Evan Smith: You’ve racked up more than 540 wins at Texas Tech over 23 years, and the only consistent element in that time has been you. The key to success in college basketball must be the coach.
Marsh Sharp: Recruiting is the single most important thing you do from the standpoint of trying to win games. You have to have a plan, and our plan was to put as many West Texas players in the program as we felt could help us.
ES: Why does that matter? Ability and geography don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
MS: In West Texas, people have been attracted to the chance to watch West Texas kids play. Our fans will go out and watch kids in high school gyms all over West Texas whether they are from that community or not, or whether they know those kids or not, because they want to see the players they think are going to be the next Lady Raiders. On some Saturday afternoons, caravans of cars come from the Amarillo area to see the players we’ve recruited.
ES: Somebody who doesn’t know much about basketball might think that if you have one hundred fans or one thousand fans, you’re still going to be as good as you are.
MS: When you’re trying to recruit great players, one of the things in women’s basketball that can separate you from other teams is a great crowd. We’re able to put close to 13,000 people in the [United Spirit] arena most every time we play. We were third in the country in attendance the past three years, behind Connecticut and Tennessee. That’s a great selling point for our program. Also, because we’re in Lubbock, where there are no pro sports, this is one of the biggest games in town. You’re the lead story on local TV. You’re the headline of the local paper. You get a lot of statewide coverage, and some nationally too.
ES: Every coach has his or her strategy for identifying the best recruits. What are you looking for?
MS: The more success you have, the greater the opportunity you have to talk to more players—doors open a little bit easier than they did a decade or two ago—but at the same time, there’s a more limited group of players you’re trying to convince to come, because they have to have a certain talent level to play. There are only a small number of players you see each year who can come in and make a significant difference, and those are the ones you go after. You have to make a decision about them, hoping that they can continue to grow as a player or that they’re good enough to come into your program and fit in. The other side to that is, sometimes you’re not even sure what you need. And I feel like nobody but me can walk into a gym and watch a great player play and get a sense of whether I can coach her. Sometimes you feel like you can, and sometimes you feel like you can’t.
ES: What does it mean for someone to be coachable?
MS: It has to do with her demeanor, the way she handles her teammates, the way she reacts to a coach, the way she reacts to winning, to losing. You have to decide now—if this person comes into your program and happens not to be the star, can she accept being a role player? That’s where you really begin to develop the chemistry of your team four or five years down the road.
ES: You might actually prefer to have a less talented but more coachable player.
MS: No question. You might take a person below a certain talent level to get someone who’s coachable, who will do all of the blue-collar work, who can come to practice every day with the same mentality, who is going to do all the things off the court from the academic side and continue the traditions of Lady Raider basketball with our fans and interact with people well and have the skills that we think are important. In some cases, you want to get the best person, but I think there’s magic in creating a team. You’re never gonna win big with ten individuals; they have to be ten individuals who form a great team.
ES: You have next year’s recruiting class already set. Who’s the star? Who’s your big “get”?
MS: We have a guard with great skills, Lavonda Henderson, from Estacado High School, in Lubbock, who we feel will be able to immediately replace Erin Grant [one of the top five point guards in the country]. She’s a terrific make-all-the-hard-plays kind of player. I have another player, from a small school outside Weatherford, who’s averaging twentysomething points a game. Her name is Krystal Cole, and I love her attitude. I watched her all summer. She might not have been the most talented player on the floor, but she did everything she needed to do to make her team win.
ES: Are there specific high schools you recruit at regularly?
MS: Absolutely. Canyon High School. Plainview High School. One that I have so much respect for now is Summit High School, in Mansfield. Samantha Morrow has done a great job there; she’s a big-time coach. I always go by Summit High because I know there are going to be players who can make a team better. We’ve recruited some kids there who we didn’t get, but we recruited Erin, who was a big, big find for us. She knew how to win when she came into this program, and I credit Samantha with a lot of that.
ES: How do you recognize when a player “knows how to win”?
MS: She understands work ethic, and she understands preparation. We talk a lot here about how the will to prepare to win is much more important than the will to win. It’s not showing up one day against