By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
WSSU’s Dee Stokes: Finding Her Way & Making A Difference
NORTH CAROLINA — It’s always a tough situation when you have a new coach taking over a program that’s had some success but it’s even tougher when you have a coach coming into a situation where the program is moving up into another step of competition.
This is the challenge coach Dee Stokes had to face in her first year as coach of the Lady Rams of Winston Salem State University. I had the pleasure of sitting down with coach Stokes after a tough season but one of learning and building for the future.
Coach Stokes talked about her team, the pressure of winning, the differences and similarities of coaching in the MEAC (although they are new to the conference and still cannot participate in the conference tournament) as opposed to the ACC and other topics.
L.A.: Tell us who is Dee Stokes and how did you get started?:
DEE STOKES: I’m just a little country girl from Arkansas. I was born in Memphis and grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I played college basketball at Wake Forest for two years and finished at UNC Charlotte. I got a degree and went right into coaching. There’s nothing special about me. I’m very passionate person and I love what I do and I love coaching. I’m just a little country girl from Arkansas trying to be the best I can be.
L.A.: Did you always know you wanted to play and later coach basketball?
D.S.: I started playing basketball when I was four years old. I say that to my team and they look at me funny because today;s kids usually don’t start playing until they are in the seventh or eighth grade. It’s always been a passion for me. I would go out with my stepdad at the playground and be out there with the guys handling the ball. I tease my team because I tell them when I was 7 or 8 years old, I played basketball at the boys and girls club and they use to lower the basket goals and I would tell my team that I averaged about 32 that season!
L.A.: Tell us about some of the influences you’ ve had in your life and career so far.
D.S.: One of my biggest influences was my college coach Ed Baldwin at UNC-Charlotte. He was a tremendous influence on me. I’d catch myself saying what I call “Baldwin-ism’s”. I’d call him on the phone and start complaining and he laughs and says, “Girl, you sound like me” and I do without realizing that I do”.
L.A.:Talk about your coaching philosophy. What do you like to do offensively and defensively with your team”?
D.S.: I like to run motion offense. I like to run a lot of quick hits on offense. I like to run the floor, get into the lanes and get some easy baskets but course you didn’t see much of that this year. Defensively, I like to press, I like to change defenses a lot especially after every time out or dead ball to keep teams off balance.
L.A.: It’s your first year here in the MEAC but you”ve coached in the Big 12 with Nebraska and Texas A & M. Talk about the difference in style of play and the talent level.
D.S.: The Big 12 is one of the better leagues.I call it a BCS league. I’ve played in the ACC at Wake Forest and even that league has changed over the years.When you get to the big dogs, the play is physical and I think sometimes too physical but you have to be strong, you have to be big and you have to be tough to play at the highest level. Even at our level, we have some athletic kids here in the MEAC, but probably the biggest difference with the MEAC and leagues, we don’t have enough skill players. They have great athleticism, but we don’t have enough kids who can dribble, pass and shoot. We don’t have enough of those on our team or in the league and we need those to take our league a step higher”. The other thing is at the mid-major level, we don’t have enough good players. At the mid-major level, if you lose your star player, you’re in trouble where as in the ACC, the Big East, Big 12, they’ve got two or three other kids they can run in and out and still be ok.
L.A.: Talk about is the what you can take from playing and coaching in those big leagues and apply it to coaching WSSU?
D.S.: For me coaching in big games is something I can apply to coaching WSSU. When you played in front of 15,000 people at Texas Tech, I’ve done that or when you play at home and break the record in front of 12,000 people against Iowa State, I’ve done that. I’ve been a victim of a bad call at Colorado(When coaching at Texas A & M) in the Pre-season NIT which would have led us to play Arkansas in the next game, a place where I’m from. So when we get into these games, my blood pressure doesn’t go up and I don’t panic because once you have that experience, you kind of know what to expect.
L.A.: What were your realistic expectations for your team?
D.S.: I wanted the team to get better as the season progressed and we did. You wouldn’t believe all of the calls, e-mails and people coming up to me telling me that we got better and how proud of us and how we were in great shape and as as coach and a competitor, you want people to pat you on the back when you are winning not when you are losing but being realistic and knowing what I was taken over you have to build for the future. You can’t expect to win 20 games and be in the top 25 your first year, you have to build for the future and that’s what we tried to do.
L.A.: Was it more pressure as a first year head coach at WSSU or more pressure your first year with a team stepping up into a new conference?
D.S.: It’s probably more pressure stepping up but I never really feel pressure. No one can put more pressure on me than I put on myself or my team but I dont feel any pressure because we are building this thing and you can’t build it overnight. We got better as we the season progressed and we will get better next season but even then, don’t expect 20-25 wins next season either. You have to get players that know and can play in your system. It’s a process.
L.A.: Was it a deliberate plan to be on the road a lot and play so many tough teams this year?
D.S. What people have to understand is when you schedule 29 games like we had and the men have, that’s a difficult task. We already have our conference schedule for next year and we know we have 19 conference games scheduled so when you have to schedule up to 29 is hard to get people to put you on the schedule so you have to take what you can get.” So it wasn’t design to play so many games on the road, that’s just the way it worked out but I think we did a good job.
L.A.: There were some concerns about the move to the MEAC. Did you hear about that when you got here and what do you think of the move?
D.S.: I knew their were people who didn’t want us to make the move but honestly, I wouldn’t have come here if they didn’t. I never coached at any other level but Division I so if they had stayed at Division II, I wouldn’t be the coach. I came here to build a program at the Division I level period.
L.A.: Aside from some of the coaches you played for and under, are their coaches out there that you kind of mimic their style at all?
D.S.: Their are a couple of men’s coaches that I am fond of and kind of seek advice from. John Calipari’s one of them. I am a John Calipari fan. I talk to him. We don’t talk often but he is someone I like and admire. The other person who I’ve seen practice who’s been a friend of mine since I was a student at Wake Forest is Jerry Wainwright. Jerry was at UNC-Wilmington when I was at East Carolina and I would drive over to his practice and steal some of his drills. Jerry is an outstanding defensive coach. The other thing I like about Jerry is that he will go and play anybody. You have to do that some to make some money for the program, but he still does it because he knows you only get better when you do that and when you get to conference play, it’s only going to make you better.
L.A.: If you had a chance to coach against one coach out there, male or female in one game for a championship, who would that be?
D.S.: I don’t have anyone I feel in that category but when I was at East Carolina, I beat my old coach and when I played Wake Forest once, I beat them so that was kind of cool too.
L.A.: Where do you see the program three, four or five years down the road?
D.S.: I think three, four or five years down the road, we will be in the top five in the MEAC fighting to win a championship.We are trying to sell that to recruits right now, that your senior year, we want to play for a championship and we want to go to the NCAA Tournament. You’d be surprise how many kids just wanna play and they will get an opportunity to do that here. I tell kids all the time, some schools win a lot of championships but the championship people remember is the first one.
L.A.: What kind of impression do you want people to get when they see you and wanna know who you are and what you’re about on and off the court?
D.S.: That I work hard and that I have passion. If they see me stomping on the sideline, they don’t think I’m crazy but they think I have passion. Off the court, I am a very caring and giving person. Some time I think I care and give to much but that’s just the way I am.