All-Time Georgia basketball great Janet Harris is now a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Thirty-six years ago the young Georgia head women’s basketball coach needed a big time recruit to build the Georgia program into a national power, a pied piper who other big-time recruits would follow, a super-star talent to win and win big.
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That super star, the nation’s top-rated prep prospect in 1981 and then Head Coach Andy Lander’s pied piper, was Janet Harris. Harris was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville earlier this month.
“When Janet got to Georgia, Janet was better than our basketball team,” Landers told Georgiadogs.com. “Janet Harris was the first great power player under the NCAA and one of the greatest power players of all time. Her numbers are such that, 30 years later, not one of our players has been able to seriously challenge them and only a handful of players in the entire country have matched them. Janet Harris was our first great player and she made it cool for other great players to come to Georgia.”
When Janet got to Georgia, Janet was better than our basketball team
Harris’ impact was immediate as well as lasting. The Lady Bulldogs earned a bid to the first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1982, captured their first SEC Championship and reached the NCAA Final Four in 1983, won a second SEC title in 1984 and finished as NCAA runner-up in 1985. Georgia compiled a 107-24 (.817) record during Harris’ career.
In accepting the honor, Harris spoke about using sports to overcome asthma and developing into one of the best players in the world. She also spoke of taking a chance on an obscure college start-up program at Georgia in Athens.
“Everyone thought I was crazy,” Georgiadogs.com reported Harris saying. “Everyone thought I had lost my mind. ‘You could go anywhere. Why did you choose Georgia? We haven’t heard of that place,’ they said. ‘Oh, you will!’ I told them. I was on a mission to prove everyone wrong and after a year or two, they all knew about us.”
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Harris concluded her remarks by thanking both Andy Landers and Dorothy Gaters, her coach at John Marshall High School in Chicago – also a member of the Hall of Game.
“I want to say this to both Coach Landers and Coach Gaters,” Harris said. “When you plant in someone it has to be nurtured to grow. I know it was hard with me in the beginning but I sprouted. I want both of you to know I have blossomed because of you.”
Former Lady Bulldog teammates in attendance Saturday in Knoxville along with Coach Landers including Teresa Edwards, Susie Gardner, Wanda Holloway, Rhonda Malone and Lisa O’Connor as well as assistant coach John Sewell and sports information director Norm Reilly.
Harris was one of the first great players in the “modern era” of women’s basketball. Harris arrived at Georgia as women’s athletics governance changed from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). She became the first women’s basketball player in NCAA history to record 2,500 points and 1,250 rebounds.
Not just the first, but perhaps the greatest, Harris finished her career with 2,641 points and 1,398 rebounds. Those tallies remain as the Lady Bulldogs’ all-time records by a wide margin three decades later despite a long list of UGA All-Americans who have tried to match them, many, of whom would never have considered attending Georgia if Harris had accepted the challenge of becoming a Lady Bulldog.
Harris is the only player in Georgia history to average a career double-double (20.2 points and 10.7 rebounds). She is one of only three SEC players to average 20.0 points and 10.0 boards for her career. A four-time All-American, Harris set an NCAA record with 78 career double-doubles in 131 games played and still ranks No. 6 among NCAA career leaders.
Harris became Georgia’s fourth representative in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. McClain was inducted in 2006, followed by Landers in 2007 and Edwards in 2010. Enshrined with Harris on Saturday were players Janeth Arcain and Lisa Leslie and coaches Kurt Budke (posthumously), Gail Goestenkors and Brad Smith.