Western Kentucky is headed back into some intense women’s basketball rivalries with its move to Conference USA, and who better to talk about those rivalries than former coach Paul Sanderford?
I asked Sanderford on Monday about the strength of Conference USA’s 2014 women’s hoops affiliation, as well as WKU’s return to rivalries with Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Alabama-Birmingham, Middle Tennessee and so on.
I also asked Sanderford about the job done by WKU women’s coach Michelle Clark-Heard in her first year, and if he expects her to become a hot commodity in coming years. Here are his comments:
PAUL SANDERFORD, former WKU women’s basketball coach
From a women’s basketball perspective, what’s your take on WKU’s move to Conference USA? “It looks like the old Sun Belt to me. That was one of the factors in me taking the Western job, was that Old Dominion was in the same league. They were kind of at the pinnacle at that time, and you could get some national notoriety if you could compete with them. This is going to be a very, very good women’s basketball league. UAB has a good team, Texas-El Paso drilled us a few years ago in the (NCAA tournament) first round. I’m very interested in seeing how they shake out the divisions. Keeping the Florida swing is important for a lot of sports, including baseball. People don’t realize Charlotte has a great women’s basketball pedigree. Old Dominion will be good, Louisiana Tech’s getting better every year. You put Western and all of these schools back together with the addition of other teams, it’s going to be a heck of a league.”
Talk about what Michelle Clark-Heard did in her first year: “She got the kids to buy into working hard and playing the way she wanted to play, and that’s always the hardest thing. Every time I saw them, I never said, ‘They didn’t play hard.’ If you had told me you could get Gooch to play as hard as she could and be a double-double every night at 5-11, she bought in to what the coaches wanted done. With what she had, she definitely got a lot out of that group.”
Do you expect her name to become popular in the coming years for vacancies? “Her name will be out there, but I think the thing about Michelle that people don’t realize – it’s kind of like Jeff Walz. Louisville was a destination job for Jeff. It was coming home, and for Michelle, the job she’s always wanted is the Western job. It’s like coach Harper. Michelle isn’t out there looking for a job. I’m not saying people aren’t going to chase her, but I think she loves Western and wants so badly to get the tradition and fan interest back. She’s not going to leave Western Kentucky, in my opinion, until she’s done all she feels like she can do here.”