Archive for September, 2008

Athens 2004: Me! At the Olympics!

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2008 by Helen

An Epistle Home: Getting to and living through the first days in Athens.

Ah, the miserable, long dark and fallow time between end of the WNBA season and the return of women’s college basketball. Can there be a better time to pause and reflect on the glories of the summer gone by? Or, in my case, to get off my lazy butt and write a bit about my time in Athens covering the Olympics. For those who aren’t up to date on my schedule and miscellaneous adventures, I found myself as a last second journalist in the land of Greece. While I did manage a quick check in, I was woefully remiss with any updates. A quick recap of me, the early days, in Greece:

A 6:30pm flight (with an hour delay out of JFK) got me to Vienna at 10am…their time. You need to do the math, if I do it my head hurts. I like the concept of flying into the future a heck of a lot more than the reality. Of course, if you ARE going to spend extended time on an airplane, it might as well be Austrian Air. First, they don’t seemed to have gotten the TSA memo, ‘cause dinner still served with metal utensils. AND, it was downright tasty. And did I mention the free cocktails? I mean, free is FREE, right? The plane was “of an age” and I had some weird flashbacks as I flipped the little seat ashtrays tops back and forth. Who out there remembers “smoking sections” on planes. Yikes, suddenly I want my lungs x-rayed.

I will, though, play the cranky old flier and recommend that we create “children sections” — or at least the option to jettison children who violate the unwritten Long Flight Plane Rules. As in silence is golden. The plane, being “of an age,” had those “stewardess call buttons” (yes, of THAT age) that rang throughout the entire plane. How do I know this? Because a little “angel” of about 10yrs had joyously discovered the fact and was determined to see just how long he could make the cadmium-red clad Austrian Air attendants scurry up and down the aisle and severely whisper to his mom, “He can’t do that!” His mom, of course, had thrown up her hands saying, “I’m not in charge!”

A couple of hours to wait before a 2 hr. trip to Athens prompted a quick geographic reality check.. *insert American Capitalist Observation here* So really, I ask you, does Vienna with its coffee history REALLY need to import a Starbucks? Apparently they do, because as I waited for my flight out, I observed travelers put green aproned barristas through their paces. Sigh. *end A.C.O. comment*

After successfully negotiating the brand spankin’ new Athens airport, I had my first encounter with the soon to be legendary Greek phrase not found in tourist guide books, “Ten Minutes.” During the my time in Athens, I discovered that when an official or volunteer ever said, “10 minutes” they weren’t actually lying, it’s just that’s what the schedule said. The reality was that “10 minutes” can mean anything between 2 minutes to an hour AND 10 minutes. I arrived at my little media bus stop at 3:50 and was ecstatic to hear the words “10 minutes.” Unfortunately, it was one of the longer 10 minutes I was to encounter. Fortunately, the bevy of volunteers that were there provided lots of good company. That would be a constant throughout my stay. It was there I discovered that, in Greece, English IS the second language.

And hour or so later, when my bus did finally arrive – and it was MY bus, since I was the only one on the Greyhound-esque beast – we zipped out and up to where my media housing was located. Agios (Ay-ee-os) Andreas – St. Andrews to us tourists – a former military housing site. Imagine, if you will, the old tv show “The Prisoner” but without the bouncing ball chasing down escapees. Tiny little two-person houses with twisty curvy roads that humble my frail sense of direction. Scattered throughout are almost grown-up houses where – I was told – military folk have made permament residence.

There was a big commisary where breakfast was served daily. It took me three days to figure out how the get from my house-room in Green Area K House A (GK1, for those interested in housing shorthand.) by foot, while avoiding the walls. Because walking was much faster than the “Prisoner-esque” little choo-choo train that takes us round and round and round the various compounds.

The most attractive part of the compound was the onsite taverna, a great place to grab some real food late at night. And I mean, late at night, many of which I had, and no, it’s NOT what you’re thinking. Though my specialty is women’s basketball, I was also covering volleyball and beach volleyball – both men’s and women’s. So, figure that’s 5 events to get to. And, of course, they’re on the OTHER side of Athens. To get there you use the official transport system of the Athens Olympics, “Lego Travel.” I call it Lego Travel – you can only go so far before you need another piece to connect to. Micro-managed doesn’t even BEGIN to cover the travel scheme. Consider a trip down to Faliro to catch the Volleyball.

20 minute mini-train to the shuttle into Athens. Wait “10 Minutes”

40 minute shuttle bus to the MPC (Main Press Center) and IBC (International Broadcasting Center). Wait “10 Minutes”

25 minute shuttle to the Faliro Shuttle Hub. Wait “10 Minutes”

10 minute shuttle to the venues at Faliro Costal Zone Olympic Complex which features Handball, Volleyball and Beach Volleyball. There’s the additional taunting factor to be added. Let’s say you’re going to Handball….On the way to the Failro HUB you actually pass all three venues. Then, when you get on the shuttle, you actually PASS the Handball venue,  then Volleyball and hit Beach Volleyball first drop off. By the end of the 16 days, photographers, who were lugging more equipment than any three teamsters would be allowed to carry unsupervised, were all but weeping in frustration.

