Sept. 27, 2011
This is the seventh of eight feature stories on the 2011 Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Class which will be enshrined in a ceremony on Sturday, October 1 at 1 p.m., in the Waggonner Room of Thomas Assembly Center. All are invited.
By Malcolm Butler
One of the most dominating women's basketball players in the storied history of Louisiana Tech's program didn't begin her college career wearing the Columbia blue uniform of the Lady Techsters.
Instead, 6-foot-4-inch center Venus Lacy laced up the high tops in 1984-85 as a freshman at Old Dominion - one of Louisiana Tech's biggest rivals in the 1970s and '80s.
After prepping at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee where she was named Miss Basketball her senior season, Lacy opted to sign with ODU - despite being recruited by Tennessee and UT-Chattanooga.
"I chose ODU because it was away from home ... far away from home," Lacy said. "I loved Chattanooga, but I wanted to get away at that time."
And get away she did. However, her freshman season in Norfolk wasn't quite what she expected.
"I had never been anywhere outside of Tennessee," Lacy said. "I had grown up in a black neighborhood and at a predominately black high school. I had never been in a situation where I was at a mostly white school. You are talking about an 18-year-old kid; people think you should be ready and adjusted. It took me a while to adjust. I didn't know how to handle it when I was at ODU. I learned a lot, but it wasn't home."
Midway through Lacy's freshman season, the Leon Barmore-led Lady Techsters traveled to Norfolk for a game - a 77-70 Tech win on Jan. 17, 1986. It was the first time that the two sides - Lacy and Louisiana Tech - became acquainted as the raw, but talented, Lacy scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in 18 minutes of action for the Lady Monarchs.
"We played ODU at (the old Field House in Norfolk)," said current LA Tech head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who was the starting point guard on that Lady Techster team. "We saw this big young lady playing against us. She didn't play much, but she played."
Although the victory was merely one of 27 that the Lady Techsters would record that season, the encounter with Lacy might have been the biggest dividend for Barmore and Co.
"Venus was unhappy at Old Dominion," said Barmore. "She was looking for a place to go. We found out about it and worked hard to get her here. We didn't know how she would turn out, but we knew we needed some size."
Lacy brought size - and good hands - to Ruston; however, her game was far from refined. Due to the NCAA transfer rule, Lacy had to sit out the following year after transferring which gave Barmore, the coaching staff and her teammates, especially Weatherspoon, time to work on developing Lacy's skill set.
"Venus and I spent a lot of time at the Lambright (Intramural Center)," Weatherspoon recalled. "Venus had great hands; she could catch anything. However, when she caught it, she had no idea what to do with it. So we spent that year in the Lambright, me holding her foot down, saying `Pivot, Venus, pivot. Pivot, Venus, pivot. Pivot, Venus, pivot.' I was with her every day because she wanted to be great."
"I would travel a lot," Lacy said. "I knew what to do; it just wasn't clicking. Spoon taught me to pivot. She held down my right foot and said `Turn to the left.' Then she would hold down my left and say `Turn to the right.' I was very raw."
That offseason wasn't easy on the eventual Kodak All-American as she soon found out that life in the Lady Techster camp was on a different level than what she was accustomed.
"When I was practicing with them (the year I sat out), they were all so aggressive," Lacy said. "I was leaving practice with all kinds of bruises. One day I said, `No more. I'm not going to take this any more.' I started doing it too."
The hard work and countless bruises from the gym paid off in big ways as Lacy averaged 14.5 points and 9.2 rebounds her first year in a LA Tech uniform while helping the Lady Techsters win the 1988 national championship title. In Tech's 68-59 national semifinal win over Tennessee, Lacy recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds followed by four points and eight boards in the 56-54 win over Auburn in the title game.
"She was big for us (that year)," Weatherspoon said. "We had a lot of plays designed that went through her because of her dominance inside. Coach Barmore believed in an inside-outside game. Venus had started to develop so well that we all trusted her in the paint. She fit in so well with what we were trying to do."
It was just the start of a great collegiate career for Lacy as she became the go-to player for Barmore as a junior and senior, averaging 22.7 points and 12.3 rebounds over her final two years in Ruston while leading LA Tech to two more Final Four appearances.
During her junior season, Lacy was a part of the biggest win (margin of victory) in Techster history as she scored 35 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and added four assists - all in the first half - of a 126-25 win over Texas Pan American at the Thomas Assembly Center on Feb. 18, 1989. During a three-minute stretch midway through the first half of the game, Lacy hit a trio of three-pointers, the only ones of her college career.
"Coach Barmore said `Get the ball to Venus and let her shoot three pointers,'" Lacy remembered. "They were actually going in. I was like, `Can you believe this?'"
Following a senior season that saw her average 24.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, Lacy was named Kodak All-American and the USBWA and Champion National Player of the Year. She finished her LA Tech career with 2,004 points - fourth highest in program history - and is the only Tech player to ever average 20.0 points per game in a career.
"In our program Venus was the one center that was the biggest and the strongest," Barmore said. "I consider her a 6-foot-4 Pam Kelly. Pam Kelly was certainly one of the greatest players we ever had, as was Venus. Venus possessed a lot of the same qualities, only much bigger in stature. She was strong, powerful around the basket. I am sure we wouldn't have won the 1988 national title without her and gone to three straight Final Fours without her."
Following her college career (Tech was 98-7 in her three years), Lacy continued playing professionally overseas and also got an opportunity to play with Weatherspoon and another former Techster in Vickie Johnson with the New York Liberty of the WNBA in 1999.
However, arguably her most memorable post-LA Tech basketball moment came in the 1996 Olympic Games when she helped lead Team USA to the gold medal in Atlanta. It was yet another dream come true after getting cut from the 1992 squad.
"I just wanted one chance and I got it," said Lacy, whose #43 hangs from the Thomas Assembly Center rafters. "I have a gold medal, but I also played my butt off at Louisiana Tech to get there."
When Lacy is inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 1, she said it will be her first trip back to Ruston since she moved home to Chattanooga in 2000 to start a family. And this time she will be bringing a very special young man with her as her eight-year-old son Seth (Alex) McReynolds Lacy will get his first opportunity to see where his mama made a name for herself on the hardwood.
"I want him to see where I went to school," Lacy said. "He is my little pride and joy, but he looks nothing like me. He looks like his daddy. He is a handsome young man and very respectful. And he has asked me a number of times, `Mama, are you famous?'"
Although mama might not admit to Alex exactly how famous she is around the Thomas Assembly Center, there will be plenty of Tech faithful who will.
"Coach Barmore and Louisiana Tech were a dream-come-true for me," Lacy said. "I didn't have a clue what I was going to do if I didn't go to college. When I came to LA Tech, I fell in love with the place."
And Techster fans fell in love with her.