Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The content keeps coming

College team news:

Dartmouth looks to rebound from a challenging season.

College player news:

Stanford’s Anna Wilson: I’m more than basketball, and I’m more than Russell Wilson’s sister.

Natalie Chou podcast.

Kayla Belles is leaving Michigan State.

Estella Moschkau is leaving Stanford.

Trinity Baptiste will transfer from Virginia Tech.

Three from Eastern Washington have entered the transfer portal.

Nebraska has added Texas Tech transfer Nailah Dillard.

Texas Tech guard Sydney Goodson has landed at Kansas State.

College coach news:

Texas moved quickly to land Vic Schaefer.

Schaefer podcast.

With Schaefer’s hiring, Texas A&M is left without a surefire replacement for Gary Blair.

Blair and the Aggies’ athletic director will meet to discuss the future.

ACU coach Julie Goodenough has had her first book published.

Kelly Graves podcast.

Quentin Hillsman was honored by the WBCA for his 300th career win in February.

Lindsay Whalen reflects on Minnesota’s season and what’s next.

Molly Miller is Grand Canyon’s new coach.

Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick Brown has stepped down at UNC Asheville and Honey Brown has been named head coach.

Carrie Banks has been named head coach at Omaha.

Assistant coaches Franqua Bedell and Seth Minter have left Missouri State.

WNBA news:

Storm GM Alicia Valavanis said the postponement of the season was a necessary move.

Liberty coach Walt Hopkins is busy preparing for the WNBA draft.

With the WNBA on hold, the Sparks are waiting to reconvene.

Tamika Catchings podcast.

Texas moved quickly to land Schaefer

Vic Schaefer spent the last eight years building Mississippi State into an elite powerhouse program. Jim Lytle photo.
Vic Schaefer spent the last eight years building Mississippi State into an elite powerhouse program. Jim Lytle photo.
Vic Schaefer spent the last eight years building Mississippi State into an elite powerhouse program. Jim Lytle photo.

A week ago, Vic Schaefer wasn’t thinking about leaving Mississippi State, where he has spent the last eight seasons nurturing the women’s basketball program to elite status.

But everything changes when a whirlwind courtship is successful.

This past Sunday – just two days after announcing that coach Karen Aston’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, and one day out of interviews with Schaefer – the Texas Longhorns announced he was their new head women’s basketball coach.

“He’s incredible,” Athletics Director Chris Del Conte said in a press conference Monday. “Everything about him is what we were looking for in a coach.”

Texas will look to Schaefer to breathe life into a once-top tier program, and it brings the 59-year-old back to his home state and closer to family. But for what seems to be a match made in heaven, it happened very fast.

Del Conte said that the process to hire Schaefer began Friday morning after he had a conversation with Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, who guided the Longhorns to a National Championship in 1986, and is now a special assistant in athletics.

Del Conte said Schaefer was his top candidate, but he simply asked Conradt for her suggestions.

“I asked who we should talk to and she said, ‘I don’t know if you can get him, but if you can get Vic Schaefer, you go get him,’” Del Conte said.

Though the department had already hired a search firm, he opted to call Mississippi State Athletics himself after consulting with three of his senior associate athletics directors. The next morning, Texas sent a chartered plane to pick up Schaefer and his family and bring them to Austin for interviews. Del Conte was optimistic when they landed.

“I saw he’d brought the whole family when they got off the plane, and I thought, ‘we’ve got a shot,’” he said. “I was excited.”

Schaefer said that once back in Starkville Saturday night, he talked with his family and then “slept on it.” By late Sunday morning he had made his decision, and Del Conte tweeted the news shortly thereafter.

“I’m excited to be returning home to the great state of Texas,” Schaefer said. “It’s a place where I’ve spent 45 years of my life, and to be with a university that has so much tradition, both academically and athletically – and particularly in women’s basketball.”

“My job now is to restore this program to the national prominence that it once had. I take that responsibility seriously, and I’m excited about the opportunity. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”

Del Conte made no bones about the fact that Schaefer, a former head coach at Sam Houston State and an assistant coach at Texas A&M, was on a candidate list of one.

