NEWARK — Karen Conlin remembers playing basketball for Ursuline Academy in the early 1970s in a uniform better suited for the classroom than the gymnasium. She described it basically as a jumper, with her white button-down school shirt underneath. Oh, and the belt. Can’t forget about the belt.
“Most of the time when our coach would call a timeout, it wasn’t because we had a defensive strategy to review. It was because we had to go chase a belt that had fallen off back at halfcourt,” Conlin said Nov. 23 at a dinner at the Embassy Suites in Newark.
Conlin was speaking at her induction into the Delaware Basketball Hall of Fame. She was among three basketball standouts with Catholic school roots to be honored.
She said basketball has been “front and center” in her life, from her playing days, to ferrying her daughters to and from practices, to traveling with friends to watch the NCAA tournament. She marveled at the changes in the game since her days at Ursuline under the tutelage of longtime Raiders coach Laura Capodanno.
“Women’s basketball has come a long, long way in the five decades since I played,” she said. “Just look at the skill sets and the strength of the women who play today. Look at the crowds that show up for these games. And look at the pro league that now allows young girls to dream of becoming professional basketball players.”
She had hoped to meet one of the other inductees, 2007 St. Elizabeth High School graduate Khadijah Rushdan, who was unable to attend. Rushdan played for the Vikings during a period when girls high school basketball captured the attention of sports fans across the state of Delaware.
“The matchups she played with Elena (Delle Donne, Ursuline Class of 2008) were unparalleled. And we don’t need last names for either one of them. We know who we’re talking about,” she said. “It’s interesting to think that these two superstar high school basketball players played for small Catholic schools that are three miles apart and went on to become stellar college basketball and international basketball players, yet it all started right here in Delaware.”
Conlin had plenty of people to thank for her success, including her late parents and her three younger brothers. In addition to Capodanno, she cited the late Helen Doherty, a 1954 graduate of Ursuline who played multiple sports and who founded the basketball program at Ursuline; and Mary Ann Hitchens, a longtime coach and athletics administrator at the University of Delaware.
She also thanked her teammates, “many of whom are still my best friends today.”
In an interview after the induction, Conlin reflected on her time at Ursuline as “the best four years of my life. I tell that to anybody that I meet.”
She said the opportunity to play at an all-girls school, where there was no competition for attention or court time with a boys program.
“In many, many ways, the Ursuline education was a very empowering time for me. I give credit to the teachers and especially Mrs. Capodanno for instilling in me the confidence to be the best at whatever it was I chose to be,” she said.
Conlin’s basketball excellence continued at the University of Delaware, where she played for Hitchens. She set a Blue Hens record of 4.9 assists per game, and she graduated as the program’s second-leading scorer. The Blue Hens played in four AIAW tournaments while she was there. She also played softball.
After graduating, she earned a master’s degree in plant pathology from the University of Georgia and worked in Cleveland, Ohio, as a research biologist. She attended dental school at Ohio State University in the mid-80s and returned to Delaware. She continues to practice dentistry in north Wilmington.
The other two inductees with Catholic school ties include the aforementioned Rushdan, who was the first athlete in any sport in Delaware history to be named first-team all-state five times. She was also the three-time girls basketball player of the year. She graduated as the state’s all-time leading scorer with 2,464 points and was a McDonald’s and Parade all-American. St. Elizabeth played in four state championship games during her five varsity seasons, winning in 2007.
She attended Rutgers University, where she was first-team all-Big East and ranks 21st in career scoring, seventh in assists and third in free throws. She was the 15th overall selection in the 2012 WNBA draft and spent a season playing overseas in Israel. She returned to Wilmington as an assistant coach at St. Elizabeth and is now in her fourth season as an assistant coach at the Division I University of North Florida.
The other inductee is Will Sheridan, who attended and played basketball at St. Peter Cathedral School in Wilmington. Sheridan, the son of two Wilmington police officers, was a two-time all-state selection at Sanford School, averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game. He was the state player of the year in 2002, when the Warriors won the state championship, and he was a member of the all-decade first team.
Sheridan played for Jay Wright at Villanova University, where he was the leading rebounder for the 2006 Big East champions. He was a three-year starter for the Wildcats and ranks 23rd in Wildcats history in rebounds, 35th in steals and eighth in blocks. Sheridan lives and works in Delaware.