Basketball legend Patti Niemi to enter OHS Hall of Fame
August 10, 2011 - Patti Niemi-Anderson will go down in Oxford girls basketball history as one of the most prolific scorers ever to wear the blue and gold.
| (click for larger version)|
For that reason, the 1981 graduate will enter into the Oxford High School Athletic Hall of Fame as a charter class member.
"After 31 years, I have to say I'm pretty honored," Niemi said. "I was not expecting it until I got a call from Steve Laidlaw, who happened to be in my class . . . It's been quite a journey down memory lane trying to remember what was going on back then."
Her basketball career began in 1975 when she was one of five girls who made Oxford Middle School's boys basketball team.
"I'm thankful I had the opportunity to do that and that the boys allowed us to play with them," Niemi said. "The fact they would even allow us to play with them was generous at the time...we were definitely trailblazing as young women."
When she entered the high school ranks in 1977, she immediately became a star and helped lay the foundation for the future Wildcat basketball dynasty under Ian Smith, who was in the early stages of his legendary coaching career.
"He was such an incredible coach...we would do anything to make him happy," Niemi said. "We just respected him so much...he was someone I looked up to incredibly and had it not been for him, I wouldn't have gone nearly as far as I did in the sport because he pushed us."
"He played on the court with us, so it was a great experience to have him on the floor playing every time we had practice," she added. "The fact he was able to see the strengths in all of us and (bring out) the strengths in all of us, that was good for his age."
Although the team only won three games in 1977, they lost nine games by four points or less. She finished her freshman season as the team's third leading scorer and earned all-Oakland A honorable mention accolades after playing in 19 of the team's 20 games.
"To get Oakland A honorable mention coming off the bench was pretty exciting stuff back then," she said.
Niemi started all 22 games as a sophomore and led the team in field goals made (124) on her way to first team Oakland A honors.
The team improved to 17 wins during that season, setting the school record for most wins in a season. However, they would lose 74-45 to Flint Beecher in the District finals.
Behind Niemi's scoring in 1979, the Wildcats improved to 20-3 and defeated Utica Ford II in the championship of the Oakland A Tournament.
Niemi would lead the team in scoring with 425 points and would not only earn all-Oakland A first team and league Most Valuable Player honors, but would make the Class B all-state first team.
Under Niemi's senior leadership, 1980 would prove to be the high water mark for the program.
After starting the season 1-1, the Wildcats would go on a 24 game win streak en route to a 25-2 overall record, including Oakland A, Michigan High School Athletic Association district and regional championships.
The Wildcats would eventually fall in the MHSAA Class B semifinals 45-42 to Ladywood High School.
That season, Niemi would lead the Wildcats in scoring in 24 of 27 games and score 30 or more points six times throughout the season. She would again earn all-Oakland A and Class B all-state first team honors.
"To see us go from 5-17 to a finals at state, it is almost hard to fathom that we would do that much in four years," she said. "We just trailblazed a winning team and winning attitude because there were five of us that started so young."
Niemi would become the school's first four-year all-conference basketball selection and ended her career as Oxford's all-time leader in six categories, including points in a game (34), points in a season (607) and steals in a season (96).
Her 1,399 career points, which took place prior to the establishment of the three-point line) set a school record that is still in place 31 years later.
She said she could not have been as successful without the help of her teammates, especially Cheryl Ericksen.
"I could not have scored anywhere near where I did if it was not for her. She was definitely the leader on the court and a great rebounder and assists...I know she had a huge amount of assists as a result of me being able to run up the floor and her throwing to me," Niemi said.
"I was a 5-11 guard so I was at the front of the defense anyways, so I was able to take off pretty quick. So to score the points that I did, many of those were as a result of break-away lay-ups," she added.
She added with a laugh that her and Ericksen did "lots of breakaway lay-ups together."
She would also be named to the first team all-state in the high jump as a senior track athlete.
Niemi received a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Arizona State University in 1987.
In addition to owning a successful real estate company in the Phoenix area, she is a competitive barbershop singer with the current reigning gold medal holders Scottsdale Chorus.
"I have been singing since I was a kid, and I sang in honors choir in junior high, but got out of it during the years I was playing basketball, I didn't have time for it and came back to it after college and love it," she said.
She has been singing competitively for about 10 years. She is married, has three children and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.