“That’s a targeted search. You go get the very best you can get, and you focus on that,” Del Conte said. “He fit everything we want. He was born in Austin….he built a program from the ground up.”

Vic Schaefer and his family at Texas. Photo via Chris Del Conte Twitter.
Vic Schaefer and his family at Texas. Photo via Chris Del Conte Twitter.

Schaefer said taking the job was “a calling.”

“I’ve always looked at my coaching decisions as callings,” he said. “I believe God has you in a place where he wants you, and He’s got a role for you to fulfill when you’re there.”

“When I came to Mississippi State eight years ago, I had a lot of people asking me, ‘what in the world are you doing?’ I felt like it was a calling, it was a place we could win championships. When I went to Austin to meet with them, I had the same feeling. Once you get in and sit down, sit across from people and look in their eyes, see their vision, it’s what you want to be a part of.”

Schaefer turned the Bulldogs from Southeastern Conference bottom-feeders to contenders by his third year. He guided his teams to the 2017 and 2018 National Championship games. At Texas A&M, where he was an assistant to Gary Blair for 15 seasons, he helped with a similar renaissance. Schaefer said he has “the blueprint” for success in fostering skilled teams that play aggressively.

“It’s not what we do, but how we do it that separates us from the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s the accountability, the technique. It’s the little things you’re coaching and teaching young people.”

Schaefer said it is attention to detail that puts fans in the stands, and it was what grew the fan base in Starkville to capacity crowds at every home game.

“(Fans) want to see (defense), and kids who honor the game and play it the right way,” he said. “I think that’s probably what’s missing in Austin, is an identity for that program. And that’s my job is to restore that.”

Schaefer said he had already spoken to starting forward Charli Collier and starting guard Celeste Taylor, and considers them great anchors for the team. But the current coronavirus pandemic means that the timetable for meeting players and conducting practices is still unknown.

“Our true capability (will be hard to gauge) because we can’t do individual workouts this spring,” Schaefer said. “Summer is so iffy right now, but I know all classes will be online. I’m hopeful we can get these kids to campus so we can work them out individually.”

A competitive coach, Schaefer is known for his fire on the sidelines and the care he shows to athletes. He said stepping away from the Bulldogs is hard.

“It’s a tough decision,” Schaefer said. “I’m leaving a really good team. Some have ranked it No. 3 in the country going into next year. I’m leaving some tremendous young ladies and families.”

“It’s extremely difficult because I’m an emotional guy. You all know I coach with a lot of passion, a lot of emotion. And that’s the way I feel about my kids, as well. It’s an emotional decision. This has been an incredible eight years at Mississippi State. There’s a real love affair here. It’s been incredible to be a part of that.”

He wants to create the same kinds of bonds with fans in Austin that he and his athletes did in Starkville.

Vic Schaefer with the vaunted class of 2018, who guided the Bulldogs to two consecutive National Championship game appearances. Photo courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics.
Vic Schaefer with the vaunted class of 2018, who guided the Bulldogs to two consecutive National Championship game appearances. Photo courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics.

“We want to make our product something families want to be a part of,” Schaefer said. “We don’t go right to our locker room after games. It takes us 45 minutes sometimes because we want to interact with fans. That’s how you build a fan base.”

At the same time, he wants the Longhorns to be a tough draw for opponents.

“We’re about creating an atmosphere for (the opponent) that makes them uncomfortable,” Schaeffer said. “We’re 94 feet of not much fun for you, and a lot of un for us. And that’s a great atmosphere for our fans.”

He plans to bring that “blue collar approach” to Texas.

“If people come to see us play one time, they’ll never miss another game,” Schaeffer said.

The basketball has stopped, but the news flows

More awards:

Sabrina Ionescu has won the Wooden Award for the second straight year.

Ionescu has won all five major player awards this season.

The Naismith starting five: Sabrina Ionescu, Aari McDonald, Ruthy Hebard, Satou Sabally and Aliyah Boston.

