The Nolan Richardson refrain: â€œBasketball is basketballâ€
September 29, 2009 – Nolan Richardson speaks to the crowd after being introduced as coach and general manager.
The answer to the inevitable question is always the same: â€œbasketball is basketball.â€ Since he was announced as the head coach of the Tulsa Shock in late September 2009, legendary basketball coach Nolan Richardson has faced the same query, again and again.
What is it like to coach women?
Richardson, a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, is the only coach in history to have won a championship at every college level. Those accolades came coaching men’s teams. In an interview with HoopFeed.com in November 2009, Richardson uttered his now familiar refrain and talked about his experience in counseling womenâ€™s basketball players who felt isolated at the University of Arkansas in the early to mid-1990s.
He was not only the coach of the menâ€™s team, he became a confidant for black players on the womenâ€™s team who felt alienated at the school. In testimony before Congress on the lack of diversity in leadership positions in the NCAA in 2007, he said that the basketball players on the womenâ€™s team â€œoften sought my help and support because they felt they had no one to turn to.â€
â€œThey felt they were discriminated against,â€ he said. â€œThe womenâ€™s basketball coaching staff was white and the African American Coach they had, felt as if she was powerless and had no voice. No one would listen to the African American girls. I had to intervene on their behalf and go talk to their coach about their concerns.â€
However, it has been two weeks since training camp started for the Shock and during a media preseason conference call Friday, he talked about the things that have surprised him about coaching women.
â€œThe part that really is amazing to me is how hard they work, how the players pay close attention to details, what youâ€™re trying to get to them, make them understand,â€ said Richardson. â€œI find that itâ€™s amazing how they go out and come back the next day and try to do those things that youâ€™ve talked about and worked on, as compared to the maleâ€™s game, they go and they come back and youâ€™ve got to work the same thing you talked to them the day before. That was an amazing part.â€
Richardson, like other WNBA coaches, has the difficult task of cutting players from the training camp roster in preparation for the final lineup deadline of May 14. During camp teams can have up to 15 players but the deadline will force them to trim that to 11. The situation has created a hypercompetitive atmosphere. Richardson commented on that as well during the media call.
â€œI think also they compete so hard against one another,â€ he said of the play he has seen during camp. â€œThatâ€™s an amazing part also.â€
He articulated admiration for the preparation and conditioning of former Olympic track star Marion Jones.
â€œMarion is doing very, very well,â€ he said. â€œSheâ€™s working extremely hard. Sheâ€™s a tremendous athleteâ€¦.Even though she hasnâ€™t been in the game for a long period, a long time, it reminds me of a knife thatâ€™s not sharp, but you got a chance to sharpen it up. Thatâ€™s what sheâ€™s been doing since sheâ€™s been in camp.â€
Jones work with San Antonio Silver Stars head coach Sandy Brondello and her husband, assistant coach Olaf Lange, last year to help her get into basketball shape. Richardson praised her offseason work.
â€œShe must have really spent a lot of time during the off-season in pickup games,â€ he said. â€œHer conditioning, training coach that sheâ€™s had has really got her prepared to come into camp. You can really see the difference of her conditioning.â€
Two athletes who played with the team before it moved to Tulsa will not suit up this year. Cheryl Ford is injured and Deanna Nolan is sitting out the season to rest. Nolan addressed Fordâ€™s status.
â€œAt this point Cheryl is completely out of the game,â€ he said. â€œShe was injured pretty much overseas or hurt during the year. It doesnâ€™t look like she will be part of our basketball team at this point.â€
The Shockâ€™s inaugural season opener against the Minnesota Lynx is on May 15 at 7 p.m. at the BOK Center.
The team will unveil their mascot today. Tulsaâ€™s mayor Dewey Bartlett is set to hold a 10 a.m. news conference on Monday, May 10 at City Hall to announce Tulsa Shock Week with the theme â€œPaint the Town Yellowâ€ celebrating the teamâ€™s uniform color. Celebration activities will be announced at the press conference.