Sunday, March 23, 2003

Living legend roams Texas sidelines

Starting with Hampton, Conradt has 'Horns in place for title run

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jody Conradt, the head coach of the women's Texas Longhorns during practice at the University of Cincinnati Shoemaker Center on March 22.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Not long ago, star Texas guard Tai Dillard was playing a one-on-one game against a teammate in the Texas gym.

Dillard was so caught up in the intensity of the moment, that when she made a spin-move dribble to beat her opponent, she was stunned to run into, and over, somebody else.

"Oops," said Dillard, as she helped Texas coach Jody Conradt up from the floor.

At the time, Dillard was embarrassed (partly because coach Conradt always reminds her players to keep their heads up when they're dribbling), but on Saturday, Dillard laughed in re-telling the story.

Conradt, who was sitting nearby while Dillard held court at Shoemaker Center, laughed, too.

"I was just showing them how to draw a charge," Conradt dead-panned.

Texas (25-5), No. 2 seed in the NCAA Women's Tournament West Region, plays 15th-seeded Hampton at noon today.

On the Longhorns sideline - out front of the bench and hopefully out of harm's way from any rampaging Texas guards dribbling to beat Hampton's vaunted full-court press - will be one of the legends of the game.

And considering the trails Conradt has blazed - she was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 - one knows she has been driving up-court a lot more than she's been drawing charges.

Her first coaching job was 40 years ago - 1963 - at Waco (Texas) High School.

"To look at what she's done for women's basketball, and to feel the changes and difference she's made, I feel very humble in her presence," said coach Laurie Pirtle, of the University of Cincinnati, which is hosting first- and second-round tournament games.

It is one of the beauties of the women's game that the giants still walk the earth. Conradt at Texas, Pat Summitt at Tennessee, Sue Gunter at Louisiana State.

They are, as Pirtle uses the phrase to describe Conradt, "difference-makers."

But victory is not assured for Conradt.

Conradt has such a facile grasp on a variety of stories about the early days - in the late 1950's she averaged 40 points per game at Goldthwaite, Texas, High School when there was no 3-point shot - one has to wonder she is more out of a newsreel than she is of ESPN.

She was asked whether she reminded her team that, two years ago in the men's tournament, 15th-seeded Hampton stunned second seed Iowa State.

The Hampton ladies would love to add to the lore by becoming the first No. 15 seed in the women's tournament to upset a No. 2.

"This group of young people - this generation - lives in the moment," Conradt said. "They don't have much perspective on history. But, yes, I reminded them. . . . When I brought that to their attention, I couldn't tell if there was a recognition response or not.

"They probably don't even know the University of Texas won a national championship and was perfect (34-0) in one season (1985-86). That's not in their world. But we'll mention the Hampton men a time or two more before we tip off."



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