Mulkey focused on keeping Baylor at top

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

Kim Mulkey's resume includes nearly everything any player and/or coach could want. 

 

Mulkey won two national championships as a player at Louisiana Tech (1981, 1982) and won gold medals as a member of the United States' team in the 1983 Pan American Games and at the 1984 Olympics. 

 

In 15 years as an assistant and associate head coach at Louisiana Tech, the Lady Techsters went 430-68 (.864 winning percentage), advanced to seven Final Fours, and won the national championship in 1987-88. 

 

As the head coach at Baylor, Mulkey, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, has transformed a program that had 13 losing seasons in the previous 17 seasons into one of the nation's elite programs. In her first season at Baylor in 2000-01, Mulkey guided Baylor to a 21-9 finish and a trip to the NCAA tournament. It was a 14-win improvement over the previous season. Since then, Baylor has played in the NCAA 13 times and has won two national titles (2005, 2012). 

 

But Mulkey doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about what she has accomplished or how much the Baylor women's basketball program has matured since she has been its coach. Instead, Mulkey prefers to look ahead and to dream about what the bears can accomplish in the future. 

 

"If you look at how far you have come, you become complacent," Mulkey said. "I am aware of the good things we have done and built at Baylor, but I don't want to take them for granted. I want to be proud of them, but I don't want to become content." 

 

That's why Mulkey quickly turned her focus from a 96-42 victory against Texas-Pan American on Wednesday to head team's next game, a 2 p.m. showdown today against Ole Miss at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford. 

 

Baylor is off to a 5-1 start in its first season without former All-American Odyssey Sims. The do-it-all guard led the Bears in scoring (28.5 points per game), was second on the team in assists, and first in steals (73). Baylor has bounced back from a 74-64 loss to Kentucky on Nov. 17 in Lexington, Kentucky, to win its last four games. 

 

Today's game is a rematch of last season, when Sims poured in a game-high 39 points in an 87-80 victory in Waco, Texas. This season, sophomore Nina Davis, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds last season against Ole Miss, has emerged as the team leader. She is averaging 18.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game to pace a team that has three others -- Khadijiah Cave (16.8 ppg.), Imani Wright (12.3), and DeKeiya Cohen (11.6) -- averaging double figures. 

 

Mulkey credits her coaching staff of Bill Brock, Sytia Messer, Toyelle Wilson, Johnny Derrick, Edsell Hamilton IV, and Jennifer Roberts for playing integral roles in recruiting the talent that has enabled Baylor to withstand the losses of players like former All-American Brittney Griner and Sims to remain one of the best teams in the country. She said she knew when she first arrived at Baylor in April 2000 that she wouldn't be able to attract those players to Waco, Texas, but she followed a game plan that she had from the start that she believed would result in championships. 

 

"I have been fortunate to coach at two schools, which is usually not the resume for a coach," Mulkey said. "Coaches usually have to keep their suitcases packed because that is the nature of the business. I spent 19 years of my life at Louisiana Tech. I am not in my 15th year at Baylor. That is a tribute to an administration that values women's basketball and coaches that are very loyal. We have not had a lot of turnover on my staff. That contributes to putting a product on the floor Baylor is proud of." 

 

Mulkey said she learned the importance of defense from playing for former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore and former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. She also credits both coaches had great passion and intensity for what they did, which she tries to emulate. She also tries to pay close attention to details like Barmore did in his tenure in Ruston, Louisiana. 

 

Unfortunately, Mulkey didn't get to follow in the footsteps of Barmore and get a chance to keep Louisiana Tech among the elite teams in women's college basketball. She said Baylor "just happened to be the school on the phone" when she learned she wasn't going to get a five-year contract to replace Barmore as coach at Louisiana Tech. Looking back, she said she likely would have landed at another school in the region or close to the state of Louisiana if it was in a big-time conference and was going to commit to women's basketball. She said she knew right from the start Baylor was that place. She said the administration has given her the resources she needs to help elevate the program and to keep it competing against the nation's best. 

 

"All good coaches have a fear of failure," said Mulkey, who was a standout point guard. "The hard thing is when you build a program it is even harder to maintain it. I want to maintain a program that is consistently talked about." 

 

Mulkey admitted Baylor took big steps in a relatively short amount of time after she arrived. But she joked that she took a simple approach when she was initially hired and believed she could find a way to schedule eight wins -- or one more than the team had the year before she arrived -- to get things going. After winning 21 games in her first season, Mulkey said the program set realistic goals each season to help the building process. The strategy has paid off, as Baylor has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament or better the past six seasons. 

 

This season, Mulkey hopes the Bears can extend that streak and continue to move toward another national title. With only one senior on the 13-player roster and three of the four leading scorers as sophomores, the future looks bright. Mulkey won't look too far ahead, but she will keep her focus on doing the things that will help Baylor remain one of the nation's premier programs. 

 

"I live in the moment," Mulkey said. "The moment I took the job I rolled up my sleeves and said, 'Let's get to work and let's work smart,' " Mulkey said. "I knew we couldn't compete with the elite teams at the time because we were going to lose. I said, 'Let's beat the bushes and find the players that can help us build and who believe in our vision. I don't think in terms of the future. I take care of things in the moment so we can take the next step." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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