Tuesday, February 01, 2011

SPORTS >> Trojans give Foley victory No. 600

Leader sports editor

Think about what it takes to win one college basketball game — the film study, the game planning, the practice, the in-game and halftime adjustments, the effort and the sweat and the good fortune that makes the ball bounce just so and the scoreboard read just right.

Now multiply that one, hard-earned victory by 600 and you have what UALR women’s coach Joe Foley accomplished Saturday night.

Foley’s Trojans jumped to a big early lead and outlasted their rival Arkansas State Red Wolves 53-36 at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. It was Foley’s 600th career victory, putting him among the top 25 in all-time victories among women’s college coaches.

“Six hundred is, especially with a bunch of seniors like we’ve got, it’s kind of special,” a relaxed Foley said Saturday with a nod toward seniors Chastity Reed, Asriel Rolfe and Shanika Butler. “We’ve had several groups of seniors who have contributed to winning 90 to 100-something games; different classes that have come through and this is one of those classes.”

In recent days Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry, Philadelphia University coach Tom Shirley and North Dakota coach Gene Roebuck all cracked the 600-victory barrier to join an exclusive club headed by Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, who ran her mark to 1,058 with Sunday’s victory over Arkansas.

And now Foley is part of that group.

“I look forward, hopefully, to having another class like this that gets me another 100 because the quicker they come the more fun it is,” said Foley, who signed Lonoke standout Asiah Scribner last fall.

“I think it’s really good for the players and coach Foley,” Butler said after scoring eight points and handing out eight assists to help the coach reach his milestone. “He’s a great coach.”

Foley graduated Central Arkansas and began his career as boys and girls high school coach at Oxford, in Izard Co., in 1979. He was boys high school assistant at Morrilton from 1981-84 then moved on to Arkansas Tech, where he assisted the women until, in 1987, he took over the program he would build into a nationally recognized power in the NAIA and NCAA Division II.

On the way to his first college head-coaching job, Foley adopted his philosophy based on defense, fundamentals and motion offense that would become the pillar for all of his teams.

“It’s been my whole career to teach them how to play defense and let them play hard on offense and use their talents,” Foley said.

Foley said there is nothing unusual about his approach and invoked the names of coaching legends Mike Krzyzewski, at Duke, and former Army, Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight.

“It’s seemed to work pretty good,” Foley said. “It’s seemed to work for Krzyzewski pretty good, it’s seemed to work for Knight pretty good, so I’m not going to try to break the mold. I dang sure didn’t invent it but I sure steal it from them.”

Foley’s Arkansas Tech Golden Suns had six, 30-victory seasons and posted 16 consecutive 20-victory seasons. Foley guided Arkansas Tech to consecutive NAIA national championships in 1992 and 1993 and the Golden Suns were the NCAA Division II national runners-up in 1999.

Under Foley, Arkansas Tech also won 14 conference championships, made six appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament and advanced to the Division II Elite Eight twice.

Foley surprised many when in 2003 he jumped to UALR, which revived its women’s program in 1999 and went 24-87 in four years under coach Tracy Stewart-Lange.

“This was a big challenge,” Foley said. “I needed that in my career at that time. I didn’t know how big a challenge it would be but it was a big challenge.”

Foley’s first UALR team, with then-freshman and current assistant Jocelyn Love as its star, went 10-17.

Fast forward to last year and the Trojans, led by Cabot native Kim Sitzmann at point guard, were 27-7 as they won the Sun Belt Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament field and beat Georgia Tech in a first-round upset before losing to Oklahoma.

“You’ve got Jocelyn Love sitting by you over there on the bench that started the whole thing with you and went through all the tough times,” said Foley, 144-89 at UALR and going for victory 601 at home against Denver tonight.

“And to be able to sit here and look at what we’ve got now and people coming to games, all the enthusiasm, it makes it that much more special.”

In praising his current seniors and past players like Love, Foley paid tribute to all of his athletes, at every level, who played to win.

“It’s kind of special to do it with a group like this,” he said. “But it just reminds me of all the kids I’ve got to coach that have contributed to those other 100s.”