Queens of the Court
The future of the Big 12, the effects of Title IX, and the hope for a rebound in the WNBA.
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Head coach at the University of Texas at Austin
Head coach at Texas Tech University
Head coach at Baylor University
Hollister: So I was watching Sports-Center last night. And I watched and I watched and I watched, but there wasn’t a single story on the WNBA. And this was on the eve of the finals. Should the league say, “Hey, we’ve had a good ten-year run, but it’s time to throw in the towel”?
Conradt: You know, we all expect immediate gratification, but it just doesn’t happen in sports. We’re still building the collegiate game, and we’ve all been working at that since Title IX, which started in 1972, so I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. Yes, we all wish it were more visible and [the media were] more consistent in showcasing the sport, but I don’t believe that the league is considering going in an opposite direction.
Hollister: What can it do to get people more excited?
Mulkey: Coach, we’re going to let you answer that.
Conradt: Well, I think it’s visibility. You’re going to pick up credibility and acceptance in ways that are different in every community. I was visiting with [Connecticut Sun guard] Jamie Carey yesterday, and we were talking about attendance. At that particular site—it’s a fairly small venue; I think she said it seats 10,000—they had more than 7,000 people at each game. It was loud. It was enthusiastic. Some venues are going to be easier to sell than others, and it’s going to take some tweaking to determine which communities are going to support women’s basketball. In others, where there may be so much competition for the entertainment dollar, it’s going to be a slower process.
Hollister: Does women’s basketball need a Tiger Woods?
Conradt: It’s always great to have name recognition. And I would suspect that by the time [University of Tennessee forward] Candace Parker gets ready to go to the next level, everybody who pays attention at all is going to know who Candace Parker is.
Hollister: At the collegiate level, women’s hoops doesn’t seem to be having any of these problems. Attendance, TV coverage, the amount of competition—you are in a good place right now. Are you happy with the opportunities your players have to continue their careers after college?
Mulkey: Well, I’m certainly happier today than when I was a player. All you had was to go overseas. Janice Lawrence [Braxton] is an example of that. She’s a great player who played with me at Louisiana Tech. She spent fifteen years of her life playing in Italy. She had nothing that she could look forward to in the United States.
Hollister: What’s going on in the sport at a younger level?
Curry: I have a six-year-old, and she’s been playing in three different leagues here in Lubbock this fall. So the growth—I mean, the opportunities for little ones at an earlier age …
Mulkey: Back when we were growing up, I never played basketball on an organized team until I was in the seventh grade, and that was a school team.
Conradt: If you go into any of these small communities where the schools are the center of everything that’s happening in that town, you’ll find that they’re very supportive and rabid about girls’ basketball, just as they are about their football teams. We’re sort of removed from that in Austin, for example, because we don’t have any of those small-time, small-town communities that get daily coverage, but I can tell you that it is happening in a lot of places in this state, probably more so than in any other place in the country.
Hollister: Do you get tired of having to answer questions like these? We’re in the twenty-first century. We’re thirty-plus years removed from Title IX.
Conradt: Cultural changes don’t happen overnight. And again, it’s happening in a lot of places where it might not be noted on a broad-based level, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of little girls coming to basketball camps here and all across the country on all these campuses.
Hollister: Do you get tired, though, of being crusaders and having to defend your sport?
Mulkey: I don’t look at us as crusaders. I look at people that came before us—those were the crusaders. Those were the ones who created the opportunities we have. They fought the battles, and sure, there are battles still to be fought and won, but Kristy and I didn’t have to do some of the things that Coach Conradt and the ones before us did. And we’re most thankful.
Hollister: Let’s talk about the upcoming season. Speaking of questions you’re probably tired of answering: Coach Curry, how are you feeling about following in the footsteps of the legendary Marsha Sharp?
Curry: You know, I’m always telling Coach Sharp that I can’t fill her shoes, but I can sure try to take care of them for her. That’s my goal, to pick up where she left off, keep her involved in what we’re doing, and just embrace the past and build on the future.
Hollister: Has she given you any advice?
Curry: Just to be yourself, and that’s going to be good enough. She’s taken an awful lot of time, and there are very few days that go by that we don’t speak. She’s just there for me, and I really appreciate that. It’s wonderful to have someone you can trust and who cares about the program and wants things to continue and to get better and brighter. You don’t always see that transition, but again, the most important thing to me when I took the job was, Is this okay with Marsha Sharp? Is this what she wanted? And it was.
Hollister: How do you see the Big 12 shaping up this season?
Mulkey: You’ve got running teams. You’ve got half-court teams. You’ve got coaches who have won national championships. I think you get a wide variety of styles of play in this league. Attendance is one of the biggest selling points, and that’s the first thing I would look at if I were a recruit. I would say, “I want to go in a gym. I want to be appreciated. Where do they go and watch women’s basketball?” And in this league they come and watch you.
Hollister: Do you guys have any advice for Coach Curry as she heads into her first season in the conference?
Mulkey: She doesn’t need any advice.
Curry: That’s not true. C’mon, Kim.
Mulkey: This isn’t her first rodeo. That
Curry: Yeah, but I’m in a real rodeo now.