April 30, 2009
This weekend, the University of Tennessee Women's Athletic Department will host "Pat Summitt's Day of 1,000 Stories" at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville on Sunday, May 3. Scores of former Lady Vol basketball players and staffers will be in town for the event. Included in the gathering throng traveling back to Rocky Top is "Spinderella" -- Michelle Marciniak. After her MVP performance in leading the Lady Vols to the 1996 NCAA Final Four Championship, Marciniak enjoyed a professional career in the ABL and WNBA from 1996-2002. After retiring from playing, Marciniak was an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, 2003-08, working with head coach Susan Walvius. Over the past 18 months, Marciniak and Walvius founded a new company, SHEEX, LLC, which launched on April 1, 2009. Before coming to Knoxville, Marciniak's hometown newspaper, Morning Call, caught up with her:
Michelle Marciniak a Driving Force in the Business World
Allentown, Pa. -- Michelle Marciniak drew a few giggles when she talked about ''high-performance bedding'' and ''performance wear for the bedroom'' at Saucon Valley Country Club on Wednesday.
Don't worry. It's not what you're thinking.
The former Central Catholic High School and University of Tennessee basketball star was talking about her new line of bed sheets which uses the finest in athletic performance fabrics.
''The reason you made the transition from cotton to performance fabrics in active wear is the same reason you'll make the transition from cotton to performance wear in the bedroom,'' she said as eyebrows arched around the room.
''I know it's a little different than basketball.''
That's for sure.
But when Marciniak talked about SHEEX, LLC, the bed linen company based in Chapin, S.C., that she founded with former South Carolina women's basketball coach Susan Walvius, the same passion that made her one of the best basketball players ever to come out of the Lehigh Valley resurfaced.
Her SHEEX products, designed with athletes in mind, will be on display at the U.S. Women's Open at Saucon Valley from July 6-12, and Marciniak will be featured in the Celebration of Women in Sport event during championship week.
During Wednesday's press preview, Marciniak revealed she's pumped up about the U.S. Open, pumped up about the Celebration of Women in Sport and really pumped up about her bed sheets.
That's because the once fiery athlete has found a new arena for competition.
Marciniak, once dubbed the ''Ponytailed Princess of Hoop'' by Sports Illustrated, is now 35. Her playing days are over and her No. 23 jersey hanging in the rafters at Rockne Hall has collected a lot of dust since she graduated in 1991 after scoring a still-staggering 3,025 points.
And while Pat Summitt considered her a coach on the floor during the Lady Vols' 1995-96 national title run, Marciniak's coaching days are over, too.
Her last stop was as an assistant coach at South Carolina, where she worked for five years.
Marciniak once had visions of becoming a NCAA Division I head coach.
Those views changed when she learned that the players didn't possess the same commitment to the game she had since learning to dribble for Jo Kraft and Mimi Griffin's St. Thomas More youth teams.
''It was a great experience for me to coach; I wouldn't trade it for the world,'' she said. ''But I'm better suited to the business world because I can drive myself as hard as I want to and not have to worry about driving somebody else.''
No one has ever had to push Marciniak, but she found out how rare she was when she became a coach.
She said she would try to teach them, motivate them, ''but they might have a headache that day, or they may just have broken up with their boyfriend or had to go home for a family emergency. There are things that are totally out of your control as a coach that you took care of yourself as a player.''
So, coaching wasn't necessarily the antidote for her desire to compete and challenge herself.
She says she found what she was looking for in the business world, without totally leaving sports behind.
''This has connected me back to almost everyone I've ever met through sports,'' she said.
Among those people is Griffin, the former ESPN basketball commentator who is now executive director of the U.S. Women's Open.
''Mimi has given such an opportunity for my young company to allow us to be in the merchandise tent at such a huge event,'' Marciniak said. ''It's going to give us such exposure and launch our product. Mimi's a basketball contact, but she's much more than that to me. She's a mentor, a coach, a friend.''
Marciniak, who had a six-year pro career, believes that women's basketball -- the college and pro versions -- could use someone as innovative as Griffin.
''With the WNBA or college ball, you have to grow your brand,'' she said. ''I've learned that even with my young company. You have to make it new and exciting and you can't rely on what you did yesterday.
''The challenge for the WNBA and the college game is to keep re-inventing itself and come up with new ways to bring new people to the sport. You need to stay creative. They could use a mover and a shaker like Mimi.''
And clearly they could still use someone with Marciniak's competitive spirit.
Basketball's loss is bedding's gain.