© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why former KU basketball star Lynette Woodard should be as famous as Caitlin Clark

Former KU Jayhawl great Lynette Woodward playing in Allen Fieldhouse
Kansas Athletics
Former KU Jayhawl great Lynette Woodward playing in Allen Fieldhouse

Up until a few weeks ago, Lynette Woodard from the University of Kansas had scored more points in college basketball than any woman ever. But she was never recognized by the NCAA as a scoring champion.

Even a casual college basketball fan can list famous University of Kansas Jayhawks. Players Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning, coaches Phog Allen and Bill Self — and, of course, James Naismith, inventor of the game and, turns out, the only losing coach in KU men’s basketball history.

But the Jayhawk who scored more points, blazed more trails, and probably inspired more athletes was Lynette Woodard.

“Lynette Woodard would definitely be one of the greatest players in women's basketball if she played today,” ESPN basketball commentator Brenda VanLengen said.

VanLengen played college basketball and is producing a multi-part documentary on the history of women’s college basketball.

Woodward , a native of Wichita, was a four-time All-American, two-time Olympian and in 1996 was named the greatest female athlete ever in the then-Big Eight Conference. She was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004.

In her four years at KU, she scored 3,649 points, more than any other woman in the game until Caitlin Clark from the University of Iowa surpassed that mark Feb. 28 with 33 points against the University of Minnesota. In that game, Clark also broke the season record for 3-point shots. Of course, Woodard scored all her points without a 3-point shot — introduced in 1987 — and played with a bigger basketball than women compete with now.

“In today's game, she probably would have scored over 4,000 points,” VanLengen said.

The man with the most points at KU, Danny Manning, scored 2,951 — 698 fewer points than Woodard. Manning would have had to play 35 more games, another entire season, to match Woodard’s scoring.

Woodard was also the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. Ebony Magazine at the time called her the Crown Princess of Basketball, a play on the Trotters’ famous marketing line.

The December 1985 issue of Ebony Magazine called Lynette Woodard the "Crown Princess of Basketball" in an article about her history-making hire as the first woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters. The headline is "Basketball's Crown Princess," with a subheadline of "Lynette Woodard is first woman to play with the legendary Harlem Globetrotters." It features a vertical black-and-white photo of Woodard in a Globetrotters' uniform with the number 16 on it, up at the basket with an opposing player. The caption set on that photo reads "Lynette Woodard, who holds the NCAA women's basketball scoring record, is the first woman to be selected as a member of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. She was chosen over 22 other women."
Ebony Magazine
Google Books
The December 1985 issue of Ebony Magazine called Lynette Woodard the "Crown Princess of Basketball" in an article about her history-making hire as the first woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters

After a game in Houston on February 14, 1986, the Philadelphia Daily News wrote “Doe-fleet and willow-tall, 26-year-old Woodard is blazing a trail in basketball. She won’t rival Jackie Robinson, but that’s OK. Woodard is not comfortable being thought of as a role model.”

But you don't seek role model status, it finds you. And it certainly found Lynette Woodard.

“She’s one of the all-time greatest athletes in women’s sports,” said Michael Voepel, who has covered women’s basketball since 1984 and writes for ESPN.com. “To see someone like Lynette, who was so powerful, so strong, so unapologetic about being an athlete. I think she was an inspiration to anybody, regardless of sexuality or gender identity or anything. If you were just somebody who, I don’t fit into what everybody says a girl is supposed be like, people like Lynette told you that was okay.”

Despite her stellar credentials, Woodard’s name is nowhere to be found in NCAA basketball records. She played when the women’s game was governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

“The NCAA didn't have interest in governing women's sports when women sports leaders approached them in the late 1960s, so the women created their own governance and championship organization,” VanLengen said. “It wasn't until the NCAA saw women's sports as viable that they took over the governance.”

VanLengen says now is the time for the NCAA to recognize those records, just like Major League Baseball finally recognized the Negro Leagues.

Woodard’s last basketball stop was Winthrop University, where she was head women’s coach from 2016 to 2020. She’s kept a low profile since then, but did weigh in on whether the NCAA should recognize AIAW records.

“Those records should have been merged a long time ago,” Woodard told the Washington Post in February. “We’re so quick to erase anything we don’t like or think we don’t like. It’s just not fair. There’s a lot of history there, and it just should not be dismissed.”

This story originated in a 2017 episode of the history podcast Archiver, produced and hosted by KCUR’s Sam Zeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.