Gophers Basketball
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In yesterday’s Sunday Star Tribune, we printed my long-reported story on new University of Minnesota women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings, and what makes her tick. Please read the full story, linked above.
I wanted to also share a few leftovers here:
**In the story, it’s clear Stollings is very involved with detail. There’s a method behind the madness: “I like to call it clarity, as well,” she said. “Because clarity gives people power and I think power to do their jobs at the highest level. That’s an example of power to me.”
**Part of that outlook began at Ohio State, where Stollings played after high school. There, under legendary coach Nancy Darsch, a young Stollings learned a bit about how she wanted to operate. Darsch’s practices were like “clockwork,” Stollings said. “She ran the most efficient practice of anyone I’ve been around. If she had three minutes for a drill, we went intense for three minutes and when the horn went off, we went on to the next drill. She had it down to the minute.”
After two years, however, Stollings transferred, playing her final two years at Ohio University. She had grown up an in-state star and playing only 18 minutes a game was tough for her and her following to understand. “People were saying ‘Why isn’t she playing more?’” Stollings said. “As a youngster, it’s easy to get caught up in that.”
Still, the time with Darsch proved influential – Stollings says she still uses some of the things she learned from her in practices today. And players seem to mirror the intensity she once felt.
“On the court, workouts are different,” guard Rachel Banham said, noting the change from the past. “They’re very detailed. She stays on top of things, she stays on top of us.”
**Growing up amidst the farmlands outside of Beaver, Ohio, sports operated as obvious entertainment.
Stollings had two siblings, a brother, Charles, four years older, and a sister, Brenda, who was about two and a half years older. Both would play basketball, football, basketball, kickball – you name it – with the neighborhood kids and Stollings, though much younger, always wanted to join in. She would shag balls for her brother’s soccer and baseball teams. She’d be the only girl playing football – and the games got pretty rough -- with the boys in the backyard.
“Whatever they were involved in, she was out there,” said her father, Curt Stollings, who hand-welded the much-too-small iron rim the kids shot at, and built the house they lived in. “Underneath their feet, trying to do her thing.”
Though she played many sports growing up, basketball stuck early. Stollings remembers, at 5 years old, going to the high school with her dad and a pool volleyball – her hands were too small to hold a full-size basketball at the time – for the lessons she craved.
She learned to layup, on a regular-sized hoop.
Hand and knee connected by a string.
She learned to pass, properly.
Thumbs down.
“Marlene took it more seriously than the other two,” Curt said. “I mean, she was shooting basketball all the time. It had become a passion with her, an obsession almost.”
By the seventh grade Stollings was scoring 28 points a game. By the end of high school, she was averaging in the 40s. She set the state record for career points – boys and girls – cruising past LeBron James’ totals. All the while, she played for Ron “Tuck” Connor’s AAU team, learning his detailed, advanced system and dominating at the Nationals each year.
Along the way, recruiting letters poured in. Stollings has them, still, in a scrapbook – a well worn heirloom that at the time, was the stuff dreams were made of. Vivian Stringer. Jody Conrad. Pat Summit. Dawn Staley. They all wanted to talk to her.
By then, the target – the non-negotiable future -- had already been set.
“She had decided,” Curt said. “She sure did. She wanted to coach. She wanted to coach at a big school.”
** Now, Stollings realizes.
“I’m wired a little bit differently,” she said.
It took her, however, into her early 30s to figure that out.
By that point, she had worked at several different schools, with all sorts of different people. Many were very good at their jobs, no doubt. But few were as meticulous and thorough at every level as Stollings is.
She called one of her childhood friends, Amy Turner, wondering if she was right in her revolution – that she attacks things quite differently than most.
Turner laughed.
“I’ve known that for years,” she said.
Said assistant Niki Dawkins: “She lives basketball. She lives it, she breathes it, and that’s why she’s good at it.”
**Has she thought of training her players now on a rim that’s too small – the way she did growing up? Stollings smiled. “No,” she said. “But you bring up a good point.”