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Women's Basketball: Ohio coach adopts famous mentor’s strategies
Semeka Randall knows how it feels to win back-to-back NCAA national championships. She also knows how it feels to lose 22 games in back-to-back seasons.
Randall, a Cleveland native and former All-American at Tennessee, reached the summit of college basketball as a player. As a head coach in a mid-major conference, now she is trying to build a reputable program that lost more games this season than any Lady Volunteer under 45 years old lost during her four-year career.
But life on the sidelines is a different challenge, Randall said, one that requires dedication for everyone involved — coaches and players alike.
“Players get the opportunity to go out there and control it,” she said. “As a coach, you’re trying to find players that have that same makeup of similar to how I did, although I don’t expect them to be who I am.”
Randall formulated her coaching strategy with the help of several reputable sources, the most notable of which is Pat Summitt, the legendary coach for Tennessee. Summitt began coaching at age 22 and has garnered more wins in her 37 years as coach than any other in college basketball history.
Like Randall, she made the transition from the hardwood to the sidelines.
“You’ve got to forget you’re a player,” Summitt said. “You’ve got to know that you’re coaching and trying to bring out the best in each of the students at that place.
“Sometimes I got really frustrated. I don’t know if Semeka’s frustrated, but I know she’s passionate about winning. She’s going to be relentless in everything that she does.”
Despite the frustration, Summitt always ended the season with more wins than losses. But victories have been harder to find in Athens. Randall has a 30-62 record at Ohio.
Many factors contribute to the differences between programs, ranging from off-court resources to depth and on-court experience; seven of Ohio’s nine players who dressed for the MAC Tournament were freshmen and sophomores.
“You really can’t fast-forward it when you have that much youth on your team. As I always say, every moment is a coaching moment,” Summitt said.
“I can tell you there is no coach in America that’s going to go in the gym and not bring out the best in her student athletes,” she added.
The communication between a coach and her players is critical to the learning process, Randall said. Finding the right dynamic to motivate each player can be a challenge.
“You’ve got to find ways of how kids are going to react to a coach,” she said. “Some have never had a coach that yelled at them. Some have had coaches that constantly yelled at them, and they can’t take a coach who is more laid back because they might need to be jumped to be inspired to play.”
Randall bases her coaching strategy on defense. This year, Ohio allowed a moderate 63.4 points a game but averaged only 56.4 of its own. The Bobcats struggled offensively for much of the season, especially from the 3-point line.
“We implemented a new offense this season gearing to where we are trying to move this program for right now,” she said.
Through the team’s struggles, Randall sought guidance from a number of coaches in top-tier conferences. She calls Summitt from time to time to trade stories and ask questions.
“She sometimes makes me feel better, knowing that she’s going through the same thing,” Randall said. “Everybody’s trying to figure out what is going to make their team peak and click at the right time. I’m not the only one.”
Another coach trying to light a fire under her squad is Arizona coach Niya Butts, who played four years with Randall at Tennessee and is also in her third year at her current position.
“(Randall) was definitely a high-energy player, full of intensity,” she said. “I would imagine that all of those qualities and characteristics would show up on the sideline as well. Hopefully, that doesn’t result in too many technicals.”
Next season, Ohio’s roster will be exclusively Randall’s recruits. Former coach Sylvia Crawley recruited the Bobcats’ outgoing seniors.
“I try to find a silver lining in everything. This is good for me as I am growing in Division I basketball, and I’m learning how to work hard at it,” Randall said predicting success in Ohio’s future.
“When it finally happens — which it’s going to happen — the reward is going to be sweeter.”