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W. Hoops head coach Kelly Greenberg (left) [Stefan Miltchev/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Joe Greenberg lay there in bed, recovering from a broken hip he suffered three months earlier. It was the most important day in his daughter's life, but he couldn't be at Kelly Greenberg's side.

Still, just knowing that his 11th child was given the job of her dreams, just knowing that she'd be returning to the city, the gym where it all began... well, that made him beam with pride.

And suddenly the pain in his hip went away.

"Oh my," Joe says, remembering the day that Kelly Greenberg became the head coach of the Penn women's basketball team. "I have to pinch myself sometimes just thinking about it."

Now Joe is fully recovered from a nasty ice-skating spill that left him without a usable hip for three months, and his wife, Mary, knows exactly why.

"[Kelly's] dad is the proudest of anyone in the world," says Mary Greenberg, the proud mother. "He had a very serious year... and I don't care what anyone says, psychologically, Kelly getting that job was the greatest thing that could have happened."

On April 30, 1999, in front of at least 40 of her closest family members, Kelly Greenberg stood at the podium in the Palestra and accepted a job she had worked her entire life to obtain.

And Penn women's basketball hasn't been the same since.

A couple of decades earlier, a nine-year-old Kelly Greenberg went with her family to a doubleheader at the Palestra to behold college basketball at its finest.

Ever since she was a toddler, Kelly was a frequent visitor to college basketball's most historic gym. The Palestra was like a second home to the Greenberg family.

Joe, the head of the household, had played there at La Salle. Chip, ninth in line on the Greenberg totem poll, followed in his father's footsteps with the Explorers. Tucker, number eight, graced the Palestra hardwood a couple of times when he played high school ball at Archbishop Wood.

So the Greenberg clan made many Palestra outings to see their loved ones play, and because they simply worshiped Big 5 basketball.

"It was a very special place for us," says Kathy Greenberg, the youngest of the 12 and closest in age to Kelly.

But for Kelly, this trip to the Palestra was different than most. At halftime, much to her surprise -- and amazement -- she was called down to participate in the Channel 48 halftime show.

A radiant grin plastered across her face, Kelly was faced with the daunting task of twirling a hula hoop while spinning a basketball on two fingers.

"That was the thrill of my life," Kelly says.

Little did she know then that her future would be on that sacred floor.

Growing up with 11 siblings, Kelly Greenberg learned a lot about life and family values.

More importantly, she learned a game called "black magic."

Here's how it's played: Kelly, then a five-year-old munchkin, was the running back and her football was a balled-up sock. Her oldest brothers made up the offensive line, and they had to get little Kelly from the kitchen to the living room without being touched. Some of the younger brothers were the defenders.

Those were about all the rules. From there it was a free-for-all, no-holds-barred struggle for supremacy in the Greenberg household.

"Black Magic" wasn't the only game the Greenberg kids invented. They did plenty of horsing around in almost every room in the house.

"We played in the basement and made dugouts down there," Kathy fondly remembers. "We broke our mom's dryer a couple of times.... [But] Our mom was great. I don't know how she was so tolerant."

Mary Greenberg was indeed tolerant of her children's athletic ambitions, and her reasoning was quite logical.

"All of my children played something," says Mary, who is a former basketball player herself, "and no one ever got in any trouble."

So at a young age, Kelly learned to compete. And she quickly learned two things -- one, she was a damn good athlete, and two, she hated to lose.

Kelly and Kathy Greenberg are two of a kind. The two runts of the Greenberg Twelve, they quickly realized they needed to stick together.

Throughout their lives, they played sports together -- field hockey and football in the fall, basketball in the winter, stickball all summer long.

The two played basketball together at Archbishop Wood High School, and they complemented each other quite nicely. "I shot more, and she was more of a playmaker," says Kathy, a year younger.

From Archbishop Wood, the two went their separate ways -- Kelly first to La Salle, then Kathy to Rhode Island.

The Greenberg girls played only one game against each other in college. La Salle won, but Kathy remembers just one play.

"I stole it off her at half court and scored at the other end," Kathy says. "And she never turned the ball over. I still tease her about that."

Gentle ribbing aside, the two have been inseparable their entire lives, not only close sisters but also best friends.

When Kelly landed the job at Penn two years ago, Kathy was waiting for her with open arms. Needing a place to live, Kelly crashed with her sister for over a year when she was still getting her feet wet.

Well, actually, "she lived [at the Palestra] more than she lived here," Kathy says. "When she first got the job, we never saw her."

But that didn't stop Kathy, along with her husband and their three little children, from going to nearly every game -- home and away -- that Kelly has coached at Penn.

In fact, at most Penn games, there is a rather large contingent of Greenbergs, usually in the 25-40 range, cheering on their prized coach. They all have some connection to the Palestra, and they all love coming back to those hallowed halls.

"I thought I'd have five boys [coaching at the Palestra]," Mary Greenberg says. "Instead it's little Kelly."


Kelly Greenberg's rise to the top of the Philadelphia coaching circuit did not come easy.

Despite being a star high school basketball player, leading her team to the Catholic League championship, Greenberg wasn't even recruited to play at the Division-I level.

