From Grentz to Inexperienced: Constructing a winner at Illinois
“You’ll NOT cease me. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll not cease me.”
“You don’t apply any more durable than we apply. You don’t do something higher than we do it. Why ought to we lose?”
While you learn these quotes in your head, whose voice do you hear?
Michael Jordan’s? Kobe Bryant’s? Muhammad Ali’s?
Assume once more.
It must be a fierce competitor, proper? Somebody whose intensely assured mindset rivals the all-time greats?
To search out the reply, look no additional than Illinois Basketball.
A member of the Flying Illini? No. A participant on the historic 2005 championship group? Incorrect once more.
These quotes come from one of the vital completed basketball icons within the historical past of the game. The unhappy factor is, a lot of it’s possible you’ll not know who SHE is.
Up till this 12 months, most individuals knew Illinois ladies’s basketball because the laughingstock of the Huge Ten. Failing to win greater than 10 of its previous 100 convention video games might attribute to that. What individuals don’t understand is that years in the past, one girl was capable of raise this program out of the darkness and provides it hope.
You simply must dig slightly deeper to seek out it.
The 12 months was 1995. After a 50-87 teaching stint from Kathy Lindsey — failing to attain a single successful season — new head coach Theresa Grentz got here in seeking to change the tradition.
“I bear in mind [the players] saying to me, ‘We gained’t even put on our basketball apparel round campus,’ as a result of we have been so dangerous,” Grentz instructed TCR. “I mentioned, ‘Nicely, that’ll change.’”
In simply her second 12 months, Grentz led Illinois to a program-best 24 wins en path to its first Huge Ten title. On the time, the group was nonetheless enjoying in Huff Corridor and the common attendance of 663 in her first season — nonetheless an enchancment from the earlier 12 months — skyrocketed to 4,023 followers per recreation the following season.
Her group even performed a recreation in Meeting Corridor (now State Farm Heart) in that record-breaking season, and the attendance reached a whopping 16,050 followers. The stadium can’t even maintain that many individuals now.
Her astounding success in such a short while moved the group’s everlasting dwelling location to Meeting Corridor beginning within the subsequent season. Over her 12 years at Illinois, Grentz made postseason play 10 occasions, reaching the Candy Sixteen twice in 5 NCAA Match appearances.
Grentz, now 70, by no means thought she was going to be a coach, however her aggressive mentality gave her the next stage of confidence than most individuals will ever possess.
“You don’t apply any more durable than we apply. You don’t do something higher than we do it. Why ought to we lose?” Grentz mentioned. “Let the opposite man lose. We’re gonna win, you lose! I’m not shedding.”
Grentz nonetheless holds the title because the winningest coach in Illini ladies’s basketball historical past (210-156 file), however her profession within the sport extends lengthy earlier than going to Champaign.
The long run head coach’s robust mentality originated from her enjoying days. Grentz was a member of the Immaculata Mighty Macs in Pennsylvania, the group that famously defied all odds to win the primary three ladies’s basketball intercollegiate nationwide championships.
The group got here out of nowhere — with virtually no sources or gear — and dominated an important interval of intercollegiate sports activities. Earlier than the historic run, Grentz instructed her teammates that they wouldn’t lose a recreation in 4 years. Within the span they performed collectively, the Mighty Macs went 60-2.
“And I’m nonetheless ticked in regards to the two that we misplaced,” Grentz mentioned.
In 2014, the 1972-74 group was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Corridor of Fame. As anticipated, the three-time All-American gave the acceptance speech.
“That basically, actually was a particular time.”
Grentz was unimaginable at Illinois, however her profession at Rutgers was on a distinct stage. The younger coach gained an AIAW nationwide championship by the point she was 30, and the transition to the NCAA didn’t have an effect on her success in any respect.
Her accolades stored stacking up. As soon as she reached her nineteenth and closing 12 months at Rutgers, she had a nationwide championship, 9 consecutive NCAA Match appearances and 4 A-10 Coach of the Yr honors to go on her resume. She even coached the 1992 Olympic ladies’s group to a bronze medal.
“It was a fantastic run,” Grentz mentioned. “It actually was a beautiful, fantastic vocation.”
Each of her teaching stints at Rutgers and Illinois gave her 644 profession wins. In 2022, Grentz was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Corridor of Fame as a coach, and in February, her banner rose into the rafters at State Farm Heart.
Indubitably, Grentz is without doubt one of the most impactful ladies’s basketball figures within the historical past of the game. The Illinois ladies’s basketball program wanted her to place it on the map, and for some time, she did simply that.
