Sunday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Ann Meyers Drysdale sat on the opposite side from where she was 35 years ago.
In 1978, her UCLA Bruins were the AIAW national champions. On Tuesday, she'll call the Oklahoma City women's basketball regional championship game for Westwood One.
Meyers Drysdale has gone through a lot as a female in sports — from when she first started playing basketball on the playground, to making the USA National Team as a high schooler to marrying former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale.
But somewhere along the way, she learned how to ignore criticism.
Question: Did you learn a lot about basketball from your dad and your brother? They both played, right?
Answer: “My dad played at Marquette, and I have five brothers and five sisters. Sports were a great outlet for our family. It wasn't just basketball. We played baseball and football and kick the can. We were always playing some kind of game. I was in between two boys, so I played with them and their friends a lot. My older sister, Patty, though, opened up so many doors for me because she was the one playing volleyball and basketball and softball and with a lot of other women that wasn't totally accepted, but we just thought it was natural because she did it.
“My younger sister, Kelly, who went to Pepperdine on a basketball scholarship, she played Little League Baseball but had to get that OK'd. She was years behind me, and four years later, it was still news that a young girl was playing football or baseball or basketball. What I was doing was nothing different. I was always playing against the guys, so when I was playing against the women, I had a lot of confidence in my ability.”
How did growing up with that help you on your three-day tryout for the (NBA Indiana) Pacers in 1980?
“I went through it in high school and my whole life — going against guys on the playground — so it was really nothing different. But in high school I had the opportunity to play on the boys' high school team. When you're in high school, your body changes, your emotions change, your social outlook and things that are said about you. So when I had people convince me not to try out for the boys' team during my senior year, it stayed with me.
“Who would have thought that five years later I would have the same opportunity? It was a different level, but I had achieved so much in college and U.S.A. basketball I wasn't going to let people talk me out of it. But a lot of other people felt the guys were in a no-win situation. If I made a shot, ‘Ah, you let some girl beat you!' If they blocked my shot, ‘Oh, it's only a girl. No big deal.' I had dealt with that my whole life playing on the playground and what the boys said about me, and what the girls said about me and even what parents said about me. When I got to that level, I was able to block a lot of that out.”
How did you learn to block the negativity out?
“Well, I knew going into it that I was going to prepare myself and I did. I had several of my family members help me and other people. I put myself in a mindset. I surrounded myself with positive people in my life. I didn't listen to the radio or the TV or anything people were saying on the outside. You have to believe in yourself and have people around you that believe in you. I believed in my talent.”
Is it disheartening to you to see a women's star like Brittney Griner and to see how good she is, yet all the negative talk that so many people have about her?
“And, why? Why are they fretting? Why are they upset? She's going with what God gave her. I'm so excited that there's a league for her to go into and then go overseas and play. Hopefully, in 2016, she'll represent our country in the Olympics.
“I have a lot of respect for her when she didn't play in 2012 (for the London Olympics). A lot of people were critical of that. but she's her own person. She wanted to study on her classes. Her mom wasn't well. Her family supported her. Those are big steps with U.S.A. Basketball. It's a big conglomerate kind of thing. I have a lot of respect for a young woman to be able to make that decision and say, ‘No, I've got to do what's right for me.'”