Conradt the John Wooden of women's basketball
Class, honor, dignity and integrity. When you hear these words among the coaching ranks, the name John Wooden is most often spoken. But in the women's basketball world, Jody Conradt's name can be uttered in the same breath.
Very few people exemplify these character traits, but then again, very few people have impacted college basketball the way these two icons have. They have both blazed a trail, set the course and paved the way for so many. John Wooden and Jody Conradt set the foundation for college basketball today.
Legends are born, not made. Who would have thought that a country girl from Goldwaithe, Texas, would make such a mark on women's sports? From her playing days in Goldwaithe (where she averaged 40 points a game) to her college career at Baylor (where she averaged 20 points), Conradt was a force to be reckoned with. Her drive, determination and perseverance set the tone for the greatness that lay ahead. A legend was born.
A fierce competitor from the start, Conradt worked like no other. You knew you always had to bring your best when you faced the Longhorns. Conradt was relentless in her preparation. She would never rest, for she felt there was always more work to be done. Countless hours were spent watching film, dissecting defensive schemes and looking for weaknesses in the opponents' offensive plays. Fundamentals and execution were her playbook. Inspiration and heart were her motivation. Her work ethic and true commitment to excellence emboldened so many. She asked of others only that which she asked of herself -- to work hard and commit to be the best that you can be.
Conradt set so many standards for where women's basketball is today. She helped reshape and rethink how the game is played. She was the first women's coach to introduce full-court trapping. She was the first coach to push up-tempo basketball. She was the first coach to substitute in waves because of the depth of her bench. She was the first women's coach to win a national championship after going undefeated in a season (1986). Conradt was a pioneer.
Conradt is also a friend, mentor and a teacher to many of today's college coaches, including Tennessee rival Pat Summitt. Conradt has amassed 900 wins and only four losing seasons in 38 years of coaching (four at Sam Houston State, three at Texas-Arlington and 31 at Texas). She retires as the No. 2 all-time winningest coach in collegiate men's or women's basketball history with a record of 900-307. Her teams have reached the NCAA Tournament 21 times. She has made three final four appearances (1986, 1987, 2003). She is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Hall of Fame. Conradt has coached Olympians, All Americans, Wade Trophy winners and WNBA players. Not only has she accomplished so much on the court, academically she has graduated 99 percent of her players.
Conradt has worn many hats in women's athletics. At Texas-Arlington, she initiated a women's athletic program in 1973 and served as the women's athletic director and coached three sports (volleyball, basketball and softball). She amassed a 43-39 record during her three-year tenure at UTA.
Then, in addition to her coaching responsibilities, Conradt became the Director of Women's Athletics for the University of Texas from 1992, replacing Donna Lopiano, who left Austin for the Women's Sports Foundation. In the spring of 2001, Conradt's passion for basketball, her competitive zeal, and her commitment to her players led her to rededicate her full attention to the Longhorns' basketball program.
Conradt established one of the premier sports programs in all of college sports. Her vision, determination, perseverance and unmatched desire are the blueprint and framework for many college programs. She taught her players more than basketball; she taught them about life. She taught not only through her words, but through her actions. Conradt lived what she taught and taught what she lived.
Because she is a humble, selfless individual, I am not sure if Conradt truly understands the impact that she has had on all of college sports. But now, after bringing women's college basketball to the stage of prominence that it enjoys today, Conradt leaves on her terms -- with class, dignity and respect. And it's time Conradt enjoy the fruits of the hard work. The state of Texas will miss her dearly and women's basketball just won't be the same.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
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