This is Lisa Stone’s fifth year as coach of St. Louis University, and her 31st year in coaching overall. She began her career as coach at Cornell University of Iowa, where she stayed three years. She spent the next 12 seasons as coach at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she compiled a 277-59 record. Stone coached three years at Drake University and eight seasons at Wisconsin before coming to St. Louis. She has always been a head coach.
Stone was Atlantic-10 coach of the year in 2015-2016 – the eighth time in her career she has been named conference COY. She has taken 19 of her teams to postseason play. Last year the Billikens tied for the regular-season championship. Right now this season, St. Louis is third in the A-10 with a 14-4 overall record.
A stand out high school player, Stone played for C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa, where she was a three-year captain and two-time most valuable player of the year. Stone and her husband have a daughter and a son; her son is the Billikens’ team manager.
You’ve been coaching for such a long time. What do you love most about your job?
I get to go to work in my sweatsuit and work with 18-22-year-olds every day. I love building chemistry, I’m high-energy, and I enjoy watching them grow and helping them as young women to foster leadership skills. It’s important to me that when they leave here, they’ve had a great experience. It’s important to know your players and to embrace it all. When I first started coaching I wasn’t married, and now my children are older than all of my players.
What’s the best way to build team chemistry?
You’ve got to know your players as individuals first. The recruiting process has changed; when we were told run a mile as hard as we could, we did it and we didn’t ask why we did it. Kids are now different, and if you’re not willing to adapt to it, you’ll have a rough road. We have to be united as a team. When you recruit, they have to be your kind of players. A lot of highly-ranked kids and want his or that, and that’s not how I operate. You’ve got to be honest with recruits, and it will always be a team for me.
What keeps you motivated?
I’m motivated at wanting to win at everything I do, whether it’s cleaning the house, playing racquetball or coaching. My passion and desire drives me. But balance is important, and I have a life outside the job. When it comes to competing, the passion end of it is giving all you’ve got and knowing when you go to bed that you did your best.
What has changed most in the game since your playing days?
The game has changed because the players now are really really good – much better than back in my day. You can’t over coach them, and that’s been hard for a control freak like me. You have to trust them and give them the freedom on court. They have to understand that what I want them to do is to help the team win. My bigs shoot threes. Guards are so much quicker now, and they have a mid-range game and a wise array of moves. It’s so fun to watch, and it’s been a delight to watch the game grow.
We have such a good fan base now. We will have 4,000 here tomorrow for our game; we had 10,000 against Missouri. Our crowds have grown because these young women are role models. It’s not about me; it’s about the growth of the game.
What were some of the things you learned playing for Vivian Stringer? Who have been your other mentors in basketball?
When I first got to college I was the starting PG right away. I was a small town girl from Oregon, Wisconsin, and I wasn’t athletic – I just worked really hard. The hats she wore, I wear them all now: mother, teacher, coach. I learned discipline from her; a team has to be fundamentally-sound. If I turned the ball over, I was sitting.
My parents have been my role models, as they’ve stood by me through all of this. They taught me to be a good person, to communicate with people. Every relationship in the world is about communication. To be a good, true, genuine person – there’s a lot to it. Everyday it’s your choice to have a good attitude, and I choose to have one.
Your son is your team manager. Do you have a basketball family?
Growing up, I was the basketball player and my brother was a wrestler. My daughter ended up playing soccer, and both my kids were in the gym with me growing up. I hauled them all over the place, and many coaches I’ve known for a long time can’t believe how much they’ve grown. He travels with us and will graduate a straight-A student. Selfishly, I’m glad I get to see him everyday.
If I were one of your players, how would I describe a Coach Stone practice?
Fast, energetic, motivating, defense-oriented, fast-breaking offense. It’s high-on. If I’m asking them for their best, I give them my best everyday. We are moving. It’s intense. We pride ourselves in no days off. Even on a required day off, they go to the gym themselves.
It takes patience to build a program. How do you sustain patience, and what are your other keys to laying the groundwork for success?
You’ve got to find the right fit, and you have to have a relationship with the athletic director. I’m blessed because I do, and if you’re building a program it starts there. It was a good fit for me, and to do something that’s never been done here, you need the right players to fit your style. You need to stay consistent with your message. You can’t be all over the boards with expectations. Kids have to know what to expect from you. Stay true to your beliefs and it will happen.
I have had games where I tell players to keep believing, we’re going to win this game. Our Dec. 21 game where we beat Missouri was that kind of game.
Academics is a high priority for you. How do you motivate student-athletes to achieve in the classroom?
St. Louis University is a prominent academic institution, and I don’t have to tell them to work – it’s like success breeds success. I do not have a study hall on the road, they just do it. On the bus they’ll tell us to turn off the movie so they can study. I schedule my practices around their classes, and we change practice times every semester.
When you do have some time off, how do you like to spend it?
With my family. I like to play golf, I like to go camping in the summer, and we have an RV now. I love the ocean, you can ask anybody who knows me, whenever our season comes to an end, the next day I’m on a plane to somewhere near the ocean. And I stay for week.