If I want to get down to Helliniko, where the BBall is (and where, oh Greek Gods of the Olympics willing) I’ll be tomorrow), I take the 10 minute shuttle back to the outer hub. The 15 minute shuttle to the OTHER outer hub… then the 5 minute shuttle to the arena.

Haven’t seen much of the Greek world yet… spent yesterday acclimating myself to everything….including jet lag… and figuring out how to get a day pass (since my credential is only good for vball). Thank goodness most of the Greeks speak English, ’cause, frankly, it’s all Greek to me. My Spanish and bad French is absolutely of no use to me…. The Greeks have been infallibly kind and patient… My main complaint is about signage… Bigger and better color coordination…. and information on BOTH SIDES of the sign….

Caught some beach volleyball – dang, it is hot in the afternoon – and wondered if when the women play, a team of men in skimpy speedos runs out and does and dance routine full of hip gyrations. I’m guessin’ not.

Indoor volleyball, where the Brazilian fans (of the women’s team) were loud and raucous. And seemingly equally split along gender lines.. interesting thought…. went away and came back to catch the US women’s match against the Chinese… had to leave before the end, because of the 2hr journey home…. No idea how it turned out – since there’s no “daily news” and email/internet hadn’t been set up yet. Being AT the Olympics means keeping track of everything is tough…. Little tv in my room runs commentator-less Olympic feeds all day… multiple channels so i caught some badminton and ping pong and sabre (YEOW!).

Busy recovering now – and planning my day for tomorrow. THINK BASKETBALL!!!!

Hope all and any who are in Florida are safe….. I miss having instant access to everyone.

Oh, and the US women’s BBall team won their first game, I hear. Ain’t we lucky to have them?



Why so few women coaches in WNBA?

Posted in Coaches, WNBA/Olympics with tags , , , on September 28, 2008 by Helen

A response to Christian Science Monitor’s Ross Atkin

Readers hardly accept every word inscribed in this space as the sports gospel, so their comments are always welcome, especially ones as insightful as those from Helen Wheelock of N.Y. Helen wrote in about a “We’re Just Fans” blog that carried the headline “WNBA reaches double digits, but where are the women coaches?

Ms. Wheelock calls herself a fan of and writer about women’s basketball. As such, she applauded the coverage of the women’s game, which she contributes greatly to by maintaining Women’s Basketball Online (“the most comprehensive women’s basketball site on the net”).

Still, she wished I’d dug deeper into why only three of this season’s 14 WNBA head coaches are women. She said that I’d touched on a “very complicated and rich issue.” I invited her to elaborate, and here’s her response:

In 1997, seven of the eight teams participating in the WNBA’s inaugural season had women head coaches, and all of the coaches were drawn from the women’s college basketball coaching ranks. But you didn’t have the elite of the elite – the Pat SummittsMarsha Sharps, or Jody Conradts – applying for jobs. No surprise, really. Why on earth would they leave the security and stability of their successful fiefdoms for the uncertainty of a pro league?

Even a decade later that question lingers. And as the merry-go-round that is the WNBA head coach position (for both men and women) continues, it is a reflection of the new frontier that is coaching women’s professional basketball.

Elite college coaches can get a hefty, long-term contract with snazzy perks (Kristy Curry, formerly of Purdue, will earn a base salary of $425,000 as Sharp’s successor at Texas Tech). The budget-conscious WNBA can’t come close to matching that. While winning is important to a school, the concept of “building a program for the future” is understood. Like its brother organization, the NBA, there’s little patience for that in the WNBA.

College teams travel across the country in first-class seats, while coaches have all but year-round access to their athletes. In the WNBA, it’s economy class all the way, and a coach is lucky to see all his or her players for the entire two-week preseason camps. The WNBA squeezes 34 games into three months, while the college coach guides teams though a 30-game regular seaon spread over five months. Conference championships and the NCAA provide opportunities for success, as opposed to the WNBA, where the 14-team league can make every game a “must win” situtation.

A college team might survive a player’s injury, but at the pro level, an injury can have seismic implications. Equally unsettling, a pro coach can find her once-promising lineup decimated because a player decides to stay in Europe to earn more money.

Add in all the differences between coaching the college athlete vs. the pro athlete and it becomes clearer why, even though opportunities exist for female coaches in the WNBA, those most suited to the job might be reluctant to step forward.

That being said, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport did give the WNBA top marks in its annual racial and gender diversity report card. Equally significant? The 14 female WNBA assistant coaches who are displaying a commitment to working at the pro level.

