KNOXVILLE, Tenn. When Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw learned last summer that she would be a part of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame 2011 class of inductees, she knew the pressure was on for the Fighting Irish to have a good season.
"My biggest fear was that if we had a bad year they would take it back," McGraw said with a smile on Friday. "I kind of went into the season like, 'I don't know how good we're going to be anyway."'
Notre Dame reached the 2011 NCAA national championship game, losing to Texas A&M, and McGraw kept her place among the 2011 inductees, who are being honored this weekend at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville. Other inductees include Val Ackerman, the first president of the WNBA; Olympians Ruthie Bolton and Vicky Bullett; four-time All-American Pearl Moore and former player Lometa Odom.
Over 24 seasons, McGraw has helped build Notre Dame into a nationally competitive program and led the Fighting Irish to the 2011 national title. This year, they beat rivals Tennessee and Connecticut en route to the national championship game.
Still, McGraw questioned whether she belonged in the ranks of fellow Hall of Fame members like Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma.
"You always look up. You never look around you," she said. "You always look up, and you look at Pat and Geno. I never even considered it."
Ackerman, who helped launch the WNBA in 1997 and served as its president for eight seasons, recalled a time when women didn't have female role models to look up to, and only a select few women were honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
"To be in the company of all of these amazing people, many of whom I know, and the ones who came in before -- all of them, I just admire so much. It's just an amazing feeling. I want to give kudos to the folks who started the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and brought this into being. I remember there was a time when there wasn't a time to honor the people that had made contributions to women's basketball."
Ackerman is also a longtime USA Basketball board member and became first woman to serve as USA Basketball president in 2005. She said women's basketball is in a position to become even more entertaining because of the increasing athleticism of players and bigger on a global level.
"Women's basketball has been a journey," she said. "The history has been pretty recent, but it has been kind of explosive. To see how much has happened in a relatively short time has been pretty amazing. I think it remains in the best position of all of the women's team sports because it's so strong at all levels."
Bullett was a 1989 All-American and Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, helped lead Maryland to three ACC championships. She twice played in the Olympics, winning gold in 1988 and bronze in 1992 and played six seasons in the WNBA.
"I'm overwhelmed by the recognition. It's the pinnacle of your career ends here, and to be so soon," Bullett said. "I didn't even think I was going to go to college for the sport, let alone being in the Olympics and playing in the women's league. One door would open, and you'd just go through it. I never had any goals, I just loved the game so much and I wanted to play."
Bolton was a part of the 1996 and 2000 gold-medal Olympic teams and was a WNBA All Star with the Sacramento Monarchs. She helped lead Auburn to three Southeastern Conference championships and two appearances in the NCAA championship game.
"It's just an indication of what hard work and dedication does," Bolton said. "To me, it just feels good to be here. It's not always your destination but it's about how you get to where you're going. When I think about my journey and how I got here, it's very humbling."
Moore scored 4,061 points during her college career at Anderson Junior College and Francis Marion from 1975-79, without ever benefiting from a 3-point scoring line. Her points set a record at the time for the highest career total of any men's and women's player.
"I was thinking, 'me?"' It's awesome, but I wasn't looking for anything like this," Moore said of the Hall of Fame honor. "It's an awesome, humbling feeling."
Odom helped lead her Wayland Baptist team to a 115-5 record from 1952-56 and scored 78 points in a single game. She finished her career with 1,614 points.
"When my coach (Harley Redin) called me and told me I was being inducted, I said, 'Harley, are you pulling my leg?"' she said. "When I played in high school, only the small schools played. In college, only one or two other colleges had women's basketball. I knew it had a long way to go, but there were some people with good vision and at Wayland there were people who felt the need to do something for women's athletics."