Ann Meyers Drysdale remembers her Hall of Fame husband
Hall of Fame: With March Madness upon us, do you have fond memories from your time at UCLA?
Ann Meyers Drysdale: I was fortunate enough to be there when my brother David was there, and Coach Wooden (UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden), who really made an impact on my life. I was a freshman and my brother was a senior during the 1974-75 season. When I was a freshman I was able to play for a guy named Kenny Washington, who was one of Coach Wooden’s players that won a couple of championships. Everything I learned fundamentally was during my freshman year with him. And during this time I could go into the men’s basketball coach’s office and they kind of took me under their wing. I was Dave Meyers’ little sister and they helped me with classes, just getting acclimated to the university and the campus. Just being able to talk to Coach Wooden made it an easy transition for me.
HOF: How did you choose UCLA?
AMD: Kenny Washington was the women’s basketball coach at UCLA, and my brother David and Kenny were roommates, so it all just kind of fell into place. So when David and Kenny came home one weekend, Kenny said, ‘How’d you like to go to UCLA? We’ll give you a scholarship,’ I was gobsmacked really. I had no words for it. To be a senior in high school and have no idea what you’re going to do, then to be able to go to such a university like that where my brother was, it was pretty awe-inspiring.
HOF: I’m guessing with your size you played point guard?
AMD: I played all five positions. I grew up playing against the guys so you had to learn how to post up, you had to learn to shoot outside, and you had to handle the ball. Growing up in pickup games, size never really mattered to me. I kind of knew how to play defense so when I got switched in against somebody that was 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-4, most of the women weren’t quite as athletic as I was so I could read their moves. They were a little bit more deliberate on their moves so I could read which way they were going if I played behind and then if I played in front of them I could jump up and usually get the lob pass. I was just fortunate enough that coaches believed in my ability and they could move me around to different positions.
HOF: And you and your brother David were All-Americans in the same year, right?
AMD: Right, David was a senior and most deservedly so. We thought he was Player of the Year but they gave it to David Thompson. (Dave Meyers would be the second overall selection in the 1975 NBA draft, behind Thompson, spending four seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks)
HOF: More than four decades later, how do you look at your 1979 tryout with the Pacers?
AMD: It was the best decision I ever made in my life. When I was in high school I had played on the boys’ summer league team between my junior and senior year in high school. I had planned on playing on the boys’ varsity team during the regular school season but a lot of things were said. When you’re in high school emotions are changing and you’re physically changing so you care about what people say. So even though I had played on the summer league team, as much as I wanted to play on the boys’ varsity team I let people talk me out of it. After UCLA, all of a sudden I get a call from the Indiana Pacers’ Sam Nassi, who’s the new owner and lives in California. He said, ‘How would you like a tryout?’ My brother David was already playing for the Bucks. And I looked back five years before that and said, ‘Well, people talked me out of it one time. I’m not going to let them talk me out of it a second time.’ I thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime. It was not an easy decision for me but once I made the decision I thought, ‘I’m just going to put everything into it.’ I know physically, mentally and emotionally, it was the best I was ever prepared to play the game of basketball. I probably worked out six to eight hours a day, just trying to train for this one opportunity. Certainly publicity was involved, and I don’t deny that, but I was never one that went out and sought it.
HOF: Do you feel like you got a fair shot with the Pacers?
AMD: It was very difficult for Slick Leonard, who was the coach, because he came from a generation where women were in the home raising a family and not out on the basketball court with a bunch of guys. I’m sure he was put in a very difficult position. But I was 24 years old and focused on me and nothing else and trying to do the best that I could. Did I get a fair shake? I would have liked to have gone on to the next round of the free agent rookie camp. I went through the three-day process with two practices a day. So we had six practices and then I was basically let go even though it was a personal service contract where I was working for the organization. When Slick told me, ‘Hey, you did great. We loved that you came out here but we’re going to move on,’ I was not happy. I was hurt, I was broken. I thought I had played well enough to go on to the next level. But it opened up so many doors and it gave me the opportunity to meet Don (Drysdale) and my life changed.
HOF: You must have heard about Don’s reputation as a pitcher who would pitch inside, right?
HOF: Can you talk about your path that currently finds you working for both WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns?
AMD: Gosh, I’ve just been in the right place at the right time. Somebody’s watching over me, no question. I think the one dream I’ve always had was to be an Olympian and that started in fourth grade. I thought I’d be in the Olympics as a track athlete but it happened to be in basketball. I’ve been fortunate to be in broadcasting over 35 years, a career that I never thought I would embark on. I had no idea what I would do after graduating from UCLA. But then to work for the Phoenix Mercury and the Suns and win a couple of WNBA championships and be a part of three. People have been very good to me. I hope that I can give back. I do the best I can.
HOF: Can you talk about your roles with the two Phoenix basketball teams?
AMD: I’m a vice president with both the Suns and the Mercury, but basically broadcasting for them. They had asked me to move over after we had won a couple of WNBA championships, from GM, to kind of focus a little bit more on broadcasting and be out in the community a little bit more and speaking to season ticketholders and schools and so forth. So it’s worked out great.
HOF: How did you like being the general manager of the Mercury and having your team win a couple of titles?
AMD: It was rewarding. I enjoyed the competition and having a small group of people who work together trying to accomplish something. The first decision I had when I was the GM beginning in 2007 was that we won the draft lottery and had the number one pick and I traded that away. The fans were not happy with me at all. Fortunately, it was the right decision and the player that we traded for helped us win two WNBA championships.
HOF: Have you been to Cooperstown before?