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December 09, 2003 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-12-09

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, December 9, 2003 - 12

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By Josh Holman and Ellen McGarrity
Daily Sports Writers
Michigan's new commander in
chief of women's basketball,
Cheryl Burnett, has blazed a trail
of excellence. Now she embarks
on a new challenge: taking
Michigan's program to national
prominence. She has the passion
and knowledge. But she
embodies much more.
She's not just a coach,
she's ...

t was the second half in the second
ound of Michigan's Preseason
Women's National Invitational Tourna-
ment game against Cincinnati, and the
Wolverines found themselves down by
seven points. The crowd sat anxiously
in the Crisler Arena stands, hoping
high scorer Jennifer Smith would bail
the team out.
But the fans' intent gazes weren't
enough for Cheryl Burnett.
The coach began to stomp her feet
and wave her hands, shouting to the
crowd, "Get up!"
Some fans seemed confused, while
others were charmed by Burnett's
heartfelt plea. Regardless of interpre-
tation, everyone stood up collectively
to begin an arena-wide chant to cheer
the girls on.
The crowd was on its
feet for nearly the rest
of the game - and its
vocalized presence seemed
to work magic for the players.
Michigan squeaked out with a
73-69 victory over the Bearcats.
Since that game, Burnett has
called upon the crowd several times
when Michigan needs a boost or is
down in a game.
This technique is nothing new to
the veteran coach, who regularly
riled up crowds when she was head
coach at Southwest Missouri State.

Burnett says that she has always been
an instinctive cheerleader.
"I'm just really natural about how I
coach," Burnett said. "I've always been
very in tune to the players on the court.
It's also kind of how I used to play. I
played in the sense that I was very ver-
bal with my teammates."
Actively involving the crowd with
the games is just one way Burnett has
tried to start building a fan base in
Ann Arbor. When she took the helm
of the Southwest Missouri State pro-
gram, as few as 400 fans would grace
the stands of the 8,846-seat Hammons
Student Center. By the time she left,
the arena was regularly filled to the
top with screaming, stomping fans -
no doubt modeling their spunky head
coach.
"I believe that our support system -
which is the crowd, the fans - can
help us win games," Burnett said. "I've
seen it, I've experienced it and I
believe it."
Burnett's enthusiasm has also
impressed the players, who admit that
building a fan base could greatly bene-
fit their energy level during a game.
"We would have more people to play
for," freshman Kelly Helvey said. "Not
only ourselves and our coach. We'll
have people that will keep coming, and
we'll build a tradition."
Who knows, with Burnett in town,
perhaps Crisler Arena will play host to
a sold-out women's basketball game
before her reign is over.

Burnett realized early on that
before she could be a great
teacher of the game, she had to
be a great student as well.
"I've always known I wanted
to coach," Burnett said. "It goes
all the way back to high school."
It was way back in high school
that Jim Enlow coached Burnett
as a member of the girls' basket-
ball team at Centralia High
School in Missouri. When
Enlow would take his boys' team
to scout upcoming oppo-
nents, Burnett wouldb be
the only girl to tag along.
"I just knew the impact .
that he had on my life was
more than a basketball
coach," Burnett said.
"So I just knews
that I wanted to-
have that kind of
impact on play-
ers." {
After Enlow
pointed Burnett
down the road
of coaching, a
number of other
mentors helped
guide her in a pro-
fession that until
recently has been
mostly for the
boys.

Burnett worked as an assistant
for Jane Schroeder, the women's
basketball coach at Illinois.
Then, early in her head coaching
days at Southwest Missouri
State, Burnett had the privilege
to work with Charlie Spoonhour
- the men's coach at the time
- now the coach at UNLV
If you look closely at Bur-
nett's offensive and defensive
strategies, you may see a
resemblance to another mar-
quee name in college basket-
ball. Burnett spent time at her
alma mater, Kansas, last winter
to watch the Jayhawks
practice under men's
basketball coach Roy
Williams, who is now
at North Carolina. Her
patented scramble
defense bears a strik-
ing resemblance to
the sets of last
~ << year's Jay-
hawks and
this year's Tar
Heels.
Now Bur-
nett is the
mentor and
hopes to leave
some lasting
impressions of
her own.
AP P HOTO

WVhether it's in the middle
of a Tuesday practice or
the final seconds of an over-
time game, there's no doubt in
the minds of onlookers who's
in charge of the Wolverines.
Burnett is one of those coach-
es that has an air about her.
Her confidence makes you
wonder if she'll make you run
sprints if you say the wrong
thing, and her voice (though
not as strong as she would like
it) might invite you to start
calling her "Coach" even if
she was just taking your order
at the drive-through.
Burnett knows exactly
what she wants out of a team.
"It's definitely a totally
effort-driven, give-up-the-self
for-the-team concept through-
out," said Burnett of her
coaching style.
The new job at Michigan is
as close to a blank slate as
Burnett can ask for. With 11
new players, the challenge
comes in getting each and
every one to put her trust in
her system - one that takes
time to master.
When she led her first prac-
tice, Burnett discovered how
challenging it was to direct her
players, considering the unfa-

miliarity with her terminology,
drills and motion offense, for
starters.
"It's a system where play-
ers can get better and better
with experience," Burnett
said. "Now we have all fresh-
men. So we're asking them to
do things that they don't have
experience with. I have been
amazed at their intelligence
and quickly reading things
and learning."
The players that work hard-
est in practice start, but Bur-
nett has no reservations about
beginning the game with her
best talent on the bench.
Burnett has also gotten her
team to fight back on the
court. The players are notice-
ably more aggressive and
physical this season in all
phases of the game.
"I have found that when
people demand respect, there's
a very unique element that
players really buy into that,"
Burnett said. "It's not like they
always have to like everything,
but they respect it because
they learn to understand why."
But if these players listen
to that unmistakable Burnett
coaching voice - which
she always loses during a
game - the future of
Wolverines basketball will
be laden with success.

q

When Cheryl Burnett talks, people listen.

