Former point guards lead teams to Final Four
INDIANAPOLIS -- LSU coach Pokey Chatman said she and Baylor's Kim Mulkey-Robertson could "think" the game very well -- and very quickly -- during their Kodak All-America college careers.
Michigan State's Joanne P. McCallie laughs and says, "Gosh, I wish I would have been as good as they were. They were really good."
All three have this in common: They were college point guards who played in the NCAA Tournament and now are coaching in the Women's Final Four.
Whatever happens in the semifinals, at least one of them will be going for a national championship on Tuesday.
You always hear a lot about point guards being an "extension of their head coach" out on the court. You hear them called "floor generals." You see them taking heat a lot when things go wrong, even if they didn't mess up.
To be a top college point guard, you don't necessarily have to be loud or especially demonstrative. But you do have to be comfortable being the boss.
So it just makes sense, really, that ex-point guards might turn into top coaches.
"I coached against Pokey when I was at Auburn, so I know how good she was," said McCallie a former Auburn assistant. "And Kim, she was just a pistol as a player. I think we all shared the same attitude, if not the same talent. We had the same spirit about what we did as basketball players."
Another thing that's interesting -- although admittedly random -- is that they were all spaced four years apart in college. Mulkey-Robertson played at Louisiana Tech from 1980-84. McCallie was at Northwestern from 1984-87. And Chatman was at LSU from 1987-91.
The other coach here at the Final Four, Pat Summitt, had already been a head coach for six seasons at Tennessee before Mulkey-Robertson entered college. So as the elder stateswoman, Summitt was asked to evaluate the others.
Of McCallie, she said, "You think about the impact she's had ... I'm extremely impressed with Michigan State as a basketball team, the balance. They didn't just get here because they are a good team; they are a great team."
But Tennessee and Michigan State -- which meet Sunday night (ESPN, 9 ET) -- have played just once, back in 1977. Tennessee won, and Summitt was in her third season as head coach. McCallie was still in grade school.
Mulkey-Robertson and Chatman were players that Summitt got to know very well. Mulkey-Robertson faced Summitt's teams both in her playing days and when she was a Louisiana Tech assistant for 15 years. Plus, Summitt coached Mulkey-Robertson on the 1984 Olympic team.
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And Summitt faced Chatman's LSU teams, of course, in SEC play from 1987-91.
"I get real emotional sometimes when I turn on the tube and see all the fans, and the level of play and players like Kim and Pokey that are now coaching the game," Summitt said. "To me, that's what it's all about.
"They were two great, great point guards. Certainly as coaches, they've already been difference-makers. What Kim's done in five years speaks volumes about her talent as a coach, communicator and teacher. Then you look at Pokey, and I think it would be very difficult to lose your mentor [Sue Gunter] to illness and turn around and take over the team. Now, this year, it's more of Pokey's team and they're on the same track."
Now, to look at things from a "today's player" point of view ... it's a slightly mixed bag -- although mostly good -- for point guards who play for former point guards.
"Good Lord Almighty," LSU's Temeka Johnson said, laughing, as she explained that Chatman could be "greedy" about how much she expected from her. Chatman will acknowledge that, but also says Johnson is a better player than she was.
"Oftentimes, I'm asked to compare myself with Temeka, and I wish I could," Chatman said. "Only in my dreams."
Mulkey-Robertson also passed on a compliment to Johnson saying, "Seimone Augustus is the best player in the country, but Temeka Johnson is their MVP."
Mulkey-Robertson tried to recruit both Chatman and Johnson to Louisiana Tech. Once at Baylor, Mulkey-Robertson got a top junior-college guard in Sheila Lambert, but the last couple of years it appeared that -- ironically -- the one thing Baylor didn't have was a point guard who could really get the team deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Last season, that was part of the reason Baylor lost its lead against Tennessee in the Sweet 16, setting up the controversial ending. But this season, Chelsea Whitaker has been much more solid in the point role for Mulkey-Robertson.
"Because of her, I feel there's nothing I can't handle," Whitaker said. "She puts a lot on me, and she knows I'm going to be there to take it. She sets the standard for wanting to win, and we all have followed her."
Now, as for Michigan State, the Spartans' Kristin Haynie certainly hasn't gotten the publicity a player such as Johnson has, but during the NCAA Tournament she's certainly proven how multi-talented she is.
Early on, McCallie needed her to speak up louder, be more assertive. And over the years Haynie has done that to the degree she's comfortable with. And McCallie said Haynie also has gotten completely healthy, which wasn't the case her first couple of seasons.
"I don't think there's an area of her game that hasn't [gone forward by] leaps and bounds, particularly as she's gone through her senior year," McCallie said. "This is definitely a phenomenal year based on the close games that she has directed and led. Her IQ in decision-making is something you cannot teach people very easily."
Which is something a former point guard would definitely know.
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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