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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS



DALLAS — Think about the great winners over time in the history of basketball: Bill Russell. Michael Jordan. John Wooden. Pat Summitt.

None of them won as much as Kim Mulkey. Not even close.

Since Mulkey began her playing career as a freshman point guard at Hammond High near her hometown of Tickfaw, La., in 1976-77 through this, her 16th season as head coach at Baylor, she has never had a losing season. Not even close.

Mulkey’s Hammond teams went 136-5 and won four straight state championships. At Louisiana Tech, where she started four seasons, the Lady Techsters went 130-6, made the Final Four four times and were national champions twice. During that time, she was a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning teams at the 1983 Pan American Games and 1984 Olympics.

During 15 seasons as assistant and associate head coach at Louisiana Tech, Mulkey’s teams went 430-68, were NCAA champions once, runners-up twice and reached the Final Four six times.

During her 16 years at Baylor, the Bears have gone 473-91, won two NCAA titles (2005 and ’12) and made at least the Elite Eight six times, including the last three in a row.

Total record over 40 seasons of organized ball: 1,169-170, a winning percentage of .873. Only four times have Mulkey’s teams lost as many as 10 games. Twenty-seven times, they’ve lost five or fewer. And that’s not all.

“We had an undefeated season in eighth grade,” Mulkey says matter-of-factly, not a hint of brag to her voice.

This is what Oregon State is up against as the Beavers face Baylor Monday night in a 6 p.m. PT Elite Eight showdown at American Airlines Center.

The Mulkey legacy is astounding. From the time she was a pert 5-4 blonde in French braids, dishing out assists and running the show for Louisiana Tech, to the present as a middle-aged coach pushing her Bears to great heights, nobody has won a greater percentage of games at the college or pro level. Not even close.

“It doesn’t just happen by accident,” Mulkey explains, with a southern twang, of her proclivity to winning. “When I came out of high school, Louisiana Tech had made its very first run in the Final Four and had three sophomores and two freshmen. People told me, ‘Why are you going there? You’re not going to get on the flippin’ floor ’til you’re a junior.’ “I said, ‘I don’t believe that. I want to play for national championships. I want to play on a great team. I’m good enough that, at some point, I’m cracking that lineup.’

“I’ve been blessed. I went to Louisiana Tech with great players there and a great coach. I learned the game. You can’t be selfish. I could have gone somewhere closer to home, played 40 minutes and never been exposed to this level.”

Mulkey has usually come into winning situations, but not always. When she arrived at Baylor in 2000, the Bears were coming off a season in which they went 7-20 overall and 2-12 while finishing last in the Big 12. Her first season, Baylor was 21-9 and earned its first NCAA Tournament berth.

The only woman to have won NCAA Division I titles as a player and coach, Mulkey was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

Oh yeah — Mulkey also graduated as her high school class valedictorian with a 4.0 grade-point average, was a summa cum laude scholar and two-time Academic All-American in college and was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic Hall of Fame in 2003.

“She’s a pretty all-around amazing person,” says Johnny Derrick, who came to Baylor with Mulkey and has served as her assistant athletic director for basketball operations for 16 years.

Mulkey has connections to the state of Oregon. Her teammate on the 1984 Olympic team was Carol Menken-Schaudt, who owns two OSU career records — field-goal percentage (.692) and scoring average (27.7) — that will likely never be broken.

Louisiana Tech beat Tennessee 79-59 in the AIAW national championship game at Eugene in 1981, Mulkey’s freshman year, to cap a 34-0 season.

“McArthur Court,” she says. “I remember at the hotel the night before, the fire alarm goes off and wondering, ‘Did somebody do this on purpose?’ But fond memories of Eugene.”

Mulkey’s playing days, of course, came far before the birth of any of her players. They’re only vaguely aware of her role as a pioneer of the women’s game while a player.

“I’ve seen pictures at her house,” says Nina Davis, a 5-11 junior who has been Big 12 player of the year the past two seasons. “She had her two little pixie-tails. They wore those little shorts.”

“I’ve never seen films of her games, but she always tells us how good she was, how good of a point guard and passer she was,” says Alexis Prince, a 6-2 junior. “She always talks about how she couldn’t shoot. But she’s more like, ‘I could shoot, but I passed all the time.’”

“She mentions sometimes during practice about her (playing) career,” says Kristy Wallace, a 5-11 sophomore from Australia. “She likes to say she could still beat us all on the court.”

