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TODAY'S SPORTS EXTRA

After KSHOF Induction, Gary-Sweeney Reflects on Time with K-State WBB

November 1, 2017
By Corbin McGuire


As Priscilla Gary-Sweeney drove through Wichita en route to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, which she was inducted into on October 1, she could not help but reflect on her basketball career.

When it began, what it turned into, where it took her. All these reminiscent thoughts and more bounced through the mind of the former K-State women's basketball standout, who felt like her recent Hall of Fame induction — one of many — closed the basketball chapter of her life's story.

But, as she shared with K-State Sports Extra, it was an incredible chapter.

"Basketball, it has been something where I've met some people I never thought I would meet and I've been some places where I never thought I would be," she said. "I never thought in a million years that playing a game I loved could lead to so many accolades 20, 30 years later."

Gary-Sweeney's basketball origins started in childhood summers spent in Mississippi, where she traveled from Memphis, Tennessee, to see family. This often turned into endless hours of basketball with her taller and older cousins.

Until late in her high school career, Gary-Sweeney's only organized basketball experience was six-on-six, a format long since eliminated from the game. She received zero Division I offers out of Hamilton High School, and Shelby State College (now Southwest Tennessee Community College), located in her hometown, was the only school at any level to recruit her.

So Gary-Sweeney stayed in Memphis and left as the program's all-time leading scorer, a mark that has not been topped in 35 years.

"That's when Division I schools started to call," she said.

K-State discovered Gary-Sweeney somewhat by accident.

As Gary-Sweeney remembers it, K-State recruiter Sally Anthony was in town to watch Regina Street, who would go on to have her jersey retired at Memphis, play a game for Mitchell High School. The school's coach at the time suggested Anthony also watch Gary-Sweeney at the nearby college.

Anthony was so impressed with Gary-Sweeney that she returned to Manhattan with tape to show K-State head coach Lynn Hickey. The tape also ended up being watched by K-State's volleyball and track and field coaches. All were eager to bring Gary-Sweeney into their program.

"Coach Hickey was the third one who called because the track coach called at Kansas State and wanted me to high jump. The volleyball coach called and was going to give me a full ride to play volleyball," said Gary-Sweeney, who did not hesitate when the third offer came through. "I turned right around and signed with Kansas State."

In two seasons, Gary-Sweeney led K-State to two Big Eight titles and trips to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. She also became K-State's first Kodak All-American. Her career scoring average of 18.3 points a game still ranks first in school history, and her No. 10 jersey hangs in the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum.

Gary-Sweeney accomplished all of this despite being only 5-foot-5. The way she sees it, however, she dominated because her height, or lack thereof, forced her to develop other skills and a mental edge.

"When I went out to play, I always sized people up. If you were taller than me, then I was going to take you to the hole. If you were shorter than me, then I was going to post you up," Gary-Sweeney said. "The best day was in my last year when an opposing coach told me, 'We have to prepare to play you.' That spoke volumes to me for a team to actually have to prepare to play me. That's how my height helped me a lot by hiding what I really could do."


 

It also helped that Gary-Sweeney had a 40-plus inch vertical leap, a major reason why she drew interest from K-State's volleyball and track and field teams. Gary-Sweeney recalls one moment where her springboard legs surprised Anne Donovan, a 6-foot-8 center who played for Old Dominion and went on to a professional coaching career.

"She was standing there and she was just waving the ball over my head and looking down at me, like, 'Oh, I got you,'" Gary-Sweeney recalled. "And before she knew it, I jumped up and I knocked the ball out of her hand. She just turned around and looked at me, like, 'You did something that many people could not even do at 6-feet, and for you do it at 5-5 was a feat within itself.' Those are the kind of things I remember."

Outside of basketball, Gary-Sweeney pointed to the people of Manhattan as a fond memory. Specifically, she brought up former K-State football great Veryl Switzer as a mentor.

"Mr. Switzer was the one who basically kept me in line," she said. "When I needed to talk to somebody, when I got down on myself because of something that happened, he was the one who I would go and talk to. I loved the people there at Kansas State at the time."

Gary-Sweeney, an African-American, also said she learned as much about people as she did about herself while at K-State.

"At the time, Kansas State was on the verge of being diverse. Now, it's really diverse," she said. "Even though we played white teams (in high school), I didn't know a whole lot about them. Kansas State gave me that opportunity to learn about people that don't look like me."

Gary-Sweeney took her lessons into a 27-year career in the Air Force, where she made her name known on the basketball court as well. In 1988, she was named the Department of Defense Female Athlete of the Year and the Air Force Female Athlete of the Year.

"The lessons I learned from Kansas State, I took those and I transitioned into the military and it worked out fine," she said. "Basketball has gotten me into so many places and I've met so many people on the civilian side and the military side that I never thought I would."

More than 30 years after her career at K-State ended, Gary-Sweeney's name is still a mainstay in the program.

In 2015, Gary-Sweeney received a surprising phone call from K-State head coach Jeff Mittie. He told her the team was naming its postseason hustle award after her. Now, she makes it a point to come back to K-State every other year to present her award and to give the recipient a specially made coin as well.

"That's just something personal for me to make that player know and understand that this means just as much to me as it means to you," said Gary-Sweeney, the first female inductee into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame (1998). "I look forward to going back every other year."

Currently retired on the military side, Gary-Sweeney still works as the district chief of contracting for the Memphis District Corps of Engineers. Included in her day-to-day duties is helping coordinate recovery efforts for major disasters, such as hurricanes.

"I'm still active," she said. "I still don't like sitting down."

Gary-Sweeney rarely thinks about her basketball career anymore, but she recognizes the importance it has had in her journey to success afterward. One chapter may close, but it's never really over.

"When people say, 'What did basketball do for you?'" Gary-Sweeney said, "I can honestly say basketball was the key for me to be sitting where I'm sitting at right now."

 

 

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Corbin McGuire, or K-State Associate AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.

   

This message was sent to dyoder@ksu.edu.