In 1981 the unknown women’s basketball coach of a fledgling women’s basketball program walked into Chicago’s John Marshall High School and walked out with the number one women’s basketball recruit in America. With her decision to join Andy Landers at the University of Georgia, Janet Harris placed Georgia prominently on the Women’s basketball map and ignited a historic rise to prominence for Andy Landers and his Georgia Women’s basketball program.
Harris arrived in Athens in the fall of 1981, the same season that women’s intercollegiate athletics came under the auspices of the NCAA. Now some 33 years later, Georgia Lady Bulldog Janet Harris, perhaps the first great freshman player in the NCAA era of women’s basketball, is elected to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame’s induction Class of 2015 was announced Saturday in association with the WNBA All-Star Game.
“When I got the call and heard, I couldn’t believe it,” Harris told Georgiadogs.com. “I was just in shock. I cried. This has been a long time coming. I don’t talk about my basketball career that much. I’ve worked at FedEx Ground for 15 years and not too many people there have any idea. The first person I told was my brother, Nate, and he was excited. When I told my older sister, Elizabeth, she said `A little asthmatic girl from the west side of Chicago finally got the call.’
“When they sent me my bio to look over, it sort of blew me away,” Harris said. “I’m not someone who thinks about the accomplishments in my career. When you actually see it all, I was like `Wow.’ It took me back.”
Harris went on to become the first women’s basketball player in NCAA history to score 2,500 points and collect 1,250 rebounds. Nearly three decades later, she still ranks No. 34 in career points (2,641) and No. 18 in rebounds (1,398) among the NCAA’s career leaders. Harris averaged a double-double of 20.2 points and 10.7 rebounds at Georgia and remains No. 3 in NCAA history with 78 career double-doubles.
Andy Landers spoke to Georgiadogs.com:
Janet Harris was our first great player and she made it cool for other great players to come to Georgia. People in Chicago who followed women’s basketball and have followed basketball – the old coaches and the media – will still tell you that Janet Harris was the best player to ever play in Chicago. When Janet got to Georgia, Janet was better than our basketball team. Janet Harris was the first great power player under the NCAA regime and one of the greatest power players of all time. Her numbers are numbers that, 30 years later, only a handful of players can say they have compiled.
The Georgia Women compiled equally impressive team results during Harris’ playing days in Athens. The Lady Bulldogs reached the first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1982. In 1983, Georgia won both its first SEC Championship and advanced the NCAA FInal Four for the first time. After winning a second SEC title in 1984, the Lady Bulldogs returned to the 1985 Final Four and finished as NCAA runner-up during Harris’ senior season.
Individually, Harris became just the third freshman to earn Kodak All-America honors and went on to become a three-time Kodak All-American. She also was the first player in league history to be named first-team All-SEC four times.
“Georgia Basketball is like family. It’s great that women’s basketball is acknowledging the cornerstone of our family,” Teresa Edwards, Harris’ teammate for her final three seasons at UGA and the only basketball player to represent the U.S. in five Olympic Games, told Georgiadogs.com. “Janet Harris is the greatest player to play at the University of Georgia, hands down. She was the one. She was the complete package of a competitor and an athlete. She could play all five positions. She brought to my life a competitiveness and a mentality I was blessed she shared with me. Anyone who ever played with Janet would say the same thing.”
Harris was the first prep All-American in the history of Marshall High School. She helped lead Marshall to an 86-6 record in her last three seasons, including a 31-2 effort as a senior. Harris was the first female player inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coach Association (CPLBCA) Hall of Fame in 1993, and the only girl included in that organization’s first three classes. She is a member of the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame inaugural class, inducted in 2011.
Harris discussed her recruitment with Georgiadogs.com ”
A lot of people didn’t agree with my decision to go to Georgia. I wanted to prove them wrong. That’s all I wanted to do. I never dreamed it would turn out like this. If I had to do it all over again, I think I would do it exactly the same way. I knew my parents probably couldn’t pay for me to go away for college. I wanted to leave Chicago and I wanted to see something different.
I went down to Georgia for a camp in Milledgeville when I was in high school and I kind of fell in love with the place. My grandparents were in Birmingham so I knew they were pretty close and I could keep in touch with them. I was partial to the South. People wanted me to go other places, but I knew Georgia was right for me. I wanted to go somewhere I could fit in that was up and coming. People said `Georgia. I’ve never heard of Georgia.’ I said `Just wait. You will.'”
Georgia compiled a 56-57 record in the four seasons before Harris’ arrival but then produced a 107-24 mark during her career in Athens.
Harris went on to have an equally successful professional career in Europe and Japan. All told, she played 14 seasons overseas – six in Italy; two each in Japan, Spain and Israel; and one in both Greece and Turkey.
Andy Landers spoke of Harris’ ability with Georgiadogs.com, “Interestingly, Janet was much more than a power player. If we would have had a 3-point line back then, she would’ve had some 3-pointers on her stat sheet. She could face. She could back you down. She could shoot from anywhere.
Very few players could intimidate by rebounding. Janet was an intimidating rebounder. I have a very vivid memory of a game at Vanderbilt where Janet rebounded the ball, made an outlet pass to Teresa Edwards and then caught the ball and laid it up on the other end without a dribble. There wasn’t anything from a skill standpoint that Janet couldn’t do. She could handle. She could pass. She could rebound. She could defend. She could score from close. She could score from the perimeter. She could score off the bounce. She could score off the spot. She could just do it all and do it all at a very high level.”
Harris will be the Lady Bulldogs’ fourth representative in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Katrina McClain was inducted in 2006, followed by Landers in 2007 and Edwards in 2008.
Teresa Edwards spoke to Georgiadogs.com about what Harris has meant to the Georgia Women’s basketball Program:
“Truthfully, there’s something that hasn’t seemed complete about Georgia Basketball without this type of recognition for Janet. That’s been on my heart for several years. She carried Georgia Basketball when no one knew what Georgia Basketball was. When other players like me and ‘Tree’ (McClain) got there, it was Janet’s house. We just added to it, trust me. I look at Janet and I think about the amazing player she was when there was this great influx of new, young talent. She was sort of like ‘Doc’ (Julius Irving). When all these great players came along, ‘Doc’ was still there. The attention went to some others, but no one could stop ‘Doc.’ Janet was the same way. No one could stop Janet Harris.”
The other five members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2015 are: Janeth Arcain (player), Kurt Budke (coach, posthumously), Gail Goestenkors (coach), Lisa Leslie (player) and Brad Smith (coach). The group will be formally inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 13, 2015 in Knoxville, Tenn.