The pool of professional female coaches is expanding – too slowly for many tastes – but, as they say, good things come to those who wait. The WNBA doesn’t yet have the money or status of the NBA. But, to be fair, the NBA has a 40-year head start.

 Helen Wheelock

Helen Wheelock’s website can be found at

Lucy’s Legacy: A Profile of Lusia Harris-Stewart

Posted in NCAA/College, Profiles, WNBA/Olympics with tags , , , , , on September 21, 2008 by Helen

Question: Who scored the first-ever basket in Olympic women’s basketball competition?
Answer: Lusia Harris-Stewart, USA, 1976.

It would come as no surprise Harris-Stewart’s name didn’t leap to mind. Since she’s a quiet and self-effacing woman, teammate Ann Meyers had to point out the historical significance of her basket.

The 6’3” Harris-Stewart is considered by many to be the prototypical modern center. Born February 10, 1955, in Minter City, Miss., she grew up watching her equally tall older sister win high school championships. “Most people don’t realize how organized [girls’] basketball was in Mississippi during that time,” she explained. “In my area, it was a money-drawing event.”

“I used to love watching her play,” said Harris-Stewart of her sister. “She could really handle that ball. When I went to Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, we had the same coach, Conway Stewart. That was so awesome, to be able to play for someone who loved the game.” Harris-Stewart remembers coach Stewart talking about the game and keeping a cool head. “He talked to me a whole lot about keeping my composure and not to do things to be thrown out of a game. Because,” she admitted with a sly smile, “even though I was a shy person, I would get you back on the court.” 

During high school, Harris-Stewart was honored as a three-time all-conference and all-region player (1971-1973) and a two-time all-state selection (1972-73), and she once scored a school record 46 points in one game. Though her team didn’t win a high school championship, the trip to play in the state tournament in Jackson made an indelible impression. “Never having the chance to leave Greenwood, it was a big thing to travel two hours away and stay in a hotel for the first time. That was real nice.”

Harris-Stewart understood that with her graduation in 1973, her competitive basketball days were over. She intended to get her degree at Alcorn State when opportunity, nudged by the passage of Title IX, came knocking. Nearby Delta State University, had just lured legendary high school coach Margaret Wade out of retirement to resurrect a basketball program shut down since the 1920s. They were looking for players and, said Harris-Stewart, “the recruiter, Melvin Hemphill came to my school and said, ‘We’re starting a women’s basketball team, and we want you to play on that team.’”

The invitation was significant not simply because it offered her an opportunity to continue playing but, as Pam Grundy and Susan Shackelford point out in their book “Shattering the Glass,” because Harris-Stewart was black, Delta State was a white school and Mississippi had been a fierce battleground during the Civil Rights era. In keeping with her character, Harris-Stewart doesn’t make much of being the only black player on the team. “Sometimes the fans would say, you know, things in the stands,” she told Grundy and Shackelford, “but my focus was to score that basket. And sometimes it got to be pretty rough in the games… Everybody said that I did a lot of smiling, but I had a few to say that I was pretty physical under the boards.”

Delta State lost only three games that first year, but the last loss prevented them from participating in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) tournament. “Oh, wow,” Harris-Stewart remembers thinking. “’We just missed out on another trip!’ I was so upset. I said, ‘I bet we won’t miss out on it next year!’”

Harris made good on her prediction. 

In the second year of the program’s existence, Delta State traveled to Harrisonburg, Va., for the tournament, advancing to the finals where they met the three-time defending champions, the Mighty Macs of Immaculata. “Everyone was talking about the Mighty Macs. And those nuns were beating on those buckets,” laughed Harris-Stewart, recalling the famous galvanized buckets Immaculata fans would bang as noisemakers. “We said, ‘Okay, this is our time to shine.’ Everybody kept asking each other, ‘Are you ready?’ ‘Yeah, I’m ready. You?’”

Delta State defeated Immaculata 94-78, repeated the win in 1976, and in 1977 defeated Louisiana State University for a third consecutive championship. Harris-Stewart was MVP of the tournament each of those years and finished her collegiate career with 2,981 points (25.9 ppg) and 1,662 rebounds (14.4 rpg). A three-time Kodak All-American, she helped lead the Lady Statesmen to an overall record of 109-6. In her final season, she won the inaugural Broderick Award as the nation’s outstanding female collegiate basketball player as well the Honda Broderick Cup as the best collegiate athlete in any sport.

It was during her collegiate career that she earned a gold medal as a member of the 1975 U.S. Pan American team, and led the United States in both scoring and rebounding as they earned a silver medal in the 1976 Olympic Games. Inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (1990), Harris-Stewart was is one of only a handful of women in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1992) and was part of the first class of inductees into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (1999). This past October, she was honored during the Women’s Sports Foundation dinner as she entered the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

“The game has changed so much,” reflected Harris-Stewart, who’s taught and coached at the college and high school level since graduating. “It’s the outlook from the athlete’s point of view. We have scholarships. When you get out of college there are endorsements, there are professional teams. All of that is there. But it wasn’t there [back] then. I think that we played for the love of the game. It really was just for the love of the game. Most people say, ‘Well, why aren’t you rich?’ And I say, ‘How could I be rich?’” she laughed, “I didn’t get paid for playing.”

