Suzie Eppers feels proud when she sees two Baylor women’s basketball national championship banners hanging from the rafters at the Ferrell Center.
Eppers played a major role in getting the Lady Bears’ basketball program off the ground floor when she became the first woman to receive a scholarship in any sport at Baylor in 1973. She was a dual-sport athlete who competed in basketball and track.
“When I get to come back for special occasions, I’m glad to be part of the school’s history,” Eppers said. “We started this from the ground up and you can see where we are now and what we want to be for the future.”
Eppers was the featured speaker at the annual Waco Chamber of Commerce Tip-Off Luncheon at the Ferrell Center on Wednesday.
Forty years after she last played for Baylor, the All-American power forward still holds school records with 3,861 career points and 2,176 rebounds from 1973-77. Former national player of the year Brittney Griner is the only other Baylor player to surpass 3,000 points as she accumulated 3,283 from 2009-13.
Eppers, formerly Suzie Snider, signed with Baylor out of Robinson High School. Several of her former high school teammates came to the Tipoff Luncheon with their Robinson letter jackets.
When Eppers started at Baylor, the women’s basketball facilities were primitive and the team’s budget was extremely small. But the Baylor players were happy to get a chance to play college basketball.
“We would have played in sack, we didn’t care because we were just glad to play,” Eppers said. “We drove our cars to away games, but after Title IX came in we traveled in vans. We also moved from Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium to the Heart O’ Texas Coliseum. The 25 people who followed us had their pick of seats.”
Before women played NCAA competition, they were part of the AIAW. During her final two years at Baylor, Eppers led the Lady Bears to the national tournament, finishing fifth during her senior year in 1977.
Throughout her high school years, Eppers played 3-on-3 basketball with offensive and defensive players not allowed to cross midcourt. She was glad to have the opportunity to play 5-on-5 fullcourt basketball at Baylor.
“We played 3-on-3 in high school because people thought women couldn’t endure fullcourt basketball,” Eppers said. “But then people started to realize that 3-on-3 was a real disadvantage to Texas girls. I really enjoyed playing fullcourt.”
After graduating from Baylor, Eppers coached at Robinson and Deer Park high schools before going into school administration. In 1999, the Tribune-Herald named Eppers the No. 2 athlete in school history behind Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson.
“Coaching was great but not as good as playing,” Eppers said. “It was just fun to play with kids who loved the game like I did.”
Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey and Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew spoke briefly about their teams this season. Led by preseason Big 12 player of the year Kalani Brown, the Lady Bears hope to reach the Final Four after four straight losses in the Elite Eight.
The Baylor men’s team is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and would like to unseat Kansas as the Big 12 champion. The Jayhawks have won or tied for 13 straight Big 12 titles.
“We’re excited about the players we have returning but we also lost a lot,” Drew said. “We’d love to get to the Final Four.”
McLennan Community College women’s basketball coach Ricky Rhodes and men’s coach Kevin Gill are also looking for big seasons.
“We’re returning 11 sophomores,” Rhodes said. “We’ll probably be picked second, but I think we can finish first.”
Cynthia Simms, the athletic supervisor for City of Waco Parks and Recreation, received the Frank Fallon Award for her contributions to basketball in Central Texas.