KMR could win titles as both player, coach

Updated: April 5, 2005, 2:43 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Back in Tickfaw, La., there's a street named after the little girl with big dreams. Suitably, it's called Kim Mulkey Drive.

Avenue or Boulevard just wouldn't have made sense.

Not for the hometown kid who never missed a school day in 12 years. Only a drive would befit the tomboy who played Little League baseball against boys; the valedictorian who led her high school to four straight state titles, her college to two national championships and won an Olympic gold medal.

Over in Hammond, La., where she went to school, there's a monument outside city hall in her honor.

Baylor may have one for Kim Mulkey-Robertson one day, too.

On Tuesday night, Mulkey-Robertson, who in less than five years has transformed the Lady Bears from Big 12 doormats into national contenders, has a chance to pull off an unprecedented double-double.

A win over Michigan State would make her the first women's coach to win a championship as a player and coach.

First. Mulkey-Robertson has never settled for second best in anything.

"She's won a whole bunch," said Baylor guard Chelsea Whitaker. "I think one of her first championships was like when I was born, so I kind of tease her about that. But she was one of the pioneers of this game."

Long before she made Baylor the warm-and-fuzzy success story of this year's tournament, the 42-year-old Mulkey-Robertson had already made a name for herself in women's college basketball. As Louisiana Tech's fiery 5-foot-4 point guard, she led the Lady Techsters to a 130-6 record and back-to-back national titles.

It was at Louisiana Tech, playing under the legendary Leon Barmore, where the coaching bug bit. After graduating with honors, she stayed for another 15 years as an assistant before going to Baylor.

In 2000, she inherited a program that went 7-20 the previous season and had little reason to hope the future would be any brighter. But while others forecast gloom, Mulkey-Robertson envisioned success.

She guided the Lady Bears to a 21-9 record her first season, vaulting Baylor from 12th in the powerful Big 12 to sixth and earning the school its first NCAA berth. Last season, a trip to the round of 16 ended with a controversial loss to Tennessee.

But now, the mother of two known for her fashion smarts and for occasionally joining her players in drills has Baylor one victory away from winning it all.

Ask her five starters to describe Mulkey-Robertson in one word and a portrait quickly emerges.

"Tenacious," said Steffanie Blackmon.

"Intense," said Chameka Scott.

"Intense," said Abiola Wabara.

"Intense," said Sophia Young.

"Intense," said Whitaker, who has learned to feed off her coach's fervor. "It drives us a lot, because if it doesn't drive us then we'll be sitting next to her."

On the sideline during a game, Mulkey-Roberston is in perpetual motion. One second, she's stalking officials. The next, she's demanding defense from her team.

Mulkey-Robertson traces her desire to her early childhood -- even before that. She was never the biggest or the fastest or the prettiest. But she had an inner strength and work ethic that always gave her a chance.

"I think you're born with it," she said. "I was brought up in a family of middle-income, self-employed parents that provided for their children, did not spoil them and were very proud of them."

As a child raised in the South during the 1960s, she witnessed the civil rights struggle, a time that had an effect in shaping the woman she is today. Mulkey-Robertson credits her parents' choice to have her attend an integrated school in developing her social skills and tolerance.

"It was absolutely the greatest decision they ever made for me," she said.

These days, that's how Baylor fans feel about her arrival.

Mulkey-Robertson has never failed at anything. With some of her best years still ahead, she has already been inducted into six different Halls of Fame and attained a lifetime worth of successes.

Nothing, though, warms her more than sharing them. On Sunday night, with her children at her side, Mulkey-Robertson watched as Baylor fans, still recovering from the tragic shooting death of a men's player two years ago, celebrated an improbable comeback win over LSU in the semifinals.

"That's the most enjoyable moment for me, just to watch those people experience something for the first time," she said. "That brings a smile to my face."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press