Sanderford, former players discuss past and present of Lady Topper program

The Lady Toppers welcomed back several former greats Saturday, as they honored the three previous Final Four teams, including the 20th anniversary of the 1991-92 national championship runner-up team.

WKU lost 56-52 to South Alabama, dropping to 6-16 overall and 3-7 in the Sun Belt. The announced attendance was 1,080.

I spoke at length with former coach Paul Sanderford, as well as had conversations with players Kami Thomas Howard and Traci Patton, both members of the Final Four teams in 1985 and 1986. Here are a few of their comments. A full story will run in Sunday’s Daily News.

Paul Sanderford

“It’s tough to walk in here on a Saturday afternoon and see a thousand people. For years, if we didn’t have 4,000 we were disappointed.”

Former players asked where crowd was:

“That’s a reminder of what they expect. I think there are people still that care, but we’ve got to have more. We’ve got to have a younger fan base too. It’s tough, because the expectations here are maybe unrealistic. I’ve said that for years. I remember going to the Sweet Sixteen two years in a row and people were disappointed.

“Part of it is winning. You have to win, I don’t care where you are. But winning isn’t the only thing you have to do. We made it socially acceptable to go to a women’s basketball game in this area.”

On changes in national, regional competition:

“The community wants the Lady Toppers to be successful, and they’re working at it. Everybody wants to be good now. Kentucky’s in the top 10, Louisville’s in the top 25. I didn’t have that problem when I was here. We were the team.”

On success of his former players:

“There were some exceptional athletes. It wasn’t my coaching. It was really good players – lots of them. I’m sorry more of them couldn’t come today. We can talk about history, but that’s what it is. You can’t play yesterday. For the players that are in this program now, they know what’s expected. You can handle that one of two ways. You can handle it as a challenge or pressure.”

Kami Thomas Howard

“Since the tradition is so strong, I think it’s important to bring back those that really started the tradition. It was our age group that really started bringing the excitement back to Lady Topper basketball. I think it’s important to have us back, because there’s a lot of people who remember those days and still come.”

On decline in attendance:

“It’s human nature to want to support a winner. It’s tough when you’re not winning for fans to come out, but there is still that core group. If they can get some wins and get some excitement going, they can get it back to the days of old, and the fans will come. It’s sad that that’s the way it is, but that’s the reality.”

On a message to the current players:

“They need to know that things can happen and things can change. I’ve talked to the team before about how it’s a challenge to play D-I ball. I think to compare their team to us is unfair, but we know what it takes to get over the hump. We started out not so good, and we built on that.”

Traci Patton

On coming back to Diddle Arena:

“It gives us a chance to show the young girls what we’ve done and motivate them to have some of the great feelings we had with our success,” she said. “It’s important for them to know the history. We want to get back to that national prominence.”

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