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USF loses basketball supporter Wittcoff

The University of South Florida men's basketball team referred to Roslyn Wittcoff as the "first lady of basketball."

In 1982, Wittcoff and her husband, Richard, were the first to establish an endowed fund that each year awards one USF basketball player a full scholarship for a year of college.

Until the last two years of Mrs. Wittcoff's life, she attended every home game and traveled to most away games with the Bulls. Although cancer treatments and heart complications kept Mrs. Wittcoff at home, she watched every televised USF game. Tuesday's loss at Memphis was the last game she watched. Mrs. Wittcoff died Thursday. She was 70.

"Our athletics department was very saddened, it was just like loosing a family member," said Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy, senior associate director of athletics.

Those who knew her say Mrs. Wittcoff earned the title, "first lady of basketball," because of her and her husband's dedication, which helped advance the program.

"In most cases, when the team traveled, they traveled," said Mike Lewis, executive director of USF athletics. "They got on the bus, went to the airports, hotels and flew back with the team. Clearly, a large percentage of those players didn't just know them as a name on a scholarship because they sat at the gates of airports with them."

Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg, who coached USF men's basketball for seven seasons, from 1996 through 2003, said he is hoping to make it down for the funeral Monday.

"It's so sad, yet she was in so much pain, and it was so painful to go through," he said. "If anyone's in a better place, she is."

Greenberg credits Wittcoff and her husband with helping him decide to take the USF coaching job. They talked about it over dinner, he said.

"Roz was just so sweet. . . . She was almost motherly to me and (my wife) Karen," he said. "They are friends and we used them for guidance."

Mrs. Wittcoff, who studied at USF, became committed to the men's basketball program after her husband joined USF's Green Jacket club as a financial booster of the USF Athletic Association in 1981. Wittcoff's son, Ken, said his mother shared his father's passion for basketball and USF.

In 1991, the Wittcoffs established a second endowment recognizing players who embody the ideals of academics and sportsmanship.

"She saw the university's athletics and basketball had no funding and felt compelled out of love and devotion to do something," Ken Wittcoff, 47, said.

Though Mrs. Wittcoff was six credit hours short of earning her degree from USF, she received the "Class of 56" award from the university. The award is given to nongraduates who make distinguished contributions to USF.

In the early 1970s, Mrs. Wittcoff was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, cancer of the lymphatic system, which she battled for more than two decades. In 1997, doctors detected complications in her heart after she had to have two valves replaced. Ken said heart complications were the cause of death.

At tonight's game against Houston, a moment of silence will be held in memory of Mrs. Wittcoff. It is also a game that USF previously intended to recognize up to 31 alumni players.

Lewis said he expects about half a dozen of them to be recipients of the endowed scholarships the Wittcoffs established. Players who have received the scholarship include Detroit Pistons guard Chucky Atkins, Lake Howell High School basketball coach Reggie Kohn, B.B. Waldon and Altron Jackson.

Survivors include her husband, Richard K. Wittcoff; a son, Ken B. Wittcoff; a daughter, Dr. Marjorie Wittcoff Miller; and four grandchildren. Funeral services will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Temple Schaarai Zedek, 3303 W Swann Ave., Tampa.

_ Times staff writer Pete Young contributed to this report. Grace Agostin can be reached at gagostinsptimes.com or 226-3434.

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