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Opinion Richard Connor: Was he a visionary or did he just see what...

Richard Connor: Was he a visionary or did he just see what was coming?

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Clarence Van Rose was a sportswriter no one in Fort Worth ever had the pleasure of reading. What a shame.

I brought him to Fort Worth for an interview but he was too “country” and simple and disheveled in his dress to impress my editors at the Star-Telegram. As publisher, I should have overruled them.

If he had come here he would have covered the at-that-time brand new Lone Star Park and Texas’ introduction to pari-mutuel betting, but more importantly he would have shown us the future of basketball – women’s basketball.

Rose looked like the television cartoon character Mr. Peabody who had the sidekick dog, Sherman. Rose was short and his belly hung over his belt – if he remembered to wear a belt. His body looked like it was on backwards. The front was where his back should have been and vice-versa. He spoke with a hillbilly twang in short bursts, and rapidly. The voice was a combination of his roots in Kentucky, Ohio, and a brief stint in Alabama.

He had an eye for athletic talent in horses and basketball players. It was a necessity because of his habitual gambling, betting on basketball and horses. Like many insightful gamblers he often won – just not often enough. Problems with his gambling addiction and unpaid debts led to a felony conviction which I discovered on the day two FBI agents visited my office long after I hired him.

I couldn’t let them take him away. My readers needed him and so we worked things out with the FBI.

He’s gone now. Died early from a poor lifestyle, bad eating habits and a heart probably made weak by bookies who might show up in our newsroom any time of the day or night threatening to kill him.

Van Rose was on my mind all last week as I watched the incredible show that was March Madness – the NCAA basketball tournaments, both men and women. Rose had seen the future.

The games weren’t just good. They were great. I was especially drawn to the women’s division, which demonstrated that women’s basketball has achieved a level of competence, athleticism and excitement it once lacked.

Rose saw this day coming – and that was 30 years ago.

“You got to come with me to see this girl, the best pure shooter I have ever seen,” he would implore, inviting editors to a high school or college girls basketball game. Each new star he discovered was the “best ever” but that was okay.

We would go with him and darn if he wasn’t right. There were girls who could shoot the eyes out of the basket. On the foul line, they rarely missed. In form and accuracy, they were just as good as the men but few people recognized this.

If you watched the women’s tournament – especially Baylor, Notre Dame and Oregon – it was apparent that women’s basketball is fun to watch.

Baylor won the national championship with a combination of talent, hustle, and the commanding presence and coaching of Kim Mulkey.

In the championship game, Notre Dame was one free throw and less than a second on the clock away from a chance to challenge Baylor in overtime. It does not get any better than that. Calling it a nail-bitter might be politically insensitive.

That game was Sunday night and on Wednesday two of Baylor’s players and all five starters from Notre Dame were selected in the WNBA draft.

Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame missed that crucial foul shot but had made clutch last-minute shots her whole career and is among those women who have sent a message to the sports world that they can play.

She was drafted fifth overall and we can watch her soar next season with the Dallas Wings, the team that chose her.

Baylor’s 6’8” Kalani Brown was the seventh pick and will play in Los Angeles. Teammate Chloe Jackson, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, was drafted 15th and heads to Chicago.

The best news for fans is that we can keep watching Sabrina Ionescu at Oregon; she decided to stay in school and play one more year. She is perhaps the best women’s college basketball player in the country and a deadeye if there ever was one. In the draft, she would have been the number one pick.

There is only one missing piece in this story. Money. Women athletes continue to lag far behind men in pay. They’ve shown they can play soccer and hockey and compete in track and field and other sports such as skiing and snowboarding at a level equal to men. Lindsey Vonn, anyone?

Women need to be paid on equal levels with men.

I would be upbraided by my friend Van Rose if he heard me proclaiming my newfound joy in watching women’s basketball played at such an impressive level. His opinions were strong and he lacked any semblance of humility.

“I tried to tell you what was happening with the women 30 years ago,” he would grumpily say. If he’d put down a future-book wager back then on the success of women’s basketball, he woulda won a bundle.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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