College team news:

Baylor is continuing its dynasty.

Syracuse has reloaded for next season.

AD’s say smaller schools are better suited to weather coronavirus fallout.

College player news:

Sabrina Ionescu said her pro shoe endorsement is between Nike, Under Armor and Puma.

Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec has pivoted from her NCAA disappointment to lending a helping hand.

Kamiah Smalls has left a legacy at JMU.

Mississippi State’s Chloe Bibby has entered the transfer portal.

Jayla James has transferred from Penn State to Michigan State.

Oklahoma recap: though she was terrific, Stacey Dales made everybody else better, too.

College coach news:

C. Vivian Stringer will receive the “legends of coaching” award.

Will the Vic Schaefer hire cause Title IX fallout at Texas?

Matthew Mitchell says he’s not leaving Kentucky for Mississippi State.

UCLA assistant coach Shannon Perry-LeBeauf finds family in basketball.

Itoro Coleman is Marquette’s new assistant coach.

Kristie Ward-Cangelosi has resigned at Florida Southwestern State.

Omaha will announce their new coach tomorrow.

WNBA and international news:

The WNBA was ascending before the coronavirus pandemic. What happens now?

Why Tamika Catchings is the WNBA’s GOAT. (What I’ve been saying for so many years)

Sydney Wiese has been getting unwavering support as she recovers from coronavirus.

Sun coach Curt Miller says he wasted years not being a role model for the LGBT community.

Han Xu is showcasing the spirit of China early in her career.

For NCAA Tournament first-timers, a stinging season’s end

Coach Michael Meek and the Portland Pilots have fun in the locker room after earning the program's first NCAA Tournament berth last month. Kyle Terada photo.
Coach Michael Meek and the Portland Pilots have fun in the locker room after earning the program's first NCAA Tournament berth last month. Kyle Terada photo.
Coach Michael Meek and the Portland Pilots have fun in the locker room after earning the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth last month. Kyle Terada photo.

The road to the NCAA Tournament was littered with crushed hearts this year, after the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation.

The loss of what could have played out, as well as the shocking, immediate end to the season has weighed heavily on players and coaches. But perhaps none more than some of the teams that had already won a Tournament berth – a few, for the first time in program history.

These four conference tournament champions are reconciling not being able to showcase the fruits of their hard labor this season.

Portland Pilots

The Portland Pilots’ March joy was extremely short-lived.

They pulled off a shocking upset to clinch their NCAA Tournament spot in taking down the West Coast Conference’s top seed, No. 11 Gonzaga, in the tourney final. Mid-afternoon that Tuesday, March 10, the team’s Twitter feed erupted: “The Pilots are dancing!!! The Pilots are dancing!!! They’re the 2020 WCC Champions!!!”

The athletes did indeed dance, as well as make confetti angels on the floor, to celebrate the first Tournament berth in program history.

But by mid-morning the next day, the NCAA announced that the Tournament would be played without fans in the stands, to stem the spread of the virus. The next morning, not even 48 hours after Portland punched its ticket, first-year coach Michael Meek and athletics director Scott Leykam learned together that there would be no Tournament – no debut for the Pilots.

The team was calm when they met, which belied their heartbreak.

“We were so excited to win our tournament,” Meek said. “We had graduated 60 percent of our scorers from the previous year and were picked to finish last in the conference. The three teams we hadn’t beaten in league were the ones we played in the WCC Tournament. We were feeling great about what we had accomplished.”

Portland had overcome plenty of adversity throughout the year, as starting guard Liana Kaitu’u tore her ACL in their sixth game, and second-leading scorer Haylee Andrews missed five games with a fractured rib. Even so, they remained competitive and kept most of their losses close.

“As the season went along, I could see momentum building,” said Meek, who took George Fox to three Division III NCAA Tournaments and two Championship games in his nine years there. “The players never got too high or too low.”

They beat BYU handily on the road, and Meek said when the team kept things competitive at Gonzaga, he knew they could surpass expectations.