Already playing field hockey at La Salle, she decided to walk on to the basketball team her freshman year. But that season, Greenberg was nothing more than a little-known, walk-on scrub playing under long-time coach Speedy Morris, who went on to coach the men's team the next season.

"I remember Coach Morris saying, 'Greenberg, go sit on the sidelines,'" Kelly says. "We had people fouling out, and he wasn't putting me in."

But by the time her freshman year ended, however, the walk-on guard climbed the basketball ranks. When John Miller took over for Speedy Morris in 1986, Greenberg was given a full basketball scholarship.

Less than three years later, she captained her team to a monumental upset over then-top-ranked UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"She was the leader of that team, and a prototypical Big 5 point guard that never turned the ball over," says Miller, still the Explorers head coach. "She was everything a coach would want in a point guard. She was like a coach on the floor, so it doesn't surprise me that she's a coach now."

After graduating from La Salle in 1989, Greenberg played a year overseas in Australia before testing her luck as a coach. She was an assistant for a year at three different women's basketball programs -- Northeastern, George Washington and Rhode Island -- before finding her niche at Holy Cross, with head coach Bill Gibbons.

For seven years, Greenberg learned a lot from Gibbons, and not only about basketball.

"I loved how he integrated his family with his job," Greenberg says. "You need a balance in your life. You have to have a perspective on things.... We don't want to coach [to the players] that basketball is their life and that they have no other life. That's so unrealistic. That's not how life is."

But seven years in Worcester, Mass., also meant seven tough years away from her family in Philadelphia. And that's why getting hired to take over a struggling Penn program was the best thing that could have happened to Greenberg.

A decade after playing on the Palestra floor, she returned to coach on it.

"People like Kelly belong in Philadelphia," Miller says.

He pauses and thinks about it some more. "Kelly is Philadelphia." It really is quite remarkable what Greenberg has accomplished in just two years at the Red and Blue's helm.

Prior to Greenberg's arrival, the Quakers went eight years without a winning season. The last two years, Penn has put together an impressive 40-16 record, which, of course, includes last year's Ivy championship -- the first in program history.

To those who know her best, Greenberg's success is not at all surprising.

"Anything she does, she does well," Kathy says. "People respond to her. Everyone wants to be around her."

Miller agrees: "People respond to genuine people. Anyone that knows Kelly knows that she would be a successful head coach."

The key to Greenberg's prosperity has been rather simple.

For one, she strives to make practices fun, because as Penn assistant coach Joe McGeever says, "When you take the fun out of the game, it's not a game anymore."

McGeever, who was hired by Greenberg almost as soon as she took over the program, knows quite a bit about Greenberg and her family. He coached her in high school and remembers one thing in particular about Kelly's competitive spirit.

"She hated to lose," McGeever says. "Always hated to lose."

So far at Penn, there hasn't been a whole lot of losing.

You've seen her theatrics at games. You've seen that face she makes at crucial junctions, that face contorted with ire and frustration. You've seen her flail her arms wildly and yell obscenities at the referees.

If Kelly Greenberg has any flaws, her less-than-amicable rapport with referees is definitely one of them. And she knows it.

But she's also quick to point out that she does this just to unleash some of her frustration with the team.

"[Yelling] is really not a part of my behavior," she says. "I think a lot of the time when I am yelling at the refs, it's more at my level of frustration for our bad play at the moment. So I take it out on the ref, because I don't want to yell at the players."

And perhaps it's for this reason that the players have responded so well to her. She doesn't scold her players, she has fun and, like her mentor Gibbons, she strives to keep a perspective on life.

Take, for instance, last season's game against Villanova. The Quakers led virtually the entire game against a top-25 team. But in the final few minutes of play, Penn fell apart and practically handed its Big 5 rival the win.

After the game, Greenberg was seething. She felt that her team could have easily toppled the Wildcats, but mental mistakes cost the Quakers the game.

But then she looked into the stands and saw her entire family. She picked up her niece, Shannon, brought her into the locker room and delivered this message to the team:

"I just want you guys to know I only get fired up because I think the world of you. I know how hard you work, I want the best for you. We can beat Villanova. Everyone just thinks, 'Penn, oh they'll hang around but they'll lose.' We can beat them.

"But I also know that you're going into finals.... Did we play our best? No. But we still have to keep a perspective of things.

"I'm still going to hug my niece, Shannon, and hold her. The sun's still going to come up tomorrow and you're still going to have to study for finals."

Penn went on to win its last 21 games of the regular season. When Kelly gets to practice early sometimes, when she's alone in that sacred gymnasium, she thinks about how far she's come.

She remembers watching her father and brothers play at the Palestra. She remembers twirling that hula hoop in fourth grade and running the point in college.

She remembers coming back to her hometown and coaching a team to unprecedented success. She thinks about her family, and all the important people in her life that have pushed her to chase her dream.

She sometimes looks up at the once-empty southwest corner of the arena and sees that proud championship banner, flying high all by itself.

She's all alone in the basketball's most historic college gymnasium, and she has chills running down her spine.

"Just being here in the Palestra and having this opportunity to coach in the Palestra, where I grew up going to games, that halftime show...."

She smiles. "I never take it for granted. I'm so lucky."

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