Lennox, Betty 1976–
Betty Lennox 1976–
Professional basketball player
In professional basketball it is often the imposing, aggressive, high-scoring centers and forwards who grab the limelight, but Minnesota Lynx guard Betty Lennox has been an exception to the rule. Standing five feet, eight inches tall, Lennox was named Rookie of the Year after the 2000 season of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Through an odyssey marked by sheer determination, Lennox had become one of women’s pro basketball’s brightest young stars.
Betty Bernice Lennox was born in small-town Hugo, Oklahoma, on December 4, 1976; her middle name Bernice was her mother’s first name. The eighth of nine children, she had five older brothers who spent a good deal of time playing basketball. She loved the game from the start, once even dressing up as a basketball for Halloween. Her brothers let her join in their games, but never cut her any slack. “My brothers taught me: Don’t be scared of anything,” Lennox told the Kansas City Star. “I go into games and don’t get intimidated by anyone. I’m not afraid of anything, except the Man upstairs.”
Indeed, Lennox has been known to snare jump balls when facing off against the WNBA’s seven foot players. Lennox’s positive attitude has helped her overcome a series of setbacks. The first came when the Lennox family moved to Independence, Missouri, outside Kansas City, when Lennox was in the ninth grade, and she tried out for the basketball team at Fort Osage High. In Oklahoma she had played under old-fashioned women’s basketball rules that split teams into three offensive and three defensive players, with no crossing the center line allowed. Lennox, who was an offense player, remains most comfortable as a shooter.
“I didn’t think I could cross,” Lennox recalled to Sports Illustrated. “Everybody was laughing at me. I was like, Is there something on my pants?” Briefly cut from the varsity team, Lennox nevertheless bounced back to become a standout player at Fort Osage. Throughout her career she has had the support of Fort Osage coach Dale Williams, who jokingly calls her his “black daughter”; Lennox in turn calls Williams her “white father.” Lennox seemed to be college scholarship material, but she lacked the grades to win admission to a major-college program. So in 1995 she enrolled at Butler County Community College across the river in Kansas.
Born on December 4, 1976 in Hugo, OK. Education: Graduated from Fort Osage High School, Independence, Missouri; attended Butler County Community College, Kansas; Louisiana Tech University, B.A.,2000.
Career: Professional basketball player. Averaged 17.5 points per game during senior year at Louisiana Tech; sixth draft pick in 2000 WNBA draft; signed with Minnesota Lynx, 2000; averaged 16.9 points per game in 2000 season; played only 11 games in 2001 due to hip injury.
Awards: Rookie of the Year, WNBA, 2000; WNBA All-Star Second Team, 2000; U.S.A. Basketball Writers Association All-America first team, 1999.
Addresses: Team office—Minnesota Lynx, 600 First Ave. North, Minneapolis, MN 55403.
That proved another temporary setback in her career, for the school’s basketball program was weak indeed. “I knew it was all wrong when I saw our 300-pound, no-muscle post player,” Lennox told Sports Illustrated. Transferring to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, Lennox had better luck in her sophomore year. With a 26-point-per-game average, Lennox led the team to the national junior college women’s championship and a record of 34—2.
After amassing that impressive record, Lennox won a basketball scholarship to Louisiana Tech, a top Division I college program. But mindful of the problems that academics had caused her in the past, Lennox took a year off to devote herself exclusively to her studies. “It’s more than just on the court for me,” Lennox told the Kansas City Star after she graduated in 2000 with a psychology major. “I still consider myself an average student even though I put hours and hours of study in, worked so hard. But I tell kids, it all starts in class.”
When Lennox returned to basketball she was once again discouraged to find herself on the bench instead of on Louisiana Tech’s starting team. Her time at Louisiana Tech was stormy; at halftime of one game, angry with herself over her performance, she wrote “DON’T PUT ME BACK IN THE GAME!” on the locker room chalkboard and landed in hot water with the coaching staff. But her dedication impressed Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore. “Inside her gut, every day, she wanted to be good,” Barmore told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “When you run across someone like that, you treasure them.”
Together with fellow guard Tamicha Jackson, Lennox came into her own during her senior year at Louisiana Tech. She still had a reputation for being mercurial—her teammates nicknamed her “Psycho”—but she began to reap the rewards of her work regimen, which included a weightlifing routine involving bench presses of up to 165 pounds. Lennox and fellow guard Tamicha Jackson became a much-feared duo, and Louisiana Tech was ranked No. 2 in the United States for much of the season before losing to Penn State in postseason tournament play. Lennox averaged 17.5 points per game and was named to the U.S.A. Basketball Writers Association All-America first team. Pro scouts came calling.
In the 2000 WNBA draft Lennox was the sixth player picked; she was signed to the Minnesota Lynx. Once again the pattern of initial difficulties followed by hard work and standout play repeated itself. Struggling in preseason training, she clashed with Lynx coach Brian Agler and called Lousiana Tech coach Barmore for advice. “I said, ‘Look. That guy can coach. Be patient. He has a game plan,’” Barmore told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Over her first four games with the Lynx, Lennox averaged only 8.2 points per game.
Then Lennox began to blaze across the court like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character to which she sometimes likens herself (and which she had tattooed on her body twice). Scoring 24 points in a game against the WNBA’s Orlando franchise, she never looked back. She ended up scoring 541 points for an average of 16.9 points per game. At the season’s end she received 59 out of a possible 62 votes as the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year. She was also selected as part of the WNBA All-Star Second Team.
A tireless worker who spends much of her spare time in her Minneapolis apartment watching herself on game films and trying to spot areas in need of improvement, Lennox spent the 2000-2001 off-season in Israel, playing on a pro team there in order to hone her competitive skills. In 2001 she was sidelined for 20 games by a strained left hip, managing to average 11 points per game in the 11 games she did play. Still, she returned to top form late in the Lynx season, and her goal of eventually winning the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player award seemed well within reach.
Kansas City Star, August 2, 2000, p. D1; February 16, 2001, p. D1.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 7, 2000, p. C1; August 11, 2000, p. C1; August 12, 2000, p. C4.
Sports Illustrated, February 7, 2000, p. 74.
USA Today, March 13, 2000, p. E22.
Women’s National Basketball Association, http://www.wnba.com.
—James M. Manheim
"Lennox, Betty 1976–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lennox-betty-1976
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