There's also a strong women's basketball tradition at Cheyney, dating from 1973, when Vivian Stringer arrived from Slippery Rock and brought life to the Lady Wolves. Before the 1983-84 season Stringer moved on to coach the women at Iowa. "We were used to doors being shut to us," Stringer says of her years at Cheyney. "But we never sat down and said 'Poor me.' We learned to fight." Stringer's result: a 251-51 record and seven trips to postseason tournaments.
McGriff, who had spent seven years coaching the boys' team at Piscataway ( N.J.) High and one year as the wornens' coach at the University of the District of Columbia, adopted Stringer's credo when he took over last year. "When you don't have the money," he says, "you take advantage of the things that you do have." To McGriff, that's a sense of family. The McGriff clan—which used to consist of Winthrop, his wife, Esther, and their infant daughter, Wendy—now has grown by 12 Lady Wolves. "It's a trip," the coach says.
He describes a journey to a game at Northern Illinois that was, well, a trip. "I told the girls, 'Dress warm,' " he says. "Did they? No. They showed up with these tight little pants that stop way above the ankle, little flimsy jackets and fancy shoes. They said, 'Coach, we got to look good!' " That evening, McGriff scoured the Northern Illinois campus in DeKalb looking to borrow space heaters. "And did you know that every player has her own music box?" McGriff says, stunned. "And they never play the same songs. Twelve boxes, 12 songs. I hand out meal money on the road. Do we stop at McDonald's? No! They all run over to the Sav-All to load up on batteries for the boxes."
When McGriff's not coaching he's a delight. Inside a gym, he has the congeniality of a rabid dog. But the Lady Wolves had better get used to snarling enemies. Gone from last year's roster are All-America forward Yolanda Laney, center Sharon Taylor and guard Margaret Diaz, who combined for 54.8 points a game. The only returning starter is Strong, who averaged 10.4 points. McGriff is depending on 5'6" senior Paulette Bigelow and 6'3" center-forward Debbie Thomas to take up the slack. Thomas "will pop some eyes," McGriff says. She certainly did last season against Morgan State when she had 12 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots off the bench.
"We always have to prove ourselves," says McGriff. He has a point. The Lady Wolves have never been handed a preseason Top 10 ranking. "Go ahead," McGriff says. "Put us at the bottom of the totem pole. We'll climb right to the top.
"Look at Columbo," he says, referring to the television detective. "He wears that beat-up raincoat and drives that beat-up car. But he gets the job done." McGriff, dressed in baggy sweats, walks over to his own car, a 73 Chevy Caprice wagon. It has been overhauled four times, the left rear door has no handle, the tail pipe droops and the whole thing lists crazily to starboard. McGriff pats the heap lovingly on the hood. "Now I ask you," he says. "Do you think Columbo would be nearly as effective if he drove a brand-new Cadillac?"