Mighty Macs ready for their Hall of Fame moment

Immaculata star Theresa Grentz talks to Nicole Munger before having her run through a drill at Grentz Elite Coaching in West Chester. Grentz will be entering the Basketball Hall of Fame along with the "Mighty Macs" team. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - For the players and coaches of the women's basketball national championship teams at Immaculata, it's yesterday once more this weekend at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Former star center Theresa Grentz, who always got the last word on the court, also got the last word at Thursday's news conference among the inductees who gave their thoughts about their induction Friday night.

"We are looking forward to another chance to party," Grentz said with a smile. "We're a bunch of old broads and now they bring us out and dust us off."

Grentz will give the acceptance speech. Also attending from the 1972-74 champions will be coach Cathy Rush, who is already an individual inductee, and Marianne Stanley, who is being given the night off from her job as an assistant coach with the WNBA's Washington Mystics.

Grentz, a successful coach at St. Joseph's, Rutgers, and Illinois, was asked about Becky Hammon, who will become the NBA's first paid female assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs.

"When [Connecticut women's coach] Geno Auriemma was inducted here, he noted that his players could one day say they were part of that," Grentz said. "Well, I think it is great for Becky. And I'd like to think that somewhere into what happened, there is a little of Immaculata somehow involved."

Immaculata's heyday as a national power began to fade after the Mighty Macs lost to Tennessee in the consolation game of the AIAW tournament in 1977 and Rush stepped down a few days later.

Yet Immaculata has remained a relevant name in the sport for four decades.

"The real story is not about the wins and points but about what all these women became after getting their degrees," Grentz said.

She and teammates Stanley at Old Dominion and Rene Muth Portland at Penn State went on to guide their teams into the top 10.

Grentz took Rutgers to the last AIAW title, Stanley won an AIAW crown and two in the NCAA, and Portland took Penn State to its only Final Four appearance, which was in 2000 in Philadelphia.

"If you took all the people who went on to successful coaching careers," Grentz said, "there might be 2,000 wins among them and then you have others who coached AAU, CYO, and their players became good coaches."

One story that has gotten lost beneath all the acclaim is that Immaculata, located near Malvern in the Western Philadelphia suburbs, became great by accident.

"No question, there was a lot of happenstance," Rush said earlier this week. "I guess considering that it was a small, Catholic women's liberal arts college, using the word 'destiny' is appropriate."

Grentz, for example, was headed for Mount St. Mary's on a scholarship but a devastating fire in her home caused her to become a commuter student at Immaculata.

Stanley was originally headed to West Chester, which had been Immaculata's key rival.

"After three days I realized I didn't need physical education to become a coach so I 'disenrolled,' " said Stanley, who was the female version of the acclaimed Philly point guard.

"Theresa and Marianne won high school titles at Archbishop Prendergast," recalled Mike Flynn, who runs the powerful Philadelphia AAU program. "When Marianne arrived at Immaculata the year after Theresa, I thought, 'Damn, this team could be really special.' "

To win the first title, the Mighty Macs benefited from the AIAW tournament committee's giving them the lone at-large berth and final seed after a loss to West Chester in regional play.

Judy Marra, a reserve player, went on to marry Phil Martelli, now St. Joseph's men's coach.

Grentz answered one question about the old days.

"Cathy, or Mrs. Rush as we called her, would say to us, 'OK, we have a game Tuesday. Here's where it is at. Figure out how to get there.'

"No way you would see any of that happen today."