- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Bill Finney labors in the obscure reaches of women's basketball at Marymount University.

He does what he does, turning out 20-win teams, and yet all his fine work goes largely unnoticed. He never has been the flavor of the moment in the spring, when coaches play the job-market game and make deals. He never has been the object of reverence in the WBCA. He just has been very good at what he does, and that is enough.

Finney has led the Saints back into the Division III NCAA tournament this season. The Saints (21-6) play at home against the College of Staten Island tonight.

Finney is ever confident, convinced of his team's worthiness. Maybe this is the year his team, with a break here or there, advances to the Final Four. Maybe this is the year his team catches that magical wave and rides it to the Final Four.

A berth in the Final Four is the only thing missing from his portfolio. Otherwise, his 18 seasons at Marymount come out to 352-128. His teams have advanced to the Sweet 16 four times in eight previous tournament appearances.

Finney is surprised to have his team in this position. He did not envision this at the start of the season. How could he? He has two sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. His team is young, somewhat small and not especially quick or fast.

But the Saints have a system, Finney's system, and they have executed it well enough to rise above their limitations, and now, when Finney evaluates the 50-team field and permits himself to look ahead, he sees the possibilities. He is comfortable with the teams his team might have to play, and if this or that happens, well, you just never know.

"It's our best opportunity ever to reach the Final Four," he says.

The 51-year-old Finney has been at the game a long time, going back to his playing days at Syracuse University in the early '70s. He can tell a story or two on Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse coach.

Boeheim was an assistant coach in those days, and still the player in the old Eastern League. Finney can remember driving Boeheim to a game in Scranton, Pa., exercising caution on the icy roads, when Boeheim, in a fit of impatience, demanded that the wheel be turned over to him. They reached the game on time, and in one piece, and as Finney recalls it, Boeheim had a big night. That memory is worth a chuckle, not unlike all those crazy times they spent working together at the summer camps run by Dolph Schayes.

Years later, Boeheim is still in upstate New York, having meltdowns in the Big East, while Finney works at his out-of-the-way basketball site on Glebe Road in Arlington. How does this juxtaposition sit with Finney? He's there, you're here, coaches just the same, and yet, the two worlds, his and yours, could not be more different.

This is not an easy notion. How do you judge a professional life? By salary? By name recognition? By the number of book deals, shoe deals, TV/radio deals?

"I've worked hard at my career and let the chips fall where they may," Finney says.

Finney has pursued several job openings at the Division I level over the years, but for one reason or another, he never has been tabbed. He either has been the wrong gender or his credentials have been perceived as suspect.

"I've tried to move up," he says. "It's difficult. You're a Division III coach. It's almost as if they say, 'Why would we hire you?' The gender thing comes up, too."

The gender issue is political, the doubts against Division III spurious. If anything, Finney has done it the hard way, building a tradition of success with the overlooked, the undersized and the modestly gifted. He has done it with a skimpy recruiting budget while lacking the entree of athletic grants. Finney offers the following to prospective student-athletes: a nice academic institution, a basketball program with tradition and himself.

"What we've done here is the reward itself," Finney says.

He can get warm and fuzzy on this or that student-athlete. He can point to Candice Brown, the team's leading scorer who is one of 10 finalists for Josten's Division III Player of the Year Award.

Brown started her career on an athletic scholarship at Division II Catawba (N.C.) College. When she decided to return home to be near her church and the youths with whom she works, she elected to pay for the privilege.

What do you say to that if you're Finney? You say that's pretty special. You say that's pretty meaningful.

If you're Finney, you note the maturation of point guard Rachel Taylor, a graduate student who recently passed the 1,000-point career mark. You mention Kate Jarvis, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder as a freshman.

Division I basketball? You're not there, and that's all right, and maybe that is Division I basketball's loss, although you don't say that. What can you do anyway?

"I can't do anything about the system," Finney says.

Finney is not looking for a pat on the back or confirmation of his specialness.

He is not complaining, even as he labors beneath the radar in women's basketball, in the Capital Athletic Conference, distant from Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma, the game's Holy Grail figures. He is not trying to be discovered. You don't stay 18 seasons in one place and not appreciate it.

What is it all about?

Right now, at this particular moment, it is about the big game tonight, Marymount vs. the College of Staten Island. It is about this one opportunity, as valid as any on the Division I level, if not purer and nobler, and who knows where it could lead? It is about this one opponent and the possibilities ahead.

All the heavy-handed stuff is for another time.

"I love teaching," Finney says.

And he defers to no one on that count.

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