Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Carol Blazejowski: Catching up with a legend

Following his opportunity to officiate a fifth grade girls' basketball game alongside her, our Ray Floriani had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with the legendary Carol Blazejowski. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Nutley, NJ – Joe DeSantis, former Quinnipiac coach and current Fairfield broadcast analyst, runs a girls' basketball academy each summer. At the beginning, he poses a trivia question. What college player holds the scoring record at Madison Square Garden? The answer is, more often than not, Michael Jordan. The truth of the matter is the record is held by a women’s basketball star. 

In 1978, Carol Blazejowski scored 52 points for Montclair State against Queens College at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena.’ On Saturday, yours truly had the honor and opportunity to officiate a fifth grade girls' game with Blazejowski, a certified official in New Jersey. Following our game, a brief Q & A was in order:

Ray Floriani: Your Montclair State team made it to the AIAW Final Four in 1978. Can you comment on that?

Carol Blazejowski: It was a very special time. We were a small no-name school, but made it with UCLA, Maryland and Wayland Baptist, who was a women’s basketball power at the time. It really was the first true Women’s Final Four at the time. We lost to UCLA in the semi finals, (Blazejowski scored 40 points) but came back to get third by defeating Wayland Baptist in the consolation. We played in Pauley Pavilion (on the UCLA campus). It was a really special time for us.

RF: What are some of the changes you have seen in the women’s game over the years?

CB: The athleticism, size and strength today are very impressive, and much more than when we played. Now, you have players in the women’s game getting to the point the in some instances game can be played above the rim. You have a few players dunking, something we did not have years ago.

RF: So many players utilize it to be showcased, but what are your feelings on AAU basketball?

CB: We had a little bit of AAU years ago, but now it is very widespread. I feel it’s a case of 'play a game, play another, play another,' all in one day. It can detract from practices, which the kids need. Also, so many of the games are up-and-down affairs where the players really do not get a chance to execute or learn properly.

RF: What about officiating? How did you get into it?

CB: I officiated basketball and field hockey in college to pay some bills (full scholarships were rare for women’s players back then). I have played, coached travel basketball, and got back into officiating. Officiating really helps you see the game from a different perspective. Once you do it, you realize things officials handle that you were not aware of as a player or coach. You appreciate what goes into a well-officiated game.

RF: What advice would you give young players, male or female, aspiring to improve to a higher level?

CB: Work very hard at all the fundamentals. Learn them well. Then pick one aspect to really specialize and be outstanding in. It could be three-point shooting, rebounding, whatever, but pick something to excel in.

A lifetime immersed in the game she loves
From a star at Cranford (NJ) High School, to Montclair State and national Women’s Player of the Year, internationally and professionally, Blazejowski has also served in the front office for the New York Liberty and WNBA. Recently a youth coach, she is now involved in officiating. The Nutley, New Jersey resident works in the administration of her alma mater, Montclair State. Officiating-wise, she enjoys the youth and travel levels, working and seeing young players at their formative stages on the floor.

The prospect of officiating with someone you covered writing-wise and admired for years was truly exciting, an event of anticipation. Once on the floor, Carol makes you feel as if you are working with someone making you extremely comfortable. Just comfortable to work with, like an officiating partner you seemingly shared the court with on many an occasion.

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