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The coaching class – an interview with Kristin Cole

Coach K.

Coaching…that’s the dream right there for a kid who picked up the writers pen because he couldn’t pick up his shot. Anyone who follows this man with no game knows he’d one day like to trade writing articles into scribbling on the dry-erase. As a hoops purist too who stays connected and inspired through the written word I’m passionate about the human side and one of the games most purest and motivational aspects…coaching. So with that in mind, if our features, player series’ and ‘Courtside Column’ weren’t enough we give you ‘The Coaching Class’.

A new feature that takes an in-depth look at the sidelines from interviews and tips from real coaches, to diary entries and columns for coaches to express themselves in their own word. Maybe they can help with the shot too. To begin our new series we start with one of the classiest coaches. Kristin Cole played for the ‘Fighting Irish’ of Notre Dame before logging some Olympic time and experience in Sweden during her younger years. Now as the assistant coach of the orange and blue UT Arlington Mavericks she backs up great head coach Krista Gerlich.

K.C. brings a wealth of experience from Auburn to Xavier University that includes many prolific winning records, tournament appearances and the responsibility and honor of signing the best recruiting class in New Hampshire history. It’s a real resume like this that makes this Santa Barbra, California native and high-school rebound record holder (second in points too) so sought after and in demand. We where lucky enough to have this devoted mother kindly sit down with us and chat about her career and take us through the finer points of the game. Here’s how the one-on-one played out.

BasketballBuzz: Happy Holidays Coach how are you?

I’m doing great. I am enjoying being here at UTA and I’m excited about this journey I am on!

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BasketballBuzz: How’s the team? How are you feeling about this season at UTA?

This has been a very difficult season and a very humbling experience. We have struggled so far (1-18), but our kids continue to get better and improve every day and that has been our main focus. We are trying to build a championship program here at UTA and that takes time. We are staying focused on the big picture.

BasketballBuzz: Which Maverick players do you feel are having a great year and who do you feel has the potential to breakout this season?

DeDe Nwanguma who is our senior center. From the moment I got to UTA I believed DeDe would have her best year yet and so far she has. In her last four games she had 3 double-doubles and barely missed her fourth double-double on Wednesday night.

BasketballBuzz: Since working for this team in May how has this experience been for you overall?

It’s been awesome! Our record doesn’t reflect the growth of these young women, nor does it reflect the drastic improvement they have made since we took over.

BasketballBuzz: How is it working alongside Coach Krista Gerlich from West Texas to here in Arlington with her incredible winning record over these 7 seasons?

Working alongside Coach Gerlich is an honor and a privilege for me. She is a great Coach, but she is an even better person and friend. She’s a coach that truly cares and invests in the lives of her players! Her record speaks for itself and I have enjoyed every minute of working with her.

BasketballBuzz: Your resume includes an Atlantic 10 appearance for George Washington University, how great a memory was that and what experience does it give you for this team?

My time at GW was short, but very good! I also spent 5 years at Xavier University, which was also in the Atlantic 10. We won championships and played in post season every year at Xavier so I am able to use those experiences to help motivate and inspire our players here at UTA.

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BasketballBuzz: In New Hampshire you where responsible for signing the best recruiting class in UNH women’s basketball history. We’re going to call you the ‘Casting Director’ from now on. How do you recognize such great talent and what is it that you look for first and foremost?

Haha, I don’t know if I’m the ‘Casting Director’ but thank you for such a generous title. I believe that finding the talent is often times the easiest part of the process. What I look for first and most importantly is what type of person is she? Is she a good student? Is she a team player? Is she coachable? Does she have a great work ethic? Does she have a great attitude? And has she reached her potential or does she still have great upside? All these things are very important to me and I believe will help to decide whether or not she will be successful in our program.

BasketballBuzz: From your Auburn beginnings to many years at Xavier you have been a part of many great programs. What have been among your favorite and do you feel being experienced in many different college programs offers insight and a competitive advantage?

I have been very blessed to be a part of some great programs, as well as work for some great coaches and I think all of my experiences have helped me become the coach I am today. Among my favorite are winning the SEC tournament in 1997 as the #10 seed, beating GW in 4-overtimes in 2004 and winning the Atlantic 10 tournament in 2007. But what is most rewarding and what sticks out the most for me is watching our players become young women who are ready to make a difference in the world; seeing players graduate and move on to the next phases of their lives is what I love the most about my job!

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BasketballBuzz: Can you share with us some of your favorite memories while playing for the prestigious Notre Dame?

Being able to attend Notre Dame and play for Coach McGraw was such an honor for me! We came in to take the program to another level and I believe our class accomplished that. We were apart of the first team to play in the NCAA tournament in 1992 and we hosted the first ever women’s NCAA tournament game at Notre Dame in 1994. I’m proud of what our class accomplished!

BasketballBuzz: How proud do you feel to be a ‘Fighting Irish’ alumni?

It’s awesome! I am very proud to be a Domer and a part of the Notre Dame family. By the way, a Domer is what you are called once you graduate.

BasketballBuzz: As part of your high-school Santa Barbara’s ‘Round Table Hall Of Fame’ and it’s leading rebounder and second scorer you certainly know how to get onto the box-score. How did it feel to be a player that was a leader and do you feel this confidence is what makes you such a great coach?

My time at SBHS was very memorable and I am honored to be among it’s elite. We had great teams when I played (2 nationally ranked) and I played along side 4 other all-Americans and 7 Division I players. I know my experiences as a Lady Don have helped me tremendously as a coach and fueled my desire to get into coaching.

