June 2, 2023 

Locked On Women’s Basketball: If Not For Them docuseries shines a light on decades of history

Natalie and executive producer Brenda VanLengen discuss the upcoming project that explores the history of women's basketball

What is If Not For Them? Executive producer Brenda VanLengen joins host Natalie Heavren to discuss the upcoming 10-part docuseries and the hour-long sneak preview that premiered at the 2023 Final Four. The pair discuss everything from how Brenda got the idea to what the research process was like and some of her favorite moments and stories along the way.

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Natalie asks Brenda how she narrowed the focus of the docuseries, and Brenda shared how she went further back in women’s basketball history than she had originally expected:

“I [was] really focusing on the era of the 70s, when the NCAA wasn’t interested [in women’s basketball], and women had to form their own organization, the AIAW, to even have an opportunity [to compete] at the college level. Not to mention the fact that Title IX opened up doors so that high schools would have sports for girls — and we wouldn’t have college sports if we didn’t have high school sports. So I was really focused originally on the era of the 70s. But when I started learning about all these, these heroes that were the leaders in the 70s, I wanted to trace the stories back to, ‘Okay, how did they get started?’ And so it just — as I started having conversations with people — the story arc kind of came together for me, that women that had opportunities, especially in the 50s and 60s, were the ones that were positioned to be the leaders in the 70s.”

Brenda VanLengen, Executive Producer of If Not for Them

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Brenda goes on to explain how, throughout the filming process, she began to understand the intrinsic linkages between the history of the game and women’s college basketball as we experience it today.

I talked to some of the coaches and players, quite frankly, that had success in the early years, and they [talked] about who influenced them. And so they’re just all these dots being connected that, you know, as I spoke to people — they were influenced by people in front of them. And then you connect the dots to today, and the storylines of today. Everybody from Caitlin Clark and Iowa and Angel Reese and [LSU] and Cameron Brink and Stanford, all these people all over the country that we know, in college sports today — you can trace people that have influenced them, or people around them back to the beginning, the beginning years of, of this movement. And it’s just, it’s really cool to connect the dots.

Brenda VanLengen, Executive Producer of If Not for Them

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For more coverage of the NCAAW, click here. For more coverage of women’s basketball history from The Next, check out our WBL Archives page. The Next is proud to partner with Legends of the Ball, Inc. to tell the stories of the history of women’s basketball.

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