In Defense of Pam Borton

I don't know Pam Borton and I never played ball for her. All I know is what I saw and what I wrote in City Pages two years ago; a scenario of a tough coach and a tough player who found each other and who wanted the same thing:

"Last March 22, at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, California, the Gophers were down 28-27 at the half to Tulane in the opening game of the NCAA tournament. Uncharacteristically, [Lindsay] Whalen was held scoreless throughout the first half. As the teams came out for warm-ups before the second half, Whalen sidled up next to Borton, with whom she shares a certain steely purposefulness. The two women stood watching the other players, not talking to each other, for a minute. Two. Maybe three.

"All that silence left an observer wondering about what might have transpired between the pair at halftime, about how they get along, and about how Whalen has dealt with having had three coaches in three years--Borton, Littlejohn, and Brenda Oldfield, who left the Gophers for Maryland after the breakout season of 2001-2002. The answer, in part, came as the horn sounded for the second half. Without a word, a blank-faced Whalen wind-milled her arm and spanked Borton hard on the butt. Borton barely reacted. Neither said a word. Borton picked up her clipboard, Whalen roared at her teammates in the huddle, then went out and hit two three-pointers to open the half. She finished with 18 points, and the Gophers blew out Tulane, 68-48."

Jamie Broback was a freshman the next year. I saw her at practice and at games, and the distinct impression was of a talented, moon-faced farm girl who was in over her head. I had hoped she'd adjust to the rigors of Big 10 basketball, and she did for a while, but the obvious answer now is that she wasn't cut out for it. She wanted to be a kid. It looked to me like she was tired of basketball, and all the pressure.

Borton is class act. Rumor has it she has information about at least one of her former players that would cast this recent brouhaha in a different light, but she was recently quoted as saying, "this is not going to get ugly."

I coached my ten-year-old son in basketball this year. Near the end, I yelled at them, saying, "You guys are pathetic. You don't even play defense. You're PATHETIC." Some of them laughed at me, some got pissed and played defense. None of the parents complained.

Some of the Gophers' former players' parents have been quoted as saying their little girls didn't get enough playing time or that Borton called them "selfish."

I wonder what Whalen would have to say about that?

Actually, when it comes to jock-quotes, Whalen is as garden-variety as they come; she's a show-don't-tell artist who prefaces everything with, "Obviously...," so she likely wouldn't have much to say about the situation, other than that Borton's tough, demanding, and likes basketball played the right way: With rhythm and five-as-one.

Like I said, I don't know Pam Borton, or why the team tanked this year. All I know is that I'd love to have my son or daughter play basketball for her, and if they ever came crying to me (hello, Kris Humphries' father) about playing time or how "abrasive" the coach is, I'd tell them to shut up and pass the ball and play defense and get their degree.

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