Jane Albright: A coach molded by mentors
As I sat down to talk with Nevada women’s basketball coach Jane Albright, I couldn’t help but notice the comforting Southern drawl in which she spoke and how it reminded me of the tranquil waters of nearby Lake Tahoe. I had never met Coach Albright prior to this, but now I understand why so many people have come to adore her and why she speaks with everyone like she has known them her entire life.
She is an easy-going person that grew up in North Carolina and decided that she wanted to become a veterinarian when she was in high school. Through a series of events, it became apparent that being a vet wasn’t what she was meant to be so Albright turned her focus to basketball. That is when everything started to fall into place for her.
Albright joined Pat Summitt’s staff as a graduate assistant at University of Tennessee in 1981, and Summitt became a mentor to her. The things that Albright learned from Summitt are a big reason as to why she has had the success as a head coach herself. The fact that a college basketball legend took Albright under her wing to mentor her and help her be successful when she would become a head coach one day speaks volumes to the amount of knowledge that Albright has gained from key people. It is also a reason why she coaches the way she does.
Along with the mentorship of Pat Summitt, whom Albright still has a relationship with to this day, there are two other college basketball icons that helped mold her. Those two being former NC State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow, who is now deceased, and NCAA coaching legend John Wooden. Three of the biggest names in college basketball were an integral part in making Jane Albright a coach that enters this season four wins shy of reaching 500; a feat that shouldn’t take Albright too many games to accomplish in the 2015-16 season.
The one factor that trumps all of these mentors is that of her faith. Coach Albright believes that God called her to be a coach and was an integral part in steering her throughout her career, and it is a fact that she isn’t shy to discuss. In fact, we spent a lot of time talking about her faith and how it has affected her coaching success for the better. She says that she is able to apply biblical principles to her coaching without necessarily bringing up God; she knows the boundaries of working at a state school. Whether it be about showing love to one another or teaching players about hard work and integrity, Albright relies on the principles taught by Jesus to help form her players into young women who can impact the world after graduating from college.
She also relies on what Summitt, Yow and Wooden taught her about coaching, and that is the importance of the student-athlete and their responsibilities. But her coaching philosophy is perhaps best explained by her bio on nevadawolfpack.com.
“Jane Albright’s coaching philosophy centers around a three-sided effort to make each student-athlete’s experience at Nevada one that will leave a lasting impression long after graduation. A student-athlete’s development must first focus on themselves as a person, second as a student and third as an athlete. A big part of this development is based on not only a commitment to oneself, but in reaching out to serve the community as well. The women’s basketball team is one of the most active of the Wolf Pack teams in supporting the community. In 2009-10 alone, the Nevada women’s basketball team logged more than 530 hours of community service.”
Teaching the aspect of being a student-athlete properly has helped her coached teams be leaders in the nation in academics, and it has also helped Albright gain more fans in the Reno-Sparks vicinity — and beyond. In the last six seasons, the Nevada women’s basketball team has averaged over 1,000 fans per game which is up from 730 per game prior to Jane Albright becoming the head coach. The team’s performance has become consistently better since her tenure began as well.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, the Lady Wolf Pack are coming off of an injury-plagued season in 2014-15, but Coach Albright is excited for this season to commence. She believes that this team has the potential to be one of the best that Nevada has seen, and she attributes that to the hard work that her players have put in this offseason. Redshirt junior guard T Moe is back from an injury that ended her season after four games last year, following her recording the first triple-double in program history in their home opening win over UC Santa Barbara. Add to the fold JuCo transfer Stephanie Schmid, who made 126 three-pointers during her sophomore campaign at Arizona Western College, and Albright believes that Nevada will be a tough matchup for teams in the Mountain West.
After discussing the upcoming season, I asked Coach Albright why she chose to come coach at Nevada following her departure from Wichita State. Her answer was spoke with excitement and I could see her eyes light up as if she was going back to one of the happiest times of her life.
“I love it here,” Albright said. “Nevada feels like home to me.”
It is hard to argue with a place feeling like home, and being so close to Lake Tahoe is a big reason why Jane Albright enjoys the area so much. She says that this has been her favorite place to coach, and proves that Reno-Sparks-Tahoe can be comforting in all of their majestic beauty, even to those that grew up in the South.
As we started to finish our discussion, I felt that I had to ask Coach Albright how much longer she planned on coaching. After all, she is entering her 32nd season as a head coach and she can’t coach forever. Her answer was also one that I expected to hear.
“I’ll wake up one day and know when it’s time to stop coaching,” Albright said. “When you do something that you’re passionate about it doesn’t seem like work, but I’ll know when the time comes.”
As we went our separate ways following our time together, I couldn’t help but think about all we had discussed. It made me realize that people are brought into our lives to make us who we are — molding us and adding different dimensions of knowledge — and when you look back at those people, that is when you realize how much of an impact they had on your life.
Pat Summitt, Kay Yow, John Wooden and Jesus have all played an important part in Jane Albright’s life and it is evident that they are the reason that she will pick up her 500th win as a head coach this season. While hard work helps create success, it does take special mentors to mold you into what you will become.
Dustin Brown covers the Nevada Wolf Pack for MFST, and you can follow him on Twitter @SprtsWritingMan.