MARTIN, Tenn. – It was a matter of hours after Kevin McMillan’s University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team returned home from its second NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years when the news broke.
Just as McMillan was about to reflect on the past season’s accomplishments, a major curveball was thrown into his team’s plans for the future. Two starters and key contributors to the team’s success over the past two seasons told McMillan of their intentions to quit the team. Stunned, McMillan now had to scramble to fill three key cogs from the 2011-12 squad, including the planned loss of a key senior.
The head coach – now in his fourth season at the helm of the Skyhawk basketball program – mixed and matched lineups, defensive sets, offensive plays and just about everything else imaginable throughout the duration of the 2012-13 season. Admitting himself that the transition wasn’t as smooth as he had planned, McMillan and the Skyhawks ended the season exactly like the previous two – earning a spot in the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
McMillan attributes this year’s success to the program’s solid base from the top to bottom.
“We could have folded at several points during the season,” McMillan said. “In order to have a truly successful program, you have to build upon not only your successes but your failures. There are a lot of good teams out there but the good programs find a way to be successful no matter how many challenges are thrown at them. There’s a difference between having a good team and a good program and I believe that in the end, we proved we have a great program this year.”
It’s hard to argue that point, as UT Martin has now developed a national reputation amongst the women’s basketball community, including famous Skyhawk alums and national coaching icons Pat Summitt and Lin Dunn.
“It makes me so proud as an alum to see the strides that UT Martin women’s basketball has made in the last three seasons,” said Summitt, who played basketball at UT Martin from 1970-74 before winning eight national championships as head coach at the University of Tennessee. “The team is making noise on a national level and it’s an exciting time for the university and all the Skyhawk fans.”
“I knew the potential was always there, we just needed a commitment from the university,” said Dunn, a 1969 UT Martin graduate who is coming off a 2012 WNBA championship as head coach of the Indiana Fever. “Their success sends a message to everyone in west Tennessee that UT Martin is committed to their women’s programs and it creates positive and local attention for the university. It creates a sense of pride in UT Martin athletics and helps foster a tradition of excellence. UT Martin should be a mid-major power in women’s basketball and I knew Kevin would do a great job.”
Bigger aspirations are expected from the current players as well. When asked to describe their feelings at the postgame press conference after the Skyhawks’ 87-80 OVC championship win over Tennessee Tech, the players talked about not only reaching the NCAA Tournament, but winning a game or two.
With 63 victories and three NCAA Tournaments in the last three years, UT Martin seems destined to continue its success for many years to come – thanks in large part to the stability of the program.