This is the time of year when members of the media size up the current state of women's basketball programs around the country. For example, the Pac-10 will hold its annual Media Day in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 30. During this event, a poll will be released and pre-season predictions by the media will be announced. However, one area that seems to go unnoticed as the season approaches is the quality of one's coaches. So, here is my ranking of the top coaching staffs in the conference...
- Oregon State
- Washington State
Now, let me explain myself.... O.K.... it's tough to pick Arizona over Stanford. However, Joan Bonvicini has quietly built the best coaching staff in the conference. We all know about Coach Joan's success. Since taking over one of the worst programs in women's basketball, Bonvicini has guided the Cats to six post-season appearances in 11 years. Arizona has finished in the upper tier of the Pac-10 standings each of the past 10 years and has spent the majority of that time being ranked. She has produced one All-American, a Pac-10 Player of the Year, two Pac-10 Freshmen of the Year, and players with many other accolades. During her tenure at Arizona, Joan has twice been finalist for both the Naismith College Coach of the Year award and the Associated Press College Coach of the Year award. She was also named 1998 WBCA Region 8 Coach of the Year and Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
So, Joan Bonvicini's record speaks for itself. However, her best moves may have come behind the scenes in the past four years. First, she has managed to hang on to the best recruiting coordinator in the Pac-10, Denise Dove Ianello. During the last 11 years, Denise has helped turn Arizona into a nationally recognized program. This season's recruiting class was ranked 11th in the country and boasted the fourth-ranked recruiting class in 1998-99. The Cats are riding an impressive run of five straight top-20 recruiting classes, including the addition of two Parade All-Americans and a roster that goes 12 deep with All-Pac-10-caliber players for this season. Denise Dove Ianello is simply the best recruiting coordinator in the Pac-10. She brings a passion to her job and outworks every one else.
Second, the addition of assistant coach Curtis Loyd has paid big dividends. Curtis develops Arizona's post players and works extremely hard. He is well-liked by all and relates well to his players. Even with an injury-racked team last season, Curtis found a way to compete inside against deeper teams. There is no doubt that his time with Colorado State, as an assistant where the Rams were ranked as high as No. 5, has made Curtis a valuable addition.
Finally, last season, Coach Bonvicini needed to fill a hole in a hurry and picked exactly the right person. The steady and professional Kellee Barney comes to Arizona with 17 years of coaching experience including a six-year stint as head coach at Gonzaga. She is a terrific person and is solidifying an already-deep coaching staff.
I will give you that Tarah VanDerveer at Stanford has won a million games and titles. But right now, I feel that Arizona is the deepest coaching staff in the Pac-10. Yes, players get it done, but coaches make the difference.
There are examples of good and bad in the conference. Take UCLA coach Kathy Olivier for instance. With home-grown talent abounding her in her back yard, she has managed to turn a once-proud Bruin program into a laughing stock. Things haven't been any better at Washington State, while June Daugherty has done a decent job at Washington. Chris Gobrecht has tons of talent but manages to run into some kind of personnel problem each year, while Cal and Oregon's staffs are still untested. So, in my book it's Arizona, Stanford and ASU as the three best coaching staffs in the conference. Maybe this will be the year that Joan Bonvicini, and her talented staff, will enjoy the fruit of a Pac-10 title. If not, the Cats are sure to be in the hunt and an NCAA tournament bid may be in the offering. Yes, the players get it done, but the coaches get them there. And no one does it better than Joan Bonvicini.
See you on the radio! Paul Johnson
*Please join us all season long on 1330 AM KJLL. Our first broadcast will be on Tuesday, Nov. 5, beginning at 6:30 p.m. for the annual Red and Blue Game.
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