Janet Harris, who helped bring Georgia Lady Bulldog Basketball to national prominence in the early-1980s, was officially enshrined into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the Tennessee Theatre on Saturday night.
In an emotional acceptance speech Harris told the story of how she used sports to overcome asthma and develop into one of the best players in the world. Part of that journey included taking a chance on a relatively obscure college program at Georgia.
“Everyone thought I was crazy,” Harris joked. “Everyone thought I had lost my mind. ‘You could go anywhere. Why did you choose Georgia? We haven’t heard of that place,’ they said. ‘Oh, you will!’ I told them. I was on a mission to prove everyone wrong and after a year or two, they all knew about us.”
Harris concluded her remarks by thanking both Andy Landers and Dorothy Gaters, her coach at John Marshall High School in Chicago who also is a member of the Hall of Game.
“I want to say this to both Coach Landers and Coach Gaters,” Harris said. “When you plant in someone it has to be nurtured to grow. I know it was hard with me in the beginning but I sprouted. I want both of you to know I have blossomed because of you.”
In addition to Landers, several of her former Lady Bulldog teammates were in attendance Saturday. Teresa Edwards, Susie Gardner, Wanda Holloway, Rhonda Malone and Lisa O’Connor traveled to Knoxville, as did former assistant coach John Sewell and sports information director Norm Reilly.
Harris was one of the first truly great players in the “modern era” of women’s basketball. She was the nation’s top-rated prep prospect in 1981 when she chose to attend Georgia. Harris arrived in Athens in the fall of 1981, the same season that intercollegiate women’s athletics moved from being governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Harris went on to become the first women’s basketball player in NCAA history to record 2,500 points and 1,250 rebounds. She finished her career with 2,641 points and 1,398 rebounds. Those tallies remain as the Lady Bulldogs’ all-time records by a wide margin three decades later despite a long list of UGA All-Americans who have tried to match them.
Many of those All-Americans might not have considered Georgia if the program possessed the stature it did when Harris chose to become a Lady Bulldog.
“When Janet got to Georgia, Janet was better than our basketball team,” Landers said. “Janet Harris was the first great power player under the NCAA and one of the greatest power players of all time. Her numbers are such that, 30 years later, not one of our players has been able to seriously challenge them and only a handful of players in the entire country have matched them. Janet Harris was our first great player and she made it cool for other great players to come to Georgia.”
As a freshman, Harris averaged 22.4 points and 12.4 rebounds as a freshman in 1981-82. In a true testament to her team mentality, those numbers actually dipped slightly through the rest of her career as the aforementioned “great players” such as Edwards and Katrina McClain joined her in Athens.
Still, Harris is the only player in Georgia history to average a career double-double (20.2 points and 10.7 rebounds). She is one of only three SEC players to average 20.0 points and 10.0 boards for her career. A four-time All-American, Harris set an NCAA record with 78 career double-doubles in 131 games played and still ranks No. 6 among NCAA career leaders.
Georgia’s team accomplishments mirrored those of Harris’ individual accolades. The Lady Bulldogs earned a bid to the first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1982, captured their first SEC Championship and reached the NCAA Final Four in 1983, won a second SEC title in 1984 and finished as NCAA runner-up in 1985. Georgia compiled a 107-24 (.817) record during Harris’ career.
Harris became Georgia’s fourth representative in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. McClain was inducted in 2006, followed by Landers in 2007 and Edwards in 2010. Enshrined with Harris on Saturday were players Janeth Arcain and Lisa Leslie and coaches Kurt Budke (posthumously), Gail Goestenkors and Brad Smith.