TrueHoop: Van Chancellor
You have probably seen the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. There's a new one by Pat Williams, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen called "Inside Basketball." It has more than a hundred anecdotes from the likes of Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Chris Paul. Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Caron Butler, and many many others.
I have read just about all of it, and dog-eared six or seven that really stood out as great stories.
The publishers, Soul Publishing LLC, have been nice enough to let me reprint one of my favorites. It comes from Van Chancellor, who is now the head women's coach at Louisiana State University.
In 1997, when the WNBA first started, I left my position as the head women's basketball coach at the University of Mississippi to become the head coach of the Houston Comets. As we started putting together our team to play that summer, it was obvious we had an enormous problem -- no point guard.
You can't win in basketball without somebody directing your team. Our strategy was to schedule an open tryout. We brought in sixty-seven players, and sixty-two of them were guards. I will never forget one of the guards, Kim Perrot.
Kim was small, aggressive and feisty. Frankly, I didn't think she was that good and I never seriously considered her for the team. Some of my assistants urged me not to judge her too quickly, and, sure enough, she survived all of the cuts and made our team.
Our first game that season was against the New York Liberty, and Kim was buried on the bench. We lost that game, and our guards didn't play well. I made a decision that day to go with Kim and told her so.
She replied, "Well it's nice to know that you've finally realized that you're a good coach and are going to play me. I'll help you win a championship." And that's exactly what happened in 1997. Even with stars like Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, we never would have won without Kim.
In all of my years coaching women's basketball, I have never had another player like Kim Perrot. Whenever I would take her out of a practice scrimmage, she would go over to the sidelines and do push-ups. I once beat her ten straight games in dominoes and she insisted that we play until she beat me four in a row.
We went into the 1998 season trying to repeat as champions, and we were down the elimination game against Phoenix. We were in deep trouble when Kim started yelling at her teammates, "We need to buckle down. Listen to Coach; he'll tell us what to do. We can't lose on our home court!" That was just the lift we needed to win our second championship.
Kim had a strong faith in God. We spoke at churches together, and in the off-season we would go do clinics for kids. She was always teasing me. At one clinic she said, "See Coach over there? He didn't believe in me at first. It took a whole year for me to convince him that I was his point guard."
Kim was a great leader; she'd be banged up but would insist on practicing anyway. She told the stars on our team what she expected and they never argued with her. I've never met anybody like her.
Before the next season, I got the shock of my life. Our trainer called and said, "Coach, sit down. I've got some bad news. Kim Perrot has been diagnosed with cancer." I was absolutely floored. I loved her and she loved me, and I've never had a relationship with a player like that before or since.
Kim couldn't participate in training camp, but she still came around to see us. She had wasted away to about eighty-nine pounds, but she was always such an inspiration. During a game that season, she came to the huddle during a time out and whispered in my ear, "Coach, I know this team is driving you crazy, but I love you." She would phone me from time to time and tell me that she loved me. All of this was going on about one month before she died.
Kim's cancer started in her lungs and spread to her brain. She'd always been in perfect health and took great care of herself. Kim was only thirty-two when she died on August 19, 1999. My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary that same day, and it was surely a bittersweet one. The Houston Comets went on to win our third straight WNBA title that summer, inspired by the memory and spirit of Kim Perrot.