Big Five always a Hall of memories

Big 5 Hall of Fame inductees (from left) Kelly Greenberg, Marc Jackson, Jenn Beisel, Matt Maloney and Melissa Coursey get together at the Palestra.
Big 5 Hall of Fame inductees (from left) Kelly Greenberg, Marc Jackson, Jenn Beisel, Matt Maloney and Melissa Coursey get together at the Palestra. (CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 22, 2012

SOMETIMES WE take for granted the unique nature of the Big 5. And then one day each winter at the Palestra, the newest members of the Big 5 Hall of Fame remind us.

Yesterday, it was Marc Jackson (Temple), Jenn Beisel (Villanova), Melissa Coursey (Saint Joseph's), Kelly Greenberg (La Salle) and Matt Maloney (Penn) telling their stories that brought it all back once again, this Philadelphia tradition that no other city in America can claim.

Jackson, the kid who was born at Temple Hospital, went to elementary school and junior high on 13th Street, high school and college on North Broad Street, then traveled "all around the world and came back," was first to remind everyone, telling stories about how he got started all the way through his time at Temple playing for John Chaney.

"The Markward Award was special to me because it was another Philadelphia honor," Jackson said before the ceremony. "This is incredible because I didn't think I'd even be considered because I only played 2 years at Temple."

When he got the call from Al Shrier, Jackson told him: "This is Marc Jackson. This ain't Mark Macon."

Jackson scored 1,001 points in those two seasons on North Broad. His teams were 40-14. He was a double-double machine. He played seven NBA seasons.

Jackson's little brother showed him the case with all the Hall of Famers' names.

"It was funny because I used to break into these gyms," Jackson said. "I actually used the front door, the first time ever. I usually came in through the nooks and crannies just to get on the court, just to play basketball because that's how bad I wanted it."

In his speech, he remembered walking every Sunday from Germantown and Lehigh to the Camden YMCA to do drills for 2-to-3 hours.

"I never wanted to spend time," Jackson said. "I only wanted to invest it. I invested it in basketball."

Jenn Beisel said: "I'm not good at speeches," so she proceeded to recite a poem she wrote. It included a line about holding a ball in a baby picture as she talked about the influence of her five older sisters and one older brother.

One of those sisters, Kathie (also Villanova) preceded Jenn into the Hall by exactly 20 years, making them the first pair of sisters in the Hall.

Melissa Coursey was a terrific three-point shooter for the Hawks, twice making nine in a game.

"I was just a small-town kid from Jersey with dreams and goals," she said before she thanked one of her youth coaches who gave her a chance to be "the only girl on a boys basketball team."

Kelly Greenberg and her brother Chip (also La Salle) became the second brother and sister pair in the Hall, along with Joe Ryan (Villanova) and Ellen Ryan (St. Joe's). Bill and Bob Mlkvy (Temple) are the only brothers in the Hall.

"The Philadelphia Big 5 has been part of who I am since the day I was born," said Greenberg, once the Penn women's coach who now coaches at Boston University. Her favorite Christmas present was when she got four tickets to a Big 5 doubleheader.

Matt Maloney, who along with Penn coach Jerome Allen formed one of the great backcourts in Big 5 history, said his first thoughts when Allen called him to tell him the news of his induction were of his late father, Jim.

Matt was the longtime Temple assistant's special basketball project. He was a regular at those predawn Chaney practices. Father and son had what Matt called "epic film sessions."

Then the project was finished by what Maloney called an "all-star coaching staff" at Penn, of Fran Dunphy, Fran O'Hanlon, Steve Donahue and Gil Jackson.

Maloney played in 42 Ivy League games, never lost one. His teams were 69-14 in his three seasons. He could shoot it and he could pass it. He played six NBA seasons.

"I think this is the biggest honor I've ever had," Maloney said before the ceremony. "This is a testament to my father. His footprint is 99 percent of my game . . . I grew up in the Big 5 . . . This is more of a family award than it is for me."

Maloney, who lives in Houston, had not been back to the city for 5 years or so, and to the Palestra for a decade.

"All the memories came flooding back and not just when I played here," Maloney said after walking in. "Going back to where you could throw streamers on the floor."

Well, we don't have that anymore. But we still have the Big 5.

Yes, it has changed through the years. But the players' feelings about it never have.

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