Janet Cone learned to love basketball as a middle school kid growing up in Summerville. She was fascinated with the late Frank McGuire, his nationally ranked South Carolina Gamecocks and their high-profile ACC clashes. She went on to play for four seasons at Summerville High School.
Cone flexed organizational skills at Furman, where she played basketball and field hockey while graduating magna cum laude in 1978.
In her 10th year as Director of Athletics at UNC-Asheville, she has built the department into a model of mid-major conference success.
All of which makes Cone an ideal pick for the prestigious 10-member NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, the group that builds the NCAA Tournament bracket for America's office pools. Cone's five-year term starts in 2015, but she will closely observe this week's selection process.
"I was thrilled to have this opportunity," Cone said. "It's almost unbelievable. I'm very appreciative."
"You can tell I'm excited, can't you?" she said.
The Big South Conference nominated Cone for one of the two available spots in the 2015 rotation. Cone and Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir officially got the nod two weeks ago.
"I've heard so much about this committee and the important work that is so much a part of March Madness," Cone said. "And it's really not just March; it's a year-round kind of thing. I am so excited to not only represent UNC-Asheville and the Big South Conference, but to really continue to do some good work for basketball."
Cone isn't the first woman appointed to the committee, but a refreshing - and deserving - choice. She was a college head basketball coach for 14 years (St. Leo, Western Carolina, Mars Hill). Her UNC-Asheville highlights extend beyond the campus:
Cone helped create the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission to bring athletic events to Asheville. She landed the Southern Conference basketball tournament, a home game against North Carolina and an NBA exhibition game.
The men's basketball team advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2012.
UNC-Asheville revived women's swimming.
Grade-point averages have risen among student athletes.
Cone is on the NCAA Division I Leadership Council and is a member of the Women's Sports Foundation.
"I've been in athletics my entire life and loved every minute of it," Cone said, "but at this point in my career it's good to be on a committee where you feel like you've got the opportunity to learn something new. And more importantly, it's great to be part of a team effort where you hopefully can give back to student-athletes, coaches and fans."
Serious bubble watching
Cone traces her career path to two former Summerville basketball coaches, the husband and wife duo of Mike and Lynn Mauldin.
"Summerville was obviously a great football school with John McKissick as coach," Cone said. "But we really had a good basketball program, too, and being around great coaches was really how I got into athletics and thinking about what I was going to do with the rest of my life."
Summerville High School enshrined Cone in its Hall of Fame in 2007. She often returns home to visit her parents, Joseph and Florence Cone.
Janet Cone is too modest to re-introduce herself around the Lowcountry as a college basketball power broker, one of the most influential people in the sport.
But she nearly bristled this week when it was suggested she would be paying a lot more attention to basketball scores at this time next March.
"Oh, I don't know," Cone said. "I've always been passionate about basketball, so I always watch. I've always paid attention to who's on the bubble and who's out. I've always been very interested."
Just wait 'til next year.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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