Vaught's Views: DeMoss aims to bring 'great players' to UK

November 17, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Mickie DeMoss has no false illusions about what will determine her fate at the University of Kentucky.

"Great players make great coaches," said DeMoss. "I am committed to recruiting and bringing in talent."

DeMoss guided her first UK women's basketball team to an 11-17 mark last season. However, she brought in five freshmen along with one transfer for this year's team and her recruiting class was ranked in the top 10 nationally last year.

She told the Danville-Boyle County UK Alumni Club here Tuesday night that she's put together another solid recruiting class. Three of her four signees this month are from Kentucky, fulfilling another promise she made to "take care of the state" when she left Tennessee after 18 years as an assistant coach to rebuild UK's program.

Of course, even those talented new recruits require coaching.

"My voice is a little scratchy," she joked. "I have been teaching Basketball 101. These new players are the future of our program. They came to a place that had not been winning, but they still have a lot of things they have to learn."


DeMoss should know. She became the first full-time women's coach at Florida in 1979. Her four teams went 45-68 before she left to join the staff at Auburn. Two years later Tennessee coach Pat Summitt hired DeMoss. The Vols won 554 games and six NCAA championships in 13 Final Four trips during her 18 years there.

A certain down-home charm

She has a certain down-home charm that's impossible not to like. While she was at Tennessee, she was chosen as a contestant on the Price Is Right when the team was playing in California. She was the Showcase Showdown winner and got a trip to New Zealand along with a washer and dryer, bedroom set and grandfather clock -- and she still has all those items in her home today for "sentimental reasons."

"I used to tell Pat that she might be a Hall of Fame coach, but I am a Showcase winner," DeMoss said.

Her charm is one reason Kentucky was No. 1 in the nation in attendance growth last season and No. 2 in the Southeastern Conference in total attendance last season. This season over 4,000 season tickets have already been sold.

Part is because of an intense marketing program by Kentucky. However, don't underestimate the role DeMoss has played. She'll make an appearance almost anywhere to promote her program and just has a certain knack for relating with fans.

"You don't have to sell the sport of basketball here," DeMoss said. "But we are working hard to put a product on the floor that fans like.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I think we would have the enthusiasm we got last year. I couldn't believe the fans that were there for our first game in Rupp Arena last year."

Of course, enthusiasm can only go so far in the SEC. Three of the nation's top five teams in the preseason poll are Tennessee, LSU and Georgia, all teams on Kentucky's schedule. DeMoss still remembers the 1997 season when Tennessee finished fifth in the SEC before going on to win the national title.

"Where does the WNBA come to get their draft picks? They come to the SEC," DeMoss said.

New practice facility needed

DeMoss says the new practice facility that men's coach Tubby Smith desperately wants would also be a huge boost for her program. Now both basketball teams share Memorial Coliseum with the volleyball and gymnastics teams and also have to contend with other university functions there.

"It would be huge to get that practice facility," DeMoss said. "Now people are in and out when you are practicing. You never know who might hear something you say. You can't always practice when you want. Players can't always shoot when they want. Most major schools already have something like that. It's something we need."

Would that be enough to help Kentucky become a consistent top 25 team?

"I don't know. I hope we get there in the next three or four years," she said. "We still have a lot of things to teach. But I know we are going to have a program here at Kentucky fans can be proud of."

DeMoss also prodded the alumni to attend a women's game. Kentucky opens the season Friday by hosting Butler and then hosts Florida A&M Sunday.

"When I was asked to speak here, I was given one date," she said. "I am giving you 13 (dates for home games). I am not as stringent. I am more flexible. But I do think if you come watch, you'll see games that are fun and will want to come back."

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