The players’ comments are made with smiles on their faces. Mulkey addresses the subject with good humor, too.

“Playing in college was fun times, I’ll tell ya,” she says, “but I don’t share any of that with my team. Sometimes my assistants will show them old footage of me and the kids will go, ‘Coach, you played no defense.’ I say, ‘You’re right, I didn’t. But I didn’t have to, because I had (Debra) Rodman back here and (Janice) Lawrence back here and I’d holler help, and they’d block a shot.”

Mulkey, who turns 54 in May, remains fit and looks as if she could still go a few minutes on the court, though she says she quit playing during her third season as coach at Baylor.

“I’d get out there and try to show them how to take charges,” Mulkey says. “One day I said, ‘These kids are going to hurt me. That’s it.’ I don’t get out there with them anymore. I might demonstrate a little with them, but physically, they’re too strong. They’d hurt me.”

The players say the coach can’t help herself at times, though.

“Sometimes when she’s really intense in practice, she says, ‘I’ll show you myself,’ and she’ll do a crossover or something,” Davis says with a giggle. “I think she’s lost her touch a little bit, but she thinks she’s still got some game.”

Mulkey hasn’t lost her touch as a coach, or as a leader.

“She knows what it take to win,” Davis says. “She’s been a winner all her life. You can tell she loves the game. She’s such a competitor. She hates to lose.

“What really makes our team so great, her passion rubs off on us. She teaches us that losing is unacceptable. We pretty much have that same mindset.”

Mulkey is demonstrative on the sidelines during games, working the officials, barking instructions at her players, rarely taking a seat.

“She’s an active coach,” Wallace says. “She’s out there on the court, moving her feet, clapping her hands. Sometimes you can see that player in her — the fire in her eyes. She’s an aggressive coach, and I’m sure she was an aggressive player, too.”

Mulkey is aware there are detractors who believe she goes overboard with her in-game demeanor.

“People — the opponents and their fans — misinterpret that sometimes,” she says. “They think I’m this mean woman on the sidelines. I’m just passionate. I’m giving you everything I’m asking you to give me. When it’s over, we can laugh and cut up and have a good time.

“I have pride about me. I want everything associated with my program to be the best. I want the administration to be the best. I want the fans to be the best. I want the cheerleaders to be the best. I don’t want to be embarrassed by anything. That’s just something you’re born with. it’s sometimes misinterpreted, but it’s not personal. I’m giving everything I have; I want everybody around me to give everything they have.”

Summarizes Derrick: “She demands the best from everyone around her — from her players to her coaches to herself.”

Off the court, Mulkey lets her guard down and takes on a different persona.

“She’s a nice person,” Prince says. “She’s joking all the time. She’s tells jokes you probably wouldn’t even get. Sometimes we don’t even laugh.

“Coach Mulkey hasn’t taught me just basketball through my time at Baylor. I would say she has taught me how to be a better person.”

Mulkey is the divorced mother of two children. Her daughter, Makenzie Fuller, 24, played four seasons for her mother at Baylor and is in her first year as Baylor’s assistant director of basketball operations. Her son, Kramer Robertson, 21, is a junior and the starting second baseman for Louisiana State.

“She loves her children,” Derrick says. “They’re the top priority. Always have been. I remember when they were younger, she followed everything they did in sporting events and missed very little, which is pretty amazing given her schedule.”

During a Sunday press conference, Mulkey made mention of Oregon State coach Scott Rueck and his three children, Cole, Kate and Macey, who have been alongside him whenever possible during the Beavers’ time in Dallas.

“There are several things I notice that touch me as a mother,” Mulkey says. “To watch those three kids go on that floor to celebrate with their dad (after a game) — special. In fact, I saw one of the kids in the hallway yesterday walking with his dad, and I said, ‘That’s what it’s all about. Enjoy it!’

“I love seeing the family dynamics when it comes to coaches sharing it with their kids. That carries over to the type of program you build.”

When I ask Mulkey about her children, she tears up immediately.

“You’re making me cry now, because my son’s not here, and I miss him,” she says, her voice suddenly a high rasp. “There have been very few nets I’ve cut down without my kids. I was thinking about that at Easter service this morning.

“They’re my heart. They’re what makes me wake up every day. When you’re a single mother, you feel like you have failed them in some regards by not still being married. But I’m happy they have their priorities straight in life. They’ve been with me through the whole run.”

Her voice strengthens as she adds with a smile, “They’re just good kids, in spite of their mother.”

In spite of their mother? Nope, not even close.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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