New women’s coach Todd Starkey met his Kent State public today, then went straight to the first practice with his team.
Starkey was introduced at a press conference at the Kent State Student Center. He was confident, articulate and personable. He said all the right things a new coach should say about his background, his quest for the job and his plans to turn around a program that won no more than seven games in any of the last five seasons.
The most interesting thing I thought Starkey said was about a phone call he received from KSU President Beverly Warren, who has been recovering from breast cancer surgery and didn’t get a chance to meet Starkey during his visits to campus.
Starkey was stuck in a traffic jam in Columbus as he was driving back to Indiana from his interview at Kent State when Warren called him on his cell phone.
“We spoke on the phone call for about a half hour, and rush hour traffic didn’t bother me anymore,” Starkey said. “Her enthusiasm and excitement for the future of this university and the future of athletics and the future of women’s basketball was palpable.
“When I got off the phone with her, I said, ‘If they offer me the job, I want to work in an environment like that.'”
Warren, a former college athlete, has attended a number of women’s games. She sat on the team’s bench as a guest coach at one game last season.
Athletic Director Joel Nielsen, who introduced Starkey, emphasized that Warren had been involved in the process by text, by email and by phone.
Starkey said he and every coach wants to play fast, exciting basketball.
“The thing that our players are going to hear over and over again about our style of play is ‘talk, box and run,'” he said.
“We’re going to be a program that communicates very well on and off the court. We’re going to be a program that defends. We have to be a team that gets stops on the defensive end to be effective, especially in conference play when everybody knows what you’re doing. We’re going to end every possession with a box out. We’re going to get out and run to get scores before the other team gets set.”
Starkey, who met with players during his visit to campus and had his first team meeting last night, went from the noon press conference to a 2 p.m. practice with the team. (In spring, a team can work out on the court for two hours a week and do six hours of conditioning and strength training.)
Team players filled the first two rows of seats to Starkey’s right as he spoke.
Starkey said he had seen film of last year’s 6-23 team and studied its statistics but emphasized that now was a new start for everyone.
“I think it’s not necessarily about who they were and where they came from,” he said. “It’s about where we want to go. I told them yesterday all is a blank slate with me.
“The biggest thing is creating a vision. I love the John Gordon quote, ‘Leadership is a transfer of belief.’ So I’ve got to get them to believe in me and what I’m trying to tell them.”
He said he wants to create a “championship mentality.”
“We’re going to talk about winning MAC champions whether anyone outside this room thinks we can do it or not,” Starkey said. “The team asked me a few days ago what my goals would be. Our goal each year is to win a MAC championship until it’s mathematically impossible.”
His first contact with Kent State came about 10 days ago when he called Deputy Athletic Director Casey Cegles, who, as the administrator working most closely with women’s basketball, ran the search. He said he talked with coaches in Division I and II, in the Big Ten and the MAC, administrators and people outside athletics in researching the job.
Nielsen said there were about 80 candidates for the job and the process had “lots of twists and turns” (the closest he said about two other coaches who were first offered the job). He said Kent State was looking for a coach with a track record of winning, one who understood Northeast Ohio and the region, someone with head coaching and Division I experience, and someone who understood the importance of women’s basketball on campus and in the community.
Starkey said recruiting starts this weekend (when there are AAU and similar tournaments). “We’ll be on a plane tomorrow. We’re looking at the 2017, 18, 19 2020 classes. Recruiting never stops.” He said that overall, recruiting would center on Ohio and the Midwest and “other places where we have contacts.”
He has already has some names in mind for assistant coaches. Asked whether he would interview any of former coach Danny O’Banion’s assistants, he said, “I’ve had conversions with all the current assistants, and we’ll leave it at that.”
On what’s he’s like on the sidelines: “It depends on how we’re playing. It’s what does our team need to hear from me in the moment. Sometimes they need me to be excited and passionate. Sometimes they need me to lower my voice and communicate real clearly what we need to do in this moment when there’s a little bit of chaos going on.”
To laughter, he said that Youngstown was an “interesting place” to grew up, but added. , “I’m excited get back to where I was raised and the values instilled in me in Northeast Ohio.” (He grew up in Canfield and played on that high school’s first league championship team.)
Starkey worked for 15 summers at Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski’s camps. “What I learned from Coach K is the power of effective communication, the way to deal with people, of how to motivate players. He was a great influence without him even knowing it most times.”
He also worked one summer at the camp of Stanford women’s coach Tara VanDerveer, who led the Cardinal to national prominence and coached the U.S. women’s Olympic team. There, he said, he learned from “watching her walk across campus with young campers, eating lunch with elementary girls and making them feel important.”
A video of the full press conference is here.