April 11, 2014
By: Lisa Ballenger, Nevada women's basketball graduate assistant
Our women’s basketball staff headed to the Music City of Nashville, Tenn. for this year’s NCAA Division I Final Four put on by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). We stayed at the beautiful Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville, kiddie corner to Bridgestone Arena and next to the Country Music Hall of Fame. With the convenience of location, our staff attended the WBCA Convention for coaches in the Music City Center, which provides various professional development opportunities such as presentations by some of the top coaches in our business and on-court presentations.
The first day of our convention revolved around an all-day marketing symposium, where various head coaches discussed ideas on how to grow our game. Head coach Jane Albright had the privilege of speaking on the panel with Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell, Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves and Penn State marketing director Kathy Drysdale. In front of over 800 people, Jane shared her various experiences at Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Wichita State and Nevada on events that have helped grow her program and our game within the community.
Unfortunately, associate head coach Camille Williams, assistant coaches Kami Malnaa and Jacie Capra, and myself missed Jane’s speech due to travel. When we arrived in Nashville, however, we picked up Jane and director of basketball operations Janet Butler, and headed to Belmont College where we had the privilege of sitting in on Notre Dame’s private practice. After practice concluded, Jane visited with her former Northern Illinois player, and now Notre Dame associate head coach, Carol Owens. Our staff got to visit with Carol and hear her reminisce about the time when she tied Jane’s shoelaces together and pulled various pranks on her. It was fun to hear Carol’s love and appreciation of Jane and who she has been for her, as not only a player, but now as a coach.
Jane and Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens
Later that night our staff enjoyed the Lower Broadway district where we experienced live music along the streets and various happenings at the local honkytonks and saloons. We stopped by the Wow 4Yow Celebration at the local Singin’ Doors Saloon to celebrate Kay and the Foundation.
Early Saturday morning, Coach Kami, Janet and myself participated in the seventh annual Play4Kay 4K Run around the city of Nashville. We wore our pink and found ourselves running up and down the two bridges over the Cumberland River. We weren’t expecting those inclines. After the run, our staff continued to participate in various discussions and learning labs on how to be more effective coaches.
One of my most enjoyable convention sessions was later that Saturday afternoon when I got to sit in on WBCA President, and head coach of Florida State, Sue Semrau, and USA Women’s Basketball assistant coach, and head coach of DePaul University’s Doug Bruno’s talk on Integrity and Ethics in Coaching.
Sue Semrau and Doug Bruno
The two of them addressed the desire to see coaches obeying rules set by the NCAA, as well as staying true to their word and vision of their programs. Before starting the discussion, Coach Bruno pointed out Jane, who was sitting in the third row next to me and applauded her talk on marketing our game.
“Jane Albright did a great job yesterday at our marketing panel and continues to help grow our game. If you weren’t there you really missed out.”
Sue Semrau laughed and went on to add, “It’s a running joke that the world is all connected through Jane Albright.”
As the discussion unfolded, both coaches addressed what integrity looks like and what values they instill in their student-athletes and programs. When talking about values, Sue Semrau recalled, “I learned this from Jane, but I tell my players they are a person first, a student second, and an athlete third.”
As the discussion progressed, various topics were addressed from values and integrity, to how to respond to transfers, whether importing or exporting the student-athlete. When asked about rivals and negative recruiting, Coach Bruno addressed his long time rivalry in the late 1980’s with Jane when she was at Northern Illinois.
“Jane and I fought like cats and dogs, toe to toe, trying to beat each other, but we were able to sit down and get together and be honest with one another and help each other. We showed integrity and teamed up to advance our game.”
As a young person in this profession, it was a reminder of what a privilege it is that I get the opportunity to work for someone who has consistently made a big impact on the game of women’s basketball. It was fun to hear about Jane and her previous coaching experiences, but her legacy is evident through the many lives she has touched in the field of women’s basketball.
With Jane being on the Board of Directors of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at Nevada and myself being a Huddle Leader on campus, our staff woke up early on Sunday and attended the annual FCA service followed by the FCA Brunch. At the brunch, various coaches and fans are able to fellowship and enjoy a nice meal while the Kay Yow Foundation and former NCAA Vice President Sue Donohoe present the FCA Kay Yow Heart of a Coach Award. The award is presented to a coach who emulates Christ’s character and coaches according to Biblical principles. This year’s recipient was University of Alabama head coach Kristy Curry. After receiving her award, Coach Curry addressed the crowd and talked about how honored she was to receive the award and recalled various people that have helped her along the way. She referred to her time at Purdue and when she first met Jane.
“When I first entered the Big Ten Conference at Purdue, I was so scared and remember attending my first meeting. There were various coaches around the conference table and Jane Albright told me to sit next to her and introduced herself to me. Little did I know she would become not only become my best friend, but also my mentor. She took my under her wing and has helped me so much in my career.”
Jane and Alabama head coach Kristy Curry
Monday night was the WBCA Awards Show with WNBA Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn as the MC for the night. She had the audience cracking up with various wardrobe changes and her attempts of trying to be Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars. She did a great job facilitating the many award winners from players to coaches from every division of the NCAA. Our staff was honored to witness Jane receive this year’s Carol Eckman Award in front of some of our most faithful boosters, her college roommate and friends in the business. It was very evident that Jane emulates everything this award represents, from her commitment to the student-athlete, honesty and integrity, to ethical behavior. Some former recipients of the award are Hall of Fame coaches such as Jody Conradt, Kay Yow, Vivian Stringer, Marsha Sharp, Theresa Grentz and Muffet McGraw.