Since Tricia Binford took the reins of the Montana State program in 2005, the Bobcats have made ten straight postseason appearances and have played for the Big Sky Conference title twice. They have been among the top 12 Division I academic teams in five of the last nine years, and players perform numerous hours of community service annually.
Binford grew up in Colorado as Tricia Bader, and was a standout guard at Boise State, where she became the school’s all-time assists leader and was second all-time in steals. After graduation she played in Australia’s WNBL for the Brisbane Blazers, Latrobe Demons and Launceston Tornadoes. She was the 31st pick in the 1998 WNBA draft, and played for the Utah Starzz from 1998-1999 and for the Cleveland Rockers from 1999-2002. Binford’s first coaching job was as an assistant at her alma mater from 1999-2001.
She and her husband are the parents of two children.
Your Montana State bio notes the academic success your student athletes have had and the community service they have performed. Why are those two things so important to you, and where did that emphasis come from?
The emphasis on academic success came from my upbringing as the daughter of educators. My dad was superintendent of a school district and my mom was a teacher, and going trough college was a big priority for me, and it was always very clear that higher education was a prestigious calling. I always grew up with the understanding that being disciplined in one area would create that habit in everything we do.
With community service, growing up in my church it was important to give back; that connection was really important. It’s important to me that student athletes understand that their purpose extends beyond the game.
What are the keys to creating a winning program – especially if you’re starting from scratch, as you did when you came to Montana State?
It starts with a winning culture, and we look for strong character kids. Those habits are really contagious. We look for a decent GPA, a good work ethic. We watch kids on the court to see how hard they work and how they connect with teammates. We look for four core values in our home visits: selflessness, toughness, discipline and reliability. That is what we emphasize, and reward.
You had an amazing playing career before you became a coach. First, what was it like to have such a storied college career?
I tell our student athletes to always be open for all opportunities and and to not shut any doors. When I was younger, I didn’t even know pro basketball was in store for me. I didn’t know there was overseas basketball until my junior year of college, when assistant coach Mike Daugherty brought it up to me. Initially my ambition was to play competitively and develop as best I could. Coaching wasn’t something I was pursuing – I was a criminal justice major. My second or third year in WNBA, the head coach at Boise State asked if wanted to coach during offseason, and I took the offer. It became a connection for me, and an opportunity to stay in the field.
Can you describe how it was playing in the WNBA in its early years?
It was amazing to be part of something so historic. Hearing the National Anthem gets you choked up about the opportunity to represent your country and compete in your country. there were so many great pioneers strengthening the league those first few years, and it was really enjoyable and really fun. I had tremendous mentors along the way. Merlakia Jones, Penny Taylor, Ann Wauters, Suzie McConnell-Serio, Jen Rizzotti.
What was fun about Cleveland was we had no marquee players, but we were really close. For everybody in that league at that time, basketball was in everyone’s blood. For the women that started it, that was their dream.
What did you learn playing for the WNBL in Australia?
The first year I played in Tasmania and the second year I was in Brisbane. My whole life I’ve been a small town person. The people in those places, they took you in like family. It was an up-tempo game and I loved that. I took that element of the game and brought some of it back to implement. It’s a beautiful country where everyone lives each day to the fullest.
How did your experiences as a player prepare you to be an effective coach?
The best example is that I feel like I’ve been in almost every kid’s shoes. As a freshman at Boise State, I had to work to get into the starting line up. Overseas there was the pressure to perform and be the import player. It’s a great responsibility. In the WNBA I played many roles, and I’ve been through injuries. I can relate to the adversity. I’ve been the kid who doesn’t get in until the game is over. I’ve been part of rotations. Being gable to teach kids how to embrace roles to make the team better – that’s how you get a championship culture in.
I’m still learning every single day and getting better at what I do. I’m certainly not perfect. There are a lot of elements to coaching, and every day is a different day.
Do point guards make the best coaches?
I know a lot of great coaches who were point guards, and (former Boise State coach) June Daugherty is one of my favorite mentors who has coached me. Being a point guard prepares you in that there are a lot of things you see on the floor. There are a lot of great coaches, and they will tell you that if you surround yourself with people who will cover your weaknesses and play to your strengths, that breeds success. All my mentors were very good but extremely different.
Who or what has made the greatest impact on you as a coach?
June Daugherty, and (former Cleveland Rockers coach) Dan Hughes. My dad, who coached me a little back in the day, and told me to do it the right way. And finally, John Stockton, who was with out team for most of last season.
What are your career goals? Do you want to stay at Montana State?
We certainly love being here right now, and we have plans to continue to take the next steps at Montana State. My family and I are definitely rooted here, and my husband has a business. We love this community and we haven’t done what we want to do with the program yet, or lived up to our full capabilities. We’d love to say, and we feel completely supported by this community.
What is the best thing about your job?
That I get to coach these student athletes every day. Ther’es a lot of tough things in life we work through, but we get to go through them with these great kids.
If you had one day off where you could go or do anything you wanted, what would that day look like?
It depends on the day and the season. Right now we’ld probably get out to ski with the family, and if it was summer we’d be out on a lake camping and boating.