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Joey Yashinsky

The Horizon League got its day of tournament finals off to a rousing start with a Champions Brunch at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday morning.  The event featured a full breakfast buffet and a star-studded panel of basketball champions, including Kelly Deyo, Rick Mahorn, Cheryl Ford, and Mary Ellen Gillespie.

Deyo, a broadcaster for ESPN and a national champion at Notre Dame in 2001, served as moderator for the discussion.  She described her fellow panel members as “having been champions at every level.”

Mahorn, a onetime Detroit Piston “Bad Boy” and later a coach with the WNBA’s Detroit Shock, brought a well-received blend of humor and insight to the festivities.

On his relationship with fellow “Bad Boy” Bill Laimbeer, Mahorn joked, “I didn’t like him when he was a player or as a coach.  But I was the one guy willing to tell him ‘no.’”

The success that Mahorn and Laimbeer enjoyed as Detroit Shock coaches was due in large part to the All-Star level contributions from Cheryl Ford.  The onetime Louisiana Tech standout went on to become a dominant post presence in the WNBA, helping the Shock to three league titles.  She teamed with Mahorn to provide a memorable moment from the brunch.

Asked what it was that allowed her to become a champion, Ford responded, “You always have to listen to your coaches.”  Mahorn turned his head and gave Ford a sly grin, drawing laughs from the audience.

The final member of the panel was Green Bay athletic director Mary Ellen Gillespie.  She provided the audience with a glimpse into her beginnings, recalling a start in college athletics “as a T-shirt tosser at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.  Gillespie’s advice to those looking to follow in her footsteps: “As long as you are willing to work hard and roll up your sleeves, you can do it.  I’m living proof of that.”

Mahorn, he of the 18-year NBA career, claimed that it was never his goal to become a professional athlete.  “I just wanted to finish school and get one of those cushy office jobs like Mary Ellen!”

This was the first such Champions Brunch for the Horizon League, setting the stage for the women’s and men’s title games to follow later in the day.

The Green Bay Phoenix were slated to take on Detroit Mercy in the women’s title game shortly after the brunch concluded.  The men’s final, pitting Northern Kentucky against Milwaukee, would put the finishing touches on Motor City Madness in Tuesday’s night session.

“I think this brunch is a great segue into what is going to be a fantastic day of championship competition,” said Green Bay’s Gillespie.

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