The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Fall 2004 - 9E
Cheryl Burnett: six sides of Michigan's dynamic coach
December 9, 2004
By Josh Holian
and Emlen Mcawulty
Daily Staff 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 nation-
al prominence. She has the passion and knowl-
edge, but she embodies much more. She's not
just a coach, she's ...
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;' Bur-
nett said. "It goes all the way back to high
It was in high school that Jim Enlow coached
Burnett on the girls' basketball team at Centralia
High School in Missouri.
"I just knew the impact that he had on my life
was more than a basketball coach," Burnett said.
"So I just knew that I wanted to have that kind of
impact on players."
Burnett then worked as an assistant for Jane
Schroeder, the women's coach at Illinois. Also,
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 Burnett's offensive and
defensive strategies, you may see a resemblance
to another marquee name in college basketball.
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 striking resemblance to the sets
of last year's Jayhawks and this year's Tar Heels.
It was the second half in the second round of
Michigan's Preseason Women's National Invita-
tional Tournament game against Cincinnati, and
the Wolverines were down by seven points. The
crowd sat anxiously in the Crisler Arena stands,
hoping high scorer Jennifer Smith would bail the
But the fans' intent gazes weren't enough for
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 interpretation, 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 by with a 73-69 victory over the
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 instinc-
"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."
Who knows, with Burnett in town, perhaps
Crisler Arena will host a sold-out women's bas-
ketball game before her reign is over.
Whether it's in the middle of a Tuesday prac-
tice or the final seconds of an overtime game,
there's no doubt in the minds of onlookers who's
in charge of the Wolverines. Her confidence
makes you wonder if she'll make you run
sprints if you say the wrong thing, and her voice
might invite you to start calling her "Coach"
even if she was just taking your order at the
"It's definitely a totally effort-driven, give-up-
the-self for-the-team concept throughout," 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 play-
ers, the challenge comes in getting each and
every one to put her trust in her system, one that
takes time to master.
"It's a system where players can get better
and better with experience," Burnett said.
Burnett has also gotten her team to fight back
on the court. The players are noticeably more
aggressive and physical this season in all aspects
of the game.
But if these players listen to that unmistakable
Burnett coaching voice, which she always loses
during a game, then the future of Michigan bas-
ketball will be laden with success.
Although Burnett reported for duty back in
April, she did not practice with her team until
mid-October (NCAA regulations prohibit
coaches from working with players earlier
But she began working much earlier on build-
ing trusting relationships with the players and
their parents. Burnett began the job by visiting
every player's home to get to know their families
and backgrounds - much like she would for
"(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."'
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 Xs and Os, but she has moral
standards and character. I wouldn't want my
daughter playing for anybody other than her."
"She does 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."
After 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
Enter Cheryl Burnett. After enormous success
at Southwest Missouri State, it was clear that
Burnett had the potential to change the direction
of Michigan women's basketball. But she does-
n't just want the Michigan name to move for-
ward. She wants it at the top.
"I want our program to be as big as UConn
and Tennessee," Burnett said. "That is the most
Some admirable aspirations, 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 Burnett can
significantly build this program, she has to build
the fan base.
Following the Wolverines' first two exhibition
games, Burnett told her players to go converse
with people in the stands and tell them to bring
10 people with them the next time. It must have
worked, since Michigan hosted the quarterfinals
of the Preseason WNIT due to its first-round
Much of the charisma that Burnett
exudes comes from her hands-on
approach. She spoke to a number of
organizations in the Ann Arbor area in
preparation for the team's first-round
game of the Preseason WNIT.
"I want a national championship,"
Burnett said. "I'm a dreamer, but I'm
willing to put the work into the dream."
Two Final Four appearances, a .752
career winning 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 produced in her 15-year stint
as coach at Southwest Missouri State.
"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
Bluder made the jump to the Big Ten from
the Missouri Valley Conference just like Bur-
nett did and knows 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-
road to a Final
happened to 4
Knoxville, Tenn. - home of the
perennial 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 may not have the recognition of Sum-
mit or Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, but she
may not even want it, given her team-first atti-
tude. Now with an institution boasting academic
tradition, 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. "They won't accept anything but the best"
The Michigan women's basketball team goes over a play during a timeout in Michigan's 72-65 win over Charlotte on Dec. 3,
2003 at Crisier Arena.
Three sophomores announce
plans to leave team early
March 24, 2004
By Ellen McGarrlty mer coach Guevara. In the begin- 2.1 points per game.
Daily Staff Writer ning of her sophomore season, she But as a sophomore - when
When Cheryl Burnett took the
helm of the Michigan women's bas-
ketball team last fall after the
nation of Sue
hope d that it
would be the last
major change the
A program would
endure for a long
r But the team
will get another
Reams makeover next
season. In addi-
tion to departing seniors Jennifer
Smith and Stephanie Gandy, three
other Wolverines have announced
they are leaving the team. Sopho-
mores Niki Reams, Mie Burlin and
Lauren Andrews have all been
granted permission to transfer to
other basketball programs of their
"These three players have decid-
ed to leave the program on their
own accord, and we wish them the
was regularly in Burnett's starting
But after suffering a foot injury
midway through the season, fresh-
man Kelly Helvey replaced Reams
in the starting lineup. Even after
her foot had healed, Reams saw less
playing time than before her injury.
Reams refused to comment on
the situation. Burnett was vague
about the players' reasons for leav-
ing in her statement.
"The reasons for each player's
decision is specific to that player,
and we respect their individual
choice of action," Burnett said.
Burlin, a 24-year-old native of
Skovlunde, Denmark, has received
an offer from a club basketball pro-
gram in Spain. She said she is
strongly considering joining the
team for its playoff games after the
end of Michigan's winter semester.
"I don't want to play basketball
forever, but I want to end my bas-
ketball time (actually) playing,"
"I feel like I can do that some-
where else. I've thought about this
Burnett took over as Michigan's
coach - Burlin never started and
saw her court time nearly cut in
half to 7.2 minutes per game. Her
number of total points, rebounds,
assists and steals all went down.
Despite Burnett's decision to
keep her off the court, Burlin said
that she has no hard feelings toward
the head coach or any other mem-
bers of the staff.
"Coach Burnett had her reasons
to play the players she played ...
but I can play somewhere else and I
can do better than just sit on the
bench and that's what I want to do,"
When asked whether she felt the
new coaching staff was a positive
change for the program, Burlin said
that both the current and former
staffs had their own unique
"They are two completely differ-
ent coaching staffs," Burlin said.
"Coach Burnett is an awesome
coach and an awesome person.
She's done a lot of good things for
the program. I won't say that I pre-