Budke, Serna coached together for decade
STILLWATER, OKLA. (AP) - Kurt Budke believed in Oklahoma State when no one else did, and he wasn’t afraid to show it.
Less than two years after his Cowgirls failed to win any of their 16 conference games, Budke led them up against powerhouse Oklahoma and reigning national player of the year Courtney Paris. He supported his upstart team with quite the fashion statement: the brightest orange blazer he could find.
Behind a scintillating 45-point game from Andrea Riley, the Cowgirls upset the sixth-ranked Sooners for the first time in nine years.
Wherever Budke went, he won.
The charismatic coach who turned the Cowgirls into an NCAA tournament regular was killed along with assistant coach Miranda Serna and two other people in a plane crash in Arkansas late Thursday. The two coaches, who first united as player and coach 16 years ago, had been on a recruiting trip.
Budke frequently offered his players encouragement from the sidelines, but he also could be firm, raising his deep voice. And on more than one occasion, he grabbed a microphone to speak to the Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd after a win.
“Coach Budke was a ball coach. What he did to turn this program around was unbelievable but that’s not important right now,” said Jim Littell, Budke’s assistant who will replace him on an interim basis.
“What’s important is he was a father figure for these kids. He had a tremendous knack of taking kids that maybe were struggling in some part of their life and making it better for them. That was his strongest trait.”
Serna, 36, was one of his top helpers along the way. Before spending the last seven seasons at OSU, she played on one of his four teams that won the junior-college national title at Trinity Valley (Texas) and was his assistant at Louisiana Tech for the last of three straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
The Guadalupita, N.M., native was his recruiting coordinator at Oklahoma State, which has been to the postseason the past five years. University President Burns Hargis said Serna was the first in her family to go to college.
“I loved her energy for the game,” Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach Travis Ford said. “She had a great enthusiasm for the game. She enjoyed recruiting and she enjoyed the process of that and just had a warm heart.”
When Budke took over the program, the Cowgirls had finished with a losing record in five of their previous seven seasons and never finished more than a game over .500 during that span.
The Cowgirls went 0-16 in Big 12 play in his first season, then secured their first bid to the NCAA tournament in 11 years. The next year brought a trip to the round of 16.
“You learn how to lose, and that’s a bad habit,” he once said of those early struggles. “Sometimes, it’s easier to lose than to fight back, so we had to change habits and expectations.”
Budke had little to sell but a dream, but it was enough to convince the WNBA-bound Riley to come make her mark. She left as the program’s career scoring leader.