Sun Herald from Biloxi, Mississippi on February 28, 1993 · 53
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Sun Herald from Biloxi, Mississippi · 53

Biloxi, Mississippi
Issue Date:
Sunday, February 28, 1993
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THE SUN HERALD Sunday FEBRUARY 28 1993SPORTS WEEK M i ntffc ‘ALLl I was uncoordinated 1 was big I was clumsy I didn’t even want to be a basketball player Eugenia Connor BLACK Conner gives up Br jerky lacy THE SUN HERALD ome times people stumble into greatness For Eugenia Conner a former I All-America and All-Southeast-em Conference center success on the basketball court allowed her to accomplish things in life that most people only dream of But as a youngster growing up Conner didn't know the impact she’d have on the program at Harrison Central at Ole Miss nor on women’s basketball in Mississippi Now Conner has given up the sport she had such an impact on to try to have an impact on children’s lives “I always said I wanted to do something for the kids” said Conner who played professional basketball for three years in Spain and Italy and is now a social-work investigator in Gulfport “I had signed a contract to continue my career but I found the job I have now that involves helping abused and neglected kids I just saw it as another opportunity to reach another one of my goals “I do have choices I could still be over there playing Right now I’m eiyoying what I’m doing ‘It’s hard sometimes But I can’t even explain it To hear the pain in a child’s voice And then work hard to make things better And to hear them say ‘If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be alive You saved my life’ “Yes I do miss basketball Of course I miss the paycheck and the traveling But I epjoy this more because I’m making a difference “And yes the people overseas were upset I don’t blame them But this is something I really wanted to do I think I’m making a difference in a positive way” RelBctut npentai Her first impact was on the court though And she has changed women’s basketball at her former high school and college “At first I didn’t go out for the basketball team I was always taller than the other girls and uncoordinated” said Con HISTORY MOUTH basketball to achieve a greater goal ner "The coaches took me out of the PE class and told me I was going to play basketball I was pitiful at first “A lot of people thought ‘She’s got God-given talent’ But that wasn’t so I was uncoordinated I was big I was dum-sy I didn’t even want to be a basketball player “But they (the coaches) pushed me I also had the desire I’d work with the girls Td weak with the boys And then I’d work by myself to get better” Conner a 6-2 center didn’t just get better She developed into a force under the basket She became the first freshman to start on the varsity at Harrison Central and helped lead the Red Rebelettes to an unprecedented four straight state titles from 1977-81 "There was a lot of animosity there from the other females I was the only freshman at Harrison Central to do something like that” she said “We had some good players already on that team - “Some starters were already there and here comes a freshman who comes and takes a position “My freshman year was difficult emotionally I’m the type of person that I want to make everyone happy and it wasn’t my choice” That choice was then-coach Van Chancellor’s He said he’ll nevir forget his first meeting with Conner f - - "I saw Eugenia Conned when she had FOR I can’t even explain it To hear the pain in a child’s ' - voice And then work? ? hard to make things better Yes I do miss basketball But I enjoy this more because I’m making a difference Eugenia Conner finished her eighth-grade - year” said Chancellor now the women’s head coach at Ole Miss “People were telling me there was a freshman who might could help our team “She came to the gym to see me and we started talking “I asked her how many potato chips cookies and sodas she was eating and drinking and I was telling her how much she was going to have to cut back “I noticed while I was telling her this her brother Eric was behind her laughing I asked him why He said ‘Everything she doesn’t eat TD get “I thought from day one Eugenia Conner had greatness written all over her” In 1981 Conner wound up as the state’s player of the year was named a : Parade All-American and received more than 225 college offers Bearing np under pressure But for a 17-year-old the pressure of being a big-time player is hard to handle “The pressure that you’re under isn’t worth it" said Comer - - “It’s good for people to recruit athletes and give scholarships and people to want you for your talents But people don’t know the pressure they put on you ‘ “ They (recruiters) had people call the house like Joe Namath John Thompson and Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant They’d say things like If you come to this school we ’ll get together and do this (P AB-Amerfca honors in the early 1980s “It was just the worse time of my life I wouldn’t advise anyone to go through it” It was so much pressure that Conner waited until two weeks after college had begun in the fall of 1981 before she chose Ole Miss That began four years of Conner being named All-SEC the first in the school's history It also led to the Lady Rebels being 106-20 and making four trips to the NCAA tournament in her four years Conner finished as the school's third all-time leading scorer with 1993 points She was also named an All-American her freshman year In the summer of ’81 She played on the South team in the National Sports Festival in Syracuse NY where she won the first of two gold ‘medals "That summer I met Michael Jordan Cheryl Miller Patrick Ewing Evelyn Ashford Teresa Edwards and Charles Barkley” said Conner But for her meeting those people wasn’t the highlight of the Sports Festival “When they’re playing the national anthem and they’re putting the mpdal around your neck that’s one of the great- est feelings you could ever experience” she said In Conner’s senior year 1984-85 Ole u Miss went 29-3 a mark equaled only hy last year’s team as the best record in school history When you think about basketball at Harrison Central and Ole Miss one of the ' people you have to think of is Eugenia Comer” said Chancellor who took over the Ole Miss job in 1978 “Eugenia Conner was our first big-time recruit She’s the reason we turned things around at Ole Miss She paved the way for easier things at this program and IH always be grateful for her” Leaning i “In Mississippi Eugenia Conner has had an impact on every kid that’s played basketball” Chancellor said “She’s had an opportunity to go over there and " that’s paved the way for other kids from -Mississippi” ' The “over there” is Europe where Conner ventured after college to play professional basketball "The firstthree years I played in Spain in Barcelona and Zaragoza I also played one year in Italy and a couple of months in France “I know if I hadn’t played basketball I wouldn’t have never got to go abroad I couldn’t afford it and I wouldn’t have never even thought about it” Living and playing overseas took some adjustment she said “They only had one American over there at the time during my first year and I didn’t speak the language I was just culture-shocked "My mother’s telephone bill was about $2000 a month because I called her all tiie time I told her Tm ready to come - home Tm ready to quit’ “She told me to hang in there” Hanging in there meant getting an interpreter and learning the culture Td be sitting in the back of the bus studying Spanish when we were on a road trip I was determined” said Conner - “By the second or third year my mother was begging me to come home-! loved it The season would be over a month and I’d still be there” Answering a higher call The one thing that could hire Conner away from her three-bedroom house and Please see CONNER D-12 — a i

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