These girls just want to have fun
Louisville coach able to keep it light when things get tight
NEW ORLEANS -- We’ve seen the excitement. We’ve felt the energy. There’s just a different personality and enthusiasm the fifth-seeded Cardinals have exuded in the NCAA tournament. But it’s nothing new … people are just starting to take notice. Louisville has played with an evident luster that is sparked by the coaching style of head coach Jeff Walz that encourages players to get out there, love what they’re doing and have some fun while taking care of business.
“I let kids play,” Walz said. “Some coaches think I’m crazy, but I want them to go out there and have fun. I think this game should be enjoyable.”
As senior forward Monique Reid was headed to the line to shoot her free throws that would lift Louisville to the win in the waning seconds against Baylor, Walz didn’t have the usual, “Go get 'em” speech prepared.
“Like when Monique Reid went to the line to shoot her two shots, she looked over at me. I said, ‘Can you miss again?’ ” Walz recounted. “And she laughed. Because the worst thing you can do is make them tight. … Like when we have kids throw up an air ball, when they’ll run by me, I’ll be like, ‘Just try to hit the rim; we’ll get a half a point.’ ”
The Schimmel sisters have already seen their parents get hitched after 28 years and eight children together as a result of the Cardinals’ win against Baylor. What could possibly top that if the squad pulls off the national title?
“Thing going around is tattoos, so I might make them get a tattoo or something,” junior guard Shoni Schimmel joked. “Our assistant coach Samantha Williams is getting a tattoo of a cardinal bird soon, so if we keep winning, I heard Coach Walz is going to get one, so we’ll see.”
“To me a little dot is a tattoo,” Walz responded after the players left the news conference Monday. “So that’s what I’m planning on doing. Please don’t tell them. OK? Because she’s expecting something big.”
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma has even gotten involved in the banter after both teams advanced to the national championship matchup, questioning Walz’ taste in attire while also offering him a job.
“[Walz is] the cockiest guy I ever met. He wears an Italian tablecloth for a shirt [Sunday],” Auriemma said. “I was going to hire him for my restaurant.”
It’s all in good fun. And why make it to the biggest platform in women’s collegiate basketball if they’re not going to take a little time to soak it in and enjoy the moment.
Walz’ players respond well to this coaching method. It’s a large part of why they chose Louisville and it’s a large part of why the team has gotten this far. They are having a good time and it shows.
“[Coach Walz] cracks jokes with every one of us and makes sure we have smiles on our faces,” sophomore forward Sara Hammond said. “I know he acts crazy sometimes on the sidelines, but that’s what gets us going and gets us excited. And I think that’s why we all came here to play for the University of Louisville, is because Coach Walz promised us and getting us to a national championship and hopefully preparing us maybe for professional basketball and preparing us for life.”
All jokes aside, Louisville has a lot at stake but nothing to lose in Tuesday’s championship game. The Cardinals are fully aware that it won’t be an easy task, but the road to get to this point hasn’t been, either.
“It’s going to take the best game that we played to date,” Walz said. “We’re going to have to play better than we played against Baylor, better than we played against Tennessee and Cal. We’re going to have to play, I mean, 40 minutes of pretty much perfect basketball, which I think we can.”
Either way, if things don’t go in Louisville’s favor, at least Walz knows he always has a fallback plan.
“As a women’s basketball coach, you go through times where you’re always wondering what you’re going to do when you’re finished,” Walz said. “And I’ve been to three national championship games. And now that I’ve got the opportunity to be a waiter in [Auriemma's] restaurant, I don’t know what the hell else somebody wants in life. So my goal in life is to become the head waiter. Not just the one that sits in the back. I want to be the best damn one he’s got.”
Auriemma knows one thing for sure. Walz may not be the best waiter in his restaurant, but he’s got a good coach to face off with if he wants to cut down the nets for the eighth time on Tuesday.