Marsha Sharp remembers driving down the streets of Lubbock almost 20 years ago.
This was when Lubbock was still a city of about 190,000 people, before the Marsha Sharp Freeway was built and before the spacious United Spirit Arena housed rock concerts and sold out basketball games. But it was just after the 1993 national championship game between Texas Tech and Ohio State, an 84-82 Lady Raiders victory.
Peppered among the many residential areas were basketball hoops set to varying heights. Some at the standard 10-foot variety, some much lower for the many youths in Lubbock.
In the spring, summer, autumn and winter, many of those hoops were attacked by young girls.
“I can remember driving down streets in Lubbock where every driveway there would be a little girl with some Texas Tech shirt on shooting baskets out in her driveway,” Sharp said, “and that was such an overwhelming feeling for me because I was so excited that we had created those dream opportunities for kids.”
Tech’s triumph in the 1993 Final Four in Atlanta, which remains the school’s only team national title, was big for Tech.
But it was also big for Lubbock, West Texas and women’s basketball.
Former Lubbock mayor David Langston couldn’t go to Atlanta for the Final Four because he had some dental work done, but like thousands of others, he was huddled around a TV for the 2 p.m. game between Tech and Ohio State.
The seconds ticked off the clock, and the Hub City went wild. It wasn’t just Lubbock or Tech, though, that felt the celebration.
“It wasn’t just the city of Lubbock,” Langston said. “It was all of West Texas that was behind them. I think it stretched from at least 200 miles around Lubbock. People were excited, and it brought the whole region together in a unified purpose and a great celebration when they came home.”
The celebration was one to remember.
As the Lady Raiders touched down at Preston Smith International Airport on Monday afternoon, a mere 24 hours after they won it all, the team, coaches and support staff were escorted into limousines right on the tarmac and whisked away.
It was a ghost town.
“They put us in the limos and brought us down Broadway,” Sharp said, “and there wasn’t a soul on Broadway. Just as we got to the corner of University and Broadway, I happened to look out the window of the limo. The northwest section, the very highest corner, I could see people in it and I was thinking, ‘my gosh, if there’s people in that northwest corner, there are a lot of people in there.’”
Sharp stood up in the limo and poked herself out of the sunroof as the limos made their way down to the field.
The deafening sirens of her police escort were soon drowned out, Sharp said
About 40,000 people from all across the South Plains came out to the Jones to welcome their champions back to the Hub City.
“We couldn’t believe it that there were that many people who had come out and had sat there for several hours for us to get home,” Sharp said.
Basketball was always big in West Texas, but the national championship was more about basketball.
“It was sort of like the whole time we went through it,” Sharp said, “it was like us against the world. There were so many small town, West Texas kids on that team.”
The championship allowed Tech to branch out further in its recruiting into the Metroplex and Houston areas, which would soon become paramount in women’s basketball.
Recruits would come to Lubbock and see a frenzied crowd and the national championship banners and want to be a part of the culture.
On the court, the Lady Raiders won outright or at least a share the Southwest Conference regular season the final three years it existed, never missing the NCAA tournament until Sharp’s final year in 2005-2006.
“It was a great run, it was a great ride,” Sharp said. “I had a great staff. We had incredible fans. We had great players. There were a lot of nights where I just sat on the bench and ate popcorn. Not really, but I might could have.”
Ray Glass, who covered the Lady Raiders for the Avalanche-Journal during the late ’80s and through into the 1999-2000 season, said the title brought the Lady Raiders great publicity, and the sellout crowds were the ultimate reason United Spirit Arena was built.
“That’s one of the reasons that United Spirit Arena was built,” Glass said, “and I’ve always told people, ‘well at that time it wasn’t the men who were packing the coliseum and needed more seats. It was the women,’ because they would routinely fill the Municipal Coliseum, and they just needed more room.”
Glass said Lubbock had always been great for women’s basketball, but the championship made Tech an elite program.
Despite all the victories and soldout arenas that followed the championship, Sharp said the biggest impact of the title was the unification it brought to Lubbock.
“It was such an amazing experience for us because all of a sudden everybody wanted to be around Lady Raider basketball,” Sharp said, “and we had had great fan support before that, we had sold the Coliseum out several times years before we had the championship, but at that moment it just became such an overwhelming experience.
“It just changed the perception of women athletes and women basketball players in this part of the country.”
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