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BasketballBuzz: Winning Bronze with the Olympic Festival team and then playing in Sweden has given you a wide range of experience, what has this wealth of overseas Basketball service given both to your understanding and teaching of the game?

I think it allowed me to experience different styles of play not only nationally, but also globally. I was surrounded by great players who challenged me to be better. I try to use those experiences and those different styles to teach the game to my current players.

BasketballBuzz: What have these memories and experiences brought to your coaching and what you offer to the young players who are going through things you went through as a student on and off the court?

I think the most important things I can offer my players are love, compassion and empathy. It’s hard to be a college student-athlete and I truly believe that if our players know that I love them and care about them, then they will be successful.

BasketballBuzz: From college to the WNBA how do you feel the woman’s game is developing from more than just something that is competing with the men’s but to something that is standing proud in it’s own right in this sport?

I have seen the women’s game evolve over the last 20-25 years and I think we have our own fan base now. People appreciate the fundamental aspect of our game and the fact that we keep getting better. Adding the dunking (aka Brittney Griner) has helped expand our audience, but we have had a loyal fan base for awhile now, both collegiately and professionally.

BasketballBuzz: How do you feel great players like Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker and more have helped with this and from college to the pros who do you see as the next great Basketball players?

I believe all of these women and many more have been great advocates for women’s basketball, but even more importantly for young girls to feel confident in who they are and to excel at what it is they love to do! Brittney Griner, Ellena Della-Done and Skylar Diggins are the new faces of women’s basketball.

BasketballBuzz: We where introduce via NBA great Tracy Murray. What can you tell us about this legend and your other personal favorite Basketball players or sports personalities that inspire your work?

My dad was the boys basketball coach at SBHS and my brother played for him, so I went to a lot of high school games as a child. I remember watching Tracy when he was in high school. He was a phenomenal player and I have followed his career ever since. He probably doesn’t remember this, but he and I were on the CIF program cover during the playoffs one year. My favorite player growing up was Charles Barkley. I loved his ability to rebound and I was always in awe of how he was able to lead in the league in rebounding at his size. He was passionate, played hard and was a competitor!

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BasketballBuzz: Outside of sports who are your inspirations that you look up to?

My parents and my brother, Jon; they have supported me and pushed me to be the very best I can be. They have instilled in me the work ethic that has helped me be successful. As long as I can remember, they have told me I could be anything I wanted to be and to follow my dreams!

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BasketballBuzz: Do you feel your faith influences how you coach and mentor these young athletes and if so how do you apply this?

Absolutely, I think my faith is essential to what I do and how I coach. And I have come to realize that even more in the last 3 years. My love for my Savior Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life and I want everyone to know that. It’s why I love my players, it’s the reason I do what I do. I want to impact the kingdom of heaven more than I want to win a basketball game. I truly believe that if I can capture the heart of a player, then I have succeeded!

BasketballBuzz: As a mother do you find that this helps with coaching in terms of looking after and encouraging individuals and having a level of care for them, not in a mothering way but in a way that looks out for them?

Most definitely! I see our players as someone else’s child and I often ask myself, “if this was my son how would I want his coach to handle it?” I do my best to love them and care for them. College is a significant time in a young woman’s life and I take the care for them very seriously! I also hope that they are learning from me that you can be a mother and in my case, a single mother to a 7 year old son, and accomplish whatever it is you want and still be a great mom!

BasketballBuzz: How do you find new ways to inspire your players both physically and mentally and on the court and off it as young women?

I don’t know if so much as new ways, but more about finding what way works for each player. Everyone of our players are different; therefore they are inspired and motivated differently. It is my job to find out what each player needs to help them reach their full potential as a student, as an athlete and as a women.

BasketballBuzz: Can you share with us your core coaching philosophies and principles?

As I said earlier, I think it is essential that as a coach I can capture the heart of our players. If I can do that then I believe our players will do anything for the greater good of the team. It is very important that every member of the team, including student-assistants and support staff, feel valued and appreciated. If everyone knows their value and knows they are loved then we will succeed!

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BasketballBuzz: What do you feel are the more overlooked, ignored and crucial, x-factor parts of the game that need to be taught and honed?

Ball handling and passing is by far the most ignored part of our game right now. I also think shooting the ball at game speed and in game situations. Everyone goes to the gym to shoot, but the question is how hard are they going and are they simulating game situations.

BasketballBuzz: What do you feel makes both a true winner and team player?

I believe it’s the heart of the kid, their work ethic and their desire to succeed! Their willingness to go above and beyond for the greater cause, their desire to be a part of something truly special that can only be achieved by a group that acts as one.

BasketballBuzz: With the New Year upon us ‘March Madness’ is just around the corner, with even NBA & WNBA heads turning what is it about the NCAA that makes this sports so special from the players passions to the classic competitiveness?

It’s the Cinderella stories, the teams that beat the odds and pull out the unbelievable upsets. I also still believe that most college kids play for one thing…the love of the game! And it’s that love that we enjoy watching in March.

BasketballBuzz: What are your dreams and goals for the new year as a coach and for your team?

My dream, my goal is to help Coach Gerlich turn UTA around and make it a contender. We want to win championships and hang banners here at UTA. I believe we will…we are on an awesome journey!

BasketballBuzz: Coach, we thank you so much for your time it is greatly appreciated. We wish you and your team all the best for the New Year! Go Mavs!

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