November 2, 2013 11:56:57 PM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Kristy Curry showed at Southeastern Conference Media Days she has a sense of history.
Even though she never has coached in the SEC, Curry didn't hesitate to mention this season is the 20th anniversary of the 1993-94 Alabama team that coach Rick Moody led to the Final Four. Curry highlighted that accomplishment to show Alabama women's basketball can win in the SEC and be one of the nation's elite programs.
"I have been raised in systems that embrace the past and build on the future," said Curry, whose team will play host to West Alabama at 7 Monday at Foster Auditorium in an exhibition game. "I had a chance to have a conversation with coach Moody, and he has been absolutely incredible. I have talked to (former Alabama greats) Niesa Johnson and Dominique Canty. The list goes on and on. It is a very proud past. The coaching tree, when you look across the country at how many coaches are currently coaching ... It is an incredibly special place. I know it is very difficult to get to a Final Four, but when you have done that and you're a part of a program that has done that, it shows it can be done."
To get back to that level, Curry will have to erase a recent history littered with sub-.500 showings. Alabama has had only one winning season (18-15 in 2010-11) since the 2001-02 campaign. Since Moody stepped down following the season 2004-05, Alabama has turned to two other coaches to try to reverse the program's fortunes, only to see it remain entrenched at the bottom of the SEC.
Curry inherits a program that went 13-18 and 2-14 in the league last season. It returns six lettermen and two starters and has to find a way to make up for the loss of Kaneisha Horn, the program's first McDonald's All-American, who transferred after last season and is now on the roster at Southern California.
Junior Daisha Simmons returns after leading the team in scoring (12.4 points per game) last season. She said Curry's outlook has changed the atmosphere in the program. She said Curry doesn't let the players slack off and she pushes them every day. She said the players and Curry have built a relationship that allows her to push them to be the best they can be.
"She is very intense and very demanding," Simmons said. "As soon as we step off the court she is very loving. ... Once we step on the court, she just brings out the best in us. We just love it."
Curry grew up in Olla, La., so she understands the competitiveness of the SEC. She worked as an assistant coach at Tulane, Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M, and Louisiana Tech before she took over for Carolyn Peck at Purdue. Curry inherited a program that won a national championship the year prior to her arrival, and she kept it at a high level, guiding it to 24 or more victories in six of her seven seasons. She led the team to a national runner-up finish in 2000-01, her second season at the school.
From there, Curry replaced veteran Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp in Lubbock, Texas. Sharp had 20 seasons of 20-plus victories in her 24-year career at the school. She led the lady Raiders to the 1992-93 national title and 18 trips to the NCAA tournament.
Curry's first season at Texas Tech in 2005-06 was her only losing season. In seven seasons, the Lady Raiders won 21 or more games three times and advanced to two NCAA tournaments. Texas Tech finished at .500 or better twice in the Big 12 Conference in her time as coach.
At Alabama, she takes over for Wendell Hudson, who was reassigned within the athletic department after the Crimson Tide went 13-18 and 2-14 in the SEC. Alabama was 68-87 in Hudson's five seasons. A trip to the Women's National Invitation Tournament in 2011 was the program's first postseason appearance since 2002, when it also advanced to the WNIT. Alabama last played in the NCAA tournament in 1999.
Curry's job is to change that. She said she intends to make Foster Auditorium, the smallest SEC venue (capacity (3,800), the "best home-court advantage in the country." Curry knows sports programs at Alabama are capable of greatness and are expected to be great. It achieved that level of success for years under Moody with eight consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and eight seasons of 20-plus victories, so Curry knows the women's basketball program can do it again just like so many of the school's other sports.
"I don't think anybody expects to be great more than I do every day, as a mom, as a coach, as a teacher," Curry said. "When they can see that with our staff, I think we lead by example vocally, with our actions, our players will follow. I mentioned earlier about winning today, whatever that be, win this minute, it is going to take care of tomorrow. Our kids have been incredible that way. They have bought into what we have asked them to do accountability wise. We say do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it the way it is supposed to be done and great things are going to happen. Will it happen today, tomorrow, a month from now, two months from now, I am not sure, but it is going to happen, and it always has happened.
"If think when you look back across my career, we inherited a national championship at Purdue and followed a legend at Texas Tech -- all of the experiences we have had and we have been able to draw from those experiences."
Curry hopes to draw on the experiences she has had from previous stops, many of which were among the best in women's basketball when she was there. She said the culture at Alabama "has to change, and will change" to get Alabama back to where it belongs.
"I think it is about trying to find the small victories, winning today," Curry said. "Have the best possible day today and that is going to take care of tomorrow. With great energy and great effort, great things can happen. I think they see that in us every day as a staff and everyone that surrounds the program, we're about greatness. We have done that, and we can help them do that."
Alabama will open its season at 6:30 p.m. at Chattanooga. It will play road games at Nebraska (Nov. 11) and at Duke (Nov. 17) before it plays host to Wisconsin (Nov. 21) in its home opener.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.