At her core, it’s the opportunities and experiences of her playing days that Stewart-Harris revels in, not the statistics. “I look back on my career, and I think about all the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met,” she reflected, “and it’s been great; and it’s all been because of basketball.”

Welcome to the Archive

Posted in NCAA/College, Profiles, WNBA/Olympics with tags on September 8, 2008 by Helen

This site contains articles I’ve written on women’s basketball.

Also included are some entries from the Women’s Hoops Blog and a link to my 45+page Timeline of Women’s Basketball History, 1892-Present, a beast Kim Callahan has generously hosted, maintained and PDF’d.

I’ve “archived” the articles (also hosted by Kim) in the hope that fans, writers and anyone else interested in women’s basketball and sports will find them informative.

‘Sides, I’ve had a hoot talking to a lot of really cool, smart, committed people about this game I’ve fallen in love with. It seemed a shame to let their words “expire” after publication.

The cool thing about the blog format is you can use the SEARCH feature to find specific people or references (e.g. officiating, Jody Conradt, high school, homophobia, Division III, etc.). I’ve tried to organize the articles in various useful “clumpings” and will also need to review all the pieces for typos, etc. since they’re all in pre-editor version (sorry Sharon, Lois, Tilea and Summer).

The original publishers (each who will be credited in each article) are: gave me my start back in 2000.

Then came Women’s Basketball Magazine, where I learned to write player profiles, Q&A’s and features. In 2004, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association invited me to be a contributing writer to their magazine “Coaching Women’s Basketball,” where I’ve focused on issues surrounding the game.

I’ve also written for the Women’s Sports Foundation and New York SportsScene and produced some “miscellaneous” pieces that appeared on various message boards. Which is what happens when you’re a mouthy fan of the game — and may explain why Ted asked me to join the Women’s Hoops Blog‘s ensemble of writers in 2005.

If you feel the need to know more about me, click here.

The Official Mumbo Jumbo (adapted from Kim Callahan’s mumbo jumbo)

You are not permitted to copy, reproduce, distribute, publish, enter into a database, display, perform, modify, create derivative works, transmit, or in any way exploit any part of this website, except that you may download material from this website for your own personal use. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, you may not distribute any part of this website over any network, including a local area network, nor sell or offer it for sale. This website does not endorse website duplication for offline browsing.

All documents on this website are Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Helen Wheelock. All rights are reserved. Republication and redistribution of the contents of this web site are expressly prohibited without the written consent of Helen Wheelock.

You may include links to any page within this web site from your own web pages or printed materials. Notification is requested, but not required.

For any other use you must first contact Helen Wheelock and receive written permission. I can’t imagine I wouldn’t say yes, so g’head – ask!

In a bit I’ll be figuring out how to make a “Contact Me” email thingy — until then, you can reach me via: helen [at]

From Sweats to Suits: Moving Up the Coaching Ladder is More Than X’s and O’s

Posted in Coaches, NCAA/College with tags , , , , on September 8, 2008 by Helen

Reflecting on the most recent ebb and flow of change within the women’s basketball coaching ranks, Carol Sprague, Pittsburgh University’s Senior Woman’s Administrator, observed, “It seems like there’s a wave and then there’s another wave. A couple of years ago we went through a period where we had some people that really paved the way finally get a chance to rest and retire.”

It has been encouraging to watch the coaching ranks being replenished by former players who want to be head coaches. But, said Sprague, “Coaching is a lot more than just being a good player.”

So, as the pace of change speeds up and these young hopefuls begin navigating the maze that is the college hiring process, what skills – beyond those they learned on the hardwood — do they need to master in order to move up the profession’s ladder?

“The only thing résumés do for me is give me a reason to eliminate candidates,” said Eric Schoh, Athletic Director at Division II Wayne State College (NE). “In college coaching, there are an overwhelming number of applications for every position. So to get 100+ applications down to a manageable pool, you have to have ways to eliminate people. We always ask for excellent communication skills – both written and oral. If you can’t submit a résumé without typos, or one that is concise and easily readable, then they obviously don’t have excellent written communication skills.

“I think you need to list where you are at now, and a lot of people don’t do that. They list what they think was their best accomplishment first. If they had better luck at a different school, they list that first. I’m looking for a résumé in chronological order so that I can clearly follow their progress. The initial application is not the time for coaches to submit booklets on how they run a program or their coaching philosophy or team rules,” Schoh added. “I want the basics, and I want it well written.”

