Darren Brunson started as Keitha Adams’ boss at Independence Community College. A few years later, he worked for her on the women’s basketball coaching staff at Texas-El Paso.
Nothing changed as far Adams’ willingness to stay in the office until 11 p.m. to make recruiting calls, watch video and move X’s and O’s. His ability to encourage her to get some sleep, however, did.
“I used to have tell her to go home,” Brunson said. “She eats, sleeps and drinks basketball. Then when I worked with her at UTEP, I couldn’t tell her to go home. We had to stay and work together.”
Wichita State will introduce Adams as its women’s basketball coach on Monday afternoon at Koch Arena. She was hired last week after 16 seasons at UTEP, culminating with an 8-23 record this season with a roster featuring seven freshmen. She went 284-209 with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2012 and WNIT appearances in 2014 and 2016. Adams directed UTEP to six 20-win seasons and three conference titles in the past 11 seasons.
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Adams will be paid $315,000 on a five-year contract, according to athletic director Darron Boatright.
Adams is returning to her Kansas roots. She is from Oxford, where the school retired her jersey in 1986. She attended Southwestern College and coached five seasons at Independence Community College before moving to UTEP.
Brunson, from Wichita, was athletic director at Independence when he elevated Adams from assistant to head coach in 1996. She went to UTEP in 2001 and Brunson joined her as assistant coach in 2002.
His description of Adams starts with that work ethic.
He calls her a head coach who never forgot what it means to work like an assistant coach at a junior college. Long hours. Long drives. Extra phone calls. Early mornings in a gym to watch a prospect others might miss.
He recalled a recruiting trip to New York when Adams refused to come home until she got the player and parents together for her pitch. She stayed three days and eventually landed the athlete. Some head coaches delegate checking on class attendance to their assistants. Adams, Brunson said, helped with those duties.
“She made sure her assistants knew they were all in it together,” he said.
At Independence, she would sometimes let assistants run practice so she could see a recruit and hustle back to coach the game.
“Seeing her tireless work on the road, when it was time to hire a new coach, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind,” said Brunson, who is now an assistant at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “She works like you would expect an assistant to work.”
Adams, Brunson said, was a leader in recruiting overseas at Independence and at UTEP. He expects her to continue that strategy at WSU. The 2016-17 UTEP roster had five players from outside the United States.
“At UTEP … we went that international route that first year because we couldn’t get anybody to come,” he said. “They hadn’t won in so many years.”
UTEP assistant coach Ewa Laskowska, from Poland, played at Independence and worked as Adams’ assistant there. She followed Adams to UTEP and plays a major role in the internatioal recruiting. According to the El Paso Times, she is UTEP’s interim coach and a candidate to succeed Adams.
“Coach Adams offered me a position (at WSU) and that’s a great comfort to me,” Laskowska told the El Paso Times. “At this point, I can’t really make any statement, I’ll just take it one day at a time, make sure the kids are taken care of, go about business as normal, take it from there.”
The Shockers went 15-16 last season and return most of their top scorers and rebounders. Junior Rangie Bessard averaged 17.3 points and earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors.
WSU interviewed Pittsburg State coach Lane Lord, former Auburn coach Nell Fortner, now working for ESPN, and Texas A&M associate head coach Kelly Bond-White, according to sources. Texas A&M coach Gary Blair confirmed Bond-White’s interview late last week.
While it is likely other coaches interviewed, those are the only names to emerge in media reports.
Wichita State is replacing Jody Adams-Birch, who left the position in late January. She was replaced by interim coach Linda Hargrove, who worked with athletic director Darron Boatright on the hire.