Playing above the rim more common in women’s college hoops

Fran Belibi joined an exclusive club when she dunked in the NCAA Tournament last season.

While she was just the third woman ever to do it in the tournament and eighth overall in college history, the Stanford forward knows there will be more to come soon.

“There are definitely more girls coming up who can play above the rim,” Belibi said.

Her historic dunk capped off a great basketball play where she had a block on one end and then finished it off with the one-handed slam. Belibi, who has dunked three times in college, knows there are others already in college who can do it, but may not want to because they are afraid to miss.

“They just don’t try to do it. I think that in me doing it and seeing other dunks in the NBA a lot more people are like if they can do it, let me try it,” she said. “To do it in a game is dependent on your athletic ability and also time and score of the game.”

Belibi’s well aware of the history of dunks in women’s college basketball, reciting Georgeann Wells as the first to ever do it in a game. Elon coach Charlotte Smith was the second to dunk back when she played for North Carolina.

Smith recalls three of her Tar Heels teammates, including former track star Marion Jones, also could dunk. The quartet of players would get in layup lines behind each other before games and put on a show that awed fans and their opponents.

“We would literally lineup back-to back-to-back-to-back,” the 6-foot Smith recalled. “We’d dunk four times in a row. It was exciting for us and exciting for our opponents, who would stop their warmups to watch us dunk.”

There have been only eight women’s players who have dunked in a college game. Joining Wells, Smith and Belibi are Michelle Snow, Sancho Lyttle, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner, who holds the record with 18 of the nearly three dozen college dunks that have occurred.

That number is poised to grow soon. Dawn Staley has her own dunker in freshman Ashlyn Watkins, who won the high school dunk contest last spring.

“We’re going to see it a lot more,” South Carolina’s coach said. “Ashlyn is an incredible athlete. It doesn’t take much for her to dunk in one of our drills. It’s nothing for her to do it. I do think she’s going to do it in a game not necessarily off a fast beak. She can do it in somewhat of a crowd.”

Staley said two of her other players can also dunk, though they haven’t done it in a game yet. She said she sees a lot of high school players at AAU tournaments in the summer playing above the rim. Staley knows that dunks definitely add excitement to the game and will help it grow, but aren’t why most fans tune in to watch the women play.

Watkins is shy and quiet talking about her dunking ability. She credits the Gamecocks strength and conditioning coaches for helping her get stronger so that she can play above the rim.

“They’ve been helpful,” said Watkins, who recalled dunking on a nine-foot rim in fifth grade and a 10-footer in eighth. “Making my quads, calves and glutes stronger so that I can still get up when I’m tired.”

Watkins said she thought about dunking in the Gamecocks exhibition game last week, but saw two girls closing in on her and didn’t want to risk getting injured in the game.

Oregon coach Kelly Graves had his own pair of potential dunkers in Phillipina Kyei and Sedonna Prince. Prince college career is over after suffering an elbow injury. The 6-foot-8 Kyei, who is from Canada, dunks with ease in practice.

“We were one of the few schools that could have a dunk contest in practice,” Graves said, laughing. “There definitely are a lot more players who can do it now then when I first started coaching. They are bigger and stronger and can jump higher.”

Smith hopes to see more women do it soon and she’ll be happy to welcome them into the group.

““It really is exciting to have been one of the founders of the dunk club,” said Smith. ”We’ll have to get t-shirts made up and give it to anyone who does it.”


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