A lthough Burnett report-
ed for coaching duty
back in April, she did not get
to practice with her team
until mid-October (NCAA
regulations prohibit coaches
from working with players
earlier than this).
But she began working
much earlier on one of the
most important parts of the
job - building trusting rela-
tionships with the players
and their parents. Burnett
began the job by visiting
every player's home to get to
know their families and back-
grounds - much like she
would for recruits.
"(It created) such an
incredible, trusting bond
where I could ask the parents,
'What's your expectation?

What do you want me as a
coach to be able to do for
your daughter?' " Burnett
said. "And then I could say,
'Here's what I expect out of
your daughter.' That in itself
was the best with communi-
cation and expectations in
running the program."
Both players and parents
were impressed.
"It's hard not to like her,"
said Greg Smith, father of
center Jennifer Smith. "She's
not only good with the X's
and O's, but she has moral
standards and character. I
wouldn't want my daughter
playing for anybody other
than her:'
"Shedoes create a good
bond," guard Rachael Carney
said. "A bond both on and off
the court. (The coaching
staff) is always open for us to
go talk to them if need be."

CONNECTICUT'S DIANA TAURASI

A fter last season's last-
place finish in the Big
Ten, the Michigan women's
basketball program was left
searching for an answer to
two straight dismal years.
Enter Cheryl Burnett. After
enormous success at South-
west Missouri State, it was
clear that Burnett had the
potential to change the direc-
tion of Michigan women's
basketball. But she doesn't
just want the Michigan name
to move forward. She wants
it at the top.
"I want our program to be
as big as UConn and Ten-
nessee," Burnett said. "That
is the most important thing."
Some admirable aspira-
tions, but she has a long
climb to make it that far.
The Wolverines are lucky
when they draw even 1,000
fans to a game, so before Bur-
nett can significantly build
this program, she has to build
the fan hae It's nothini she

AP PHOTO
since Michigan hosted the
quarterfinals of the Presea-
son WNIT due to its first-
round attendance number.
And any business guru
knows that the best way to
guarantee an audience is to
hook them young. It' was part
of the motivation behind
inviting area elementary
schools to a Friday afternoon
game on Nov. 21 against
Western Michigan.
"I'm really blessed to have
a great marketing and pro-
moting guy, Mark Reardon,"
Burnett said. "He's come up
with a lot of his own ideas.
He and I implemented a lot
of other concepts."
Much of the charisma that
Burnett exudes comes from
her hands-on approach. She
spoke to a number of organi-
zations in the Ann Arbor
area in preparation for the
team's first-round game of
the Preseason WNIT. She
also makes an effort to
return any e-mails regarding
fans' concerns with their
game experience.

Two Final Four appear-
ances, a .752 career win-
ning percentage, an Academic
All-American of the Year and
the NCAA's all-time leading
scorer. These are just some of
the things that Burnett pro-
duced in her 15-year stint at
Southwest Missouri State.
It's one impressive list to
compile, especially consider-
ing she did this at a smaller,
virtually anonymous Missouri
Valley Conference school.
"Having Burnett in the
league scares me," Iowa
coach Lisa Bluder said earlier
this year at the Big Ten Media
Day in Chicago. "I have so
much respect for her and
what she's done, and belief in
her system, and just how she
does things."
Bluder made the jump to
the Big Ten from the Missouri
Valley Conference just like
Burnett did and knows exact-
ly what the first-year Michi-
gan coach is capable of.
But Burnett isn't just some
local legend from the Show-
Me state. She has national
acclaim, too. In only Burnett's
second year in the NCAA
Tournament, Southwest Mis-
souri State's road to a Final
Four appearance happened to
travel through Knoxville,
Tenn. - home of the perenni-

al powerhouse Lady Vols.
"And after that (Tennessee
coach) Pat Summit would tell
everybody, 'You do not want
to have to play Southwest
Missouri State,' " Burnett
said.
If Burnett can do all of this
at Southwest Missouri State,
then what is possible at
Michigan?
But now Burnett is no
longer a big fish in a little
pond. If she wants the noto-
riety she's received in the
past, she's going to have to
do it in a conference full of
big fish.
"Some of the best coaches
in the country are in the Big
Ten," Burnettasaid. "But I
look at it as now we need to
prove that. We need to be
successful to really earn the
reputation that we need to
earn."
Burnett may not have the
recognition of Summit or
Connecticut's Geno Auriem-
ma, but she may not even
want it, given her team-first
attitude. Now with an institu-
tion boasting academic tradi-
tion, Burnett will have an
edge in recruiting.
"We've always recruited
overachievement," Burnett
said. "We want that kid that's
playing the hardest, that's the
most team-oriented."
Sophomore guard Rachael
Carney summed it up, saying
"they won't accept anything
but the best."

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