Toni Russell found herself in an unfamiliar position last season with the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team: On the bench.
The former Irish great rarely got a rest during her time at the school, leading Sacred Heart to the CIF state title her freshman year before going on to have a record-setting career at USF.
But after graduating USF in 2005 as the West Coast Conference’s all-time leader in steals, Russell went back to her old stomping grounds to assist coach Brian Harrigan, helping Sacred Heart to another state championship this year.
Not that being a spectator didn’t take some getting used to.
"I always wished I could be out there playing. Always," Russell said with a laugh. "If there was a time we were struggling or down, I wanted to be out there."
Starting Saturday at noon, Russell will be back in her familiar role on the court, when her Bay Tide team kicks off the 12th annual San Francisco ProCity women’s basketball season against Golden State. That game will be followed by East Bay vs. Bay City at 2 p.m. and South Bay vs. San Francisco at
4 p.m., the first of seven scheduled Saturday tripleheaders at Kezar Pavilion. The playoffs begin on Aug. 5, with the championship decided Aug. 12.
It is a league where improvisation rules over coaching, where fastbreaks and fancy passing are the rules and shot clocks are for
"When I play in the ProCity, it’s just time to have a lot of fun and showcase some skills," said Russell, the league’s MVP in 2005. "There’s some great competition, but it’s not so structured. It’s more fun than anything else."
The relaxed, run-and-gun style of the league has always drawn some of the top players in the area. This year, the Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, are the two headliners and the former Piedmont High School stars will play with Bay City when in town. The sisters helped Oklahoma to the Sweet 16 this season and Courtney was named the national Freshman of the Year.
Oakland Tech grads and current Cal players Alexis Gray-Lawson and Devanei Hampton will also play for Bay City, while Stanford players Markisha Coleman and Morgan Clyburn (Bay City), Jillian Harman, Jayne Appel and Jennifer Hon (South Bay) should draw a crowd.
Former WNBA players Jamie Redd (Bay Tide) and Lamisha Augustine (South Bay) are also in the league and join a number of players hoping a strong summer run can land them a professional contract.
"We’ve definitely had some girls discovered in the league," ProCity director Jon Greenberg said. "There was a girl from Nebraska, Stephanie Jones, playing and a scout from a Scandinavian team came down from the stands after watching and signed her on the spot."
Russell played last season for the San Francisco Legacy in the semipro National Women’s Basketball League and is hoping to continue her career abroad, with dreams of playing in Spain or Italy.