Decorated basketball coach Kim Mulkey shares highlights of career
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - From Hammond High to the Hall of Fame, for LSU’s Kim Mulkey, the game of basketball has brought her on an ‘unbelievable ride.’
“My resume is just…what have I not had the honor to do and be a part of, both as a player, as an assistant coach, as a head coach? I’ve just been blessed,” Mulkey said.
Her resume is one of the best in the history of the sport. The Tickfaw native is the only person in women’s or men’s basketball to have won national championships as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
“It’s a lot of people that contribute to your success. You never forget those people. It’s something that goes by quickly. To think I’ve been doing this for 38, 39 years now is remarkable,” she said.
Fifteen years as an assistant at Louisiana Tech and 21 years as the head coach at Baylor.
Her 37th year of coaching brought her not just to LSU, but more importantly, to her home.
“Something was pulling me back to the state of Louisiana. It was maybe a calling in the last third of my career, like ‘Kim you may never win a championship again. But you can be a champion of turning the program around and getting it back in the right direction and getting people who are not even LSU fans or alums excited about the state of Louisiana. You’re not an LSU person but you love your state. Go back there and let’s be positive and let’s see what we can do. Boy, did we send out a message loud and clear that this is gonna be fun,” she said.
And for LSU Faithful, the first year was fun. Mulkey’s Tigers went 26-6, hosting first and second-round NCAA Tournament games at the PMAC. A major improvement, compared to the program only winning nine games in the 2020-2021 season. Such a quick turnaround is rare, but Mulkey credits the coaches that came with her and the players that stayed.
“Having a staff already in place that knew me and knew how I wanted things done, with the exception of two, everybody came with me. The embrace that we received from the current players, the players that we inherited made the year. They stayed, they didn’t transfer out. They let us coach them, and they were rewarded in the end,” she said.
Success is a reward Mulkey has earned much of her career. Four-straight state championships at Hammond High. Two national championships as a player at Louisiana Tech, one as an assistant coach. An Olympic gold medal and three more national championships at Baylor.
She built the dynasty that now exists in Waco. Her move to Baton Rouge left many wondering why she left the program she built for one that needs to be rebuilt?
“The timing in my life. Never did I anticipate leaving Baylor. I don’t know in the history of men’s or women’s collegiate basketball that any coach has ever done what I did. By that I mean, you created this program, this dynasty as you mentioned, and you leave it. You have a top-five team at Baylor, and you have a team at LSU that won nine games the year before. I just talked to my coaches and asked if I came to LSU would they come with me. I made the decision and it felt right,” she said.
She contemplated it for six days. She took the job. And she found comfort.
“The unknown made me think a little bit. And the unknown was ‘what kind of season would we have, how many fans would show up, how many tickets would we sell.’ It exceeded all expectations,” she said.
Mulkey was clear in her introductory press conference that this program won’t turn into a championship contender overnight. But the bar that LSU fans set in year one was cleared with ease. This means even higher expectations next season.
“LSU fans are passionate. They’re somewhat unrealistic sometimes. And that’s our job as coaches to make them understand. Calm down a little bit. We know what we’re doing here. And that’s what I’ll spend all summer and fall telling ‘em. I have no idea if we can do what we did last year this year. Give us time. The talent’s gonna be better. We’ve got an unbelievably talented freshman class. We’ve got transfers that are talented. But I gotta get them all on the same page,” she said.
The unbelievably talented freshman class is highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Flau’Jae Johnson.
The Georgia native is Mulkey’s first All-American signee at LSU.
And location played a key part in recruiting her to Baton Rouge.
“At Baylor, I couldn’t have signed the Flau’Jae Johnson, as good as Baylor was. It was not an area geographically that was conducive to what she wants to do off the court - her rapping. But the minute I took the LSU job, she became really interested. And it’s because of location, Louisiana is known for a lot of rapping. She always wanted to play for me, but it was the location and how can she go somewhere she can do both. And so it was kind of a natural fit,” she said.
Recruiting Johnson to be a Tiger sets a precedent when it comes to bringing more talent to Baton Rouge.
Just last month, LSU landed the number one recruit in the class of 2023, Mikaylah Williams.
Mulkey’s recruiting skills are impressive, especially when you consider she originally didn’t want to be a coach.
“It’s amazing how you can plan your life out and it never go the direction you thought it would. I’m so thankful to a lot of people who put me in this position and it starts with my family, who supported me in everything that I did in athletics, who made sure I was exposed to college coaches and then the college coaches that I played for and international coaches I played for. It’s a lot of people that contribute to your success,” she said.
She was reminded of that last May 2021 when she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, an exclusive group of the game’s finest.
“I can’t ever tell you at any moment in my life, that you have these aspirations to be a Hall of Famer. My gosh, I wasn’t even gonna be a coach. When it happened, you’re like, I’m on this big stage amongst all these giants in this sport, not just women’s basketball, but basketball in general,” she said.
One of those giants being a friend she called and asked to escort her to the stage.
You may have heard of him. Michael Jordan.
“For Michael to escort me to the stage was so flattering, because we played together in the ‘84 Olympics. I didn’t want to bother and ask anybody other than Leon Barmore to escort me to the stage, because you had to choose someone who was already inducted. He couldn’t do it for health reasons, and so I thought Michael is gonna be there doing it for Kobe’s wife. He’ll do it for me. I know he will. He said ‘absolutely,’” she said.
The last year and a half has been filled with some highs and some lows for Mulkey personally.
One of the bright spots, her son Kramer, a former LSU baseball player, made his Major League Baseball debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in May.
“He got to pinch run the first game. The second game he got to bat. Then he also got an RBI and then, of course, the coach in me comes out and I was like but you also had a throwing error. And he was like ‘Mooom.’ What memories we had getting to watch that, and we had some of his high school friends there that drove in to be a part of it,” she said.
But the same week, she suffered the loss of a family member.
“I was still dealing with the excitement and the high of that for your kid to reach a dream of his, but yet my daughter and son-in-law and their two kids couldn’t be there because they were dealing with the lowest of lows in a brother, a 39-year-old brother that was dying of pancreatic cancer. It’s been a rough, interesting, emotional month,” she said.
Family has always been at the center of it all for Mulkey.
And being at LSU brought her closer to family, closer to home, and closer to her roots.
“Your roots are who you are. How you’re raised, your values, your morals, you never lose those. Some people go off and get off track sometimes. I’ve never been one that’s ever gotten off track,” she said.
She has represented her home throughout her career, and now home will help her legacy live on forever.
Two blocks down from Tickfaw City Hall, you’ll find Kim Mulkey Drive.
”It’s touched my heart because it’s special. How many people get to have a street named after them? Sometimes friends will exit off the interstate there, and they’ll stop and take pictures and send it to me. It’s special,” she said.
Special. That’s a good way to describe Mulkey’s career. Because quite frankly, there’s none other like it.
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