keem ’em coming!


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