April 13, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- When Bobbie Kelsey entered the UW locker room Monday to introduce herself to the returning players, she didn’t hesitate to implement her first change as the new women’s basketball coach.
She rearranged the furniture.
Kelsey took one look at the rows of chairs and put them in a circle.
“I was going to sit in my normal seat in the back and she said, ‘Circle them’” recounted junior guard Jade Davis. “I was taken aback a little bit but I understood this is the way it’s now going to be.”
Kelsey wanted to make sure the players were facing each other.
"You have to set the tone for unity and togetherness, and a circle is obviously symbolic of that,” Kelsey explained. “There are no corners, no one sitting in the back with you up front.
“The only way we’re going to get better is to do it together. That’s important when you’re asking them to reach deep down and lean on the next person. I can’t lean on anybody in the back row.”
Kelsey is definitely leaning on these players. That message was loud and clear.
“They are my recruits, they are my players,” Kelsey emphasized. “I don’t look at them any differently than if I had recruited them. Coaches will come in sometimes and make that mistake. You’ll hear them say that they’re waiting until they get THEIR players. Well, they are YOUR players.”
That really hit home with Davis, who confided, “It was definitely something we needed to hear. It helps to know that we’re still wanted here and we’re not going to be rushed out or pushed out.”
Davis added that Kelsey impressed everyone with her “intensity” and “will to win” during her introductory remarks to the team. Sophomore guard Taylor Wurtz loved her energy and candidness.
When Kelsey was asked about being friends with her everybody, she responded, “I don’t need 18-year-old friends. I’m 38. I have 38-year-old friends. They (the players) have their own friends.”
That resonated with Wurtz, who was among the players attending the formal press conference “I also liked when she said that she was going to push us and squeeze us,” Wurtz said.
That was in reference to Kelsey’s expanded thoughts on what this team needs.
Do these players need a friend or a coach?
“I’m here to give them direction, accountability, responsibility and I will give them as much as they can handle,” Kelsey said. “I call it baby trust. I’m not interested in hovering over them 24 hours a day. Also know as their coach I’m going to push them and squeeze them to get the most out of them.
“That’s coming from a place of caring. That’s not for me to beat them down, bully them or embarrass them. That’s not my focus or my intentions and I’ve shared that with them … but if I let them get away with doing less than they can, I’m not doing them any favors.”
Kelsey volunteered that she has come across three kinds of people. “Those who make things happen,’’ she said. “Those who watch things happen. And those who ask, ‘What happened? Clueless. We’re not going to be that third set of folks. We’re going to make things happen.”
Kelsey vowed that she would study the tape of her players like she was scouting them as an opponent. Once she assessed their strengths, she would determine their path. “You have things in mind that you want to implement,” she said. “But it’s about what they can do – not what I know.”
What was her initial read on how the players responded to her direction?
“They’re ready, they’re all in and that’s what you want to hear as a coach,” said Kelsey, who was encouraged by the “enthusiasm I saw in their faces and their body language” during the team meeting. “A lot of times, it’s not what people are saying with their words, it’s what they are showing you.”
Words are cheap.
It’s not about me.
It’s about them.
Kelsey reiterated those points throughout Monday’s presser at the Kohl Center, which attracted UW assistant men’s basketball coaches Greg Gard, Gary Close and Lamont Paris (Bo Ryan was out of town).
Jordan Taylor also popped his head into the room before a scheduled workout.
UW football coach Bret Bielema was present, too.
“He (Bielema) said that he was here to support me – and whatever I needed, he’d be there for me,” recounted Kelsey. “And I’ll certainly be bending his ear about things and how they work here.”
What are UW athletic director Barry Alvarez’ expectations for the women’s program?
“The one thing I evaluate in all my coaches is that I want to see improvement,” Alvarez said. “I want to see improvement from the first of the year to the end of the year. I never tell a coach how many games you have to win or if you have to win a Big Ten championship or go to a postseason tournament.
“One of the questions I asked her was, ‘What separates UConn, Stanford, Tennessee, and Notre Dame – what separates those schools who are always in the Final Four from the rest of the pack?’ Well, if you haven’t been there that’s pretty hard to answer that question.”
Having played and coached at an elite program like Stanford helped close the deal for Kelsey. “All I know is success,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I’ve won every game. But I understand what it takes to get players … I’m not just speaking about something I’ve heard about. I’ve experienced it.”
Wurtz was motivated to hear Kelsey say “the sky is the limit” for the Badgers.
“If you don’t think big, it’s not going to happen,” Kelsey said.
In the same breath, she added, “I’m not going to make promises I can’t deliver.”
Alvarez is a stickler for having a plan, a road map, whatever you want to call it.
“Coach (Alvarez) asked me a question and it resonated with me, ‘Who are we?’” Kelsey said. “That has yet to be determined. I told him, “It’s up to them (the players) who they want to be.”
So what does separate the elite programs from the pack?
“It takes talent,” Kelsey said. “Talent makes coaches look like they know what they’re doing.”
That’s what Alvarez wanted to hear.
“A big part of our success at Stanford is player development,” she said. “Our kids got better because we worked with them. That takes commitment and sacrifice from the coaches.”
That was music to the AD’s ears.
“With every one of my questions,” Alvarez said, “it was like I would answer them.”
That was especially the case when she talked about “caring for the kids” and recruiting.
“Her priorities were the priorities that I have,” Alvarez said. “And one of the very important things as I processed all of this was that she’s been there, she’s done that. She’s lived it.”
She’s lived the life of a winner.