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In truth, both ODU and Jarrett were hopelessly unprepared when the boom de la femme hit. The athletic director had hired one Pam Parsons to coach and recruit and get the ball rolling. A year later Parsons had astonished Jarrett by attracting to his tiny Tidewater kingdom Lieberman, who was asking, "Will I play in the Garden?" And she was attracting Inge Nissen, from Denmark yet. Suddenly the athletic director found himself with a powerhouse team and a bunch of angry, impatient women scratching at his office door.
Parsons' position was that here were world-class women athletes who deserved to be treated as such. The team's traveling, living and meal accommodations were not top flight, and neither was the scheduling or the scholarship aid. In time, most of the requested improvements would be honored, but not soon enough for Parsons. Indeed, her conscientiousness or ruckus-raising, take your pick, was tolerable as long as she got along with Jarrett. But then Parsons ran aground in her relationship with Lieberman, and that was that.
The coach had won the player by somehow making it seem an exciting challenge for a famous Olympic star to go to unfamous ODU. ("Pam could rent you an apartment for $300 more than it's worth," Lieberman says. "What a recruiter!") But the real challenge was Parsons trying to accommodate a strong-willed, spoiled prima donna who was as stubborn in her demands as the coach was in hers.
Progressing from what was a cute little sorority team full speed ahead to a nationally respected title contender, the Lady Monarchs finished the first Lieberman season with a 23-9 record and a No. 14 national ranking. Lieberman averaged 20.9 points, and in a 93-75 victory over Virginia State, she contributed 30 points and 17 rebounds.
Along the way, however, the clash of egos and styles took an unfortunate turn. The year before Lieberman arrived, a furious Parsons had removed the entire ODU starting team from one game and had made them run laps in the outer hall while the game continued. During Nancy's first season, the coach once benched her volatile star six minutes after the opening jump ball and made her sit for the remainder of the game. Late in the season Jarrett fired Parsons, but the team refused to play until she was reinstated, which she quickly was. That time Lieberman went along with the majority, but at the end of the year she made it quite clear that an ultimatum was at hand: if Parsons stays, Lieberman goes.
Nobody will admit to this scenario now, Parsons (who resigned to become an assistant athletic director and coach at South Carolina) saying only that "there were problems. Resentment, hate—all those words could be used at one time or another." But Lieberman's disclaimer is more interesting. "We were both strong-headed and made mistakes," she says, "but I could never have had that kind of power...as a freshman."
In that first year at Old Dominion, Nancy had a boyfriend, Tommy Conrad, the point guard on the men's varsity. But after she returned from still another long trip abroad, playing on a national team, the relationship fizzled.
"I couldn't give it 100%," Lieberman says. "When I do something, I have to get into it with total devotion, and I just couldn't make basketball second to a guy."
During one-on-one games against Conrad, the two players would help each other on shots and moves, but the competition was never far from the boiling point. "Tommy would be playing with a broken wrist," Nancy says. "I didn't-care. I'd be out for blood. That's just how I am. If I play pickup sticks, I want to win. God, how I hate to lose."