Former Southern Connecticut State coach Louise O’Neal was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on 10th June 2017 in and our FCN Media Officer Erica Ayala was there to capture it all.
O?Neal, who guided Southern Connecticut State to appearances in the Final Four in 1971, 1973 and 1974, also served on the NCAA Long-Range Planning Committee, Women?s Basketball Rules Committee, and NACDA Executive Board. She was the recipient of 2004 WBCA Jostens-Berenson Lifetime Achievement Award and 2011 NACWAA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Louise was inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Sheryl Swoopes and Kara Wolters. ?To read more about the Hall of Fame event, CLICK HERE
A big thank you to Erica for this exclusive interview with Louise and congratulations!
How do you feel about being inducted into the basketball hall of fame?
Well it’s something I never expected, I love basketball and I love coaching it and of course love winning, but I never did it for the sake of being noticed. But somehow someone must keep check of history because I never did! So its all a bit unexpected because I didn’t draw much attention to myself when I was coaching. I think it has been a result of steady accomplishments throughout my career and some of which were significant. So I was pleasantly pleased, it came at a really good time for me because I just had the stroke and so I was needed some sense of affirmation and that was very exciting to get that!
I was very humbled when I did get chosen, I’ve seen the other people that have also got this and what their accomplishments were. If you go through the history of it all you think I was just a little bit of that Louise, you’re not the whole, so I contuse to see the history grow.
Can you tell us about starting basketball programmes, and how you went about doing so, particularly in the 1970’s when women’s basketball programmes as we know it today just didn’t exist.
Well I wasn’t hired as a basketball coach originally, I wanted to teach Kinesiology, but when I got there [Southern Connecticut State] they told me that all teachers had to coach one team. I was stunned when I heard that I had to coach basketball because I had never even been to a coaching clinic. I hadn’t been taught to be a coach, we were taught to be scientists! But people at the University of Wisconsin where I was doing my graduate work, really did teach me how to learn if I don’t know something so I just started hitting all the books and magazines I could on basketball!
Before I even came to Southern, I used to love John Wooden’s team who was on a long winning streak – so I was reading his book’s and literature. It hit me that that was my style and I wanted them [the team] to feel free to run. So my team learned along with me and they were very generous the students, they knew I was giving my time to them, so they appreciated it.
I also had to keep up with all the other coaches, I attended a million clinics! I went to men’s clinic’s for a while because there weren’t any women?s clinic?s available. I got a little upset with the men’s clinics as they always seemed to finish with a dirty joke and I would just yawn and show them I was bored with that!? But I stuck it out and I learned a lot of things to do and also a lot of things not to do.
I think eventually they all realised that women were serious students of the game and they quit trying to run us off. I never got to talk to John Wooden, that was probably one of my biggest regrets of my life. I loved that guy – he put so much emphasis on not just developing skill, but developing people. So that’s what I hoped we would go through and I didn’t want to just see the team as players you would train – you would see that these people could become better through basketball.
How did your coaching develop in the early stages?
There was a coach down at West Chester State College, she had moved to Queens and called me up one time and said Louise I hear you have a pretty good team, we want to challenge you to a game, do you want to play. I said sure we do and she asked to meet us in New York City – so we all piled into my car and unfortunately Queens beat us, we were very unhappy – but I realised that there were some really good teams out there.
( Ever since then I say to respect your opponent, because they will show you your weaknesses – I never went into a game with a weakness against Lucieal (Queens Coach) again! )
It was an exciting time because all the schools were trying got catch up and do well.
I wasn’t satisfied with just teaching basketball, I wanted those women to know what was happening around them. We weren’t just playing basketball, we were pushing for equality. They formed women’s sports clubs on campus and the men would get scared. The players loved that, it was moments like that you really enjoyed because you could see that they realised they fit into a larger hole.
People always ask me which did I prefer, being at Yale or Southern – I always say thats a bad question. The question should be – what did you get from each one. I got the same kind of commitment and quality of execution at both. Yale weren’t as skilled as Southern, but they achieved the goals they wanted.? They were brilliant kids and you could teach them anything!
One of the young women went on to become Vice President of Microsoft and she put funds together to buy the WNBA franchise because they were going to end it. So you can see how basketball made an impact on her and she got a great education and a good job which meant she could afford to do that.? So I think some of the stuff I taught them did get through.
I didn’t want them to be a quality basketball players, I wanted them to become a quality basketball player that could influence people with they way they conducted themselves.
What advice would you give to female coaches who want their players to develop in character as you did?
That’s why I think the process is important and this is were I got my influence from John Wooden. I know that?s a male coach and people might think thats heresy that I didn’t come up with a female thing, but at that time there weren’t any women of that stature yet. There are now, but not at that time. He was a perfect man to become an example, thats the way I look at it, because he balanced those two things. He made good people out of good basketball players.
My advice would be to pass on this; don?t let anybody short change you. If you are there to go to school, make sure you go to school, make sure that the athletic administration keeps giving you a good qualified coach.
I would tell them to think for yourselves, ask for meetings with coaches, communicate with your coach and understand what they are trying to do. Don’t just hand yourself over to somebody – ask for quality on both sides.
Author:Erica is a sports writer with bylines at Double G Sports, MyWSports, Excelle Sports and the Female Coaching Network. She has covered events such as the WNBA Draft, the Inaugural National Women?s Hockey League (NWHL) Isobel Cup Finals, and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement of Sheryl Swoopes. As a member of the Elon University softball team, she was?selected as a 2006 Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar. Erica received her B.A in Political Science, with a minor in African-American Studies in 2008. In 2015, she received the Elon University Top 10 Under 10 Award from the Young Alumni Council. It is her love for sports and passion for advocacy that has brought Erica to sports writing. As a former athlete, she feels strongly about providing other children, especially girls, the opportunity to excel in athletics. As an advocate, she is drawn to the mission to continue to promote gender equity in the coverage, the funding and the compensation of girls and women in sports.