Sunday, June 26, 2005

Gunter true pioneer for women's basketball

Eight of Louisiana's all-time sports greats will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame today at a 6 p.m. banquet at Northwestern State University's Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches.

This year's inductees include jockey Randy Romero, baseball standout Albert Belle, basketball's Sue Gunter, Rudy Macklin and Janice Lawrence, and footballers Hoyle Granger, Mark Duper and Tom Hinton.

This year's eight inductees bring to 237 the number of state athletes, coaches and administrators awarded the state's highest athletic honor.

Tickets for the induction banquet are $25 and are available by calling the Hall of Fame office at (318) 357-6467.

Sue Gunter was women's basketball before there was women's basketball.

Before national television contracts, 64-team NCAA Tournament brackets, sellout crowds at the Women's Final Four, Gunter was a player. A player on the ground floor of women's basketball as an All-American guard for Nashville Business College, then a successful coach at Stephen F. Austin and LSU along with forays into the international game.

"Sue laid the foundation," said LSU athletics director Skip Bertman, who arrived as the Tigers' baseball coach a year after Gunter showed up in 1982-83. "Jody Conradt, Pat Summitt, Leon Barmore and others all say, 'I learned a lot from Sue Gunter.' There weren't many mentors, but she was one of them."

Gunter started playing basketball when the women's game was only played on half the court and its appeal didn't extend far beyond the gym door. But someone had to start.

From the beginning, from before the beginning, Gunter was there.

"She was an administrator," said current LSU women's coach Pokey Chatman, an All-American point guard for Gunter in 1991 and her assistant until becoming her successor last year. "She probably taught a class. She drove the bus. She coached the team.

"I remember she told me when she became head coach at Stephen F. Austin she was making $6,500 a year and she thought she'd hit the lottery."

The beginning of Gunter's career is lost in the mists of the stone age of women's basketball. She started at Middle Tennessee in the mid-1960s, leading the Blue Raiders to a pair of undefeated seasons.

She then moved on to Stephen F. Austin, in the piney woods of eastern Texas. Gunter coached four sports at SFA — women's basketball, softball, tennis and track. It was with the women's basketball program that Gunter made her name — and established SFA's identity among the nation's trendsetters in the sport as Gunter guided the Ladyjacks to a 266-87 record in 12 seasons.

In 1976, Gunter was an assistant coach on the first U.S. Olympic women's basketball team. One of her players was Pat Head Summitt. Together, they helped Team USA capture a silver medal.

"When I started being coached by her I had just taken the job at Tennessee when I was 22," said Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball history with a record of 882-172. She was 23 when she began playing for Gunter on the national team and 24 when they went to Montreal for the 1976 Olympics.

"I just enjoyed it," Summitt said. "I had so much fun but I learned a lot from an opportunity to be coached by her as an assistant in Montreal. Then she asked me to be her assistant in 1980."

Gunter was named head coach for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, a team that didn't get to compete because of President Carter's ordered boycott of the Moscow Games after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

"It was difficult for the kids to understand," Gunter said in 2000. "For 90 percent of the athletes, it was their one chance. I just felt I missed my shot."

Summitt succeeded Gunter as Olympic coach in 1984 and led the U.S. to gold in Los Angeles, fielding a team that included 2005 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee Janice Lawrence. By that time, Gunter was already at LSU, resuming her college coaching career after a brief hiatus because of her duties as Olympic coach.

"She had to do a lot in terms of changing from the way she was brought up playing the game to where it is now, where it's more of a contact sport," said LSU senior Seimone Augustus, the consensus national player of the year last season. "Just her being able to evolve with the changes in basketball is something important."

Gunter didn't just evolve with women's basketball, she thrived.

In 22 years at LSU her Lady Tigers recorded 14 20-win seasons and made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Final Four in 2004 and the Elite Eight in 1986, 2000 and 2003 along with SEC Tournament championships in 1991 and 2003, and the 1985 WNIT title.

In 2000, Gunter was a member of the second class inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn. Gunter attended that induction ceremony, and when LSU played at Tennessee she would bring her Lady Tigers to the hall to learn something about the game — and her. The players, who could scarcely imagine a game before they began playing it, laughed and joked when Gunter would show them photos of her young playing self in her shiny Nashville Business College uniform.

Midway through the 2003-04 season, Gunter stepped aside due to a serious lung ailment that eventually ended her career. Chatman succeeded her as interim coach, leading LSU to its first appearance in the Final Four. Though Chatman was on the bench, Gunter got credit for the season and the Final Four appearance. Her final career record stood at 708-308, including a 442-221 record in 22 seasons at LSU.

This year, Gunter is being inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and in August, the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., going in with such coaching legends as Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and long-time NBA coach Hubie Brown.

Unfortunately, Gunter won't likely be able to attend either induction ceremony. Like being the Olympic coach in 1980 and putting together the first LSU team to reach the Women's Final Four, Gunter was once again able to get within sight of the promised land but couldn't cross over.

"Life is not always fair," Summitt said, "and it doesn't seem like it's been fair for someone who broke new ground and really worked so hard for this game, only to be denied both opportunities. When she couldn't coach (the 2004 Final Four) in New Orleans, it just broke my heart. But I'm very happy for her now."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Pursuing degree in game at Summitt

Pam Owens' goal when she graduated from the University of New Orleans in 1989 was to coach college basketball someday.

