Baylor has been ranked #1 all year long and are undefeated. If they win the National Championship next month, it would be 30 years since their coach, Kim Mulkey, helped Louisiana Tech win the very first NCAA women’s title.
Mulkey recently answered some questions for me on the title, her coaching philosophies and how she got to be the dynamic leader that she is. Take a look:
Personally, the 1982 Tournament shaped who I am today, and it’s why I wanted to talk to Mulkey about it.
My dad had taken me to Oregon Duck games for a while, and 1981-1982 was All-American forward Bev Smith’s senior year. I remember how they honored her on senior night, complete with banners to the rafters. People were sitting up there, too, because back then Eugene was a track and basketball town.
The Ducks were invited to the first NCAA Tournament, and the first round was at home, so dad and I went. But unfortunately, they lost to Missouri, 53-59. I kept the picture from the newspaper of Smith sitting on the bench, her face buried in her hands, for a long, long time.
Yet, that March 13, 1982 loss inspired me. The next morning, which was a Sunday, I went running – for real – for the first time. I was in junior high and had tried several different sports, but none with any real commitment. Those basketball players inspired me to take athletics on for real; they got me excited about it. Little girls need big girls, of course.
I watched the first Final Four (even then, Tennessee was getting hype), and the first championship game Sunday, March 28. I remember Mulkey’s passionate play vividly, and I was hypnotized by the entire game. I don’t think I got up from my chair once.
Thirty years later, I am still an athlete. I’ve never wavered; it became who I am. And I owe it to those pioneering ballers who showed me both the possibilities, and what strong women look like.
They also inadvertently birthed a lifelong hoop head, and for that I am eternally grateful, as well.
I wanted to express my appreciation to all the women who played basketball in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when there was no pro league to go to next. Even Kim Mulkey may not realize how important they were to many of us.