A trailblazer for women’s basketball, Mercury’s Meyers Drysdale honored with lifetime achievement award

Phoenix Mercury Vice President Ann Meyers Drysdale talks with family and friends after being recognized as the Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s Basketball at Grayhawk Golf Club on April 2, 2017, in Scottsdale. (Photo by Samantha Pell/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE — Phoenix Mercury Vice President Ann Meyers Drysdale was presented Sunday with this year’s Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s Basketball award at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale at the 49th annual Naismith Awards brunch.

Meyers Drysdale, 62, was showered with a standing ovation after accepting the award. The brunch also featured the announcements of Gonzaga’s Mark Few as the Naismith Coach of the Year, Kansas’ Frank Mason III as the Naismith Player of the Year and former Maryland head coach Gary Williams as the Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Men’s Basketball.

“This is an incredible honor,” Meyers Drysdale said at the brunch. “Certainly none of us are in this to get awards. We love the game, we love to give back, and as Bill (Walton) said, it is a family and for me to have the opportunity to see so many coaches and people of the game that I’ve known throughout the years is truly a blessing to me.”

Meyers Drysdale has won three WNBA championships with the Phoenix Mercury organization, two as the general manager (2007 and 2009) and one in her current role as vice president (2014). She also serves as a color analyst for the Suns and Mercury television broadcast teams on FOX Sports Arizona.

“To be with an organization like the Phoenix Mercury and the Suns . . . to work with wonderful these wonderful people, and to give this recognition back to these young players, both men and women’s side, is really a thrill for me to see where the game has come,” Meyers Drysdale said.

Meyers Drysdale was a trailblazer for women’s basketball.

In 1974, Meyers was the first high schooler to play on the U.S. women’s national team. Also in 1974, Meyers was the first woman to sign a four-year athletic scholarship – in any sport – to UCLA. In 1976, Meyers was on the first U.S. Women’s Olympic basketball team. That team won a silver medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Then in 1979, after playing at UCLA, she was the first woman to sign a contract with an NBA team, the Indiana Pacers. Meyers attended training camp, but did not make the final roster.

Meyers was the first woman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in 1993.

Meyers Drysdale’s long-time friend and broadcasting colleague Bill Walton, the UCLA legend and current ESPN and Pac-12 Networks broadcaster, was also a part of the 1993 Hall of Fame class. He introduced Meyers Drysdale at the brunch.

“Ann Meyers who is this shining star, this beacon of hope, our lives have been intertwined forever,” said Walton, 64.

Walton said he has known Meyers Drysdale’s family for 47 years. Walton played with Meyers Drysdale’s older brother, Dave Meyers, at UCLA for three of his four years as a Bruin (1971-74). Dave Meyers was an All-American at UCLA from 1972-75 and played in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks from 1975-80.

Walton said while Dave Meyers was as “fine, as complete, as passionate, as assertive, as honorable a man and teammate as I ever had the privilege of knowing and playing with,” there was someone else in that family UCLA coach John Wooden had his eyes on.

“He would always say ‘Bill, this guy is really, really good,” Walton said of Wooden’s description of Dave. “We can’t wait to get him. But what we are really trying to do, we are really trying to get his younger sister here.'”

Meyers Drysdale was a four-time basketball All-American at UCLA and played two years of volleyball and track. She also helped lead UCLA’s 1978 women’s basketball team to the AIAW national championship.

“I truly believe if I don’t go to UCLA and (they) give me this opportunity to get a scholarship, then myself or women’s basketball probably doesn’t receive the attention of it did at UCLA because of who Dave was at UCLA and who John Wooden was at UCLA,” Meyers Drysdale said. “They gave us credibility on the women’s side.”

Walton said Meyers Drysdale epitomizes everything Wooden, who won more men’s basketball championships (10) than any coach in NCAA history, tried to teach him.

“He taught us how to learn, and he taught us how to compete,” Walton said of his coach at UCLA. “What Ann Meyers has done with her life — in high school performing in athletics, she won seven different sport letters. She was a 13-time MVP in high school of those seven different sports.”

Walton shared fond memories of Meyers Drysdale’s time as a Bruin, even when she took time away from him and his coach.

“I can remember always trying to get on coach Wooden’s calendar,” Walton said. “(I said), ‘Coach can I come over to take you to breakfast?’ (He said) ‘No I’m busy with Ann Meyers.’ (I said) ‘Can I call you from the airport?’ (He said) ‘No, Ann and I have a conference call to get to.’ I could never get my way in there because Ann was always there first and when we speak of first, that was always Ann.”

Walton said he would have liked to play with her at UCLA.

“She represented all the class the dignity, the profession, the pride, the joy, the optimism that exemplifies what this award is all about,” Walton said.