If a candidate doesn’t want their application dismissed out of hand, cover letters should display specific knowledge of the institution, its athletic program, conference and major competitors. Additionally, in an age of e-mails, text-messaging and on-line applications, applicants need to be aware that both content and form count.

“What I’m seeing is just how casual people have become in their cover letters — which to me is a mistake,” said Kathy Hagerstrom. In her 17th year as head coach of Division III Wellesley College (MA), she was in the process of looking for an assistant. “I’m in my mid-to-late 40’s, so maybe it’s my generation [and] younger coaches are okay with that casualness. But for me, it’s kind of like you want to be on your Sunday best when you’re applying for a job. So part of me is like, “Wow, if you’re this casual in the interview process starting with your cover letter, then that might be a little bit more of a slippery slope than I want to go on.”

“The second thing,” she added, “is just simple, basic stuff: people aren’t doing spell check. I actually had one application come in and at the top it said ‘Simmons College,’ and then ‘Dear Coach Hagerstrom.’ And I’m like, ‘Strike one.’”

“I didn’t remove them [from consideration], but hey, it’s a detail. And guess what? You send a recruiting letter out like that and that kid is going to remove us.”

When asked how many support letters or phone calls candidates should solicit, Pete Carlon, Director of Athletics at the University of Texas-Arlington errs on the side of moderation. Why? In the last two years he has replaced both the men and women’s basketball head coaches.

“I’m in my 28th year at this institution,” he said, “and [the searches were] probably two of the most exhausting things I’ve done in my career. The phone just rings off the wall, you get all sorts of documents you need to go through, plus phone calls you want to make yourself….” His voice trailed off. “It’s important to pick out maybe a half-dozen folks to write or call for you, because sometimes, even though you might be the best person, if the person making the decision gets too overwhelmed with calls and letters it can turn them off.”

“Clearly, we’re all going to put down references who are going to speak highly of us,” acknowledged Hagerstrom. But, she added, “When I call, the thing that I’ve learned to do better is read between the lines. I’ll call a reference and ask about somebody, but then they’ll trigger another question or another person that I’m going to call — somebody who’s not necessarily someone’s reference. And it’s not that I’m trying to catch anybody ‘being bad,’ if you will, but I want to make sure that the person understands what they’re getting in to and that they’re a good fit.”

When contacting references, Sprague has encountered some fundamental, and occasionally costly, mistakes: “People put people on a reference list and they haven’t asked them or told them. [Applicants] need to take sure they let people know, ‘Hey, I’m applying for this job and you might get a call,’ or, ‘Could you make a call?’”

”You have to ask people or mentors that are supportive of you and can look a colleague in the eye and say, ’If you hire this person they’re not going let you down.’”

When the search process moves into the interview process, sometimes the interviewer will be a coach, but most often it will be a small search committee made up of faculty, staff, alumni, representatives from student affairs, booster club members, community people and, on occasion, current student-athletes. Candidates should ask for an itinerary as well as a list of those they’ll be meeting – and then use the internet to their advantage.

“My experience,” said Sprague,”is that by the time you get to the interview process [candidates] have done their homework about the institution. They walk in and they see a face, and they saw that in the face in the media guide and they know this person does facilities.” Make sure you have a question for every committee member, suggested Schoh. For example: “What’s the reputation of women’s basketball on campus? Are they known for going to class? How to you prefer to handle your women’s budget?”

“The people we have hired for head coaching positions,” noted UT-A’s Carlon,”were the ones that were most prepared. They not only had answers to the questions, but they knew as much about us as we knew about ourselves.”

The questions a candidate is asked are dictated both by the internal and external focus of the institution — and often have little to do with basketball.

“You don’t ask them much about x’s and o’s,” acknowledged Carlon. “You might ask them about their style of play, but the Academic Progress Report is huge now. So we ask them questions about their attitudes on academic discipline and how they intend to make sure their team meets the academic standards. I might give them a couple scenarios on disciplinary issues and ask how they might handle different situations.”

“I think it’s important to — particularly in our situation,” continued Carlon, “that they show how they’ll collaborate with other support staff to promote their programs, how involved they get in the communities, and that they are willing to go out and do public speaking. We don’t have all the amenities to pay extra for every little thing that they do — a lot of it is expected in our situation. That’s part of the job and you just do it.”

“The first question I asked [the eventual hire Chris] Kielsmeier when he called,” said Schoh, “was, ‘Why Wayne State College and what do you know about us?’ The reason for that was he was in Texas [at Division III Howard Payne University] and I wanted to know why he had an interest in a small school in a small community in northeast Nebraska. When he told me where he grew up (on a farm near a small town in Iowa) I knew he’d fit in our community. Then, it was a matter of getting to know him to see if he would fit with our department and campus, which he did.”

