Cavalier Corner

February 2019

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20 CAVALIER CORNER Former UVA women's basketball star Val Ackerman has been a trail blazer throughout her life. After a record-setting basketball and field hockey career at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, New Jersey, while graduating No. 2 in her class, she was one of the first females to receive an athletic scholarship to Virginia. "I was recruited in 1976-77. Women had only been admitted to Virginia in '70. … Before 1970, there were no women in the college," she remembered. "I came in seven years later, a few years after that first graduating class in '74, and the recruiting process at that time was very primitive." Still, head coach Debbie Ryan — who Ackerman knew because they grew up in neighboring hometowns and she went to high school with Ryan's sister — convinced Ackerman to come to UVA. There were other suitors, but familiarity won out and the young forward started a trail-blazing trend. "I was offered spots at some other top universities and had scholarship offers from both Duke and Virginia," she said. "I chose Virginia because it was closer to home, and I knew Debbie. … My first year at Virginia we only had one scholarship for the whole team. I got half and a teammate of mine, Dori Gamble, shared it with me. "By the time I graduated, most of the team was getting full or partial aid, and much of that was Debbie's work, as well as [former athletic director] Gene Corri- gan, who was very forward-looking about sports and women's sports, and was very supportive. He and Barbara Kelly, Assistant Athletic Director for Women's Sports, really pushed hard to get the foundation of women's sports at Virginia built and get us moving when we were in the early years of Title IX." Women's sports were far from the only thing that changed during her career. Seemingly the only constant was Acker- man standing out on the hardwood. She started all four years, served as a team cap- tain for three of them, was twice named an Academic All-American and became the program's first 1,000-point scorer and first All-ACC selection. However, she remem- bers it wasn't all success from the start. "My enduring memory was how hard it was early on," she explained. "We weren't very successful, and we lost a lot of games my first year. … When you combined those tough, lopsided losses with the challenges of being a student at UVA and homesick- ness, it was a tough first year. "The counterpoint was how satisfy- ing it was my fourth year … we were nationally ranked and finished 22-10. We made it to the postseason tourna- ment. The satisfaction of getting better every year and then getting ranked was a memory I will always cherish." The 1981 graduate's post-college play- ing career lasted only one year overseas, but her relationship with basketball was nowhere close to over. Experiences such as living on the Lawn and everything she went through in athletics laid the foun- dation for so much more off the court. "What you go through as a student-ath- lete is not just a cliché, it really does help you get ready for what is next," she said. After returning to the United States, she completed a law degree from UCLA in 1985. That eventually led to a job as a staff attorney for the NBA. Later, she would rise to heights as a businesswoman that exceeded her stellar playing career. After a stint as special assistant to league commissioner David Stern, she was promoted to vice president of busi- ness affairs. In that role, she was one of the NBA's first appointees to the Board of Directors of USA Basketball, serving as a liaison between the league and the organization for the 1992 Olympics, 1994 World Championships and 1996 Olympics, and spearheading the cre- ation of the USA Basketball Women's National Team program that went 60-0 and won gold at the 1996 Olympics. She then became president of the WNBA in 1996, becoming the first woman ever to successfully launch and operate a women's team sports league. Nearly a decade later she became the first female president of USA Basketball. The Ameri- can men and women went 222-23 during her three-year term and both won gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Additionally, she has served the In- ternational Basketball Federation, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, the Knight Commission on Inter- collegiate Athletics, the NCAA Women's Basketball Competition Committee and its Honors Committee and the Virginia Athletics Foundation's Board of Direc- tors, among others, in various roles. The NCAA (Silver Anniversary Award), In- ternational Olympic Committee (Women of Distinction diploma), Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award) and USA Basketball (Edward S. Steitz Award) are among the most prestigious organizations to award her plaudits, including an induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Since June 26, 2013, Ackerman has served as the commissioner of the Big East Conference, but she credits a lifetime of high achievement back to her humble and once-homesick roots laid at UVA. "I have great affection for the University," she said. "It made me who I am. … I owe a lot to the University, it is a magnificent school, and I had an incredible package. "To be able to go there on a scholar- ship and graduate debt-free, meet peo- ple that are still a part of my life and get myself ready for the real world, I couldn't imagine having had a more powerful ex- perience than the one I had at UVA." — Ryan Tice CONTINUED SUCCESS: VAL ACKERMAN (1978-81) Ackerman has served as the commissioner of the Big East Conference since 2013. PHOTO COURTESY VAL ACKERMAN Ackerman, a four-year starter and a three- time captain, was twice named an Academic All-American, and became Virginia's first 1,000-point scorer and first All-ACC selection. PHOTO COURTESY UVA

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