By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Reaching new heights Vickie Orr set a standard for success in girls basketball By David Elwell The Decatur Daily

If Vickie Orr could have had her way in the seventh grade, her basketball career might have never happened or would have been at least delayed.

"Our P.E. teacher George Thornton asked me to try out for the school basketball team that year," Orr said. "Growing up, I had played all the sports the other kids in the neighborhood were playing. I played some basketball, but it wasn't my favorite." Orr told Thornton that she would come for tryouts that afternoon. "The more I started thinking about it that day, the more I decided I didn't want to," Orr said. "When the bell rang to end school, I headed to the bus as quick as I could." Waiting for her was Thornton. "I went to tryouts that day and made the team," Orr said. "I think the only reason I made the team was because I was the tallest. I was always the tallest on every team or in every class I was in."

Being tall served Orr well. The 6-foot-3 center starred on Hartselle's state championship teams in 1984 and 1985. She was a dominant scorer, defender and rebounder. In those days, the rebirth of girls basketball in Alabama was still in its infant stages. The first state champion was crowned in 1978. Orr was one of the first great girls basketball players from Alabama to receive national attention.

"I think she's the greatest basketball player to ever come out of Morgan County," said Jerry Reeves, Orr's coach at Hartselle. "When Vickie played at Hartselle it was a special time for girls basketball in North Alabama. There were a lot of good players and good programs. You had to really work hard to be successful. That's something Vickie was willing to do and that's how she became a great player."

Orr is quick to point out that she was not the only player on that powerhouse team that won 62 in a row. Hartselle had a special group of talented players. Of the 10 All-State selections in '84 and '85, seven were players from Hartselle. Teammates Tanya Armstrong, Nivada Spurlock and Jeaniece Slater continued their basketball careers in college.
"Those championship seasons at Hartselle were so much fun," Orr said. "The community support was awesome. It was a wonderful experience. "Coach Reeves was a phenomenal person and coach. He was tough, but I am so thankful he was able to see the potential in all of us. I know he did a good job of motivating me to be the best I could be."

Reeves said Orr started getting interest from colleges soon after the first state championship. The interest really exploded that summer when Orr's 18 and under AAU team won a national championship at Notre Dame. Reeves helped coach the team that featured players from Tennessee and Alabama.

"The level of competition Vickie played that summer really elevated her game," Reeves said. "Winning that national championship at Notre Dame in front of every college head coach in the country really got the interest going." The powerhouse women basketball programs of the 1980s, such as Southern California, Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Texas led the recruiting push. "We didn't understand all the attention I would be getting," Orr said. "Luckily, I had Coach Reeves to help me deal with it. Thank goodness I had him by my side." Orr wanted to play in the Southeastern Conference and she wanted to stay in state. She took a recruiting trip to Alabama and then to Auburn.

"I loved everything about Alabama," Orr said. "I left there thinking that was where I was going. Then I went to Auburn and fell in love with it as soon as I stepped on the Plains. I could see myself fitting in with the group of great coaches and players they already had at Auburn. It felt like home. It was a good decision."

It was a good decision for Auburn, too. In Orr's four seasons at Auburn, the Tigers went a combined 119-14 with three seasons of 30 or more wins. Auburn won three SEC regular season championships and one SEC Tournament championship. Orr was the SEC Tournament MVP in 1987 after scoring a career high 32 points and claiming 11 rebounds in the championship game vs. Georgia. She was the SEC Player of the Year in 1988.

Orr played in four straight NCAA Tournaments. The Tigers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 1986 and the Elite Eight in 1987. Auburn played for the national championship in 1988 and 1989. In 1988, the Tigers lost to Louisiana Tech, 56-54. In 1989, SEC rival Tennessee beat Auburn, 76-70. "That was so disappointing to lose those two national championship games," Orr said. "I came back after my senior year as a graduate assistant coach. That season we lost to Stanford in the national championship game (88-81). "Auburn could have had three straight national championship teams. Coach (Joe) Ciampi deserved to have at least one. He was a great coach and a special person to a lot of people, including me."

Orr finished her career at Auburn with 2,035 points, 1,006 rebounds and 191 blocked shots. She's one of just two women at Auburn with 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds. After playing professional basketball in Italy, knee problems dating back to high school forced Orr to call it a career. She finished her degree in human development and family studies and works at the Harris Early Learning Center in Birmingham. "I am so proud of what Vickie has accomplished in her life," Reeves said. "She's meant so much to so many people in Hartselle and Morgan County. She's a special person that we can all be proud of."

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