Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Courtside Conversations with Paul Johnson
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: June 22, 2004
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Paul Johnson is employed by the UA as the women's basketball play-by-play announcer. He has 20 years of sports broadcasting experience, including the last six years as the voice of Arizona women's basketball. Every Wildcat women's basketball game this year will be broadcast live on KJLL 1330 AM, with Paul calling all the action.

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What is the best women's basketball conference in the country? This is a question that is debated at this time every year. Most will say the SEC, while others will lift up the Big 12 or Big Ten. Because you live in Tucson, your vote might go the Pac-10, and in one area, you might be exactly right. Don't look now, but this conference may have the best coaches of any conference in the country!

Pac-10 coaches have 2,387 wins between them. That's an average of 238 wins per coach. Of course, you have to really look at the "big two" - Arizona's Joan Bonvicini and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer. VanDerveer leads conference coaches with 516 career wins, followed closely by Coach B's 504. It is the strength of other coaches that is the most surprising.

Let's begin with the "up-and-comers" category. Leading that list is Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne. This is a woman who has turned an awful program into a Pac-10 winner within five short years. Washington's June Daugherty also fits here. After a slow start, the Huskies claimed a share of the conference title in 2000-01. She also had won 123 games in seven years at Boise State before making the jump to the Pac-10.

Now, let's move to the "established coach-second tier" category. Leading this list of good but not great coaches is USC's Chris Golbrecht. After 11 wonderful years at Washington, Golbrecht has yet to turn around a troubled USC program. Her record in Seattle was a stunning 243-89. Her career wins total stands at 380 but it will be her time at USC that defines her coaching career. She has yet to take the conference's most talented team and turn it into a consistent winner.

The next category of Pac-10 coaches could be called the "promising coaches" group. We start here with Oregon's brand-new hire Bev Smith. Although Smith has not coached a game at a U.S. university, she has established herself north of the border. The Oregon alum spent four years coaching the Canadian National Team and led her squad to their best finish ever at the Pan-American Games in 1999, when Canada landed a silver medal. According to all reports out of Eugene, Smith has revived sagging spirits and looks to be on the verge of continuing former skipper Jody Runge's winning ways. Next on this list is California's second-year coach Caren Horstmeyer. After winning 221 games at Santa Clara, Horstmeyer finished just one game behind Arizona in last year's conference race. She definitely carries high hopes in Berkeley.

The most intriguing list of Pac-10 coaches may be the "most disappointing" category. Here, we begin with UCLA's Kathy Olivier. Yes, she grabbed a share of the Pac-10 crown in 1998-99, but also has finished 5th, 6th, 8th (twice), and tenth last season. In recruiting-rich Los Angeles, Olivier has failed to take advantage. Oregon State's Judy Spoelstra is another disappointment. After taking over a Pac-10 championship-caliber team in 1995-96, she has allowed the program to fall into ruins. She finished second in her first year, then has posted 7th, 9th (twice), 5th, and 6th place finishes in her six years at OSU. She simply hasn't gotten it done.

Finally, we turn to the two coaches who carry the Pac-10. We call this the "Dean of Coaches" group. We begin with Stanford's Tara VanDerveer. What can you say about her record? Not only has she gathered 516 wins in her 22 years, but she has also won an astounding number of conference championships. She won three Big Ten championships in her five years at Ohio State, including a conference record of 50-4. At Stanford, she has won nine Pac-10 titles in 15 years, including a national championship in 1991-92. Throw in an U.S. Olympic gold medal, and you have a sure Hall of Fame career. Then, we come to Arizona's own Joan Bonvicini. Her record also speaks for itself. She has mounted 504 victories in 22 years as a head coach. She has taken her teams to two Final Fours and has won 10 conference titles, all in the Big West. Although she hasn't yet won the Pac-10, Joan has taken a horrible Arizona program and turned it into a national power. She has tied for second in the conference twice and advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 1998. Her conference winning percentage is .608 (Pac-10 and Big West combined) and always gets the most out of her talent.

All in all, coaching in the Pac-10 is as good as, if not better than, any conference in the country. I know you pay to see players play, but now you know just a little more about those women who roam the sidelines, fighting tooth and nail, for a shot at a conference crown.

See you on the radio!
Paul Johnson

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