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CARYN CURRY: Basketball Star 'Plays Like a Man,' But Sparks Rise of Women's Sports

By Bill Scheft

The pre-game warmup before any women's basketball game will tell the whole story. You see the sanitary socks, pulled high and just below the knee, underneath the striped uniform socks. And then you see the shot. Not the jumping grenade-throw that the women hoopsters sometimes favor, but an easy-arching, back-spinning jump shot that usually doesn't bother with the backboard, much less the rim.

Swish. The guys could have used a Caryn Curry around during a few games this year.

"I don't try to emulate anyone when I play," Curry, captain of the women's basketball team, said yesterday. "Yeah, people have told me that I play like a man, and I take that as a compliment. Playing 'like a girl' connotes that you can't play."

Caryn Curry can play, and she does it well enough to deserve the attention that women's athletics as a whole could not get four years ago. They were known as "Radcliffe sports" then, and though the appearance of Curry on the scene in 1976 did not affect the name change, her results have done more than any one performer's to herald and justify the emergence of "Harvard women's athletics.

"I feel very good about the women's program in general. There have been significant imporvements especially in terms of scheduling, where the caliber of our own teams and our opponents is much better. Title IX has also brought women to Harvard who are more serious about athletics," the junior from Largo, Md. said.

For Harvard, women's sports seem to have finally thrown off the shackles of their former country club status. The days of going to practice a couple of times a week or missing a game because you had to study for an hourly are virtually gone. Acceptance has followed as the intensity, popularity, and quality of women's athletics has grown.

"It's nice to be involved when women's sports are on the rise here. I just hope that Harvard doesn't slack off in this regard," Curry added.

Curry blossomed quickly, leading the women cagers in scoring in her freshman year with an 11.7 average. The team finished 18-3 on the year and won the state Division Two basketball crown. She proved her all-around ability on the hardwood by setting single-game and single-season records in rebounds and assists.

Last year it was more of the same, as Caryn challenged her brother Jim, the football team's gifted wide receiver, for a place in Harvard sports lore. The hoop team was promoted to Division One of the AIAW and found the going a little rougher. And though the squad's record fell to 13-10 (quite phenomenal considering the improved competition), the Curry factor remained constant; she led the squad in rebounds, assists, and finished second in scoring (11.3 ppg).

The baptism of last year now archaic, the hoopsters have become one of Division One's top squads (a 15-8 record to date). Curry is still around, getting the buckets when needed (her 25 against Dartmouth last month was a team-high this winter), but mostly hitting the boards and steadying the new talent in her new role as captain.

"Caryn's always in control, you can see this on or off the court," says teammate Wendy Carle. "She's the guiding influence on the team and keeps everyone on an even keel. She never gets flustered," Carle added.

In San Antonio they talk about the Ice Man, George Gervin, a guy who could score 30 points in a game while passing for comatose. Curry's "ice" is a little more transparent, for a hard-working ever-caring person lies underneath the cool poise of the athlete.

"It's pretty easy to see that I'm a private person. My family is very important to me. They have the strongest effect on whatever I do. My interest and skills in basketball come from playing ball with my brother and father when I was growing up. I would say that there are very few people at Harvard who really know me," Curry said.

"Private" is not synonomous with "isolated" here, for in addition to her contributions on the court, Curry has served as a tutor for the Harvard-Roxbury Program and this past semester worked in a day care program at the Cambridge Community Center. Curry is also a member of the Association of Black Athletes.

Ah yes, the black athlete. There is a tendency in any athletic program, especially one under a magnifying glass like Harvard's, to look at the rare black athlete as some sort of Six Million Dollar Jock. It's not racism, just enigmatic expectation.

"I don't really think about that sort of thing. In high school (in Cheverly, Md.) I was one of two black women athletes and I never felt the pressure from whites or blacks. Here I think things are over-shadowed by the whole uprising of women's sports. They haven't reached the racial stage yet. I hope they won't," she said.

"I think that it is unfortunate that I seem like the only black woman playing sports, because there are some good people on the track team but basketball draws more coverage. But the racial thing? I haven't come across any of that here, and I never expected to. You might say those expectations of Harvard have been fulfilled," Curry added.

So it's back to the court, and to the jumpshots with backspin and the tough boxouts underneath. And they'll keep telling Caryn Curry that she "plays like a man," but they'll know she's doing her thing for the women.

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