When Howard Payne’s athletic director Mike Jones searched for Kielsmeier’s replacement, his committee first had phone interviews with applicants, “just to get a feel for how they would respond to our questions, like, ‘Tell us about your Christian faith. How does your faith fit into your coaching and your recruiting?’ Which we can do,” he explained, “because we’re a private Christian institution — a school couldn’t ask that question.”

Once on HPU’s campus, the interview might include such questions as: What are your personal goals? Spiritual goals? Professional goals? Give us your strengths. Your weaknesses. How do you get along with the other sports? The other coaches? How would you support them? How will you get along with men’s basketball?

“That seems to always be a problem,” Jones laughed, “when you have to share a facility.

While the content will vary from coach to coach, many create portfolios to document their work. They can contain photographs, clippings and outlines of plays. They also include written out versions of a coach’s philosophy in terms of X’s and O’s, discipline and team rules. A coach might outline how they envision their academic program within their basketball program, and how they envision their training program within their basketball program. The goal is to show a panel or athletic director these are things the things they’ve thought about and this is how they intend to execute them.

Of course, portfolio’s ability to represent a candidate’s ‘body of work’ presupposes a certain level of experience. As Hagerstrom pointed out, “I’m getting people at the beginning of their career. Which is fine — but there’s a high learning curve. So this year I’m going ask the finalists to bring in one sideline play and one end-line play. I’m going to give them a quick scenario of what our strengths and limitations are and say, ‘I want you to devise an end-line play that you think will work based on what I’ve told you,’ and then ask them to talk me through it.”

“I want to see who takes risks, who plays it safe, who’s honest and says, ‘Man, you really threw me a curveball and I really need a lot of help here — this is the best I can do,’” explained Hagerstrom. “I just want to see how they go about it, what their comfort level is, what their confidence level is, and how they interact with me as I give them feedback like, ‘Remember when I said our point guard sucked so we’ve got to hide her? You have her being the second option?’”

“If someone comes in and they come across as a know-it-all, that might seem like, ‘Wow, this person is really sure and they have this great pedigree.’ But,” she continued, “I don’t even know it all, and I’ve been in the business 25-plus years. If you think you know it all, then you’re going to stop growing, and stop learning, and look down your nose at the high school program who’s running the best press-break in the area.”

For the past two years, Nike has teamed with Virginia Commonwealth University’s SportsCenter to host a two-day consortium for assistant coaches. The objective is to help them prepare to become head coaches. “Sometimes when you’ve never been in the position, you don’t even know what all you have to think about,” explained Jill Pizzotti, Nike’s Manager of Women’s College Basketball.

One of the most popular components of the consortium has been dubbed “Speed Dating.” Each of the thirty or so attendees spends five or six minutes speaking with six different administrators, including associate commissioners, athletic directors and assistant athletic directors. “They were great,” said Jeff House, currently an assistant at Virginia. “They said, ‘Okay, here is how this works: basketball is not rocket science. You going up there and talking about your philosophy or how you’re going to push the ball – that’s not what we want to hear. We need to know what you can do to empower young woman to this, this, and this.’”
The conversations also helped House address what he considers his major professional weakness: “I’m not a network guy. I could care less about that stuff. I think I’m personable, I’ll talk with people, but I don’t go and seek out a lot of people. And that’s what the athletic administrators said at this consortium: ‘You need to get to know us.’”

“You could be the best coach out there and have this great plan and do all these great things, but if you never expose yourself to us, we won’t know who you are and you’ll never even get on the radar. The only way you’ll be able to do that is, if you’re at a game and you see the athletic administrator is on duty, go and introduce yourself.”

So, after returning from being on the road this July, House sent out 75 hand-written notes to people he met.

Though House is relatively new to the women’s game, the ethos of his 25-year career is rooted in lessons learned under the tutelage of Jeff and Stan Van Gundy – lessons that have little to do with résumés, cover letters, interviews or networking. “The time that you invest and the loyalty that you give to your current head coach, and to the players in your current program,” said House, “is going to build the foundation for who you are within this profession.”

“If that’s your foundation, and that’s what people associate with you, then that becomes part of your name. It empowers your head coach to one day be able to pick up the phone to talk to an AD or another head coach about you and say, ‘I tell you what — good, bad, or otherwise, this girl or this guy is going to have your back.’ Once that’s attached to you, it becomes part of what you are.”


Posted in High School, NCAA/College with tags , , , , on September 8, 2008 by Helen


In the NCAA, there are about 550 Division I and II women’s basketball coaches looking to give out roughly 8,000 scholarships through a highly regulated, an occasionally Byzantine, process.

So naturally, when you start talking about understanding the recruiting rules the conversation usually starts with the collegiate coaches and then moves towards the compliance community responsible for their education: the NCAA, their Conference office, and their institution’s compliance officer. In the past few years, even the WBCA has become involved, creating the Division I Compliance Corner (

But what about the high school coaches and their potential student-athletes? Are they getting information on the dos and don’ts of the recruiting dance? And if so, how?