The Pilots had a meeting after the tourney shutdown was announced. Their lone senior, Kate Andersen, took the initiative to speak to the team, which Meek said he “really appreciated.” And then just as quickly, all had to go their separate ways, as schools around the country moved classes online so students could self-quarantine at home.

Meek said the abrupt end was extremely challenging.

“The hardest part is how little closure we had on our season,” he said. “We’ve been keeping in contact, and (staff) has been working on helping players celebrate their accomplishment.”

Ultimately, however, athletes understand the bigger picture.

“Our group has a really good perspective that this situation is so much bigger than basketball,” Meek said.

The IUPUI Jaguars hoist the Horizon League Tournament championship trophy two days before the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. Photo courtesy of IUPUI Athletics.
The IUPUI Jaguars hoist the Horizon League Tournament championship trophy two days before the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. Photo courtesy of IUPUI Athletics.

IUPUI Jaguars

More than 1,800 miles away, the IUPUI Jaguars found similarly fleeting happiness in the Horizon League Tournament.

They entered as the top seed and prevailed over No. 2 Green Bay on March 10, to earn the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. The Jaguars had come close in both the Summit and Horizon leagues, and had been to the WNIT six of the last seven years. This season, however, they won 13 in a row after dropping their opener. They exceeded preseason league predictions of third place, won a record 15 conference games and grabbed a share of the title with four games to go.

“We’d been second in both leagues and had been consistent, but had never been able to get over the hump,” ten-year coach Austin Parkinson said. “This season, we were able to do it.”

Parkinson was being interviewed on the radio when he got texts from several players telling him the Tournament had been canceled. The team’s euphoria quickly turned to despair.

“They were heartbroken,” he said. “They had sone such a good job keeping a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but we never got a chance to celebrate and let them bask in their glory.”

“I know they were really looking forward to that Monday Selection Show, and that was a bummer just as much as anything else – seeing your name up there. They…..felt like we had a chance to show we were a sweet 16-caliber team, (because) we’re 6-2 and 6-3 inside.”

Parkinson said he felt especially badly for his lone senior, Molly Hoopingarner, who had been part of a team as a freshman that was one bucket away, in regulation play, from a Tournament berth.

The team met Friday, and by the time they wrapped up, it seemed like some healing had taken place.

“We went around the room so everyone could talk about what they were thinking when the horn went off and we had clinched,” Parkinson said. “It turned into a celebration. They talked about who they heard from, what their own celebration was like, what it was like to have the governor of Indiana come into the locker room before the championship game and wish us luck.”

Players and coaches have had online meetings since departing campus, which have included the team nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach to keep them on track. And though there is sorrow, Parkinson and the team are filled with gratitude.

“It was a neat thing for us, because we did this for the first time in school history,” he said. “I’m really grateful we got to play our conference tournament. It would have been really tough not to play it, and my heart goes out to those who didn’t get to do that.”

Carley Kuhns holds up the net after the Samford Bulldogs won the Southern Conference Tournament championship last month. Photo courtesy of Samford Athletics.
Carley Kuhns holds up the net after the Samford Bulldogs won the Southern Conference Tournament championship last month. Photo courtesy of Samford Athletics.

Samford Bulldogs

The season’s end for the Southern Conference Tournament champion Samford Bulldogs was especially cruel, because it happened remotely. As a result, it doesn’t quite yet seem real.

Coach Carley Kuhns said she and her team were excited about sealing the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years that Sunday, March 8, with a win over UNC Greensboro.

“We were on the highest of highs, and there was no indication that (the coronavirus outbreak) would affect us at all,” Kuhns said. “So I sent them home for spring break for four days, and we planned to come back on Friday for practice.”

The prohibition of fans three days later was the first indication for Kuhns, in her first year at Samford, that trouble lied ahead. Yet, she and her players rallied family members to come and support.

“We were so excited about the opportunity,” she said.

But as the day wore on, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic, and the NBA announced it was suspending its season after a player tested positive for the virus. Kuhns knew that the NCAA Tournament was a goner.

