The obsession of winning is what drives many to succeed.
Then there is a whole other breed, a hyper-competitive type that doesn’t run on triumphs.
Jody Adams is part of the latter and to play basketball for her, you must answer one question.
Do you hate to lose more than you love to win?
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Reading through Adams’ coaching bio and all of her accomplishments, there always comes a reference to her tendency to win wherever she has been. But to listen to Adams tell it, a more accurate statement would be she has escaped losing.
“You’re so invested in your team that you do want them to feel what you felt,” Adams said. “To win a championship, to put it all together. You actually forget all the bad things and you just remember that one special moment.”
But five years into her first long-term coaching job, can Adams lead the Wichita State women’s basketball team to their own special moment?
Built from the best
In talking about becoming a head coach, Adams likes to say she has taken a part of each of her stops along her basketball career.
She was a high school All-American for legendary coach Jim Smiddy, who is inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and recruited by legendary coach Pat Summitt at Tennessee, where she won a national championship in 1991.
At five separate stops as an assistant, Adams won a conference title (2007 Missouri Valley at Southern Illinois), advanced to the Elite 8 (1996 at Auburn), recruited future pro Lindsay Whalen at Minnesota in 2000 and won the 2003 AFLAC national assistant coach of the year award at UMKC.
Adams got her first crack at head coaching at Murray State, where she took over a readymade roster and led it to the NCAA Tournament in her only season before coming to Wichita State in 2008.
There is a theme and it is no coincidence.
“It’s who I am and it’s where I come from,” Adams said. “Playing for Pat Summitt, you don’t know any other way but to teach those expectations of winning ways. It’s just who I am and it’s easy for me to be me.”
When Adams arrived, Wichita State was in the cellar of the Missouri Valley. In her first rebuilding effort, Adams immediately went to work on the recruiting trail. Not every player was accustomed to her intensity and some were lost along the way, but the ones that stayed swear by her.
“We’ve grown to understand Jody’s competitiveness and been able to match it and exceed it,” said senior Jessica Diamond, who was part of Adams’ first recruiting class. “We all hate to lose more than we love to win, and that just shows you how fierce of competitors we are. Yeah, it’s great to win, but it sucks to lose and that’s what drives us every single day.”
Wichita State has averaged 18 wins the last three seasons and expectations are even higher this season after tying the school record 20 wins last year.
The culture around the program is revamped and it has Adams’ attitude all over it.
“She won’t ever let you settle,” sophomore Alex Harden said. “She won’t let you do something just because it’s easy. You have to push yourself so it’s hard.”
Adams has been a top recruiter in the Valley, but her sustained success has more to do with her attention to the details. It’s a trait that she believes every winning program shares.
“If you get the smallest detail wrong, someone is on you,” senior Chynna Turner said. “She wants you to be perfect and I think that’s what makes her such a great coach and what has kept this program at that level.”
Seeing it through
When Adams looks at this season’s roster, with six seniors and a wealth of experience, she sees similarities that link Wichita State to her former winners.
“It’s that passion they share,” Adams said. “I can finally say that these guys hate to lose more than they love to win.”
But a struggling program in a bigger conference is sure to notice Adams’ rebuilding efforts and track record of success. What will Adams say when bigger programs come calling?
“I love Wichita State,” said Adams, who is under contract through the 2014-15 season. “They have supported me through building a program. I don’t think my time here is finished anywhere soon.”
If the Shockers are unable to win their first conference title this season, it won’t be a lost cause.
They’ll still be in the title race, as long as Adams is coaching.
Or, in the words of Adams, WSU will at least escape losing.
“She would never allow it,” said Harden, the centerpiece to the Shockers’ future. “She would probably take herself out completely before she allows us to do less than we’re capable of.”