Prior to Final Four play Friday, team coaches answered questions from the media.
Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks on making the move in 2016 from coaching his alma mater, James Madison:
When I was at James Madison, I felt like I was so busy making a life, that I wasn’t living a life. It was a blur. I watched my kids grow up, and I missed a lot. I missed a whole lot.
So when the Virginia Tech opportunity came along, my wife was on board because she understood that the challenges that I wanted to accomplish, I wanted to test my wits against the best, and she knew that. But my children had never moved. Unprecedented, they had never moved before in their lives. They lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Their grandparents lived there. Their cousins lived there, their aunts. They had a normal life. They didn’t have a coach’s family life.
I taught them to hate Virginia Tech because we were James Madison, and we were always battling. My oldest child was on board. My baby girl, she didn’t know what was going on. She was just going where daddy and mommy went. My middle child was reluctant. She said, I’m not going. She said, I’m staying here.
Ultimately, one day I was sitting, as I was contemplating, I was sitting on my bed actually, and my middle child Chloe, the one who came to the tournament with me in 2017, she laid on the bed with me, and she said I don’t want to be the reason that you don’t go out and get what you deserve. So she said, I’ll go. When she said that, I just lost it.
Right then and there, I knew that they were going to be incorporated in everything that we did at Virginia Tech. As a result, it’s helped us — family atmosphere. They’re around. The kids know them. Georgia and Liz come to my house all the time, whether I’m there or not, to see my wife or to cook, to bake, or do whatever.
So it’s just really helped our culture, incorporating my family into everything, and it’s helped me become a better father. I’ve had more dinners at the dinner table with my kids since I’ve been at Virginia Tech than I ever imagined having at James Madison.
On the Hokies belonging in the Final Four:
The No. 1 seed means we belong here. We’re not a No. 6 seed who’s made a match or a run and it’s very surprising. We should expect to be here. A lot of people should expect us to be here. Because of the name on the front, because it hasn’t had a history like a Tennessee or a UConn had, people are really quick to doubt you.
Our kids have seen that. Like they mentioned, they’re basketball junkies. They know everything that Charlie Creme says. They know bracketology every second. They know everything. Before I can text them because somebody made a really good move, they’re texting me, did you see that move that such and such made? They’re basketball junkies.
So when they see everything that’s written about them and people writing them off, I love the way they’ve handled it. They’re not angry. They’re not angry like, we’re going to prove you wrong. They’re so confident in themselves, okay, we’re going to prove ourselves right. We know how good we are. We know we belong here. We know we are a No. 1 seed.
We didn’t just happen to get lucky to get a No. 1 seed. We beat a lot of really good basketball teams convincingly, and we expect to have that. So as a result, being here is not a surprise. We’re very fortunate, we understand that it takes a lot of hard work and some luck, but we expect to be here.
LSU coach Kim Mulkey on the relationships she has with her former players:
First of all, let me make it clear. You’re not in contact with all your former players. Some don’t like you. Then you’ve got those that you stay in contact with.
Those that don’t like you, it’s usually one of three reasons: You either had to discipline them really hard, dismiss them, or they didn’t get enough playing time. But you hope that, when your career is over, you have more that love you and like you and appreciate you than don’t.
I think, as I tell them all the time, college are the greatest years of your life, period. They’re the greatest years of your life. You’re not paying bills. You’re not changing diapers usually. You’re just getting to do what everybody would love to do, go to school for free and play basketball.
Nicole, I inherited as Baylor. She was one of my, if not — well, she and Sheila Lambert were my two guards. So proud of her. She’s been able to go to state championships in the state of Texas, and it’s going to be good to see them. I’ll have some of them out on the court in a minute who were part of the 2005 National Championship team.
That’s why you coach. You coach to impact lives, and you may not realize it as a student-athlete the impact a coach has until 10, 20, and 30 years down the road.
On whether or not transgender athletes should be allowed to compete with non-transgender athletes:
I hope I answer this in a very sensitive way because I think we all know transgenders. I think we all know people who may not be like we are.
I had a conversation with Debbie Antonelli. She has a special needs child, and we found the Special Olympics for them, didn’t we? We found a place for them to compete. And I think that with time, maybe you will see a league or something for transgender athletes.
