Posted: Friday May 27, 2005 2:27PM; Updated: Thursday June 2, 2005 2:41AM
Kim Mulkey-Robertson led her Lady Bears to a national title that redefined Baylor University and Waco, Texas.
Loathe as Williams was to concede his coaching career now complete with a national championship win, there's no getting around the fact that Mulkey-Robertson's triumph did more than exorcise a few demons. It's not as if Mulkey-Robertson, a basketball lifer at 43 years old, hadn't accomplished enough in the game: As a player, she led Louisiana Tech to two national championships ('81 and '82) and won herself gold medals at the '83 Pan American Games and the '84 Olympics. Then as an assistant and associate head coach with the Techsters, she went to seven Final Fours in 15 years.
When Mulkey-Robertson came to Baylor in 2000, it didn't seem like she'd be in for much of a wait before winning her first national title as a head coach. But the victory over Michigan State does more than buttress a Hall of Fame career, it buoyed a community. Up until last April, the most anyone knew about Baylor University was that one of its men's basketball players had been fatally shot, and a former teammate stood accused of the murder. Before that, it was Waco, Texas, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. But by vanquishing Spartans, 84-62, on April 5, Mulkey-Robertson was able to wipe away 12 years worth of darting eyes, crinkled noses and trailing voices in one deft swipe. (Baylor? Isn't that where...) For the first time, this small Baptist school had something to feel good about. For the first time, this small Baptist school could call itself a winner. Now when people ask about Baylor, there's no dancing around the obvious. "It's the home of the national-championship winning Lady Bears," school President Robert B. Sloan Jr. declared proudly.
To his credit, Sloan passed on making the knee-jerk follow-up: Any chance you'd be able to do it again next year? Mulkey-Robertson certainly has the early edge over Williams in terms of returnees (Other than low post scorer Steffanie Blackmon, the Bears go into the 2005-06 campaign with their nucleus intact.). Still, she worries about the monster she has created. "We gonna try to keep feeding it," she says, "but by no stretch of the imagination is this program a power to be yet. We've got to continue to build."
Williams, meanwhile, set about the task of replacing his top seven players immediately, beginning his recruiting efforts the morning after the Final Four on April 6 and remaining on the road (save a couple of days here and there) through April 30. Asked of his outlook on next season, Williams sums up his title defense: "We scored 75 points in the national championship. We only have one point returning. What we think about is the new beginning."
Until then, the coaches savor their dinner.
Still, the thing that always gets me about meals like these is that no matter how much I eat, I always end up going home hungry. No doubt Mulkey-Robertson and Williams, with their Winged Foot awards in tow, go into next season feeling the same way.