Many long-time high school coaches have simply learned the process as the game has grown and use the NCAA’s “Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete” as their touchstone. [] Consider, for instance, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) coach Brian Harrigan.

This year, Harrigan’s team was No. 1 in the USA TODAY Super 25 girl’s basketball rankings and won its third consecutive California Division III title. He was also named the first-ever recipient of the Naismith National High School Coach of the Year award. Back when began his career in 1981, “I didn’t have any recruitable athletes,” said Harrigan. “But I honestly never even thought about it because the game was still evolving.” As his first recruitable players began appearing in the late 90’s, he developed a system to educate and guide his students and their parents through the process.

“What we do is any athlete who is going to be a junior who we thing has an opportunity to play either Division I, II or III, we meet with them, along with our athletic directors, in October before the season starts. We give them the whole NCAA handbook and we go through it step by step. We talk about the Clearinghouse [], we talk about test scores, what they need to get. We go over when colleges can contact you. We try and educate our parents on the process, because a lot of our parents aren’t [about] what the colleges can and can’t do.” If there’s a question or confusion about a rule, Harrigan doesn’t hesitate to reach out to a college coach for guidance.

As the sophomore and junior year college letters arrive, “we tell our parents, whether it’s from Tennessee or Whatsamatter U. you fill it out and send it back. Leave all doors wide open. As a program,” he added, “we don’t get caught up in, ‘Yeah, we’re getting recruited, but we’re no getting recruited by the big schools. That’s okay. I’ve coached 27 years and we’ve been pretty successful.”

When it’s time for a student submit information for their academic and amateur eligibility, a staff member helps walk them through the steps. “The process has really helped our kids, along with our counseling system,” said Harrigan. As a result, “I’ve found that the colleges have been very appreciative of that. They find our players and our parents understand the process of what’s going on. They tell me they go some places and they say the word “Clearinghouse” and people don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Actually, what “people don’t know about” is not the “Clearinghouse” anymore, for it has been quietly overthrown by the Eligibility Center.

Many will recall that back in October of 2006, the NCAA added an amateur certification component to the duties of the Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse. For years, the certification process for prospective student-athletes had been administered by an outside agency, the American College Testing, Inc. But in January of 2007, the Association announced the creation of the Eligibility Center, bringing the initial-eligibility and amateurism certification functions together under the sole auspices of the NCAA. The Center’s virtual doors opened in November of ’07 with a goal of “increased efficiency and enhanced customer service to the membership, prospective student-athletes and their parents,” said the NCAA press release.

“One of the big initiatives with the Eligibility Center is its education piece,” explained Lynn Holzman, Director of Client Services. “There’s a great opportunity to make sure these prospects get off on the right foot, but also to make sure they have a great experience as an NCAA student athlete. And it starts with that initial interaction with the Eligibility Center as they’re trying to get eligible to play. The way the operations are developing, they have opportunities that the old Clearinghouse did not to push information out to prospects. Now that we have this pool of emails for prospects, what can we do to so that they’re properly informed and how do we prioritize what that information is?”

“We know we’re about academic and amateur certification, so inherently in that people need to know how many core courses they need to be eligible, etc. But also, what do we need to push to them about banned drugs, gambling, and recruiting rules?”


“In my experience,” noted Holzman, “there are rules that are more important for the prospects to know and then there are rules that it’s completely incumbent on the [college] coach to know. For example, a prospect needs to know they can only take so many official visits. They definitely need to know that, and they need to plan accordingly. Does the prospect need to absolutely know how many days a coach is charge if they go to a tournament? No. They just need to know when coaches can evaluate them. “

Which is why there is an emphasis on making sure that the information on the Eligibility website is specifically aimed to the student-athlete prospect’s needs and is presented in a format that avoids what one might charitably call “NCAA-speak.” For instance, the Guide for the College-bound Student athlete is now under the purview of the Center and provides a clear, accessible outline of the key recruiting rules – permitted contacts, all-star games, agent issues, etc. “Two or three years ago we had a consultant come in and rewrite the Guide to try and do it in clear plain language,” said Holzman. ”Since that was initially done, there continues to be things that are improved on. That’s the NCAA making a concerted effort and investment in getting that information out there.”


Proactively getting recruiting information out to the high school coach or student can be a tad daunting, especially when faced with some raw numbers. The National Federation of High School Association noted that last year that almost 460,000 girls participated in high school basketball. Rough math suggests that means about 41,000 high school coaches and, say, 115,000 student-athletes per grade level. Realistically, only small fraction of that group may be interested and talented enough to earn a scholarship. Even assuming (erroneously, I’m sure) the top 100, most highly recruited athletes are well versed in the regulations, that leaves 7,900 athletes and their various coaches scattered on teams across the country needing accurate and up-to-date information.

So what are the NCAA’s options?

