Playing above the hoop is more common in women’s college hoops

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Fran Belibi joined an exclusive club when she dove into the NCAA Tournament last season.

While she was only the third woman to do so at the tournament and the eighth overall in college history, the Stanford forward knows more is coming soon.

“There are definitely more girls that can play above the rim,” Belibi said.

His historic dunk capped a great basketball game where he had a block on one end and then finished it off with the one-handed blow. Belibi, who has immersed herself three times in college, knows that there are others who are already in college and can do it, but they may not want to because they are afraid of failing.

“They just don’t try to do it. I think by doing it and seeing other dunks in the NBA, a lot more people think if they can do it, let me try it,” he said. “Doing it in a game depends on your athletic ability and also the time and score of the game.”

Belibi is well aware of the history of slam dunks in women’s college basketball, citing Georgeann Wells as the first to do so in a game. Elon’s trainer, Charlotte Smith, was the second to dump when she was playing for North Carolina.

Smith recalls that three of his Tar Heels teammates, including former track star Marion Jones, could also dunk. The quartet of players would stand in layup lines one behind the other before games and put on a show that would amaze fans and their opponents.

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“We literally lined up back to back,” the 6-foot-old Smith recalled. “We were dunking four times in a row. It was exciting for us and exciting for our opponents, who would stop their warm-ups to watch us dunk.”

There have only been eight players who have immersed themselves in a college game. Joining Wells, Smith and Belibi are Michelle Snow, Sancho Lyttle, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner, who holds the record with 18 of the nearly three dozen college dunks that have occurred.

That number is about to grow soon. Dawn Staley has her own mate in freshman year Ashlyn Watkins, who won the high school dunk contest last spring.

“We’re going to see a lot more of it,” the South Carolina coach said. “Ashlyn is an incredible athlete. It doesn’t take long for her to dive into one of our exercises. It’s nothing for her to do. She thinks she’ll do it in a game, not necessarily with a quick spike. She can do it in a crowd.”

Staley said two of his other players can also dunk, though they haven’t done it in a game yet. She said that she sees a lot of high school players at AAU tournaments in the summer playing above the rim. Staley knows that dunks definitely add excitement to the game and help it grow, but that’s not why most fans tune in to watch the women play.

Watkins is shy and quiet when talking about her ability to dunk. She credits the Gamecocks strength and conditioning coaches for helping her get strong so she can play above the rim.

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“They’ve been really helpful,” said Watkins, who recalls dunking a 9-foot hoop in fifth grade and a 10-foot hoop in eighth. “Make my quads, calves, and glutes stronger so I can get up when I’m tired.”

Watkins said she thought about diving into the Gamecocks’ exhibition game last week, but saw two girls approaching her and didn’t want to risk getting injured in the game.

Oregon trainer Kelly Graves had his own pair of potential dunkers in Phillipina Kyei and Sedonna Prince. Prince’s college career is over after suffering an elbow injury. The 6-foot-8 Kyei, who is from Canada, dunks with ease in practice.

“We were one of the few schools that could have a slam dunk contest in practice,” Graves said, laughing. “There are definitely a lot more players who can do it now than when I started training. They are bigger and stronger and can jump higher.”

Smith hopes to see more women doing it soon and will be happy to welcome them to the group.

“It’s really exciting to have been one of the founders of the dunk club,” Smith said. “We’ll have to make up our jerseys and give them to anyone who does.”

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AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter .com/AP_Top25