As soon as Grentz left Illinois, nonetheless, it didn’t take lengthy for this system to spiral proper again uncontrolled. After the following coach didn’t produce any match appearances, issues went from dangerous to worse. A number of failed teaching tenures later, Illinois confronted a nine-year drought with out a successful file.
It was arduous sufficient to do the job that Grentz did; she was among the best to ever do it. Somebody must possess the unimaginable management and creativity to duplicate that miracle, however who would even be courageous sufficient to tackle the daunting activity of rebuilding this program?
Enter Shauna Inexperienced.
Like Grentz, Inexperienced had a powerful observe file earlier than being lured to Champaign. No, she wasn’t a Corridor of Fame participant and coach, however her previous nonetheless speaks for itself.
In simply six years as a head coach on the Division I stage, Inexperienced gained 5 A-10 common season titles with Dayton, accumulating a powerful 127-50 file.
Due to Illinois AD Josh Whitman’s recruiting effort, he was capable of convey one of many brightest younger coaches to Illinois. Her earlier success was promising, however Inexperienced nonetheless confronted the troublesome activity of rebuilding one of many least aggressive main convention applications of the final 15 years.
What Inexperienced made obvious from the beginning was that she knew the way to lead. Former assistants of hers (Calamity McEntire and DeAntoine Beasley) and gamers from Dayton (Makira Prepare dinner and Brynn Shoup-Hill) all adopted her to Illinois to help within the rebuild.
With outdated pals by her aspect, Inexperienced shocked everybody. In a single 12 months, she didn’t simply rebuild this failing program — she remodeled it. From 23 mixed wins within the earlier three seasons, Inexperienced and her Combating Illini squad threatened to surpass that quantity in only one.
A 22-9 file places Illinois on observe to do one thing it hasn’t executed since Grentz was in cost: make the NCAA Match.
“In the event you mentioned 7 or 8 months in the past that we’d be sitting right here right now in regards to the potential to make an NCAA Match, I believe everybody would in all probability assume we’re loopy, proper?” Inexperienced mentioned.
She’s proper: nobody noticed this coming. Few Illinois followers bear in mind what it was prefer to have a ladies’s basketball group attain the match 20 years in the past, with many present freshmen and sophomores not even being alive on the time. Adalia McKenzie, one of many leaders of this 12 months’s group, was solely a month outdated.
Grentz is an enormous supporter of Illinois, however she hasn’t adopted a single Illinois group since stepping down from teaching. She says they “disappoint” her.
“You realize, they get to February and so they give up,” Grentz mentioned. “However these youngsters, they only play so arduous.”
Not solely does she take pleasure in watching each single recreation these Illini play, however her relationship has additionally grown with Coach Inexperienced. The second that Inexperienced was employed by Whitman, her first plan of action was to name the Corridor of Famer.
“That was actually particular,” Grentz mentioned. “She didn’t must name me.”
From there, Inexperienced didn’t simply entice the eye of Grentz. Along with her first-year success, the common attendance at State Farm Heart rose from 1,237 followers the 12 months prior to three,486.
For Grentz’s generational success to be replicated, the Illini wanted a coach to come back in and have the identical killer intuition she did. When a coach is available in that decided to show issues round, the gamers and followers purchase in.
“Shauna has a demeanor about herself that simply exudes confidence,” Grentz mentioned. “She’s teaching them to be elite. She has a fantastic high quality with that.”
As Illinois began to show heads all through the season, the stress stored mounting. New expectations have been created for Inexperienced’s younger group, however her management allowed them to persevere by way of all of it.
“Strain is an effective factor,” Inexperienced mentioned. “Strain is a part of this, and I believe that for me, I believe I thrive below that.
“That is good stress. We’re speaking about an NCAA Match.”
Few individuals understand how a lot Grentz did for this ladies’s program. Her dedication, confidence and competitiveness introduced Illinois from all-time low as much as a stage it had by no means skilled earlier than.
Now, Inexperienced has executed the unthinkable. In a single 12 months, she has revived it again to the extent that Grentz labored so arduous to keep up. Can Inexperienced comply with in her footsteps and create a aggressive environment that stays in Champaign for years to come back?
For Grentz, her confidence by no means wavered as a participant or coach, and when Inexperienced, it doesn’t budge one bit.
“I instructed her, I mentioned, ‘The troublesome, we do instantly,’ and that’s what they’ve executed,” Grentz mentioned. “The inconceivable? That takes us slightly bit longer, however we’ll get it executed.”
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