Fans in general, but especially here in Southeast Texas, always complain about the lack of winning – otherwise known as losing. The Lamar women’s basketball team was one of the worst women’s team in any division until Larry Tidwell was hired. I’ve given Billy Tubbs a hard time over the years in this column, but Tubbs hit a home run by hiring Tidwell.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a column about the Lamar Lady Cardinal basketball program. I think the last time was several years ago when I mentioned that Tidwell should become the university’s new athletic director, which he eventually did.
Now in his sixth season as a head coach, the nearly 40-year veteran of basketball has yet another great team on the court. He has an eye for talent. Despite Lamar being his only collegiate head coaching job, he’s recruited and helped coach some of the best at Baylor and TCU.
He’s helped recruit and coach the likes of Laura Webb, who started her career at Lamar then transferred to Baylor, where Tidwell was an assistant. “She would bring it every day, whether it was practice or a game,” Tidwell said. “Each season, she was one of the leading scorers in the country.”
While at TCU, he coached Sandora Irvin, the niece of former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin. All she did was earn All-American status and become the third overall player taken in the 2005 WNBA Draft.
Tidwell could also tell you about Adrianne Ross, who was honorable mention All-American at TCU; Iceland’s Helena Sverrisdottir, a 6-foot-1 guard who was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year twice (Tidwell missed out on her by coming to Lamar); and Kacy Moffitt, a 6-foot-4 post player who played professionally in Europe.
But in his six years in Beaumont, Tidwell has also provided the university and its fans with some great talent to watch. First came Tamara Abalde, who left Lamar early to play for Spain in the 2008 Summer Olympics, then went on to sign a professional contract in the prestigious European League. Then came guard Jenna Plumely, who could shoot from all over the court and helped lead the team to the NCAA Tournament.
And now? There’s senior Kalis Loyd. The 6-foot-2 Sweden national has scored 1,671 points, which is just 59 shy of Uirannah Jackson’s school record of 1,730. “She is the total package,” said Tidwell, who earlier this season became LU’s all-time winningest coach and currently has a 116-59 record headlining into the Jan. 10 matchup with Sam Houston State at 5:30 p.m.
“I was recruiting her while I was at TCU,” said Tidwell. “I knew about her through a former Lamar player who was coaching international basketball. When I came to Lamar, TCU didn’t follow up on her and I did. I went to Sweden, got to know her parents and signed her. She can play many positions on the court, plus her three-point shooting has improved. Kalis is a pure competitor. Not only is she on track to break the scoring record, but she can break 2,000 points. She is in the all-time Top 10 in major records here at Lamar. She will get some professional looks, and people are going to want to sign her — Kalis is the real deal.”
Despite losing great players each year, Tidwell and this program seem to reload. They are 10-3 overall, 3-0 in the Southland Conference and they just flat out know how to recruit and coach. “We worked hard at Lamar,” he said. “We go get kids who are players, but also ones that have character.”
A youngster who should have a bright future at Lamar is true freshman guard Asia Booker, who played her high school ball at Beaumont Ozen. Her mother, Ramona Locke, holds Lamar’s career record for assists (653) and steals (333). “In 38 years, she’s the fastest player I’ve ever coach,” added Tidwell.
Though the records speak for themselves on the court year in and out, Tidwell has also restored pride back in the women’s program. Right outside of his office in the Montagne Center, the head coach as a complete 44-year-history of the Lady Cardinal program. He’s created a Wall of Excellence, which honors community service, leadership, academics and basketball honors for present-day players. To honor former players, a Graduation Wall, an academic all-conference recognition display, an all-conference basketball display, and honor teams display is currently on the drawing board for the lower concourse area. Likewise, a Top 25 Club that honors outstanding boosters and supporters has already been established on the lower concourse.
“We’ve raised nearly $1 million for the women’s basketball program,” said Tidwell. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve been out in the community more than 370 times. We’ve had 34 players on the Southland Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll, and 14 players were on the conference all-academic team.”
Tidwell has finally put the finishing touches on the first ever women’s basketball reunion for Feb. 15-16.
“I am trying to do everything I can to inject even more pride into our program,” Tidwell said. “I want everybody to come back and be honored. I want to make it a special occasion because they are special. They are Lady Cardinals.” Tidwell also spoke highly of current athletic director Jason Henderson, who he said is behind the reunion 100 percent.
Despite several league championship banners hanging in the Montagne Center, it’s time for the first Lady Cardinal to have a jersey retired. I don’t know whose, but there are plenty of good ones. Not only would it be the right thing to do, but it would also mean a lot to the man who restored a basketball program that was the laughing stock of the conference.
“Many thought I was crazy for leaving TCU and coming to Lamar,” stated Tidwell. “I knew my window was closing to be a head coach. I had people that believed in me, and one was Billy Tubbs, who I knew previously at TCU and of course, Dr. Jimmy Simmons. The (Lamar) program hadn’t had a winning season in 13 years, but it wasn’t depleted. I love this conference. We have some great rivalries.”
But how did Tidwell manage to turn the program around so quickly when several others failed?
“I have said this a thousand times — I haven’t scored a point, grabbed a rebound or made a steal,” said Tidwell. “It’s all about the players. Plus stability, and I’ve had a great support staff. I lost a good assistant in Joey Wells last year, but I was able to replace him with a former Division I head coach in John Ishee. That says a lot about this program. We also have television and radio shows, and that’s hard to find in the SLC.”
It’s time for Southeast Texans to reenergize themselves and go see a Lamar women’s basketball game. Tidwell has poured blood, sweat and tears into this program, and what better way to reward not only him but also the hard working ladies who have helped this team become and exciting winning commodity.
Again, their next home game is tonight against Sam Houston State at 5:30 p.m. No excuses.