Four members of the 1985 Oxford High starting basketball lineup reunited in Koch Arena on Monday.
Elaine Ellenz played point guard and teamed with Jami White in the backcourt. Michelle Hamilton — nicknamed “Animal” for her aggressive play — played post. They came to watch Wichita State introduce Keitha Adams as its ninth women’s basketball coach and plan for more reunions now that their good friend and fellow Wildcat works within driving distance.
“We were guards, and Keitha was whatever she wanted to be,” Ellenz said. “She was the leader on the court.”
WSU hired Adams, 50, away from Texas-El Paso last week. Monday’s public introduction turned into an Oxford get-together with Sue Adams, her mother, and other family members and friends in the seats.
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Ellenz, White and Hamilton told the story about playing in the state tournament, about going 25-0 in junior high and about Adams keeping Animal from getting into a fight during a big game. They imitated coach Jim Littell, now coach at Oklahoma State, by speaking in a deep voice and repeating, “Free throws win games.”
The group, and some other former Wildcats, get together each summer for a vacation. Koch Arena joins the itinerary next winter.
White lives in Oxford, 42 miles south of Wichita. Hamilton lives in Perry, Okla. Ellenz drove from Olathe. They wore Wichita State shirts and clapped and smiled during Adams’ talk.
“How could you not be here?” White said.
Adams wants to make Koch Arena a must-visit venue for many others. She appealed to high school and junior-college coaches and players, telling them her door is open and they are part of the program.
“When they think about women’s basketball, they’re going to think about Wichita State,” she said.
She welcomed former Shockers in the same way. She told fans her UTEP teams filled 12,200 seats and she wants to do something similar at WSU.
“I grew up watching Shocker basketball,” Adams said. “I’m here because … it’s a unique opportunity, yes, for me to be at home. It’s a basketball school, and I love that. New challenge.”
She looked the eight Shockers in the front row and told them, “We will rebound and play defense.”
Which, her friends say, is what Littell told them every practice 32 years ago.
Adams met with the team — 10 in all — on Monday before the introduction. Toward the end of her speech — written on note cards — she called the eight in attendance up to the stage and told the crowd that the players are what motivates her. She will practice with them on Tuesday.
“It felt like home,” WSU junior Rangie Bessard said. “It felt like our experience is going to be great. What she sees for this team — you couldn’t be more excited.”
Adams said there is a possibility she will bring some of her assistant coaches with her. Ewa Laskowska is UTEP’s interim coach and will join Adams at WSU if she is not hired to replace her.
“It’s about making sure you get the right people,” she said. “I anticipate some of my staff, yes, and then we will also talk to some folks. We’re working on some things.”
Wichita State has five scholarships available.
“The important thing is that we sign the right people,” she said. “We don’t want to panic. We’re on some good kids and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Adams will be paid $315,000 annually on a five-year contract, according to athletic director Darron Boatright. Adams made a base salary of around $200,000 in 2015, according to the El Paso Times.
Adams spent 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.
She attended Southwestern College and coached at Belle Plaine and Winfield high schools. She worked as coach at Independence Community College, where she went 137-27, for five seasons before moving to UTEP.