McCollum’s Column: About family, transition and coaching journeys

Transitions and coaching journeys from the basis of this batch of “David’s Appetizers,” assorted observations on the sports scene:

 

Johnson

C9nway is losing a good man and a good, young coach with the resignation of Wampus Cats boys coach Will Johnson after three seasons.

Johnson earned the respect of almost everyone he came into contact with his integrity and commitment to do things the right way. He was well-respected by his coaching rivals and colleagues and always classy with the media through some up-and-down experiences in the toughest conference in 7A.

What always impressed me was how hard his players played for him and how their parents supported him. Whether in junior high or high school, he seemed to get the most out of his players.

He loved the Conway job. He said it was a dream job.

He’s making the transition because of what is best for his family because of an out-of-state opportunity.

That says a lot.

Daniel

Another family decision was made by former UCA Sugar Bear coach Matt Daniel, who has resigned after five seasons as women’s basketball coach at Marshall University. He was 71-85 during his Marshall tenure, including 21-12 last season.

But Daniel’s decision was more about family than record. College basketball coaching takes a person on the road a lot. He and his wife, Jennifer (they met when he coached at UCA), have two young children. Jennifer, who is a dentist, reportedly got a special opportunity to return to Arkansas.

Family has always been important to Daniel — as a coach with his players or with his direct family.

“Given my wife’s work as a dentist, we were offered an opportunity to return home to Arkansas that we couldn’t pass up,” Daniel said in a new release. “While I don’t know what the future holds for me professionally, this decision really isn’t about me. I am doing what I believe is best for us and giving our children the opportunity to grow up around their extended family.”

Matt’s father is David Daniel, the highly respected athletic director at Jonesboro.

That brings us to Tony Kemper, who may be facing another transition. Kemper was an men’s assistant at UCA under Rand Chappell. He eventually switched to assisting the Sugar Bears under Matt Daniel and followed him to Marshall as his top assistant. Kemper is now reported to be a major candidate to replace Daniel at Marshall.

Aston

When Karen Aston led Vilonia to a state girls basketball championship in the 1992-93 season, Vilonia was a 2A school. UCA was a perennial power in the late Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference in the NAIA.

Who could have imagined that at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aston would be head women’s coach at the University of Texas ready to go against the two-time Southland tournament champion UCA Sugar Bears in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament?

During her steady rise in the women’s coaching ranks, Aston has served as an assistant to three Hall of Fame coaches, Sonja Hogg and Kim Mulkey at Baylor and Jody Conradt at Texas. She eventually had head coaching stints at UNC-Charlotte and North Texas before taking over a rebuilding process for the Texas program.

The Sugar Bears are a 14 seed, about the highest a Southland team can expect. Texas, a 3 seed that defeated Baylor, a No 1 seed, on its hme court earlier in the season, is a tough draw for the UCA women. But a 14 seed is always a tough draw.

Texas has strong guards and physical players inside. The Sugar Bears got a tiny sampling of that in the championship game of the Southland tournament.

“This time of year, you’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to be physical,” said UCA coach Sandra Rushing.

Texas is aggressive and physical on steroids.

That’s the evolution of the women’s game. In several ways, it is just as physical as the men’s game.

 

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