Lusia Harris, women's college basketball pioneer and NBA Draft pick, dies at 66

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Lusia Harris, considered to be one of the greatest women's college basketball players of all time, has died. She was 66.

"Lucy," as she was known to teammates and friends, was a native of Minter City, Mississippi, and led Delta State to three consecutive AIAW national titles (1975, 1976, and 1977).

The 6-foot-3 post player was named MVP of the tournament during each of the wins and was also a three-time Kodak All-American. She earned a silver medal for the United States at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

"We are deeply saddened to share the news that our angel, matriarch, sister, mother, grandmother, Olympic medalist, The Queen of Basketball, Lusia Harris has passed away unexpectedly today in Mississippi," according to a statement released by the family. "The recent months brought Ms. Harris great joy, including the news of the upcoming wedding of her youngest son and the outpouring of recognition received by a recent documentary that brought worldwide attention to her story."

Harris was named to the U.S. women's team in 1975. The following year, women's basketball made its Olympic debut and Harris scored the first points in the first game of the tournament.

Athletes to be honored at the 26th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Dinner presented by the Women's Sports Foundation, pose for a photo after a New York news conference, Monday Oct. 17, 2005. They are, back row left to right: International Women's Sports Hall of Fame inductees Margie Wright and Katarina Witt; Wilma Rudolph Courage Award winner Yuliana Perez and Team Sportswoman of the Year Cat Osterman. Front row, left to right are: Women's Sports Hall of Fame inductee Lucia Harris-Stewart and Individual Sportswoman of the Year Erin Popovich.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Athletes to be honored at the 26th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Dinner presented by the Women's Sports Foundation, pose for a photo after a New York news conference, Monday Oct. 17, 2005. They are, back row left to right: International Women's Sports Hall of Fame inductees Margie Wright and Katarina Witt; Wilma Rudolph Courage Award winner Yuliana Perez and Team Sportswoman of the Year Cat Osterman. Front row, left to right are: Women's Sports Hall of Fame inductee Lucia Harris-Stewart and Individual Sportswoman of the Year Erin Popovich. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Harris still holds Delta State career records for points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662). She averaged 25.9 points, shooting 63% from the field, and 14.5 rebounds per game.

Harris was selected by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round of the 1977 NBA Draft, but didn't try out for the team because she was pregnant at the time. The San Francisco Warriors tried to draft Denise Long in 1969, but the NBA blocked it because she didn’t meet the criteria to be drafted — in part because of her gender.

"She will be remembered for her charity, for her achievements both on and off the court, and the light she brought to her community, the State of Mississippi, her country as the first woman ever to score a basket in the Olympics, and to women who play basketball around the world. At this time the family respectfully requests their privacy. Details of a memorial service will follow," the statement said.

Harris played one season with the Houston Angels of the Women's Professional Basketball League before working at Delta State and later becoming the coach at Texas Southern.

She's the subject of the recent documentary "The Queen of Basketball" which was directed by award-winning director Ben Proudfoot.

Harris was the first women's college player and first Black woman to be inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1992). She is also in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (1999), Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (1990) and the Delta State Hall of Fame (1983).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Lusia Harris dead at 66: women's college basketball, NBA Draft pick