The Nolan Richardson refrain: “Basketball is basketball”

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: “basketball is basketball.” 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 in November 2009, Richardson uttered his now familiar refrain and talked about his experience in counseling women’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 men’s team, he became a confidant for black players on the women’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 women’s team “often sought my help and support because they felt they had no one to turn to.”

“They felt they were discriminated against,” he said. “The women’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.”

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.

“The part that really is amazing to me is how hard they work, how the players pay close attention to details, what you’re trying to get to them, make them understand,” said Richardson. “I find that it’s amazing how they go out and come back the next day and try to do those things that you’ve talked about and worked on, as compared to the male’s game, they go and they come back and you’ve got to work the same thing you talked to them the day before. That was an amazing part.”

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.

“I think also they compete so hard against one another,” he said of the play he has seen during camp. “That’s an amazing part also.”

He articulated admiration for the preparation and conditioning of former Olympic track star Marion Jones.

“Marion is doing very, very well,” he said. “She’s working extremely hard. She’s a tremendous athlete….Even though she hasn’t been in the game for a long period, a long time, it reminds me of a knife that’s not sharp, but you got a chance to sharpen it up. That’s what she’s been doing since she’s been in camp.”

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.

“She must have really spent a lot of time during the off-season in pickup games,” he said. “Her conditioning, training coach that she’s had has really got her prepared to come into camp. You can really see the difference of her conditioning.”

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 Ford’s status.

“At this point Cheryl is completely out of the game,” he said. “She was injured pretty much overseas or hurt during the year. It doesn’t look like she will be part of our basketball team at this point.”

The Shock’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. Tulsa’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 “Paint the Town Yellow” celebrating the team’s uniform color. Celebration activities will be announced at the press conference.

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