“At the WBCA convention, when they have their high school sessions,” explained Holzman, “we have an NCAA staff member that goes in to say, “Here’s the big things, the changes or the big issues you need to be aware of this year as it relates to women’s basketball recruiting.” Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the sessions are not well attended because high school coaches have such limited budgets. Three years ago Holzman had an audience of 15.

While the National Federation of High School Associations has some responsibility, “that’s not their purpose of their organization,” she explained. “So the high school coaches have to find that information other ways. Often times they can call us as a staff and ask questions. We respond to those questions and will send them to similar resources (like the Guide).”

Often the most direct contact the NCAA may have with a prospective student-athlete is through AAU camps and some of the certified events in the summer because they include the Complete Athlete Program. CAP is an educational program designed for athletes, coaches, and family members with content focused on NCAA academic rules and regulations, life skills, and sportsmanship. “Although that may be more targeted to the prospects,” said Holzman “you have the coaches standing around – hopefully they’re getting something out of it, too.”


One challenge potential recruits face are the multiple “We Can Help You Get Recruited” websites or organizations that identifies itself as a recruiting or scouting service. While the Eligibility Center might consider developing a wing that addresses a prospect recruiting strategies, currently the NCAA does not endorse or approve or sanction any such organization.

“There are so many companies, and some of them are fly-by-night,” said Holzman. “And the reality is, a lot of them are posting inaccurate information. But because they have that [illegally used] NCAA logo sitting there, people think we have some involvement with them.” Of course, she acknowledged, “those organizations may contact us and say, ‘Can we do this?’ and we may say, ‘Based on what you have just told us, you can do it this way.’ But we don’t know if after they get off that phone or after we’ve written them a letter they change something. And all of a sudden, what they’re doing may jeopardize the eligibility of one of their prospects because they’re acting like an agent.”


“The difference between now and when I was recruited to play [at Kansas State, ’91] is that there is a lot more information out there,” reflected Holzman. “But that hasn’t necessarily resulted in people being better informed. That’s one of the challenges we often see. Someone says, “We need to educate prospects more,” or “We need to educate high school coaches more.” Okay, we’ll put together educational information, we can go out and we can target instances where there’s going to be a high level of attendance. But, not everyone’s there. And we still may have a coach who, all of a sudden, they have one recruit in their career who’s going to be able to play Division I or Division II college basketball and they’ve never experienced this before. How do you get to that individual? Right now, what the answer has been is, ‘We have the information out there — if the go to find it.’”

“The challenge is how do they know where to go? And, when they get there, the information changes just by virtue of the internet and because of the way legislation changes in the NCAA. How do you know what you looked at six months ago is still the rule today?”

“I think the Eligibility Center’s long term strategies and objectives will get at some of those issues.”

Adia Barnes – Seattle Storm

Posted in Profiles, WNBA/Olympics with tags , , , on September 8, 2008 by Helen

Reviewing her WNBA career since being drafted by Sacramento in 1998, Adia Barnes is characteristically frank. “A few years later, you wouldn’t think I’d even be in the league.”

Consider, in her first season Barnes played in every game – starting 16. Since then, she’s watched her playing time diminish as she’s been traded or waived by four different teams. Yet the 2002 season found Barnes in the starting lineup for the Seattle Storm.

“[Storm coach] Linn Dunn gave me an opportunity,” explains Barnes, “and it was a good fit. A lot of why people are successful in the WNBA is the situation they’re in,” notes Barnes. “They used me well.”

In Seattle, Barnes became a specialist. “They were expecting me to shut people down on defense,” she explains. “We didn’t need any other scorer because there was Sue (Bird) and Lauren Jackson. And,” Barnes adds dryly, “they did that very well.”

That she’s persisted speaks to Barnes’ ability to transform herself. At Arizona (Tuscon) she played post. Realizing that 5’11’ wouldn’t cut in the pros, she converted to guard. The transition has been challenging, especially considering the WNBA’s preseason is time coaches focus on building chemistry, teaching plays, and integrating new players. “Working on your skills,” Barnes says with a laugh, “is the least of their concerns. I was years behind.”

Months spent overseas developed both her skills and confidence. “It’s a different mind set,” explains Barnes. “Facing the basket you can do a lot more – it’s exciting. I think my attitude this year,” says 25-year old, “has been, ‘Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? Few women in the world are able to be in this situation. What do I have to lose?'”

Nothing, as it turned out. The Storm surprised everyone by reaching the playoffs in only their third year of existence. Barnes acknowledges that, while there was an enormous pressure on first round pick Bird (“All the hype was true,” says Barnes, “She proved it.”), there was little on the team. “We were picked second to last in the west. No one’s expectations were high.”

Barnes anticipates that will change next season – even taking into account the unexpected resignation of Dunn. “We have a great group of girls, great team chemistry. The players — we make it happen,” says Barnes. “We’ve had a taste of what it’s like and we want more.”