Not only was Anne Donovan a legendary and pioneering figure in women's basketball, she was also one of the kindest and thoughtful people I have ever met.
Donovan, a native of Ridgewood, New Jersey who dominated play at Paramus Catholic High school, won Olympic gold as a player and as a coach for the United States.
Donovan died Wednesday of heart failure. She was 56.
Anne was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and also was part of the inaugural class of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. I asked her back in a 2012 episode of SportsJam with Doug Doyle if the women’s hall meant more to her.
"Gosh, it's tough because of who I went into that class with. I went in with all the people I admired, respected and looked up to from the first concept of women's basketball for me. So, going into that class was very special with the company I went in with. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was something I never aspired to, I just never thought that would be possible, and going in with Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Cheryl Miller who was one of my peers, made that class very special also."
Donovan, a 6-foot-8 center coached at Seton Hall University and in the WNBA. Why did she coach?
"I never aspired to be a coach even through college. I played six years of professional basketball and didn't aspire to coach and kind of fell into it by chance . When my basketball player career came to an end, I got roped into being a volunteer coach, but I found that I really loved it. I loved feeling like I could make a difference in these ladies lives and having gone through a pretty long career myself, I felt like I had something to offer."
To give you an example of the type of person Anne Donovan was, here's what she did for me when I was doing the PA announcing for her Seton Hall women's home games. Each year she got the all the players on her team to sign a card for me, expressing their thanks for helping announce their games and being a part of the Pirates program. That's class. Who does that?
I told Anne during our 2012 interview that I first saw her when Old Dominion came to Penn State to play a big game that season. I looked up and saw the tallest woman I had ever seen at that point. I came to learn many years later, that her heart was actually bigger than her height. She made me feel special and part of her squad. I will never forget those games.
At Old Dominion, Donovan won an AIAW championship and lead ODU to the NCAA Women's Final Four as a senior.
Prior to her days coaching at Seton Hall, she had an terrific coaching career in the WNBA, becoming the first female coach and youngest person to win a title in the WNBA, helping the Seattle Storm to the 2004 championship. She coached five WNBA teams including the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun.
Donovan was named The Star-Ledger's Player of the Century in 2000. She scored 1,000 points in a single twice at Paramus Catholic High School, won four state titles and was the nation's top recruit.
Her family confirmed her death in a statement. "While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being."
Click above to hear the January 2012 SportsJam with Doug Doyle show with Anne Donovan when she was still coaching at Seton Hall University.