Inducted June 21, 2012
Excelling as a student athlete at Rutgers from 1978 to 1982, Olkowski led the Scarlet Knights to the AIAW National Championship in her senior season averaging 19.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. She became only the second Rutgers player to be named a Kodak All-American and was a finalist for the player of the year. Olkowski was a member of the gold medal winning teams at the 1978 National Olympic Sports Festival and the 1979 World University Games. Following her playing days Olkowski was an assistant coach for five seasons and then was named head coach at the University of Arizona in 1987 becoming the youngest head coach in NCAA history. Olkowski then spent seven impressive seasons as head coach at Butler, compiling a 114-56 record, and was named MCC Coach of the Year on three separate occasions. She finished her coaching career as head coach at Northwestern University from 1999 through 2004.
Three decades of hardwood success
By Buck Jerzy
Past NPASHF Board Chairman
June Olkowski was destined to be a great women’s basketball player and a great basketball coach. And was she ever — in a career that spanned 30 years, beginning with her freshman season at St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Philadelphia, and concluding with her final season as head coach at Northwestern University in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois.
An All-Stater at St. Maria Goretti, Olkowski was recruited by more than 100 colleges across the country. Back then, schools did not pay for campus visits, so Olkowski narrowed her next move to east coast teams North Carolina State, Maryland, St. Joseph,
Old Dominion and Rutgers.
“My parents didn’t have the money to send me out UCLA and Southern California,” she explained.
The recruiting war was won by Coach Theresa Grentz of nearby Rutgers.
“June was a six-foot forward. She was a legitimate inside player with guard skills. This was unheard of back in l978,” Grentz said.
Olkowski’s love for basketball developed as she was growing up in Philadelphia. The city was also growing rapidly with women’s basketball talent in the 1970s.
“All of my mentors as a player were guys,” she said. “I have two older brothers and one played on the varsity at the University of Baltimore. I loved playing with the guys and I learned a lot on the schoolyard courts.”
At Rutgers, Olkowski capped a sterling collegiate career by leading the Scarlet Knights to the National AIAW Championship in l982.
“We beat Texas, 83-77, in front of my hometown crowd in the Palestra – the legendary University of Pennsylvania arena built in l926,” she said. “That year, the NCAA held its first tournament, but Rutgers chose to play in the national tournament we had competed in since 1972. That was the last AIAW National Tournament.”
As a senior, Olkowski averaged 19.6 points a game and played great defense by hauling in an average of 10.1 rebounds per game. Her four-year scoring average was 14.6 points, and her consistent production at both ends of the court earned Olkowski All-American honors.
She has already been inducted into the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the State of Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
“June was a true competitor who was all about integrity and decency,” Coach Grentz said. “People who came to the games loved watching her play basketball. She was an All-American and a national champion –I’d say that was pretty good career.”
Olkowski also was the only Rutgers player to have her uniform number (45) retired.
Following her 1982 graduation, Olkowski began her next step in college hoops – beginning a 22-year run as a coach on the collegiate level – as she was named assistant coach of the women’s varsity team at the University of Maryland. June stayed with the Lady Terrapins for three seasons before becoming an assistant at the University of Arizona for two years. In 1987, at age 27, Olkowski became the youngest head coach in NCAA women’s basketball history when she was elevated to the top spot of the Wildcat program.
Following her four-year stint (l987-1991) at Arizona, Olkowski served as an assistant coach at Auburn University for two seasons (1991-93). While she was with the Southeastern Conference team, the Tigers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the l993 NCAA tournament and were ranked No. 10 in the country.
Coach Olkowski had her greatest success at her next stop – Butler University in Indianapolis. During her six seasons (1993-99) in basketball-crazy Indiana, the Butler Bulldogs averaged 19 victories a season with a 114-56 record (.671). Included was a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1996 and a second round appearance in the WNIT in 1998.
The Lady Bulldogs won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference regular season championship in l998 and the MCC tournament title in 1996. June Olkowski was named MCC “Coach of the Year” three times during her stay at Butler.
Olkowski’s final stop on the coaching merry-go-round was at Northwestern in the powerful Big Ten Conference. She served five years with the Wildcats (1999-2004) and unfortunately did not have the success she had at her previous coaching assignments. Northwestern just did not have the talent to compete in the league.
After 22 years as a college coach –seven as an assistant and l5 in the head job – Coach June hung up her whistle to enter the business world. She now works in pharmaceutical sales and lives in Baltimore.