This was a roller-coaster weekend for Gail Goestenkors. On the day she resigned as an assistant coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, it was announced she would enter the women’s basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
“I thought the timing was absolutely perfect if there is such a thing,” said Goestenkors, who built Duke into a national power, guiding the Blue Devils to four Final Four appearances and seven straight seasons with at least 30 wins.
“It epitomizes the business of women’s basketball. It’s a series of highs and lows. … I think I’ve been so blessed and fortunate over the years to make so many great memories. I’ve had so many messages that were congratulations and I’m sorry about the LA situation.”
Joining Goestenkors in the hall’s latest class are four-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie, former Houston Comets star Janeth Arcain, University of Georgia standout Janet Harris, longtime Oregon high school coach Brad Smith and Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke, who was killed in a plane crash in 2011.
Goestenkors also coached at Texas. She was an assistant on the U.S. national teams at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. She said she resigned from the Sparks out of loyalty to head coach Carol Ross.
“I was surprised that they fired her. We only had 12 games left,” Goestenkors said. “We essentially would be in the playoffs. I thought we had turned the corner on the road trip. I’m disappointed with their decision. I’m very loyal and needed to move in a different direction.”
Goestenkors was surely thrown in a different direction when the call came from the Hall of Fame.
“I would say my first response was stunned silence,” Goestenkors recalled. “I thought she was calling about the Kay Yow golf tournament. I’m very honored and excited. I’ve been blessed with great people and players and this just shows it.”
Saturday’s announcement of the Hall of Fame class lifted the spirts of both Kurt Budke’s wife, Shelly, and Smith.
“When I received the call it was on my father-in- law’s birthday,” she said. “It was a great call because he needed a lift that day. It’s a bittersweet moment. We couldn’t be happier as a family and more proud of this honor. We try to celebrate his life every day and him being inducted gives us another opportunity as a family to celebrate his coaching accomplishments but also how great a person was.”
For Smith, the announcement came on the day two years after his mother died.
“It turned a bad day into a really good day for my father and family,” he said.
Smith retired in 2006 with a 629-87 record over 27 seasons. He was honored in 2012 with the Morgan Wooten Award for lifetime achievement for coaching high school basketball by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Arcain had a stellar career playing for Brazil. She guided the team to a gold medal at the 1994 world championship as well as a silver and bronze at the Olympics. She came to the WNBA in 1997 and was the 13th pick in the draft. She helped lead the Comets to WNBA championships in the league’s first four years.
Harris starred at Georgia from 1981-85, earning All-SEC honors all four seasons. She was the first player in NCAA women’s basketball history to total 2,500 points and 1,250 rebounds. She helped the Lady Bulldogs win the SEC crown in 1983 and 1984 and reach the Final Four twice.
“I was very shocked,” Harris said. “It brought back a lot of memories. I was so happy and excited and never thought I’d get in.”