I just think that I’m sensitive to those on one side, and yet I’m also sensitive to those on the other side. Does that make sense? Is that a good, politically correct answer so I don’t get in trouble?
You’re going to find this extremely interesting. When this topic became apparent, when I was at Baylor, I had that conversation with the athletic director, and I’ll leave it at that. So I was kind of ahead of the curve. I had a conversation. What if? I never got an answer. And I’ll leave it at that. But I was very much aware.
But I also want you to know that I have conversations with transgender people who don’t believe that they should be competing against biological females, and I find that real interesting. So you ask questions. You’re human. You want to hear sides of stories and come up with what you think, but at the end of the day, nobody cares what I think. Nobody cares. But thanks for asking that.
On whether or not she has spoken with Brittney Griner since her release from captivity in Russia:
No. But I’m glad she’s back. I’m glad she’s safe, she’s sound. I think everybody is. But no, I have not.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley on what she sees in the matchup with Iowa star Caitlin Clark, and if she senses extra movitation/”juice” from her personnel:
The juice is in the winning the National Championship. Our players don’t really care about anything besides that. So we are — again, we’re strong in our beliefs and what we do and how we’ve done things.
And at this point, we just want to win, and that’s their approach. I love them for that. They’re not letting any one thing or any one person distract them from the goal at hand.
On what she has learned from previous Final Four appearances:
I don’t think I can remember. There’s just really a lot of stuff that you have to do. So if you don’t know that and you’re experiencing it for the first time, it’s hard because you don’t feel like you get enough time to prep, and it’s the biggest stage of college women’s basketball.
So that’s what it is, just prepare for long days and less prep time. But once you’re here, you’re not going to create any magic. You’re not going to create any magic. I do think rest is equally as important as getting out on the floor and working out.
So just the experience of getting back here and knowing and where to focus.
On whether or not she would consider taking the men’s coaching job at Temple:
No thoughts. I don’t want to coach in the men’s game. It’s cold up there too.
On what has driven her:
But it was one of my lifelong dreams as a child growing up in North Philly in the projects. I only saw women play two times on television: That was the Olympics, and that was the National Championship Game. That was the driving force in me wanting to accomplish that because at that time that was the biggest — it’s probably still the biggest thing besides playing in the league.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder on receiving a message from former Hawkeye coach Vivian Stringer after the team advanced to the round of four:
It wasn’t a text, it was a voice message, which tells you the age of both of us. Who leaves voice messages anymore? But I love voice messages because you can hear the enthusiasm in their voice versus reading it on a text, and she definitely had a lot of enthusiasm.
Her love for the Hawks is strong, and I’m thankful — you were talking about mentors, and for the players, Vivian was certainly one of mine. So I’m very thankful to have her support, as the last person that took this team to a Final Four. That really means a lot.
To take our team back here, sometimes as a coach, when you’re at some place for so long, it does get a little old. You’re like, well, it’s been since ’93 since they’ve been in the Final Four. So, yes, it feels good to be back here again, absolutely. But it’s always the people that you’re around.
To me, this group of women are special. That’s what makes the year special to me.
On team camaraderie:
We love being around each other. We really do. We kind of joked about that. We came straight from Seattle. We didn’t go home. We’ve been on the road together for two weeks now, and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
If you didn’t like the people you were around, this would be a chore. It would not be much fun. But when you trust the people that you’re around, when you have respect for them, when you know they’re doing their job, it’s such a comforting feeling, and you don’t want it to end.
This has been a fun season for us, and so, yeah, we do not want it to end.
On Caitlin Clark and coaches adjusting to working together:
Her freshman year, I definitely had some times I was pulling my hair out. There’s no doubt about it. Just she had to learn how to play with other players that were good players. In high school she had to do it all on her own. I remember going to her high school games, as she said, and kids yelling “overrated” to her from the stands. I just would love to see them today.
But honestly, she did test us her freshman year. So we had to learn — it was give and take. It wasn’t all controlling what she did because I think, when you try to stifle somebody like that, you’re ruining a little bit of the type of player they are. What she does on her own is special. I think, if you were trying to tell her exactly what a good shot is, because what a good shot for her is totally different than what a good shot for somebody else is. So she has a little separate set of rules, quite honestly, than other people because she can do things other people can’t do.
We had to get her to understand how to play within a system a little bit without putting out the fire of being Caitlin Clark.