But as the John Lennon song goes, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

Sixteen years and an outstanding high school coaching career later, Owens finally is getting the opportunity she pursued with the drive that defines so much of her character.

Owens, who built a girls basketball power at Taft High School in only eight seasons, resigned Monday to take a job as a graduate assistant at Tennessee.

Her boss will be Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, who is synonymous with women's basketball.

Summitt has seen a lot of coaches come and go in 31 seasons with the Lady Vols. But she's getting someone special in Owens, whose passion for basketball, particularly Tennessee basketball, is well known.

"I called her a Pat Summitt stalker because she went to all of her clinics," former coaching rival Tina Camacho said with a chuckle.

Owens, 39, makes no apologies for her unbridled enthusiasm.

"I'm going to go up there and be the best graduate assistant I can be," she said. "If you want to be a college coach, what better place to start than at Tennessee? I've always been a huge Pat Summitt fan. She's just awesome."

Summitt (882-172) passed North Carolina icon Dean Smith this year as college basketball's career leader in coaching victories.

Is it any wonder why Owens has taped every Tennessee game that's been on TV each of the past eight seasons?

If you're a student of the game, as Owens surely is, you want to learn from the master.

"She does things right," Owens said of Summitt. "She has a reputation as a hard, stern coach — and she is when that line is crossed. But off the court, she's a great person to be around."

Although she coached at Taft for less than a decade, Owens undoubtedly left her own mark on San Antonio girls basketball.

The Raiders always reflected their coach. They were fundamentally sound, disciplined, mentally tough and, above all, well prepared.

Owens' professionalism reflected her strong commitment to be a positive influence on the girls she coached.

The Raiders went 226-57 under Owens and advanced to the state tournament three of the past four seasons.

Not bad for someone who didn't think she would be a high school coach.

Owens planned to work as a graduate assistant after earning her degree, but she had to put her college career on hold to care for her maternal grandmother in San Antonio. Owens said the decision was a no-brainer, which reveals a lot about her character.

Owens was raised by Pearl Kempin, and she wasn't about to turn her back on her beloved grandma.

"She was always the major influence on my life," Owens said. "She taught me to work hard and treat people the right way. She told me to just be a good person and good things will happen."

Kempin died in 1997.

Owens joined Don Evans' staff at Judson in 1989, staying with him until becoming girls basketball coach at Bandera in 1995. She led the Bulldogs to the playoffs in her first year and was 38-22 in two seasons.

Owens moved to Taft in 1997 and began laying the foundation for one of the state's most consistent winners.

Evans, who coached Owens at Lee through her junior season, said he wasn't surprised when she went into coaching.

"Pam was always eager to learn about basketball and coaching, and always took every opportunity to do just that," Evans said. "I know that coaching in college has been her longtime dream. She will do well."


Owens has the right temperament to be an excellent college coach. A straight shooter with a down-home touch, she will make a good recruiter.

I will miss her intensity and passion for basketball.

Owens made San Antonio girls basketball better. That is the legacy she leaves.

Butts Moving On

Lady Vols' graduate assistant basketball coach Tasha Butts will not be on the sidelines at Thompson-Boling Arena next season. The Lady Vols' basketball office telling Sports Overtime she will pursue other coaching interests.

Published reports state Pam Owens will fill Butts' spot on UT head coach Pat Summitt's bench. Owens has been a high school coach in San Antonio the past eight seasons.

Butts played for Tennessee from 2000-2004.

Friday, June 03, 2005

UT softball players reach Summitt

Basketball coach cheers team through World Series win

OKLAHOMA CITY - University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt kept her promise, and the Lady Vols softball team delivered a World Series win.

"Throughout the recruiting process, since (co-head coaches) Ralph and Karen Weekly took over the program, I've met with almost all, if not all, the recruits,'' Summitt said. "I made this team a promise that if they got here, I'd be here.''

Summitt flew in from the Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin, Fla., on Thursday along with UT women's athletic director Joan Cronan and her husband, Tom, and Lady Vols assistant basketball coach Holly Warlick.

Karen Weekly said Summitt's presence made a difference Thursday - a 1-0 win over Arizona - but perhaps not as much as the talk Summitt delivered to the softball team after Georgia had taken two of three games from UT in April.

"She told our girls how important it was to stick together,'' Weekly said. "Her thing was, you've got to have better huddles and get close.

"You see how our girls interlock arms during the national anthem? That started after their talk with Pat.''

Summitt, who flew back to Destin on Thursday night, said she enjoyed watching the softball program score the breakthrough victory.

"Once you get to this level, you leave that door open forever,'' Summitt said. "You know what's out there and what it takes to go through that door. When we started going to Final Fours, it changed the whole scope of our program, and I think that will happen for the softball program as well.''

Summitt said she was impressed particularly with pitcher Monica Abbott, who recorded a shutout in Thursday's 1-0 victory over Arizona in the opening game of the World Series. Abbott leads the nation with 578 strikeouts and 48 wins.

"She's their (Chamique) Holdsclaw,'' Summitt said, referring to the former UT basketball All-American who led the Lady Vols to three consecutive national championships. "When you have a player who can just dominate she's taken this program to a whole other level. That's what Chamique did for our program.''

UT football coach Phillip Fulmer, who attended the Lady Vols regional championship, phoned Ralph Weekly to congratulate him after the game. Fulmer's daughter, Allison, will attend UT and play for the Lady Vols next season.