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Rene Portland's 27-year tenure at Penn State was marked with seven Conference Championships and eight Conference Tournament titles. The Philadelphia native also coached four first-team Kodak All-Americans, four conference players of the year and one Wade Trophy winner. Became just the ninth coach in NCAA Division I history to record 600 wins at one institution during the 2006-07 campaign. Portland is the sixth winningest Division I coach of all-time, a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, and a two-time WBCA National Coach of the Year.
Portland did not limit her influence to the basketball world and has made it a priority to give back to the community. Portland and the Lady Lions were a constant fixture with a variety of organizations including Easter Seals, Special Olympics and United Way. The University recognized Portland as one of the cornerstones of its own history, honoring the coach as its 2005 Renaissance Person of the Year, a prestigious award given to a local leader in the community. Penn State further honored Portland in 2004 when she was named an honorary alumni by the alumni association.
Two of the biggest changes under Portland include Penn State's move from the Atlantic-10 to the Big Ten in 1992, helping further propel the Lady Lions into the national spotlight. Several years later, the Lady Lions moved from Rec Hall to the Bryce Jordan Center. Both changes paid immediate dividends. Penn State won the Big Ten title in just its second year in the conference, while finishing first in attendance in the Big Ten in its first year at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The nationally-respected coach won her first WBCA Coach of the Year Award came in 1991, while her second came in 2004, which Portland after leading her Lady Lions to their third-straight Sweet Sixteen appearance and an Elite Eight finish. Penn State captured its second-straight outright Big Ten title that year, and was then awarded a No. 1 seed in the postseason.
Portland built the Jordan Center into one of the toughest places to play in the country, and directed her teams to two undefeated home seasons from the 2002-03 to 2004-05 and three undefeated Big Ten home slates over that same time period.
Her players have flourished and continually win the major individual conference awards. In 2005, Tanisha Wright and Jess Strom were both recognized as first team all-conference selections. Wright also won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award for an unprecedented third straight time. In 2004 Penn State swept the major Big Ten awards. Kelly Mazzante and Wright were both first team All-Big Ten selections. Mazzante was named Player of the Year, Wright was named Defensive Player of the Year, while Portland snagged Coach of the Year honors. Mazzante, meanwhile, finished her career under Portland as the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history and was named to three Kodak All-America teams. Mazzante, who was named the National Freshman of the Year during her rookie campaign, led the nation in scoring her sophomore year, and the Big Ten in scoring each of her first three years in a Lady Lion uniform. In fact, Portland has had three other Kodak All-Americans play for her in Suzie McConnell, Susan Robinson and Helen Darling. McConnell, a two-time Olympian (1988, 1992), also finished her career as the NCAA assist leader (male or female).
Portland helped mold Robinson into a consensus All-American and the 1992 Wade Trophy winner, recognizing the National Player of the Year.
Touted as her most-coachable player, Darling added her name to the list of distinguished Lady Lions, winning both the 2000 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation's best player under 5-8 and first team All-America recognition.
The sideline general is a pacesetter when it comes to the cutting edge of women's basketball. In 1997 when NBA officials were busy planning for the inaugural WNBA season, Portland was one of 10 women's coaches invited to NBA headquarters to discuss the future of women's professional leagues in the United States.
As a former president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association during the 1989-90 season, she was one of the organization's spokespersons on Title IX.
At the 1995 Final Four, Portland was the chairperson of a D-I coaches' issues meeting and represented the group in a round-table discussion of women's equality televised nationally by CBS Sports. A couple of months later, Portland and a few of her colleagues flew to Washington, D.C., to present their concerns about changes that could influence Title IX legislation.
Family has always been the top of Portland's list and that was never more true than the four years that Portland coached her daughter, Christine (1996-99). They combined for just the second-ever mother-daughter, coach-player relationship in Division I basketball. Portland's youngest son, Stephen, also added a family flavor to the Lady Lion program as he served as the director of basketball operations for the 2004-05 campaign.
In addition to her duties at Penn State, Portland passed her national obligations with flying colors. In 1996 she led the Junior National Team to the silver medal at the World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Chetumal, Mexico.
In the fall of 1997, Portland earned USA Basketball's Developmental Coach of the Year accolades after her second straight summer involved with USA basketball. She coached the U.S. Jr. National Team to its first-ever gold medal at the 1997 World Championships, and the team, which upset defending champion Australia, 78-74 (OT), became the first U.S. squad to finish higher than fifth. In July 1999, Portland coached the USA Women's World University Games Team to a silver medal in Spain.
In coaching circles, Portland is also known as a top strategist. Her long list of credits includes an incredible 34 upsets of higher-ranked teams. Fifteen of those wins, including a 66-62 victory over then-No. 2 Louisiana Tech in 1988, came when her Lady Lions had no standing in the national rankings. Of those 15, five came in 2004-05 when the unranked Lady Lions knocked off then- No. 2/4 North Carolina, No. 9/7 Ohio State, No. 17/18 Iowa, No. 10/12 Minnesota and No. 8/8 Michigan State.
Portland's commitment to the game and the success that can surround it came very young in her career. As a freshman at Immaculata College in 1972, she helped lead the Macs to their first of three consecutive national championships. As a senior, the team finished as the national runner-up. Her school's record during her career was 85-5.
Portland gained three Outstanding College Athlete of America awards and a New York Press All-America citation as a forward and center for Cathy Rush's teams, which were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Portland and her Mighty Macs were the very first women's basketball team to play in Madison Square Garden, and they were also the first team to play before a national television audience. On Jan. 25, 1975, Immaculata defeated Maryland, 80-48, on Mizlou TV in the national broadcast.
Earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in social sciences and teacher certification in secondary education in 1975, Portland remained at her alma mater as Rush's assistant, again enjoying championship exposure when the Macs were the national runners-up to Delta State. That year, the national tournament was played at PSU.
Portland took charge at Saint Joseph's College (Philadelphia) in the 1976-77 season and led the Hawks to the first round of the national tournament with a 23-5 record. She elevated Saint Joseph's to a No. 1 seed in the East Regional and completed her second season with a 24-4 record. Portland moved to the University of Colorado in 1978-79. The Lady Buffs were 22-9 in her first season and 18-11 in 1979-80.
She returned home in 1980 to fill a Penn State coaching position that was advertised by Joe Paterno, who was the Athletic Director and football coach.