Linda Roberts is in a class by herself

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Linda Roberts, because of her exploits at the University of Minnesota, will have her jersey retired on January 15 at Williams Arena, where she displayed her many hoops skills from 1977 through 1981.

The former four-year starter presently holds nine basketball records at the University of Minnesota. At one time she held 16. The six-foot pivot was the first player of star quality in Gopher history and one of very few Black players at the time.

Linda is the only player to be so honored who played before the Big Ten began scheduling women’s basketball as a legitimate university conference sport. Women’s sports were an afterthought in the macho bastion of male competitive sports.

This will be one of the many honors Roberts has received for her hoops prowess, as well as for her very effective community service. She is a member of the St. Paul Central Hall of Fame, the University of Minnesota Women’s Athletic Hall of Fame, the University of Minnesota Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame; and she’s among the 100 greatest athletes in St. Paul’s 100-year history in high school sports.

It should be noted that Linda, along with her cousin Lisa Lissimore, led her St. Paul Central high school team to Minnesota’s first high school girls’ state championship. It was her coach, Steve Studer, in one of his last acts, who called Coach Ellen Mosher Hanson and asked her if she wanted “a franchise player.” The rest is history.

When Linda played her first game, she and new coach Mosher Hanson inherited a program that had recent losses to such schools as St. Cloud State, University of North Dakota, Northern Iowa Community College, Simpson College, Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Winnipeg and Lakehead. Mosher and Roberts basically led the team out of darkness into the light.

An awesome physical specimen, Roberts made an immediate impact as she led the Gophers to wins over such credible opponents as Creighton, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, and Fort Valley State in her initial campaign. The Gophers’ record that year was 24-10.

It is not an exaggeration to speak of Linda as the Moses of Minnesota women’s basketball. She is the sole reason that this writer is an avid women’s basketball fan today. As a middle-aged man of Afrikan descent, it was with great pride that I witnessed this powerful, yet stately young woman perform with excellence game after game.

Nothing could have been more pleasing to my eyes than to watch the play of this physically beautiful woman whose color was closer to licorice than dark chocolate. Her size, her color, and her super-big natural Afro were intimidating to the opposing players.

Her competitive demeanor can best be described as tough, mean and intimidating, which kept opponents as far away from her as they could get. She exploited not only her physical gifts, but her mental, psychological, and seemingly impenetrable soul as well. Roberts innately knew that her carriage gave her an unparalleled advantage, and she exploited it to the hilt. She milked it to the max.

I remember meeting a former Indiana University player against whom we, the Summit University Stars, would play at the national AAU tournament. When she revealed to me that she formerly played for Indiana, I said to her, “You probably know one of our players, Linda Roberts.”

Fear, phobia, anxiety, apprehension, fright, alarm, dread, horror, terror, disarray and panic visited this competitor as she cried out, “Linda Roberts!” Yes, we beat Indiana.

As a first — year player, Linda led the team in scoring with 497 points, in rebounding with 387, in most free throws made with 157, and in most free throws attempted with 254. In her career, from 1977-81, she set records for most games played (129), most games started (126), most points scored (1,856), most field goals made (680), most field goals attempted (1,432), most free throws made (496), most free throws attempted (850,) and most rebounds (1,411).

Here is a brief outline of Linda’s contributions and honors during her high school, college and post academic careers: First Girls’ State Champions, St. Paul Central, 1976; Consolation champions, 1977; University of Minnesota Award, 1978; University of Minnesota Gopher Award, Most Valuable Player, 1979; AIAW All-Region Team, UM Gopher Award, UM Most Valuable Player, Wade Trophy finalist, 1980-81; Street & Smith Honorable Mention All-American, Big Ten Tournament Championship Team, Kodak All-Region 6 Team, UM MVP, and number 52 among the top sports figures of the century.

When Linda finished her career, she had outscored Kevin McHale and all Gophers players except Mychal Thompson, who incidentally was the number-one draft choice in the NBA. She continued her basketball career as a professional player with the Minnesota Fillies in the Women’s Basketball League.

The former honorable mention All-American finished her career leading the Summit University Stars of the prestigious Women’s Amatuer Athletic Union to national honors. She was an All-National AAU selection based on her play at the national tournament in1983.

On February 2, 2005, the citation on her KWANZAA Award read, “Linda Roberts is most accomplished in bringing community and children together for healthy activities. Her boat cruises are community gatherings. They provide great relaxation for adults. Her summer basketball camps for girls teach teamwork, skills, and good sportsmanship. A University of Minnesota basketball legend who is under-recognized by others, but not unappreciated by her community.”

Linda Roberts is a highly appreciated person from the Rondo/Summit University neighborhood. It is good to see that others have begun to honor her true worth to the entire Minnesota community.

© Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

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