UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The journey is not over for Barbara Stevens. This induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame is only part of her quest to popularize women’s basketball on a grand scale.
The former Bentley University coach, who retired last season after 34 years, received her long awaited honor Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena as one of the Hall’s Class of 2020, representing coaches all over America who lead student-athletes at smaller schools, many of whom are playing just for the love of the game, not professional opportunities.
Stevens is a five-time Division 2 coach of the year and led the Falcons to the 2014 national championship. Her induction is an example that recognition in women’s basketball is increasing. Stevens was presented by UConn coach Geno Auriemma and former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, two former bitter arch rivals who came together to honor and welcome Stevens.
Growing up 40 miles from the Hall of Fame site in Springfield, Mass., Stevens took her first basketball head coaching position at Clark University at age 22 before moving on to UMass for four years and then beginning her remarkable run at Bentley in 1986.
“It was not something that I ever thought about, so I am incredibly humbled to be here,” Stevens said. “I have so much respect for men and women in all sports who play at a Division 2 and 3 level. Two and three are great options. I loved Bentley University, where I coached for 34 years because of the balance I saw between the academics and athletics.”
When Stevens finished her career, Bentley named its basketball floor in her honor.
“I will never be able to thank Bentley enough,” she said in her nine-minute speech. “To my former players, you are the reason I stand here tonight. I continue to be proud of the strong, confident women you have become. You have given me the most treasured memories I could ever have wished for.”
Celtics royalty honor Garnett
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was in attendance along with all-time Celtics great Bill Russell, former Celtics All-Star Kevin McHale, ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Paul Pierce to honor Kevin Garnett. Two-time Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn received a large round of applause when included in a tribute to those Hall of Famers who died in the past year.
Garnett was first to speak and gave a heartfelt 7-minute speech, touching on all points of his career: his South Carolina upbringing, his Chicago prep days, his 12 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, those six stellar years with the Celtics and his seasons with the Brooklyn Nets.
“I told them I wanted to go first because I know we got the OG’s in here, I know y’all got a bedtime in a minute,” he joked. “I wanted Bill Russell to hear my speech before I fell asleep.”
Garnett began by thanking Bill Willoughby, Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone and Spencer Haywood as pioneers who either jumped directly from high school to professional basketball or in Haywood’s case went to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to play before his college eligibility expired. In 1995, Garnett was the first player since Dawkins and Willoughby to jump to the pros and played 21 years, becoming a 15-time All-Star.
“It’s a big deal to pay homage to the ones that came before me,” Garnett said. “To the Boston Celtics, I want to thank y’all for an amazing ownership group. Danny Ainge, the vision. Doc Rivers, your leadership, helping me be not only a better player but a better person. Thank you for teaching me Ubuntu, I feel like I represent all of us up here, so I thank you for that.
“Paul Pierce, I expect to see you up here next year. All my brothers in the Celtics family thank you. Celtic nation, I love you, appreciate you.”