“We didn’t (have a team meeting), and that’s what stunk the most,” Kuhns said. “We found out on social media. One player, Natalie (Armstrong), facetimed me earlier in the day, and…..I said ‘no way that this is true, it’s just a rumor.’ But sure enough, it was out on social media before I had a chance to tell them.”

Schools across the country sent athletes home and moved classes online. The Bulldogs were already home, where they have remained. They haven’t seen one another in person for almost one month.

“Most teams got moments to be sad together, but we were away and we’re still away,” Kuhns said. “It’s weird because it feels like we’re still (on break). We haven’t had a chance to have that final goodbye.”

The team has had Zoom meetings and are checking in with one another regularly, but that’s not doing much to aid their healing process.

“We had a really, really close team, so they’re struggling with not being together and having a roommate to hang out with,” Kuhns said. “We also have eight seniors, so that’s half of our team.”

Those soon-to-be-graduates are also stressed out about the burgeoning unemployment rate, due to the pandemic.

“They’re all panicking because people are getting fired right now, and they’re asking me if they’ll have the opportunity to find jobs,” Kuhns said.

Samford had been picked to finish seventh in the conference, and were excited to have exceeded expectations, which is why losing their postseason hurts so much.

“For it to be a remarkable turnaround, to have had such a special year, to have surprised people and to have won the regular season, I feel for them because of what they accomplished,” Kuhns said.

She hopes conditions improve enough by June to bring the team together one more time.

“I told them, we’re doing a party when this virus is over,” Kuhns said. “At my house, we’re going to celebrate.”

Dayton beat VCU for the Atlantic-10 Tournament championship four days before the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. Photo courtesy of Dayton Athletics.
Dayton beat VCU for the Atlantic-10 Tournament championship four days before the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. Photo courtesy of Dayton Athletics.

Dayton Flyers

The NCAA Tournament isn’t new to the Dayton Flyers. Going into this season, coach Shauna Green had guided the team to the Dance two out of her three years there. Beating VCU to take the Atlantic-10 Tournament title almost four weeks ago was tourney ticket No. 3.

What was most painful for Green about the sudden shutdown of play is that she had seven seniors – her first graduating class as a Division I coach. She knew they were about to do big things in the Tournament.

“I was really looking forward to it,” Green said. “We had that confidence about us. We were playing at a high level, and playing so well together. We’ll never know.”

“I’m disappointed for our senior group. They were great leaders. That group was freshmen, and they came in winning the regular season and conference tournament, and they had just duplicated that this year.”

Green kept an eye on news about coronavirus. To begin the A-10 Tournament, players and coaches were told not to shake hands. When the NBA stopped play, she knew the NCAA Tournament was next.

“Everything happened so quickly,” Green said. “We practiced at 11 (Thursday) and it was a normal practice. But in the back of my mind I thought, ‘you know what, this may be our last practice.’ But I didn’t say that to our team.”

“We had an unbelievable practice, and I told them afterward how proud I was of them. I had sat back at one point and watched them, appreciating how great they had become.”

Green had just picked up her five-year-old son when she got the call. She turned around and went back to school, and called a team meeting. It was a tearful one for all.

“As soon as I saw my kids – I’m not an emotional person – but once I saw them I started to cry,” Green said. “You work so hard and you want it so bad for your kids.”

The seniors stepped up “organically,” according to Green, and tearfully shared experiences of their careers, one by one.

“It was really tough,” Green said.

This week the team began Zoom meetings, which will include the group’s academic advisor, their strength coach and their sports psychologist.

“They need that right now,” Green said. “They need an opportunity to talk and to see each other and have those interactions.”

The past three weeks has allowed Green to get past some of her grief and gain perspective.

“I’m just grateful for the journey, which is what we preach to our players anyway, that it’s not about the final destination,” she said.

Like Parkinson, Green also celebrates what did happen.

“I can sleep a little better knowing that the last time we were on the floor and competed, we won a championship, and no one can take that from us,” she said. “I can’t imagine working so hard and not even getting a chance to compete in our tournament.”

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